It is very unfashionable these days—not only in the world, but also within the church—to engage in anything resembling judgment. It is particularly unpopular to form opinions of the spiritual state of others. Doubting the profession of anyone who claims to be a Christian is simply not kosher. Yet we are given instructions such as “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), which we can hardly obey without—[gasp!]—judging.
Far more importantly, we must judge ourselves (2 Corinthians 6:5). To that end, J. C. Ryle offers “six great marks of regeneration,” laid down in Scripture
(1) First of all, St John says, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin’, and again, ‘Whosoever is born of God sinneth not’ (1 John 3:9; 5:18).
A regenerate man does not commit sin as a habit. He no longer sins with his heart and will, and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin;—they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. . . .
(2) Secondly, St John says, ‘whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God’ (1 John 5:1).
A regenerate man believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour by whom his soul can be pardoned and justified, that He is the Divine Person appointed and anointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and that beside him there is No Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness, but in Christ he sees ground for the fullest confidence, and trusting in him he believes that his sins are all forgiven, and his iniquities all put away. He believes that for the sake of Christ’s finished work and death upon the cross he is reckoned righteous in God’s sight, and may look forward to death and judgment without alarm. He may have his fears and doubts. . . . [But] he would say he found a preciousness in Christ, a suitableness to his own soul in Christ, that he found nowhere else, and that he must cling to Him.
(3) Thirdly, St John says, ‘Everyone that doeth righteousness is born of [God]’ (1 John 2:29).
The regenerate man is a holy man. He endeavours to live according to God’s will, to do the things that please God, to avoid the things that God hates. His aim and desire is to love God with heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love his neighbour as himself. . . . No doubt he is not perfect. None will tell you that sooner than himself. He groans under the burden of indwelling corruption cleaving to him. He finds an evil principle within him constantly warring against grace, and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence. In spite of all short-comings, the average bent and bias of his way is holy,—his doings holy,—his tastes holy,—and his habits holy. . . .
(4) Fourthly, St John says, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14).
A regenerate man has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for them who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. . . . They are Jesus Christ’s people: they are His Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them.
(5) Fifthly, St John says, ‘Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world.’ (1 John 5:4).
A regenerate man does not make the world’s opinion his rule, of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the stream of the world’s ways, notions, and customs. ‘What will men say?’ is no longer a turning point with him. He overcomes the love of the world. . . . He overcomes the fear of the world. He is content to do many things which all around him think unnecessary, to say the least. They blame him: it does not move him. They ridicule him: he does not give way. He loves the praise of God more than the praise of man. . . .
(6) Sixthly, St John says, ‘He that is begotten of God keepeth himself’ (1 John 5:18).
A regenerate man is very careful of his own soul. He endeavours not only to keep clear of sin, but also to keep clear of everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He feels that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is far more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. . . . He finds by experience that his soul is ever among enemies, and he studies to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man.
. . .
I know there is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks among those who are ‘regenerate’. In some people they are faint, dim, feeble, and hardly to be discerned. Yon almost need a microscope to make them out. In others they are bold, sharp, clear, plain, and unmistakable, so that he who runs may read them. Some of these marks are more visible in some people, and others are more visible in others. It seldom happens that all are equally manifest in one and the same soul. All this I am quite ready to allow.
But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted the six marks of being born of God. . . .
Now what shall we say to these things? What they can say who hold that Regeneration is only an admission to outward Church privileges, I am sure I do not know. For myself, I say boldly, I can only come to one conclusion. That conclusion is, that those persons only are ‘regenerate’ who have these six marks about them, and that all men and women who have not these marks are not ‘regenerate’, are not born again. And I firmly believe that this is the conclusion to which the Apostle wished us to come.
—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 138–144.
Source: Six Marks of Regeneration