Part 1 outlined the issue of “generational sin.” Some problems with “generational sin” for believers were addressed in Part 2. This final post highlights how the cross of Christ releases any stronghold of the past for believers and shows the new orientation given by regeneration.
BELIEVERS’ SOLUTION TO GENERATIONAL SIN
Those who suggest believers are under some spiritual bond or stronghold brought on by sinful parentage make two mistakes. One is that they fail to distinguish conditions from causes. A believer’s sinful behavior may have been accommodated by conditions surrounding their prior experiences, but one would be hard-pressed to demonstrate with certainty a causal chain of events that directly result in specific sinful acts. In other words, believers are not mere products of nature and/or nurture being tossed around by fatal forces from the past. Although significantly influenced by them, believers are not slaves to environment, circumstances, nerve endings, psyche, chemical soup, or parentage. These elements are conditions, not causes.
Second, and most importantly, regeneration so radically transforms the human soul that the “old is gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17) because “the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5). Our essential human nature has been radically transformed. For every believer, God’s Spirit is at work fighting against the flesh and, slowly but certainly, prevailing in victory. This is not to make light of the complex socio-psychological/environmental matrix to which everyone is subject. But, a deep and abiding deference to God’s rule in the lives of God’s people by the power of God’s Spirit is the prevailing force governing every thought and action, rather than any psychological or sociological impact/influence.
Moreover, the reign of God through his Spirit is the apostle Paul’s basis for appeal to every believer for all time and is the theological presupposition behind every New Testament imperative written to the Church (see Romans 8:2-4, for instance). Paul does not intimate something like, “Do the best you can because I know it’s hard with your past and all.” Instead, he assumes the ability to rise up and move forward in holy living is the reality of every genuine believer propelled by God’s Spirit.
Therefore, with the Spirit of God introduced into our lives at regeneration comes a new way to view the past. We’ve been given a new orientation: Looking up and leaning forward. Allow me to explain.
Since our “life is now hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), we have been given a unique orientation. Scripture has numerous examples of this “looking up and leaning forward” idea. Paul, for instance, writes “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way” (Philippians 3:13-15). Hebrews admonishes us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2). As we look up to Jesus we lean forward in holy living. John tells us that “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself [present tense] as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Our certain future will in fact impact our present living.
Peter insists that looking up and leaning forward must have a tangible impact upon our ethical living, because
“the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:10-14).
I honestly believe that if our daily lives were governed more by the anxious expectation of our Lord’s return and its implications for our lives, there would be far less psychosis and far more hope-filled believers who anxiously live for Christ. Indeed, it is this forward focus that propels our new life in Christ. It provides a fresh and exciting orientation for living as people of God whose identity is found solely in Christ Jesus. Our past does not define us!
You see, when Christ enters our lives we are set on a new course. Quite simply, being born again means that something happens to us at the deepest level of our existence. Being born again is the activity of God whereby he radically transforms our moral, mental, emotional, and volitional fiber through the unique power of the Holy Spirit. Our value systems are wholly renovated, not just modified as old impulses and habits are gradually yet certainly replaced with new ones (Galatians 5:19-24; Colossians 2:11-12). In our second birth a spiritual death takes place of the old self or nature (Galatians 2:20), which was dominated by sinful desires and activities (Romans 6:1-11), and we are given a new life that is inclined toward loving and serving the living God who by grace alone through faith alone saved us to a living hope that is never to be corrupted (1 Peter 1:4). Being born again begins this new journey or the process theologians call “sanctification,” broadly defined as the gradual but certain transformation of our lives in growing conformity to Christ’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is our heritage and this is our future. Influenced by the past? Yes. Dominated by it? μὴ γένοιτο: (may it never be!) because “it was for freedom that Christ set us free!”