I called it perfect timing as I finished the last few sentences of “Finally Alive” by John Piper and at the same time pulled into our driveway after another day of work and commuting to Omaha. In the forty-five minite trip each way, God has afforded me the opportunity to read (listen to) some excellent books. I have read seven or eight books since I made the decision to stop listening to so much talk radio. None of those books filled me with as much such joy as “Finally Alive“. I have read several books by John Piper. Some I’ve had difficulty with because of the way they’ve been structured. I’ve had to stop and re-read a chapter in order to fully grasp the concept he presents before I continue through the book. This was not the case with this book. Only once did I stop the audio and re-listen to the few sentences. I did it because the text had brought such a smile to my face that I wanted to experience that emotion again.
The book is wrtten about regeneration, and what it means to be born again. The term born again has been used in such diverse ways it is hard for anyone who does not know scripture to nail it down. It is used by the world to label fundamentalists or evangelicals. I was once asked during a religious discussion if I was “one of those born again Christians”. I replied with a question of my own, “What do you mean by the term “born again”? The word is indeed thrown around and used outside of it’s biblical context. It is used so much it is hard to distinguish those who claim to be born again and live like the world from those who do not. Piper helps the reader to examine this term and it’s meaning as it relates to scripture. He also shows us how to be certain our faith is genuine and our conversion real. Are you truly “born again”?
Piper does this examination in an expository format primarily using the biblical texts where the term “born again” is used. These are found in John chapter 3 where Jesus dialogs with the Jewish leader Nicodemus, and 1 Peter chapter 1 where Peter is addressing the scattered Christians who are being persecuted. Piper also references the text in 1 John. This has become the capstone text believers in Christ return to for self-examination. Like a spiritual litmus test.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 ESV)
The miracle of regeneration is done by the Holy Spirit of God. Piper explains that we do have a response to this miracle much like the miracle Jesus did with Lazarus while he was laying dead in the tomb. (John 11:43 ) The natural dead man will not respond to a voice to get up no more than a spiritually dead man will respond to a the call for repentance. But Jesus has the power to create life in the dead man Lazarus just as the Holy Spirit has the power to cause new life or rebirth in the life of a sinner. The response of Lazarus to the command of Jesus was to get up and walk. The born again man’s response to regeneration is to walk in newness of life, glorifying God the Father.
I would like to wrap up this book review by borrowing from Thabiti Anyabwile, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands and his comments on this book.
Nothing could be more eternally important than Christian people knowing what the Bible teaches about the new birth and knowing that they have experienced it. One wonders why it’s taken so long for a book on the new birth to be written! But now it has and I pray every reader rejoices in God for the rich beauties of Christ Jesus so compellingly shared in its pages.
Amen Pastor Anybwile. What can be more encouraging for a Christ follower than to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is finally alive.
Soli Deo Gloria!
August 6, 2009 at 12:39 am
I’ve read about a third of this book when he released it as a PDF. I agree, it is GOOD.
September 13, 2009 at 1:54 am
I would be interested in hearing how someone who believes in Reformed Theology explains the inconsistencies between what Piper wrote in Finally Alive and basic Reformed tenants. It is my understanding that Reformed proponents believe that Romans 3 is speaking about an individual who is born “spiritually dead”. “Spiritually dead” men supposedly do not understand, do not seek God, there are none who do good, and have no fear of God (Rom. 3:11, 12, 18). According to Reformed teaching, THE ONLY REMEDY for this “spiritual deadness” is regeneration. According to Reformed definitions, regeneration brings a necessary change to an individual that will give him spiritual perception, understanding, a new nature and a new heart which gives new spiritual desires, and a freed will to choose those things that will please God, and regeneration is also necessary to give him a gift of faith to place in God. With that understanding, it is customary for Reformed individuals to assume that all the men in Hebrews 11 were regenerated; after all they pleased God through their faith, had incredible spiritual perception, godly desires, and the ability to choose the things of God.
Then, John Piper comes along and says:
“The new birth and all of its effects, including faith
and justification and purification and final conformity to Christ in
heaven, would not be possible without the incarnation and life and
death of Jesus—without Christmas and Good Friday and Easter.
