an expository sermon on Titus 3:1-8 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson on November 8, 2020
Living in the United States in the 21st century, we are blessed with a plethora of theological resources. The Bible, the gospel, and the things of God have never been so accessible as they are now in our society. Below are some of the books that have been most helpful for my understanding of salvation, which is the subject of Article IV of The Baptist Faith and Message.
Conversion by Michael Lawrence
Faith Alone by Thomas R. Schreiner
Finally Alive by John Piper (available as a free PDF download online)
It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence
Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert
Having described salvation as redemption, The Baptist Faith and Message next focuses on various aspects of salvation. Jesus accomplished redemption at the cross, but how does that redemption get applied to us? The application of redemption begins at conversion.
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.The Baptist Faith and Message, Article IV
Conversion, then, involves the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of a person, that person’s repentance and faith, and God’s justification of the converted sinner. We may consider these things distinct from one another, but they all occur in the moment of conversion, when a person first has redemption applied to him.
Conversion as Regeneration
The application of redemption begins at conversion, the first aspect of which is regeneration, or the new birth. Jesus had a lengthy conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus about regeneration during His earthly ministry (John 3:1-8). Jesus refers to the new birth in three ways: being born again (v. 3), being born of water and the Spirit (v. 5), and being born of the Spirit (vv. 6, 8). Jesus is not describing three different aspects of the new birth; He is describing the one new birth in three ways. Being born again and being born of water and Spirit both refer more plainly to being born of the Spirit. In these verses, Jesus is alluding to Ezekiel 36:25-27,
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Ezekiel prophesied that God would cleanse people from their uncleannesses and idols by putting His Spirit in them, which is depicted by the image of Him sprinkling clean water on them. So Jesus, too, said people must be born of water and the Spirit, and He was describing the new birth. Paul spoke similarly to Jesus: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Indeed, other than Jesus, Paul is the most significant source of biblical teaching on the new birth. He tells the Corinthians, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). And new birth into the new creation is like original creation: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The new birth of the Holy Spirit is necessary because before His work, we are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). Conversion and the application of redemption to us first involves, then, the Holy Spirit regenerating our hearts and taking us from a state of spiritual death into a state of spiritual life.
Conversion as Faith and Repentance
This regeneration has a simultaneous, immediate effect: our faith and repentance. There is no gap of time between a person’s regeneration and his repenting and believing. All of these things are vital aspects of conversion. If regeneration is a new birth, a being born again, then faith and repentance are like a newborn baby’s cry. The way you know a baby has been born is that you hear him cry. The way you know someone converts is that he repents and believes. As our statement of faith affirms, “Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.” Faith is part of God’s saving grace (Eph 2:8-9). Repentance likewise is a gift of God (2 Tim 2:25). And repenting and believing are activities that we people do. Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of God, we must “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And entering the kingdom of God is another way the Bible talks about being saved (Matt 19:23-26).
When we repent, we turn to God away from sin. To repent is to turn from wickedness (Acts 3:26), specifically the wickedness of opposing Jesus Christ (Acts 3:18). And to repent is to turn back, implicitly to God (Acts 3:19). It is in that moment that our sins––paid for by Jesus on the cross––are blotted out. The redemption Jesus accomplished gets applied to us.
“Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.” First, we must accept Jesus Christ. We must know the facts of the gospel as they occurred in history (1 Cor 15:1-4). Regeneration gives this knowledge and intellectual belief. But saving faith is more than that. It is also commitment. Faith is assurance and conviction that the God of the Bible exists and rewards those who seek him in Christ (Heb 11:1, 6). Saving faith is relying on Jesus for eternal life (John 3:16, 18). And this commitment is wholehearted. We trust in Jesus not only as Savior but also submit ourselves to Him as Lord.
In conversion, the Holy Spirit regenerates us, and we immediately repent and believe.
