I must say, I really think that we are getting somewhere. I, personally, understood and agreed with much of what you eloquently explained. As I read and re-read your post I began to understand your thoughts and realized that much of the disagreement came from terminologies used. Yet, as we have made a further attempt to clarify our understanding of this concept our thoughts seem to draw to a mutual understanding.
Now, with that said, there still remains a major gap as to the concept of what it means to be born again. Please allow me to build upon this thought in hopes to clarify our understanding. We both understand that man was created in innocence and that God saw all of His creation and noted it as being very good. Yet, as a result of his disobedience, something “did” radically change within the heart of man. His eyes were “opened” and he now has been endowed with something that he did not have before. This something has been passed down to each and everyone of Adam’s offspring. You described it as saying, “Man is punished with concupiscence (the desire for sin).” I have been using the term “bent” in declaring the same thing. One point of difference is found in that I would deem this as a radical infusion to man’s nature. Was it not Paul, himself, who declared, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…”?
I understand the idea of the laws spoken of in the scripture, but the whole crux of the matter stands on understanding that you cannot separate the desire, or bent, from the person—that involves each and every one in the world. The Apostle identifies two laws: The law of God, and the law of sin. Yet, when one of these laws are not present or in force, one will be a slave to the other. Please note how Paul concludes chapter 7, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” The apostle then declares in chapter 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
But what of the man who does not know Christ at all? Does the law of the Spirit of life work in him? Of course not, how could it be? “For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death” (Romans 7:5).
Hence, humans are born with a “bent” in their nature to sin. Because it is in their nature to sin, then it is “of” their nature as well. Again, Paul declared “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12). This is, indeed, a radical change than from before Adam sinned. When people are left to themselves without God, man will not be all good, he will be bad—not to say that there is no good in him, but he will serve himself “first.” To him that is logical. Make no mistake about it, man—apart from God sins because he loves to do it. I would not agree with the Roman Catholic philosopher in declaring this as being of animal nature. No, I would simply call this “human” nature. It only seems “logical” for a man, without God, to be pleased in gratifying his own flesh.
This brings us to the place of understanding the necessity of the new birth (being born again). You said ”We don’t believe that in being ‘born again’ the tree is knocked down and a new one planted. Rather, we would see it as a new birth or new growth for the tree. With fertilization and pesticide it is regenerated and that which rots it is destroyed. Sort of like a plant which you thought was dead, but with proper nurturing, comes back to life and is healthier than ever.”
Regarding Evangelical thought, this puts us completely on opposite planes. With your above explanation— you have posited a tree as being once alive, then rotted away, and now is brought back to life. This is where we are emphatically opposed to the Roman Catholic view. The theological concept of the new birth rests on the grounds of understanding that a person “never” had spiritual life to begin with. The first birth was physical, and to be born again identifies one obtaining new life in the Spirit. Regarding the concept of nature, a tree analogy is appropriate; but to compare the new birth within a human to a tree that is fertilized cannot fit at all. For something to rot implies that it first had life-and this runs opposed to the plain teaching of scripture.
To be born again is not simply an improvement on life, but it is violently radical—“ even when we were ‘dead’ in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). In fact, Paul declares elsewhere, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also ‘give life’ to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
I would also re-address John’s astounding statement on this line. “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
John’s statement reveals that one who is born of the Spirit no longer is enslaved to the dictates of the flesh. There is now the capacity to live the overcoming life which was not previously possible before. This does not mean that one who is born of God will not ever commit a sin, but he no longer practices sin because of the radical change that has taken place on the inside. The strength to the statement John made is founded on the basis that God’s seed has been placed within our heart. A new seed implies a new life. In fact, the wonderful promise of the New Covenant this found in that He (God) will give us a “new” heart. For God to remove a stony (hard)heart out of a man and give him a new heart can only be concluded that the nature of the man has changed. And this, my friend, is radical.