The Necessity of Inner Regeneration
You can’t revive what isn’t already alive.
So when it comes to deepening one’s affections for Christ, a first and foremost question to ask yourself is this: Do I actually have spiritual affections for Christ? Has the Spirit of God birthed spiritual life in me, giving me a divine nature and new set of appetites?
Jesus declared to Nicodemus that unless we are “born again,” we “cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), indicating that spiritual sight is impossible apart from the work of God in us. Peter wrote that it is only through God’s divine power that we’ve been given everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), reminding us that it starts, continues, and ends with God’s work in us.
This is why, even in broadening our understanding of how to deepen our spiritual affections for Christ, we must quickly embrace this reality: we can’t invent them; we can only increase them. Only God gives them, and he does so at the moment of spiritual regeneration—that moment when one is saved by God’s grace.
It is futile to expend energy trying to “work up” feelings that have no spiritual roots or basis. It only leads to pretending, playing the game of looking good on the outside with no real substance on the inside.
When one is genuinely born again, however, there isn’t a manufacturing of affections for Christ. Instead, there is an increasing awareness of Spirit-birthed, God-given, Christ-focused affections. And as that awareness grows, we willingly, though often slowly, make whatever adjustments we need to make because of the surpassing value of “knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3).
Keep in mind that affections refer to far more than what you do. The concept even dives deeper than knowing you want to do what you do. It goes to why you want to do what you do. This is the essence of spiritual affections: Why is there a ‘want’ for the ‘what?’ The answer? God. And only God.
If there’s no desire for the things of God, no thirst for the treasure of Jesus, no motivation to pursue holiness, then the first step isn’t to “stir the pot” of your heart and hope that you can drum up some kind of spiritual fervor. Not at all! The first step is to ask God to give you his appetites; to grant you his divine nature. The necessary next move is to ask God to save you!
If in this moment you are realizing your true need is authentic salvation, humbly admit you are a sinner who has broken God’s law and stand in need of the mercy and grace that comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 3:10; 6:23). Believe solely that only through this good news—the gospel—is one saved, and call out in repentance and faith, asking God to forgive you through the the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9, 10, 13). This is the core essence of conversion—taking our stand exclusively on the gospel of God as the only means by which we are made right with God (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
This is the moment everything changes (2 Cor. 5:17). Slowly but surely we are awakened to new appetites, desires, and longings, ones from God through the Holy Spirit. Without a doubt salvation by Christ is the first and foremost necessary ingredient to experiencing affections for Christ.