Renewal or Regeneration

“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment.Neither do men put new wine into old bottles.” –Matthew 9:16–17

Until recently Bible Believers drew a contrast between reformation and regeneration. Reformation was commonly defined as changes in external conduct or character. Regeneration speaks of a radical change, wrought by God, at the core of a man’s being. Modernism’s latest approach makes us discuss semantics, the use of language. “Renewal” has displaced “reformation” in the vocabulary of modernism. Renewal is used in relation to man but especially in relation to Society and the socio-economic structure. Society must be renewed. SOcial structures must be renewed. Economic structures must be renewed.

At the risk of oversimplification, we can offer certain synonyms for the term renewal. When renewal is suggested in the areas of social structures, it means “integration.” When renewal is demanded in the economic area, it means “socialism.”

We have increasing cause for concern, because evangelicals are also seeking to use the term renewal. To be sure, they seek to pour some spiritual content in to the term, but they seek to use it nonetheless. Christianity Today enjoys the largest circulation of any religiously oriented publication in America. Across the past several months Christianity Today has featured one article after another with the term renewal in its title. United Evangelical Action, voice of the National Association of Evangelicals, is following a similar policy. Several articles that first appeared in United Evangelical Action have been reprinted and are offered under the title, “Renewal.”

Perhaps Bible-believing Christians can use the word renewal. On the other hand, why should we risk confusion by employing a term that is being trumpeted by the proponents of modernism? We ought to be standing firmly on the biblical ground that natural man is dead in trespasses and sins. Only by a resurrection from the dead—that is, only by being born anew from above—can he enter into the kingdom of God. Further, only this new man, who has experienced a radical transformation at the core of his being, can have any real impact upon the society around him. From the biblical viewpoint, a renewing of the old simply is not enough. The dead cannot be renewed. They must be resurrected, born anew.

Our Savior taught this truth under two figures. He said, “No man puts a new patch on an old garment…Neither do men put new wine into old bottles.” A word of explanation may be in order. When Jesus said, “No man puts a new patch on an old garment,” the world had not heard of the “Sanforized” pre-shrunk label. It was not uncommon for a piece of new cloth to shrink to a fraction of its original size on the first washing. If, then, an old garment was patched with new cloth, at the first washing the patch would shrink, tearing the garment, making the condition worse than the original rent.

When Jesus spoke of putting new wine in old bottles, containers such as we know today, bottles of glass, were not in common use. The bottle had been invented, for glass blowing is an ancient art:., probably known already to the Egyptians. Class blowing was an art, however; the bottle was not a production item. The “bottle” in common use by the people of Jesus’ day—if it could be called a bottle-was a sheep skin, removed from the body of the animal without cutting (if you can feature that) so that the only apertures were the orifices where the feet and the head had been. These openings were bound shut. The result was a so-called bottle. A new bottle. that is, a new sheep skin, possessed a certain elasticity, so that, as the wine fermented, the skin expanded. An old sheep skin cracked or exploded.

Many people today see the Christian reHgion in terms of patching an old garment with new cloth or pouring new wine into old bottles. There was, for example, the devout woman who said, “My husband has one bad habit. He uses profanity. If he could overcome that one bad habit,” she said, “I think he would be ready to join the church.” Well, perhaps-if overcoming the bad habit indicated a real change in his nature. Her assumption rather obviously was this: If her husband could patch this one rip in the garment of his character, all would be well with his soul. She overlooked one fact. Though the garment of his character might be patched up, it would continue to be the same old garment.

Lest the basic point we are seeking to make should escape us, consider a hypothetical case, the ease of a man of whom it might be said, he fell as low as it is possible for a man to fall. The man is a philanderer, an adulterer, a fornicator, a thief, a liar. He profanes the name of God. He desecrates the Lord’s Day. He has transgressed every commandment set forth in Scripture. Now, suppose that it were possible to remove everyone of these overt sins from his life, to patch up every rent in the garment of his character. His philandering ceases. He is no longer an adulterer nor a fornicator. He ceases from his thievery. He bears false witness no longer. He ceases to profane the name of God. He ceases to desecrate the Lord’s Day. He has, so to speak, patched over every rent in the garment of his life. All this does not mean he is a Christian. It does not mean he is a saved man—not unless these alterations are the result of an internal, spiritual transformation. Untold men have committed none of these sins, but that does not necessarily mean they are Christian. One doesn’t become a Christian by patching up the old garment. Nor is one necessarily a Christian, merely because no obvious rips or tears are apparent in the garment of his life.

