On Spiritual Rebirth
After a person has been a Christian a few years it is easy to forget that the next generation needs to learn all the great doctrines of the Christian faith for himself or herself. These foundational teachings of the Bible do not sink in by osmosis. Jude reminds us that the Christian faith was "once for all time handed down to the saints," from the Apostles. We each came to know God through a chain of faithful witnesses stretching back 2000 years!
It is our responsibility as believers to see that the "whole-counsel of God" is transmitted from our generation to the next generation--full-orbed and intact. Each and every new Christian needs to know the Bible well enough to formulate a sound Biblical world-view, otherwise he or she will be ill-adapted to living in the modern world. Similarly there are derived teachings built from an understanding of the Bible--a body of truth usually called "sound doctrine" which need to be made thoroughly known to new converts and inquirers.
It is has been some years now since I have heard any mention of the foundational doctrine concerning spiritual rebirth. I suspect the need for teaching about being "born again" is more important now than ever, since many seeker-friendly churches know how to draw a crowd, but may not take the time to explain that there are profound differences between a mere churchgoer versus a spiritual regenerated member of the minority of true followers of Christ within the professing church. Every local church is a mixture of wheat and tares--of true Christians and non-Christians. This is usually true at all levels of the church including the staff and elders. Obviously some churches have many more real Christians in their midst than other churches where there may be very few who know the Lord [Matthew 13:24-30].
I often meet impressive professing, "cultural-Christians." They can be polite, congenial, they seem to hold to high moral values and apparently have an interest in spiritual matters. But do they know the Lord Jesus in a personal way? I have to come to believe that there are many people today who sincerely believe they are Christians but actually they are not!
Hanging around Christians is good for anyone. The love and warmth and fellowship of many churches benefits even the causal visitor. It is good to be prayed for, and to hear the Bible being taught. The music in church and an inspirational non-confrontational message often lift our spirits so that most of us leave refreshed and aware of the love of God. Lots of churches today try to be cozy and non-threatening. Church gatherings can be a good place to make quality friendships. Many single adults go to church because that is the best place to seek a spouse. Others attend out of sheer loneliness looking for a few new friends. Church is "traditional" for lots of people--a matter of habit and custom, a reflection of "how I was raised." There are lots of reasons people "go to church" and these various good reasons can easily leave God out of the picture.
Throughout the New Testament there are a number of clear warnings addressed to individuals who may have become religious by association with Christians and or by joining a church. But perhaps many of these same people have never yet been spiritual reborn. Notice how Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount:
"Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
The Hebrew word "to know"-- yada --often refers to sexual intercourse--that is, to the intimate knowledge such as one has in marriage--both parties are involved. In Greek the word for knowing someone is ginosko which also has the meaning of intimately knowing another person--inner understanding and relationship--not merely head knowledge about the other person. In the above passage Jesus speaks to a large group of people where many thought they knew Him. But Jesus told them that it is quite possible that He did not know many of them!
A relationship between two parties can not exist unless both parties consent! God offers His love to each of us, but what He desires is an intimate two-way relationship with Him. The symbol of a bride and bridegroom is a good analogy. Our failure to respond to God's invitation will result in our being left behind.
"this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)
"In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it." (Luke 10:21-24)
The life and death difference between a true Christian and a mere onlooker centers around spiritual rebirth. Regeneration is what changes the heart, lifts us out of the old world system, places us into God's family as an adult son, and transfers us into the kingdom of Jesus.
In order to be spiritually reborn, one must make a personal choice of the will to surrender control of one's life to Jesus. This is in one sense the hardest thing in the world for us to do--but also the easiest. What always stands in the way is our pride, and our own self-righteousness!
Eventually, of course, we all have to answer to God alone. When we die and meet Jesus face to face, no one else will be there to hold our hands. Jesus is the appointed Judge of all men whether they know Him or not--John Chapter 5. So either we know Him or we do not. Jesus is inescapable in the end, He waits for every man at the end of life either as Savior or Judge.
Pleasing people--so we will be accepted and well-liked--does not earn us any favor with God. We can look good to everyone on the outside, but we can at the same time be out of touch with God on the inside. God is likewise not interested in our best efforts on His behalf. The Lord speaking to the prophet Samuel regarding the selection of David as the next king, said, "Man looks upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart." Concerning the state of the human heart Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (17:9) Isaiah said, "We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, Who stirs himself up to take hold of You…" (64:6.7)
Each and every true Christian has--at some time in his or her life--come to the realization that above all else what matters in life is knowing Jesus personally as Lord and Master. It has to be one-on-one, and it must be personal. All sorts of people miss this--and so they remain lost!
