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New Birth is In Christ

TFTEmma's written a great post on what people look for in conversion experiences.  It reminded me of this wonderful sermon by Tom Torrance on John 3.

Here he lays into the modern (20th century) notion of defining the new birth psychologically. Instead we must see regeneration - along with every other aspect of the Christian life - as something found in Christ.

We all know that our forgiveness, adoption, righteousness, election, holiness and redemption are found in Jesus. We ought to know that our new birth is found there too.  It is not a prior experience outside of Jesus which then brings us to Christ. It is the new life which Christ pioneered through His life, death and resurrection.  It is the begotten life of the Spirit which Christ eternally possessed and now shares with those who are His.

Therefore we do not find our conversion in ourselves but in Him. And we do not offer a conversion experience but a Christ who converts.

The implications of this for our discipleship and evangelism are far-reaching - perhaps I'll tease out more later - but for now let's just hear TFT...


Behind all that Jesus has been saying there lies the fact of His own birth and incarnation. All that Jesus has said in fact about the new birth refers ultimately to His own birth. He is the only begotten Son of God, and it is in Him that our humanity... is born again out of the old Adam into the new. In other words it is in Christ and through Christ only that we are born again.

...This is not very easy for us to understand today, because we have turned the new birth or conversion into a carnal experience of the soul, and have identified it with a psychological event in our lives. This makes it all the more imperative for us to listen carefully to Jesus here, and to look above and beyond our own historical or psychological experience and find the significance of our new birth in Christ Himself. Christ is the only one, strictly speaking, who is born of the Spirit from above, but He gives the right to all who receive and believe in Him or are baptised in His name to become sons of God - that is, not in their own name but in Christ's Name. Christ Himself is the truth and reality of our new birth...

We must learn to take refuge even from our experiences of conversion, or of new birth, in Christ and find in His birth and in His resurrection the truth and reality of ours...

...In Jesus Christ, from His birth to His death and resurrection, there took place the great "conversion" of our humanity, and its destiny, back to God.

...If we look into our hearts and lives we see how corrupt they still are, how desperately wicked we are, and indeed the nearer we get to Christ the more sinful we feel and know ourselves to be. No, we cannot see our new birth by examining our spiritual experience psychologically, by looking within. We must learn to look away from ourselves to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, for we are dead, as St Paul says, and our life is hid with Christ in God.

This habit that modern people often have of thinking and speaking of the new birth as if it could be perceived in the soul and is something to be possessed in themselves is a great snare to many humble and earnest believers; it drives them to despair or turns them into hypocrites, for though they try to live up to "born again and converted" lived, they know secretly how sinful they are, and that considered in their deepest selves they are not new creatures. That is not the way of Jesus but the way of the Pharisees.
-- When Christ Comes, and Comes Again.


Here's a sermon of mine on John 3 which tries to make some of the same points in a more law-gospel kind of way. I.e. We must have this new birth. We can't conjure it up. But Jesus brings it down as a gift.




13 thoughts on “New Birth is In Christ

  1. Brian Midmore

    Indeed! There is a lot of pressure in some circles to live up to a perceived ideal (law) about being born again. Being born again in the proper way becomes a form of boasting akin to Paul's problem with circumcision. Testimonies of conversion become a form of boasting that condemn those who do not share a similar experience. Grace is so easily corrupted by man to become effectively law. You have fallen from grace....etc. The badge we have that reveals that we are Gods child is faith and not an experience of conversion which has become a law. We are justified by faith and not the works of the Law. This is the essential message of Romans. Lets hear it!

  2. Rick

    I would be interested in your thoughts regarding sanctification (especially related to progressive sanctification) in light of this view of regeneration? What is actually occurring as we are growing or maturing as Christians?

  3. Glen

    Hi Rick,

    I guess first of all I'd want to point to the predominance of 'once and for all' sanctification language in the NT - Christ has wrenched "man" back to God and sanctified us (Heb 2:11; 10:10,14,29). From that *positional* sanctification, certainly there is fruit from our union with Christ. We start acting like what we've become. Kind of thing. Is that the sort of thing you were asking?

  4. Glen

    Yes Brian - turning grace into law is always happening in this realm. That's why I'm so keen to proclaim a salvation that is 'outside of ourselves'.