We get a glimpse of this here in John’s First Epistle.” (page 70, Finally Alive)
But that’s not the only reason the incarnation is necessary for the
new birth. The incarnation of the Son of God is also necessary
because the life we have through the new birth is life in union
with the incarnate Christ. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that
came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will
live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the
world is my fl esh” (John 6:51). That life that we have in union
with Christ is the life that Jesus obtained for us by the life he
lived and the death he died in the flesh. (pg. 70-71)
“So without the incarnation of the Son of God as the Messiah,
there would be no regeneration and no saving faith.” (pg. 72)
John Piper is saying that there was no regeneration before the death of Jesus Christ.
There was no regeneration before the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter specifically tells us we are “born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1Pet. 1:3). Men were not born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead before Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The life that men receive in regeneration is the life of Christ when He comes to dwell inside of their hearts. The life given in regeneration is God’s gift of eternal life. Jesus said that the Son, of man must be lifted up (on the cross), that whosoever would believe in Him should have eternal life. (John 3:14-16). Both John the Apostle and John Piper are careful to tell us that God has given us eternal life, and only those who have the Son of God have the life (1John 5:11-12). Jesus Christ was not indwelling the hearts of men before the resurrection.
I could go on to make an extensive case from the Scriptures to substantiate the fact that there was no regeneration before the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and John Piper makes this point many times as well. Apparently, John Piper did not see the horrendous contradiction between this biblical fact and Reformed Doctrine. If Reformed Doctrine is truth, and if it has correctly defined the condition of man since the fall, and if it has correctly defined the work of regeneration, then no man living before men were “born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”, could have spiritual perception or spiritual understanding, they would not seek God, they could not please God, nor could they fear God, or have faith through which they would be saved. All men prior to the resurrection would still have the ‘infamous’, but unbiblical, “bound will”, not able to choose the things of God. However, that is not the Biblical record. Hebrews 11 speaks of men who had faith in God, and through that faith they pleased God. That faith did not save them. They were still looking forward to the salvation that God would bring in His Son Jesus Christ.
So, how do you get all the “spiritually dead men” of the Old Testament “enabled” without regeneration? By Reformed definition, they still have the “old nature”, the “old heart”, a “bound will” etc… How did they get their faith? And most importantly, support your contention from the Word of God. Since I am out of town, I do not have access to my notes, where in either the Canons of Dort or the Westminster Catechism it states, “Without the regenerating grace of God men can’t…” These old testament men either needed new life through the regenerating work of God, or the Reformed teaching is wrong.
Biblically, being a slave of sin (Rom. 6), bound to the Law (Rom. 7), with sin dwelling in our flesh (Rom. 7) is not the same as “spiritual death” with a “bound will” as defined by Reformed Theology. Man cannot free himself from slavery to sin, or bondage of the Law, or cleanse or remove his own sin. The word tells us that when a man is bound to the Law, he cannot be joined to Christ (Rom. 7:1-4). It is this union with Jesus Christ, when He comes to dwell inside of us, that gives us the new life of the new birth. That’s why Paul tells us that God sent His Son born under the Law, (a specific point of time- “when the fullness of time had come”; no hocus pocus, ‘God is outside of time’ game), to redeem those who were under the Law so that they could receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-6). Men were not being joined to Christ, receiving regeneration until after there was a means of redemption (deliverance) from Law for them. And the Scripture is quite clear, we are redeemed by His blood. No shedding of blood in death, no redemption, no adoption, no new birth in union with Jesus Christ.