I remember when I came to this point of crisis after a long search. I was 30 years old at the time, and sitting in a pastor's office. Dr. Ralph Kraft had carefully answered my questions from the Bible and made clear to me the message of the gospel during our hour together. I knew if I were to pray then and there I could probably fool Dr. Kraft--but I could not fool God. Thus far in my whole life up till then, God had not showed up and He was not in any way real to me personally. Evidently the only way He would become real was if I gave Him permission to be my Lord, that is, by opening my heart to Him completely.
I remember my very first real prayer on that autumn afternoon. It went something like this,, "OK God, I quit. I think I need to be forgiven. If you will come in to my heart and take over you can do anything you wish with the rest of my life." I realize I had to let go of the controls of my life and not merely say the words. But finally I surrendered to Jesus.
The "Hound of Heaven" had been pursuing me since I was born. It was not I who had been seeking God all along--it was Jesus who was seeking me. Jesus said, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost" [a key verse in Luke's gospel].
In my case God responded instantly when I had prayed my first real prayer--as if I were the Pharisee Saul on the road to Damascus. Usually, for most people, God shows up less dramatically at conversion. However He personally confirms our Father-son relationship with every one of us who opens his or her heart to His Lordship within us. [But remember that feelings and emotions are never reliable measures of our standing with God]. I am one great sinner who knows very well what it means to be born again--for me my new life compared to the old are as different as night from day. "Before Christ" and "After Christ" are a big deal to me.
I have always liked how being born-again is described in Paul's letter to Titus,
"For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:3-7)
The Apostle Peter wrote,
"Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things which angels desire to look into. Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
"And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because "All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever." Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you." (1 Peter 1:10-25)
The night-time private conversation between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and Jesus, recorded in John Chapter 3, is well known to many, but perhaps not to everyone reading this newsletter. (Ray Stedman's commentary is excellent, as usual, see http://raystedman.org/john/3838.html)
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can this be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:1-17)
I know lots of people who think they will make it to heaven short of spiritual rebirth. Not so! God asks each and everyone of us to surrender our hearts, minds, souls and wills to Jesus. Jesus is a gentleman and will not enter one's life until we give Him full permission.
"Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man opens the door I will come into him and dine with him and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:27-29)
There are lots of people who have made partial, half-way commitments to Jesus--but that will never do in the long run. It is not enough to start a race, it is important that we also finish. Many people who profess with enthusiasm to be followers of Christ, drop out after a season and are never seen again in the Christian community. Apparently they never truly believed in the first place?
"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:28-33)
Of course most of us don't know ourselves deeply enough to "give everything to Christ" all at once. We do have to start somewhere and God will help us into a deeper commitment as we know Him and ourselves better.
Below is a short check list of some of the wonderful changes and benefits which come about the moment one's faith and trust in Jesus becomes real--all because we have yielded our hearts mind and wills to the Lordship of Jesus. When we first truly "believe" God moves silently and invisibly on our behalf. In an instant He accomplishes a whole host of supernatural transactions we will spend the rest of our lives discovering--and being amazed by.
I thought I'd leave it as an "exercise for the student" to look up the many specific Bible verses which confirm the statements in my short list.
When we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and are spiritually reborn:
1. God grants us the full forgiveness of all sins -- sins that are past, present, and even future. He grants complete removal of all our sins and pulls up the root causes of sin in our hearts. He begins damage repair and reconstruction within the innermost part of the human heart and soul. Furthermore, God "forgets" the sins He forgives. All this work on God's part is a free gift which can not be earned and is never merited by our works or our track record.
2. All "legal charges" pending before God's bar of justice against us are dropped at the moment of our conversion and the believer can never be condemned in God's courtroom. (Wayward Christians can expect to experience the corrective discipline of a loving heavenly Father).
3. Amazingly, the righteousness of Jesus is credited to the sinner's account at the same time the sins of that person are transferred to Jesus as our sin-Bearer. Henceforth God treats us as if we have never sinned in the first place!
4. The spirit and soul of the individual are made completely new at conversion--and a future new body is made ready and is waiting for us. Each Christian is a "new creation" -- a unique work of God.
5. The individual who belongs to Jesus is no longer a slave to self, to sin, to the world, to the "god of this world." In place of one's previous slavery to sin, Jesus brings us what Paul calls "the glorious liberty of the sons of God."