  5. Rick

    I may not be understanding Torrance correctly, maybe a better approach in my wanting to understand would be to ask: in our regeneration or being born again is there something that occurs within myself as a person (I get that the basis and grounds for my salvation is completely outside of myself - in the Person and work of Christ), but does something also occur within. Similar to what I believe occurred to Adam when he fell - his nature or life principle changed - he became spiritually dead. So when I am born again, do I become spiritually alive - indwelt by the Spirit of God, a new creature, a new nature or life principle? I think so. Yes, it is all because of what (or better Who) is outside of me, but nevertheless there is a change that takes place within - again I think so.

  6. Brian Midmore

    2 Cor 5.17 is a puzzle to many since for the typical Christian it doent seem to be true. When we are born again many things are not made new so it seems. Some writers e.g Andrew Wommack, Colin Urquart have sought to explain this by saying that this transformation has occurred in their spirit but not in their souls and bodies. This approach is rather unconvincing Biblically. What explantion can anybody offer?

  7. Derek

    Hi Glen,

    I think this is very helpful. I have often struggled with some theological attempts to place regeneration 'outside of myself'. Linking it to Union with Christ makes sense to me.

    "And we do not offer a conversion experience but a Christ who converts." - I like this a lot.

    Do you have the rest of the Tom Torrance sermon? I'd love to read/hear it.

  8. Rick

    In re-reading the Torrance quote, I think I find myself a little frustrated with this portion: "This habit that modern people often have of thinking and speaking of the new birth as if it could be perceived in the soul and is something to be possessed in themselves is a great snare to many humble and earnest believers; it drives them to despair or turns them into hypocrites, for though they try to live up to “born again and converted” lived, they know secretly how sinful they are, and that considered in their deepest selves they are not new creatures. That is not the way of Jesus but the way of the Pharisees."
    In a very real sense we do act as 'hypocrites' every time we live in accordance with the 'desires of the flesh' Gal 5. In that moment we are not living or walking by the Spirit (Gal 5).'In our deepest selves' prior to our death and glorification we are both saint or new creatures (as we are in Christ) and sinner (as we still wrestle with remaining sin). We should be ok with the fact that we will act (or think or desire) as hypocrites. We all have the heart of the pharisee (as long as we have remaining sin this side of eternity). The true problem with the pharisee is combatting the heart of the pharisee in the flesh - rather than living and walking according to the Spirit.

  9. Glen

    Hi Brian, the tripartite anthropology usually comes from Romans 5-8 and is often over-defined. Certainly the flesh is straight from Adam and the the mind (psyche/soul) is to be renewed (Romans 12), while our Spirit is from Christ (Rom 8). But defining it so sharply is a bit of a reach I'd say. From Romans 5-8 though we can certainly see the reality of flesh with its current groaning and the Spirit who brings us Christ's victory from outside ourselves - that much is certain (and useful).

    Derek - it's from the book "When Christ Comes and Comes Again" - it was quite expensive but maybe you can find a second hand bargain? Well worth a read.

    Hi Rick - the rest of the sermon is well worth a read too. Torrance is very clear about being simultaneously sinner and saint. That's why he wants to focus his hearers away from their own inner worlds. The hypocrisy is not that we live differently to our Christian identity, it's that we identify our Christianity with ourselves.

    As to your earlier comment - yes indeed, just as we're brought forth in Adam by his seed, we are brought forth in Christ by His Spirit. The foundation and focus is "me in Christ" but there is also "Christ in me".

  10. Cal


    I think a helpful image is the one Jesus uses with the root and branches. In one sense, once a branch is connected, it is apart of the tree. Yet the grafting process takes time. It belongs to the tree, yet not yet.

    That's why Paul can speak of a past/present/future salvation. We are children, and yet the creation awaits the adoption. We are justified, and yet we await final vindication. We are made holy, and yet we are being sanctified day after day. We are chosen, and yet at the final judgment, where all people are gather, Jesus elect the sheeps from the goats.

    Thus ultimately, while it may not seem like we're much different, we're promised, predestined even, to be conformed to looking like Jesus.


  11. Brian Midmore

    We are baptised into Christ (outside ourselves) to receive the gift of the Spirit (inside ourselves). Both these things are objective experiences but the second has a subjective dimension to it. The new birth is essentially objective but can result in subjectively experiences 'And now I am happy all the day!' This is of course an example of the kind of exaggerated claim made for these subjective experiences.

  12. Rick

    Brian - I'd be interested in what your views are on the 'subjective' aspects of our being Christians? Although the foundation and grounds for all of our salvation is based on the objective person and work of Christ, I do think that we subjectively interact with God as His children (and I do realize that these subjective aspects of our relationship with God are rooted in the objective truths).

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