Part 3 of the “Flood” blog series
Last week in the sermon series “Flood” I began to discuss ways the Holy Spirit works in us. The first way is traditionally referred to as “regeneration”, and it means to receive a new life in the family of God. Here’s how Paul describes that experience in Romans 8:11:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,
he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies
through his Spirit, who lives in you.
In John 3 Jesus describes this experience as being “born again” or “born of the Spirit”. It’s essentially a personal revolution, sparked by the revelation of God, which brings a whole new motivation for life. The bible describes this change in various ways:
- Receiving a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone (Ezekiel)
- The baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts)
- Growing up into him who is the head (Ephesians)
- Ears to hear and eyes to see (Jesus)
Obviously regeneration is a rich and varied reality, and it’s the essence of our experience of Christ-followers. I’ll use a new metaphor to describe it: getting a new motor.
All of us have a motor; it’s the main motivation of our lives, and as such it provides much of the energy for what we do on this planet. The most basic kind of motor is simply our survival instinct; but as potent a motor as that is, it’s not different from what all living creatures possess. The motor I’m talking about goes beyond survival into a more existential reason for being. Your motor is what you do to be happy.
The motor of an unbeliever inevitably drives him or her toward a happiness that is self-centered. The bible calls this being “of the flesh”. It’s manifestations can be obviously immoral, such as when one is driven by greed for money, accolades, sex, or revenge. But it’s manifestations can also seem virtuous, such as crusading for a cause, doing Christian ministry, or raising children. Each of these good-seeming goals can be driven by pride or an anxious need to prove oneself. And each motor can be powerful.
Many of these motors receive support from the world. Take pro sports as an example: the motor here is typically a self-centered desire for glorification. Normally other people hate it when we so nakedly pursue self-glorification, but in sports the home team loves it because they feel like winner when their team wins. You see a similar type of motor in nationalism or patriotism. These types of motors can be very ennobling. But they can also be scary. Have you ever seen one of Hitler’s speeches? They are electrifying. They incited the German people to self-transcendence, but it was an evil self-transcendence. The world often encourages that which is evil, and a fallen person’s motor responds with zeal.
But when we open ourselves to faith, the Holy Spirit places a new motor inside us. This may seem to happen suddenly, but usually it follows a period of time when we have become dissatisfied with our old self-centered motor. This is why pre-conversion is often an unhappy phase of life. In this phase the old motor is not longer effective for us, but the new motor hasn’t kicked in yet. But there comes a moment when God begins to reach our conscious thoughts and feelings. How blessed this dawning is! We are being born again into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). God, who was formerly a theory of religion based on fear or guilt, now becomes real to us. Love is no longer a theory, and truth is no longer subjective. We begin to perceive true life, where God is the center of everything.
My metaphor of a motor is inaccurate because with a motor you just crank the ignition and it roars to life. But most of us move much less decisively. In effect there are still two motors in us, the old and the new, and it takes time for the new to become the stronger. So Jesus’ metaphor of being born again is still the best metaphor.
But perhaps the motor metaphor may cause you to think “what really drives my life?”