Some apparently live by the converse theory, the theory that might be compared to pouring new wine into old bottles. These are the people who assume one becomes a Christian by making certain little additions to one’s life; that is, by pouring new elements into the “bottle” of the old man. One instance is that of the man who assumes he can become a Christian by adding the church to his life. We would not want to be misunderstood. We do not depreciate the importance of the church which Christ purchased with the shedding of His blood. The church is the divine instrument, not only for the conversion of men through the preaching of the gospel, but for their sanctification, their growth into the stature of Christ. Even so, the church may become a mere addendum to the life of some.

The layman would be surprised, if be were aware of the frequency with which we are approached by people who simply want to add the church to their lives. A typical case would be that of the husband and wife who are experiencing marital difficulties. Perhaps they have read a magazine article to the effect that church people experience less of such difficulties. And this is true, you know. Far fewer divorces occur among confessing Christians than among the remainder of the population. Further, we know why this is true. The Christian is a different kind of person. But the unchurched family does not know the reason. They cannot discern spiritual things. They think that if only they join the church, all will be well.

If we may digress for a moment, do you know how we solve this problem? We say to them, “The first thing that you must do is to attend the worship services of the church faithfully. For the next six months you must attend the worship services twice a Sunday every Sunday. At the end of six months, stop in and we will talk again.” Almost invariably this ends the matter. They are not concerned with God or Christ or their own souls. Somehow they obtained the notion that their marriage could be repaired if only they joined the church.

Another instance is that of the man who adds philanthropy to his life. He feels that if he gives of his substance to various worthwhile organizations and causes, all will be well with his soul He pours the new wine of philanthropy into the old bottle of an otherwise unchanged life.

The extremes to which philanthropy may go and the folly of it have been illustrated in recent years. It has been disclosed repeatedly that the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation have both contributed to the support of organizations that engage in questionable activities. Consider the irony of it: Two great foundations, the result of the labors of great men under the American system of free enterprise, both contributing to the support of organizations that engage in activities which are questionable from both tile religious and the patriotic point of view.

Some time ago, according to Time magazine, certain stockholders of Standard Oil of New Jersey protested the fact that this great corporate enterprise was giving away millions of dollars each year to organizations and institutions, at least some of which were suspect in their political leaning. One of the executives replied, “We cannot investigate all those to whom we make contributions.” In brief, it does not matter where one gives his money, nor to whom he gives it, nor for what purposes it is used, as long as one is giving it away. This is philanthropy with a vengeance, a philanthropy that has no objective beyond itself.

A third instance is that of the good neighbor policy. Many an unsaved, unchurched man has added the good neighbor policy to his life. One of our members has said of his neighbor, “I don’t think I could ask anything of my neighbor which he would not do, if he were able.” Some men make a religion of the good neighbor policy. They assume, if they pour the new wine of neighborly kindness into the old bottle of an otherwise unchanged life, all will be well with their souls.

Consider the folly of it. A man is not changed merely by making additions to or subtractions from his life. One may take an old jalopy, as some of the boys are doing at the prescnt time. He may do some “bump” work and give it a coat of paint to cover the external defects. He may add a four-barreled carburetor or even two of them. He may plane the head to increase tlle compression ratio. He may put on a pair of headers to decrease the back pressure. When it is all done, what does he have? It is still an old jalopy, a “souped up” old jalopy, to use the language of the boys, but an old jalopy nonetheless. So with a man. One may subtract from his life certain obvious sins. One may add to his life certain obvious good deeds. When all the additions and subtractions have been made, however, what is he? lie is still the same old man!

Why is this so? And why do men make this mistake? Apparently, because they misunderstand the nature of man’s problem. It is commonly assumed that man is under the condemnation of God, because he sins. He lies. He cheats. He steals. He profanes the name of God. He desecrates the Lord’s Day. The next assumption is, if these sins can be removed from his life, all will be well with his soul. But man is not under the condemnation of God, first of al1, because he sins! Does that surprise you? He is under the condemnation of God. because he is a sinner; that is. because he has a nature that is alienated from God, a nature that is corrupted, depraved and at odds with God. Paul put it this way: We are by nature the children of wrath. We do not become the children of wrath because we sin. We sin because we are the children of wrath. When a man lies or cheats or steals. this is only symptomatic of the depraved nature within him.

The truth of this assertion may be observed on the purely physical level. When one of our children develops a fever, we know the child is not ill because he has a fever. Quite to the contrary. He has a fever because he is ill. When we call a doctor, we do not expect him to fight the fever. We expect the doctor to attack the germ, the bacteria, the virus, the infection that is causing the fever. Therefore he administers penicillin or one of the wide-range antibiotics. When the germ has been removed, the fever will go with it. The fever is only a symptom of the disease that has made the child ill.

