Would you be more likely to say "God is changing me" or "God has changed me"?
Many Christians are comfortable saying the former, but some of us might hesitate to say the latter: "God has changed me." We are much more likely to say, "I have a lot more changing to do. I'm a work in progress. I haven't yet arrived."
There is indeed a continuing process of sanctification happening within the believer, but the completed work of regeneration is of equal importance. Regeneration is the complete transformation that begins the continuing process of sanctification.
It seems that many Christians have a good grasp on the continuing process, but perhaps a more tenuous grasp of the completed work. So here are seven Scriptures that speak clearly of Christ's completed work in you as a believer.
You Are a New Creation
"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
Paul does not say, "If anyone is in Christ, he is becoming a new creation." He does not say, "The old is going away." Nor does he say, "The new is gradually forming." He says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." There is no process here. This is something that has happened in its entirety, and it's true of you if you are in Christ.
You Have Been Crucified
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20, NIV)
Regeneration didn't just happen to Paul; it's true of every believer. It's a done deal.
You Have Been Raised
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." (Col. 3:1-3, NIV)
Notice it's not, "If you hope one day to be" but, "Since you have been . . ." If you are a believer, you have been raised with Christ. You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. There is something for us to do (as there are in all these passages) in setting our hearts on things above, but you do that by taking in the first part of the verse.
Your Body Is a Temple of the Holy Spirit
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" (1 Cor. 6:19, NIV)
Some Corinthians also struggled with regeneration. "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit," not "is becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit." You have received him from God. If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit lives with you and in you. His presence gives you power, and that makes the Christian life possible for you. That's why it's important to know.
You Are Light
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." (Eph. 5:8, NIV)
He doesn't say, "You have light," he says, "You are light." Your very nature was darkness. You were darkness, now you are light. Your nature has changed. Notice how Paul brings regeneration and sanctification together: "You are light." That's regeneration. "Live as . . . light." That's sanctification. You can't live as light, unless you are light.
You Have Been Set Free from Sin
"You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." (Rom. 6:22, NIV)
Many Christians don't grasp this point. They would say, "You don't understand; I sin and fail in many ways. I'm not yet free from sin." Paul says, "Wait a minute! You have been set free from sin." He's writing to ordinary Christians like us. Sin is still your enemy, but it is no longer your master. You are no longer sin's prisoner. You are no longer in chains. You are no longer under your old master. You can fight against temptation by God's grace. That's why there is hope for you.
You Have Been Born Again
"You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Pet. 1:23, NIV)
You can't be a little born or half born. Either you are born or you are not born. The language connotes completed transaction. This is what has happened to you in Christ. Regeneration is God's completed work in you. It is not a process. It does not happen in stages. That's what makes it different from sanctification. You can be a little in love, but you cannot be a little married. Sanctification is like being a little in love. Regeneration is like being married. Either you are or you aren't. You cannot be a little regenerated.
Regeneration is the complete transformation that begins a continuing process called sanctification. The great truth of sanctification is that "God is changing me." The great truth of regeneration is that "God has changed me." We need both.
Colin Smith is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. For more resources by Colin Smith visit Unlocking the Bible, where you can request a free sample of the daily devotional, listen to the program, or browse other gospel- centered, Christ-exalting resources. You can follow Colin on Twitter.