Men needed to die to be free from Law (Rom. 7:1-4). Christ provided the means for that death. He tasted death for us. And as a man is baptized into Christ’s Body, they are first baptized into His death (Rom. 3-5+). They are first united with Christ in the likeness of His death, being crucified conjointly with Christ (Rom. 6:5, 6, Gal. 2:19-20). They are conformed to Christ’s death (Phil. 3:9), before they are made alive with Jesus Christ. This is the “spiritual death”. The Bible refers to our dying with Christ over 17 times. Paul says that Jesus “condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3) Jesus gave sin in the flesh a death sentence, and it is carried out as an individual is baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit, baptized into His body, into His death. We are made to die to sin (Rom. 6:2). Our flesh was crucified with its passions and lusts (Gal. 5:24). We were crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be destroyed (Rom. 6:6). And before we are made alive with Jesus Christ, Paul tells us that we receive a circumcision made without hands, a removal of the body of flesh, being buried with Him in baptism (Col. 2:11). We were in the state of being dead with Jesus Christ, in the uncircumcision of our flesh (Col. 2:13), before we receive the circumcision and before we are made alive with Jesus Christ. Prior to our being baptized by Jesus Christ, we were formerly living and walking in sins and the lusts of the flesh, but that part of us was put to death: crucified, then circumcised. Paul specifically states, “if any man is in Christ the body is dead because of sin” (Rom. 8:10). That death freed us from slavery to sin, and bondage to the Law, so that we could be joined to Christ. Literally Paul says, “And we being dead, the sins and the transgressions of us” (Eph. 2:1). Formerly we were living, prior to being dead with Jesus Christ. Thus freed from Law by death, we can be joined to Christ to be given His life. As Paul then states, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) Elsewhere He tells us specifically, that if a man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Rom. 8:9). Our body dies before we receive the indwelling of Jesus Christ, giving us new life in regeneration, because the old life of the flesh is dead.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ALL OF THIS?
If there was no regeneration before the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then it can be shown that many Reformed interpretations of the Word of God are totally erroneous. Scriptures used to teach the concept of the “bondage of the will” most often come out the book of John, i.e. John 10. These passages are interpreted in such a way that some men received the regeneration, that is why they “heard Christ’s voice and followed Him”, and others didn’t, leaving them with “bound wills”. But the fact is, no one had yet been regenerated. Therefore from a Reformed perspective one would have to say they all still had “bound wills”. But from a Biblical perspective, the teaching of “bound wills” is extra biblical, based upon faulty interpretations of the Word of God. It is important to point out that the Reformed interpretation of John 3:3-8 is also faulty. It is based upon the belief that men are being regenerated when Nicodemus comes to speak to Jesus. But there is no regeneration in John 3. The Reformed notion of what it means to “see the Kingdom of God” is not Biblical. Rather, Jesus knew that the Jewish people were looking forward to the eternal kingdom that God had promised King David, and Jesus knew that Nicodemus was wondering if Jesus was coming to establish that Kingdom. So Jesus cut to the chase to tell him that he would not ever see that Kingdom if he wasn’t given a new life source, because flesh and blood will not inherit God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus goes on to say how that new life source will come: through the Son of Man being lifted up. Jesus drew upon a familiar analogy, just as men were dying in the wilderness from the sting of serpents, and they had to look at the serpent that Moses lifted up to live, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up, and whoever looks to Him and believes in Him will be given that new, eternal life source as they are born of the Spirit. John Piper was right, there was no new birth before the resurrection, and that fact devastates Reformed Doctrine. The teachings of “spiritually dead men” with “bound wills” is a fabrication. It is not taught in the Scripture, the concept only has a random series of verses for support, and these verses are often taken out of context as they are interpreted. The Reformed Distinctive that “Regeneration must precede faith” is just plain unbiblical.
Would you say that salvation precedes faith? Or would you say that a person needed to be saved in order to be enabled to place their faith into Jesus Christ? No. There are plenty of precise scriptures, i.e. “whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:13). The calling upon the name of the Lord precedes the salvation. “With the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom. 10:10). Salvation clearly follows faith. Men had faith long before God provided His Son’s death on the cross to bring us salvation. What the Reformed people failed to see was that regeneration was not a “preparatory work”, it is God’s saving work, when Jesus Christ comes to dwell inside of an individual, to give him eternal life, he is saved. Scriptural support: “For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled through the death of His Son (as we are baptized into His death), much more, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10). (Please note chapter 5 teaches the order is: many transgressions to justification (5:16) justified in His blood (5:9), gift of righteousness (5:17), an acquittal (5:18), made righteous (5:19), introduced to grace by faith (5:2), and grace reigns through righteousness into eternal life (what we receive when Jesus Christ comes to dwell in our hearts) (5:21). “Made alive with Jesus Christ, by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5). And, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31). Faith precedes being saved by regeneration. Faith precedes regeneration. Faith did not save any individual, even though it came before regeneration, but God saved them through faith, when He sent His Son to dwell in their hearts.
