In sermon research today, I came across a passage from an old friend, Octavius Winslow. His book, The Work of the Holy Spirit, originally published in 1840, is one of my all-time favorites and has had a huge influence in my life. In fact, I named my youngest child after Winslow (Sarah “Wynn”… the Sarah is after Jonathan Edward’s wife).
Anyway, the passage relates to the central importance of the Holy Spirit doing the work of regeneration to bring a formerly, spiritually dead sinner to life so that he is able to see and feel his need for a Savior and respond to the offer of grace in the gospel of the Savior.
He levels the ground of any thoughts that there are human rites that we can perform to put us in a state of grace before God, taking aim at the ceremonial practice of water baptism, which is a good and important thing, but not an ultimate thing.
“Your baptism, whether received in infancy or in riper years, will avail you nothing if you are not a new creature. You may be baptized, and yet be lost; you may not be baptized, and yet be saved. “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision” (and the same is true of baptism), “but a new creature” (Gal. 6:15). Your baptism infused into you no principle of life; it conferred upon you no saving grace. You must be born again of the Spirit, be washed in the blood of Christ and be clothed in His righteousness before you can enter the kingdom of grace on earth, or be admitted within the kingdom of glory in heaven.
Born of the Spirit. Regenerated. Resurrected–the initial work of grace by the Spirit in the life of every believer.
Soli Deo Gloria!