6. A new link between the person's spirit and God's Spirit is established--previously the person was dead in trespasses and sins and had no relationship with God. He or she was actually an enemy of God accumulating a weight of sins waiting to be dealt with by a Holy and Just God on the day of judgment. Only God has life, being disconnected from God means we are on the automatic road to death.
7. At regeneration, the body of the believer becomes the very temple or holy dwelling place of God: The Spirit, the Son and the Father all come to indwell the believer. This means God is forever close at hand and always available!
8. The individual is no longer a spiritual orphan but now an adult son of God by adoption into God's family--and also a son by spiritual rebirth into God's family. The individual is a henceforth a permanent member of God's family and a fellow-citizen in the Kingdom of God, together with all other believers.
9. Born-again individuals are "sealed by the Holy Spirit" as soon as they believe in Jesus. This seal is a invisible stamp of God's ownership. The seal is also a down payment, a guarantee that the rest of the salvation package is on its way--namely the redemption of the body. God also protects His recovered property, having redeemed it at great cost to Himself.
10. The Spirit immerses (baptizes) the new Christian "into" Christ making him or her a member of the Body of Christ. We are each fully identified in the death burial and resurrection of Jesus because we have been placed into Christ by the Spirit. As such all believers report directly to Christ, the Head of the church. All Christians are members one of another and each has a unique function in the church. (The true church is an organism not an organization). At the time of spiritual rebirth, the believer is taken out from under the government of the kingdom of this world and transferred into the "kingdom of the Son of God's love." That is, a complete change of government and citizenship occurs.
11. Each true believer is given one of more of some 19 or 20 spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given at the time of spiritual rebirth to equip the individual for service. Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural abilities and talents.
12. The true believer soon finds himself actively engaged in spiritual warfare for life (as opposed to his previous state of being "dead is sin"). However the believer is always led in victory by the Lord, in spite of trials, suffering, hardships, and even physical death. Jesus has "has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
13. The believer is empowered daily by resurrection power--the same mighty power of God which raised Jesus from the dead. This is the most powerful and irresistible energy source in the universe!
14. The individual who receives Christ as Lord, passes from death into life at the moment of conversion and thereafter possesses eternal life as a present and permanent possession. He or she has already "passed from death into life."
15. There is full provision made for the cleaning of sins committed after conversion, through the blood of Christ. Jesus as great High Priest intercedes daily for the believer and the Holy Spirit helps us in prayer.
16. Every true Christian is a priest in the service of the living God--with Jesus as our great High Priest.
17. The Lord becomes the believer's Teacher on any and all subjects of knowledge. The Teacher shines light on information so we are able to separate truth from error and make wise choice.
18. The Lord becomes a our Great Shepherd who constantly cares for each one of us--his sheep.
19. The Lord works to see that we previously broken-down sinful men and women, boy and girls, move towards wholeness and fulfillment of our individual identity and gifts. Wholeness is God's long term goal for each of us. "You must be holy for I am holy says the Lord."
20. There are no class distinctions among Christians and no hierarchy in Christ's church. Any believer can have an intimate relationship with the Lord even though God has no "favorites." ("The ground is level at the foot of the cross.")
21. The believer is out from under the condemnation of the Law. The purpose of the Law is not to save but to prove how sinful and needy we are--thus driving us to Christ for mercy. Christ then fulfills the demands of the Law within us.
22. The believer's new life is meant to be lived in union with Christ. This is why we were created.
23. This present life on earth, instead of being an end and a goal in itself, becomes a training ground for life for our real, future endless life in the eternal realms.
24. "God is love." The Christian life is all about a love relationship with our Creator, which extends to self-giving love for our fellow believers and for outsiders. We have both peace with God and peace from God, and we enjoy hope and a deep inner joy unknown anywhere in the outside world. Each true believer will be changed over time from self-centered to self-giving so as to become like Jesus.
"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31-39)
Feel free to add to, or edit, my" short-list"--it is not exhaustive--and please take time to look up Bible verses which support my statements. If you'll send me your discoveries I'll post a revised list on my web site. The purpose of a short list like is to show that spiritual rebirth is how one becomes a true Christians. Those who are still on the outside, having never surrendered their lives to Jesus, need to come in now, while the doors are still open. As Paul reminds us,
"We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: 'In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
By the way there is one key verse which helps distinguish between those who belong to Jesus Christ and those who do not. If in doubt about your salvation and your relationship with God, the following verse is a decisive test. Only those who have been born again are able to confess Jesus as Lord, from the heart.
"Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3)
The Credentials of Jesus, by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/misc/credens.html
Authentic Christianity, by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/misc/authen.html
Body Life, by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/bodylife/
April 13, 2006.