We Need to be Born Again
We Need to Be Born Again
January 6, 2008
We are six days into the New Year – 2008. Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions? How are you doing at keeping them or have you given up already. Some of them will be difficult to keep, won’t they? My copy of “Our Daily Bread” challenged me to “Real Change in 2008”. I want to read part of it to you now: “Which of the following quotes are in the Bible?
1. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
2. God helps those who help themselves.
3. Confession is good for the soul.
4. Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
5. Money is the root of all evil.
6. Honesty is the best policy.
Believe it or not, only one of those quotes is found in the Bible? The fourth one is from Job 5:7.
George Muller, a pastor and orphanage director in the 1800s, wouldn't have had trouble knowing which of those quotes were from the Bible. Why? Because he read through it more than 100 times! He said: "I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God.... I have always made it a rule never to begin work until I have had a good season with God and His Word. The blessing I have received has been wonderful."
We don't need to feel guilty if we don't read the Bible as much as Muller did. But consider with me reading it through at least once this coming year — not so that we can answer some trick questions about it, but because it was given to us by God and is profitable for our spiritual growth”
There is a schedule in your bulletin to help you. I challenge you to resolve to read through the whole Bible this year. What better way to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
My message this morning echoes a resolution I made over twenty years ago. I resolved to believe what God’s Word says, that in order to be a child of the King of Kings I would have to be born again: born of the Spirit of God: my second birth.
When we studied Ephesians together in 2007, we touched on our key passage in chapter 2, but today I want to delve deeper. So, turn to Ephesians chapter 2 in your Bible and while you’re turning I will relate to you something else I read very recently from Our Daily Bread. “Would you give 20 minutes a day to lose weight? To get in shape? To finish your degree? To learn a foreign language? To learn a musical instrument?
Would you dedicate 20 minutes each day (with a half-hour on Saturday) to transforming your entire life?
Twenty minutes a day is all it takes the average reader to read four chapters of God's Word — less than 5 minutes for a typical chapter. By investing 20 minutes a day, you can cover the entire Bible in one year!
Genuine commitment is difficult. But twenty minutes a day? That’s easy! In 2008, let’s read through God’s Word together for real change in our lives.”
Now, on to Ephesians, chapter 2, and verses 1 through 10:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
One of the greatest books about God ever written, namely, John Calvin’s Institutes, begins with this sentence: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” What we may need reminding of is not that the knowledge of God is difficult to comprehend and to embrace—that’s more or less obvious—but that the knowledge of ourselves is just as difficult to comprehend and to embrace. Indeed, it may be more difficult, first, because a true knowledge of ourselves assumes a true knowledge of God, and, second, because we tend to think we do know ourselves, when, in fact, the depths or our condition are beyond our comprehension without the help of God.
Who Can Know the Human Heart?
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). David said in Psalm 19:12, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” In other words, we never get to the bottom of our sinfulness. If our forgiveness depended on the fullness of the knowledge of our sins, we would all perish. No one knows the extent of his sinfulness. It is deeper than anyone knows.
But the Bible does not leave us without help to know ourselves. The fact that we cannot know fully how sinful we are, does not mean we cannot know deeply how sinful we are. The Bible has a clear and devastating message about the state of our own souls. And the reason it does is so that we will know what we need and shout for joy when God gives it to us.
Why Must We Be Born Again?
We hear Jesus say in John 3:7, “You must be born again.” And in John 3:3, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In other words, being born again is infinitely serious. Heaven and hell are hanging in the balance. We will not see the kingdom of God unless we are born again. So today the question is Why? Why is it so necessary? Why isn’t some other remedy sufficient, like turning over a new leaf or making a New Year’s resolution or positive thinking or moral improvement or a self-help course? Why this radical, spiritual, supernatural thing called new birth or regeneration? That’s the question we try to answer today.
Diagnosis: We Are Dead
The text where we take our beginning is Ephesians 2. Two times, in verses 1 and 5, Paul says that we are dead in our trespasses. Verse 1: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins . . .” Verses 4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” So two times Paul describes us as “dead.”
And the remedy for this in verse 5 is: “God made us alive.” You will never experience the fullness of the greatness of God’s love for you if you don’t see his love in relation to your former deadness. Because verse 4 says that the greatness of his love is shown precisely in this: that it makes us alive when we were dead. “God, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead, made us alive together with Christ.” Because of his great love for us, he made us alive. If you didn’t know that you were dead, you will not know the fullness of the love of God.