Would you say that the gift of eternal life precedes faith? Would you say that a person had to receive the gift of eternal life to enable them to believe? Or does the individual have the ability to believe before he receives eternal life? The Apostle John said that he wrote his whole gospel so that people would believe that Jesus was the Christ, and believing they would have life in His name (John 20:31). Jesus said that whosoever would believe would have eternal life (John 3:15,16). Even Reformed Theology texts say that a person must believe to receive eternal life. The problem is, most Reformed writers make a distinction between the “new spiritual life” given in regeneration to enable faith and repentance, from the ‘eternal life’ given after conversion.
Which comes first, the indwelling of Jesus Christ in our hearts or faith? Does Jesus Christ come dwell in our hearts to enable a person to believe in Him? No. Jesus Christ does not come to dwell inside of a dirty vessel. A person places their trust in Jesus, and then they are baptized by the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, baptized into His death so that they can be set free from Sin and Law, They are cleansed in His blood (1John 1:7), and justified by His blood (Rom. 5:9). They are made a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:18), a slave of God (6:22), receiving the fruit into sanctification (6:22) into eternal life (6:22, 23). Having been redeemed from Law, they can receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:5). And it is because they are now a son by adoption, that they qualify to receive the inheritance (Gal 4:7). And “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts” (Gal. 4:6). Christ comes to dwell in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17). Faith precedes the indwelling of Jesus Christ, which provides us the gift of eternal life in regeneration. Faith precedes regeneration.
By the way, why does Reformed Theology make such a big deal about adoption? Men couldn’t even be adopted until after Christ provided the redemption. The fact that we are born of God as we receive the indwelling of His Son, born of God’s Seed, the Word, to be given His life, a gift of eternal life, our gift of salvation, is the ultimate. Adoption only secures for us the rights of a son. Then, as an adopted son, we are qualified to receive the inheritance: the promised Spirit/eternal life which we receive as we are regenerated.
Which comes first, the Spirit, or faith? Are we give the Spirit to enable belief, or do we receive the Spirit of God’s Son after we believe? Paul says that we receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal. 3:14)
I appreciate John Piper trying to bring some clarity, and connect in some way the new birth to Jesus Christ. I have yet to read the whole book to see if he clarifies these contradictions to the teaching of Reformed Doctrine. I did follow the sermon series when it was presented several years ago. And I did write him about some of these inconsistencies. But he did not correspond with me. I have yet to find anyone who will reconcile these contradictions to the Word of God. I hope that you will show me from the Word of God how Reformed Doctrine, which requires regeneration to rescue men from “spiritual death” to enable any God-ward response, can be true, if there was no regeneration prior to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
In my opinion, all arguments are won and lost by the definition of terms. Reformed Doctrine is built upon unbiblical definitions. Regeneration is not a work that changes a man so that he can believe, turning on a “spiritual switch” so that he can perceive and understand spiritual truth, giving him “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”, and a “new heart” so that he can have new desires, and a “new nature” etc… Regeneration does not raise a man “born spiritually dead from birth”. We are not like Lazarus in the tomb. The death we are compared to is the death of Jesus Christ, and we are united with Him in this death, prior to being born again through His resurrection from the dead. Regeneration is the work of God that Jesus provided, through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, that saves us. Regeneration occurs when Jesus Christ comes to dwell inside of us, after crucifying us, cleansing us, and circumcising us. We are not only indwelt by Jesus Christ, but we are joined to Him to become “one spirit” with Him (as a man is joined to his wife to become one flesh with her), and He is our new spiritual life source.
I would really appreciate answers to my questions, how you reconcile the teaching of this book, Finally Alive which you recommended, to the Word of God. If you would, please e-mail me at 2B4HisGlory@Gmail.com.