Justification at Conversion
Conversion has an immediate effect: justification. “All sinners who repent and believe in Christ” receive “God’s gracious and full acquittal” from the penalty of sin. The great passage on justification in Scripture is Romans 3:21-26. We unrighteous sinners receive God’s own righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (vv. 21–23). God is just to give us His righteousness because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross (vv. 24–26).
And this justification immediately results in us having peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). As soon as we are justified, we are at peace with God. We are no longer God’s enemies but have been reconciled to Him (Rom 5:10). We therefore rejoice as those who have been made to be at peace with God (Rom 5:11).
The biblical teaching about conversion holds two complementary truths together in perfect harmony: we are not converted apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating us in the new birth, and we are not converted apart from repenting and believing the gospel ourselves. Various Christians (even within the SBC!) put these truths together in different ways. The most important thing is that we hold together what we see in Scripture. What the Bible affirms, we affirm. And the glorious result of both of these aspects of conversion is that conversion immediately results in our justification from sin and reconciliation with God. That’s the good news we get to take to others! If they will repent and believe, they will be reconciled to God––no longer His enemy by their own choice of sin, but now His son or daughter through faith in Christ!
an expository sermon on Matthew 13:44-52 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson on May 31, 2020
In addition to affirming the Bible’s holy authorship, Friendship’s statement of faith also confesses the holy aim for which the Bible was written and preserved for us. The Bible has not only “God for its author” but also “salvation for its end.”
The Bible is a big book, and salvation is a big aim. According to Scripture, salvation is both a present and future reality. One passage that discusses both aspects of salvation is 1 Peter 1:3-5. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.” Salvation has present benefits: new birth, living hope, and being guarded through faith. But salvation will not be fully realized until “the last time,” which Peter specifies as “the revelation of Jesus Christ” at his second coming (1 Pet 1:7).
The apostle Paul summarized various aspects of salvation in this way: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). God planned salvation from eternity past and saves us as he calls us and declares us righteous in the present, and the final stage of salvation is the glory we will receive in the new heavens and the new earth with immortal physical bodies (cf. Rom 8:18-25).
When The Baptist Faith and Message says that the Bible’s aim is salvation, it is saying that the Bible teaches people how to enter salvation in the present and how to persevere in faith as they await their final salvation. In other words, the Bible seeks to convert sinners and to help Christians become more Christlike.
Much of the Bible is written to people already following God, but the Bible also shows people how to begin following God. In the Old Testament, Psalm 19:7-9 describes the converting power of God’s word: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.” For us Christians, David’s statement that God’s law is capable of “reviving the soul” may sound paradoxical, given Paul’s statement: “by works of the law no human being ill be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). But we must remember that David is talking about Scripture when he talks about “the law of the Lord,” and that the Books of the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) not only contain commands to obey but also promises of God’s intention to save the world from the sin problem (e.g., Gen 3:15; 12:1-3; 22:17-18; cf. Gal 3:16, 22).
The New Testament also talks about the converting power of God’s word. Paul told Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-15). Paul agrees with David: the Bible contains the teaching that, if heeded, leads to salvation through faith in Jesus!
In addition to leading people to begin the salvation journey, Scripture teaches people how to continue along their salvation journey. Paul immediately continues, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Scripture is profitable for things that primarily benefit those who are already converted. Christians do not immediately become perfect people when they trust Christ for salvation. Salvation is an ongoing process that will not be complete until the second coming of Christ! Christians need the Bible just as much as non-Christians do.
Paul encouraged the Romans similarly: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4; cf. 1 Cor 10:1-14). The Old Testament is not something from which Christians should unhitch themselves. We need the whole Bible to instruct us and encourage us to endure and to have hope. Christ is revealed clearly in the New Testament, but even the Old Testament predicted him in types and shadows. The frequent disobedience of God’s people in the Old Testament warns us not to be unfaithful to God today.
Written by men so inspired by God that their words were God’s own words, the Bible seeks both to convert sinners and to sanctify saints. May we daily attend to God’s word: reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, storing it up in our hearts so that we might not sin against God (Ps 119:11).