I take this miracle, “he made us alive,” to be virtually the same as what Jesus calls the new birth. Once we had no spiritual life, and then God raised us from that state of spiritual deadness. And now we are alive. This is the same as Jesus’ saying that we must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) and “It is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63).
So we can say then that the work of regeneration, the work of new birth, the work of being made alive, flows from the richness of God’s mercy and the greatness of his love. “But God, (1) being rich in mercy, (2) because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were deadin our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” This is new covenant love. This is the kind of love God has for his bride. He finds her dead (Ezekiel 16:4-8), and he gives his Son to die for her, and then he makes her alive. And he keeps her forever. “I give them eternal life,” Jesus said, “and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Isn’t that encouraging? If you don’t feel sure of your salvation, hang onto that verse – John 10:28.
So the question is: What does this mean? This deadness? There are at least ten answers in the New Testament. If we consider them honestly and prayerfully they will humble us very deeply and cause us to be amazed at the gift of the new birth. So what I aim to do is talk about seven of them today. Here are seven of the biblical explanations of our condition apart from the new birth and why it is so necessary.
1. Apart from the new birth, we are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2).
Dead implies lifeless. Not physically or morally lifeless. Verse 1: We are “walking” and “following” the world. We have “passions” of the flesh, and we carry out “desires of the body and the mind.” So we are not dead in the sense that we can’t sin. We are dead in the sense that we cannot see or feel the glory of Christ. We are spiritually dead. We are unresponsive to God and Christ and this word.
2. The next point comes from the next verse in Ephesians chapter 2. Look at verse 3 with me: “We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The point of this is to make clear that our problem is not just in what we do but in what we are. Apart from new birth, I am my problem. You are not my main problem. My parents were not my main problem. My enemies are not my main problem. I am my main problem. Not my deeds, and not my circumstances, and not the people in my life, but my nature is my deepest personal problem.
I did not first have a good nature and then do bad things and get a bad nature. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This is who I am. My nature is selfish and self-centered and demanding and very skilled in making you feel like the problem. And if your first response to that statement is I know people like that, you may be totally blind to the deceitfulness of your own heart.
Paul describes our nature before the new birth as “children of wrath.” In other words, the wrath of God belongs to us the way a parent belongs to a child. Our nature is so rebellious and so selfish and so callous toward the majesty of God that his holy anger is a natural and right response to us. Let’s move on in our look at ourselves before God. We are dead, we are children of wrath and,
3. Apart from the new birth, we love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19-20).
This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
This word from Jesus spells out some of what our nature is like apart from the new birth. We are not neutral when spiritual light approaches. We resist it. And we are not neutral when spiritual darkness envelops us. We embrace it. Love and hate are active in the unregenerate heart. And they move in exactly the wrong directions—hating what should be loved and loving what should be hated. So, are you keeping track. Without God we are :
2. children of wrath
3. we hate light and love darkness
Let’s look at the fourth thing we are:
4. Apart from the new birth, our hearts are hard like stone (Ezekiel 36:26; Ephesians 4:18).
In Ezekiel 36:26, God says, “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Here in Ephesians 4:18, Paul traces our condition back through darkness to alienation to ignorance to hardness of heart. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” At the bottom of our problem is not ignorance. There is something deeper.: “the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Our ignorance is guilty ignorance, not innocent ignorance. It is rooted in hard and resistant hearts. Paul says in Romans 1:18 that we suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Ignorance is not our biggest problem. Hardness and resistance is. Now on to the 5th quality of the unregenerative heart:
5. Apart from the new birth, we are unable to submit to God or please God (Romans 8:7-8).
In Romans 8:7, Paul says, “The mind that is set on the flesh [literally: the mind of the flesh] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” We can tell from the next verse what Paul means by “the mind of the flesh” and being “in the flesh.” He says in verse 9, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” In other words, he is contrasting those who are born again and have the Spirit and those who are not born again and therefore do not have the Spirit but only have the flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit and that which is born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:5).
