Here we are just a few weeks after Christmas. Remember all those beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree? Watching the joy of children (especially) unwrapping the gifts? Ribbons, bows, wrapping paper discarded so that the receiver can get to the gift? As I was going through my devotion on James 1:18, I was reminded of Christmases past, with an overabundance of gifts. In today’s word, we are concentrating on the perfect gift – the first gift of grace that God bestowed on us – regeneration – the gift of being born again.
“Of his own will He brought us forth (begat) by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:18) Begat means to bring forth. Our rebirth is distinguished from our first birth, when we were conceived physically and inherited our sin nature. The sin nature is that principle in man that makes him rebellious against God. When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing. The new birth is a spiritual, holy, and heavenly birth that results in our being made alive spiritually (regeneration, born-again in Christ Jesus). Man in his natural state is “dead in trespasses and sins” until he is “made alive” (regenerated) by Christ. This happens when he places his faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:1).
The only means of regeneration is by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. No amount of good works or keeping of the Law can regenerate the heart. “By works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight” (Romans 3:20). Only Christ offers a cure for the total depravity of the human heart.
By God’s will, He brought forth regeneration, the perfect gift, which is the first gift of grace God bestows upon His people openly. He purposed it, and it was done. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) Among the most eminent illustrations of His goodness is this, that by His mere will, without any external power to control him, and where there could be nothing but benevolence, He has adopted us into His family, and given us a most exalted condition, as renovated beings, among His creatures. “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.'” (John 3:5) It’s not enough for one just to be physically clean—water is not enough for true purification. Rather, a person’s nature also needs to be cleansed—or sanctified—by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Regeneration is a radical change. Just as our physical birth resulted in a new individual entering the earthly realm, our spiritual birth results in a new person entering the heavenly realm. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6). After regeneration, we begin to see and hear and seek after divine things; we begin to live a life of faith and holiness. Now Christ is formed in the hearts; now we are partakers of the divine nature, having been made new creatures. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). God, not man, is the source of this transformation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” (Ephesians 2:8). God’s great love and free gift, His rich grace and abundant mercy, are the cause of the rebirth. The mighty power of God—the power that raised Christ from the dead—is displayed in the regeneration and conversion of sinners (Ephesians 1:19–20).
As the will of God is good, all its productions must be good also; as it is infinitely pure, all its productions must be holy. The word or doctrine of truth, what St. Paul calls the word of the truth of the Gospel, is the means which God uses to convert souls. “the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” (Colossians 1:5-6) Our new birth comes “through the word of truth”, which is the gospel. We cannot receive the new birth by obeying the law; we can only receive it through faith in Christ, who died for us so that the “righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us”(Rom. 8:4). Just as, typologically, Moses brought the Israelites to the border of the promised land but could not bring them in, and then Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land; so also, the law brings us to the place where we realize our need for a new birth, and the new birth comes through Jesus (the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua”).
Next, James states the purpose of our new birth: “that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created”. First century Christians were the first generation to believe in Jesus Christ as Messiah. James called them “a kind of firstfruits of all He created.” The “firstfruits” was an offering of the first grain of the harvest in recognition of God’s goodness and provision. Interestingly, the feast of firstfruits was not offered until the Israelites entered the promised land. So, after our new birth, we are to offer ourselves as “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1), in recognition of His goodness in providing us with a new life.
Go back and read James 1:2-18 in context. God created the world and everything in it, including you and me. I truly can’t comprehend His great love for us. “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) There is no better gift than this – the first gift of Grace.