A problem has arisen in our generation, because too many churches expend their efforts in treating the symptoms rather than the disease. The whole of Protestant liberalism treats the symptoms rather than the disease. They speak of themselves as “architects of society.” They would be the “engineers” of social institutions, making economic, social and political adjustments in the structure of society. What is the fallacy in their thinking? The problem docs not lie in organizations and institutions. The problem lies in the heart of man. If one wishes to make a real correction in human problems, he must change man, not the organizations and institutions that constitute the structure of society. Until man is changed, no change in the structure of society will provide a corrective.

This is the lesson Jesus sought to teach Nicodemus. Nicodemus was an exceptionally fine feHow. If Nicodemus had lived on Main Street in your town, you would have wanted to be his neighbor. He was an intelligent. educated man. He was a man of substance in the community. More, Nicodemus was a morally upright man. He would not have taken a penny from any man by dishonest means. He would rather bite his tongue than to profane the name of God. He was also a religious man. Each Sabbath day found him in the temple. He tithed his income and fasted regularly.

Nonetheless, Jesus said: Nicodemus, none of this is good enough. “Ye must be born again….Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” For all his goodness, for all his morality, Nicodemus needed to be born again. Way was this so? Because his goodness and his morality were a veneer. They were an exterior coating of the man. Within was the same old man, the same old depraved man who was alienated from God.

Nicodemus also needed to be converted. Some make the mistake of assuming that regeneration, being born again, and conversion are synonymous. This is by no means true. When a man is born again, God implants a new nature with in him. The old nature is supplanted by a new nature. When the new nature is activated, when the new nature goes to work, that is conversion. The first definitive act of the new nature is a turning from sin to God. That is conversion: turning completely away from sin and completely toward God.

One evening in the Four Square Gospel Tabernacle. the late Aimee Semple McPherson gave a dramatic demonstration of this truth. That great building contains a vast stage or platform. One night Aimee Semple McPherson appeared in the uniform of a police officer. She wore a blue uniform. On it was a badge. She carried a revolver and the other paraphernalia of a police officer. She roared out onto that great stage on a motorcycle. At the center of the stage she braked the motorcycle to a halt, jumped from the machine, threw up her white gloved hand and shouted. “Stop! You’re going to hell.”

Disregarding the dramatics, she was undoubtedly right. Many in her audience were undoubtedly hell bound unless they should turn from their evil ways. This, however, isn’t enough. Having stopped, one must turn completely about and go with all haste in the opposite direction. That is conversion. When a man is traveling the rand of sin and death and hell, when he is traveling the road “which seemeth right unto some but the end thereof is death,” he must not only stop but turn completely about and move in the opposite direction.

And not for a little time only. This is the fallacy in many so-called conversions. The evangelist comes to town. A great meeting is held. The next day one reads in the papers that four hundred conversions or four thousand conversions took place the night before. They are converted at night. By the next morning many are unconverted. This is no conversion at alL The only true conversion is the permanent conversion, the conversion that not only puts a man on the right road but which keeps him there, until he reaches the gate which is strait.

Each of us must confront himself with this vital question. Does my religion consist in a few patches? Have I simply put a patch over a bit of sin here, a bit of iniquity there? Or am l one of those who seek to pour a little new wine in the old bottle. a bit of goodness, a bit of kindness. a bit of sympathy all poured into the old depraved carcass? Then note the words of Christ. The old clothes are only torn asunder in the end by the new patch. The old bottle perishes with the new wine. There is no hope in these. The end thereof is death and destruction. There is hope and blessedness only at the end of the narrow road, for at the end of the narrow road is the gate which is strait, and within the gate which is strait lies the Kingdom of God.

This also provides an answer to the question, “Why don’t we offer an invitation?,” In brief, why don’t we offer an immediate opportunity for men to confess Christ? As a matter of fact, upon rare occasions we have offered an invitation in the sense of inviting anyone who wished to make confession of his faith to appear before the elders of the church. Generally, however, we do not offer an immediate public invitation because of a firm principal conviction. We do not want as a member of the church anyone who cannot wait until the consistory meeting on Monday, or a week from Monday or a month from Monday. If any man’s faith is so fleeting, so temporary that it will not continue as a compelling force in his life, he has no hue faith, neither does he have a place among God’s people.

If God is truly at work in your heart, if a true faith has been wrought by the preaching of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit you will come, if it be a month from now, though you must come on your hands and knees—nonetheless, you will come. God will compel you to come. This is what we seek—men born anew from above, men in whom God is at work. These are the church: men in whom God has wrought a spiritual revolution, transforming the soul.



Once again we arc indebted to the Rev. Gordon Girod, pastor of the Seventh Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and to Baker Book House of that city for permission to use this material. It constitutes one chapter in a volume entitled God Is Not Dead! which will appear this spring. This article stresses the Biblical message that unless a man is born again, he shall in no wise enter the kingdom of God.