His point is that without the Holy Spirit, our minds are so resistant to God’s authority that we will not, and therefore cannot, submit to him. “The mind of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.” And if we cannot submit to him we cannot please him. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” That is how dead and dark and hard we are toward God until God causes us to be born again. Are you finding all this deadness and wrath and ignorance and hardness of heart depressing? Just wait – there’s more for
6. Apart from the new birth, we are unable to accept the gospel (Ephesians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul gives us another glimpse into what this deadness and hardness implies for what we are unable to do. He says, “The natural person [that is, the unregenerate person by nature] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The problem is not that the things of God are over his head intellectually. The problem is that he sees them as foolish. “He does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him.” In fact, they are so foolish to him that he cannot grasp them.
Mind you this is a moral “cannot,” not a physical “cannot.” When Paul says, “The natural person . . . is not able to understand them,” The unregenerate person cannot because he will not. His preferences for sin are so strong that he cannot choose good. It is a real and terrible bondage. But it is not an innocent bondage.
7. Apart from the new birth, we are unable to come to Christ or embrace him as Lord (John 6:44, 65; 1 Corinthians 12:3).
In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul declares, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” He doesn’t mean that an actor on a stage or a hypocrite in a church cannot say the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit. He means no one can say it and mean it without being born of the Spirit. It is morally impossible for the dead, dark, hard, resistant heart to celebrate the Lordship of Jesus over his life without being born again.
Or, as Jesus says three times in John 6, no one can come to him unless the Father draws him. And when that drawing brings a person into living connection with Jesus, we call it the new birth. Verse 37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” Verse 44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Verse 65: “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” All of these wonderful works of drawing, granting, and giving are the work of God in regeneration. Without them we do not come to Christ, because we don’t want to come. That is what has to be changed in the new birth.
In “My Utmost For His Highest” on December 25th, Oswald Chambers said this: “that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not emerge out of history; He came into history from the outside. Jesus Christ is not the best human being the human race can boast of—He is a Being for whom the human race can take no credit at all. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate—God coming into human flesh from outside it. His life is the highest and the holiest entering through the most humble of doors. Our Lord's birth was an advent the appearance of God in human form.
When we are born again, it is that Christ who came 2000 years ago is in us!
Galatians 4:19 says "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you ...". Just as our Lord came into human history from outside it, He must also come into me from outside. Have I allowed my personal human life to become a "Bethlehem" for the Son of God? I cannot enter the realm of the kingdom of God unless I am born again from above by a birth totally unlike physical birth. "You must be born again". This is not a command, but a fact based on the authority of God. The evidence of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that "Christ is formed" in me. And once "Christ is formed" in me, His nature immediately begins to work through me.
There is more to be said about why the new birth is necessary, but that is enough for today. We conclude by going back to the amazingly hope-filled words of Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
There are two ways to respond to this: One is theoretical and impersonal; the other is personal and urgent. One says: How can this be, and how can that be? The other says: God brought me here today. God spoke in these texts to me today. God’s mercy and love and grace seem desperately needed and beautiful to me today. O God, today, I submit to your amazing grace that has brought me here and awakened me and softened me and opened me. Thanks be to God for the riches of his mercy and the greatness of his love and the power of his grace.
So, what about it, friends? You understand the message. Jesus is the only way you can be reconciled to God. He’s the only one who can forgive you—take you across the chasm of sin and present you acceptable to a holy God on the other side. He’s the only way. Jesus says to each of you, You Must be born again! Will you obey Him? You understand that. I know you do. How many of you this morning are willing to act on that? How many of you are willing to say, “Today I want to express that trust, and I want to get in. I want to appropriate the message personally and as best I know how. Right now I want to commit my life to Christ. He’s the only way.” How many of you are willing to do that?
You say, “How do I do that?” You pray a simple prayer. You may want to pray along with me in your own spirit as I say this prayer for you: “Lord Jesus, I admit that I’m a sinner—no doubt in my mind about that—and I know I need a savior. I understand that you took my place. You shouldered the consequences and the punishment for my sin when you died on the cross in my stead. I understand what you did for me, and now I personally appropriate it, embrace it, and embrace you. Here I am. I’m climbing in. Take me across. Amen.”
You just made the most important decision of your life, the most important decision of all eternity, the most important New Year’s resolution you will ever make. Let’s bow for closing prayer.
Our Father, I thank you for the tremendous outpouring of the work of your Holy Spirit, which is the only power that brings people to God. Thank you for the person, the work, and the love of Jesus Christ, who alone can take us across the chasm of sin and present us forgiven to the Father. Thank you for how many people made decisions this morning that affect all of life and all of eternity. What a great day of celebration and rejoicing this is! We give you all the praise for Jesus’ sake. Amen.