2015 is upon us, and with each year, we reflect on all that has transpired and the changes that have occurred in ourselves and in the lives of those around us. We reflect on our regrets, and our successes. We reflect on our trials and our blessings. We consider the tiniest things that have happened that have caused a ripple throughout the rest of the year. There are weddings, pregnancies, friendships, and relationship dynamics that all have shifted over the course of the year. Within one second, this year is over and a new one starts. In a way, a new year is like a new birth.
Something in us enjoys this idea of starting over. Of getting a new first chance, not a second chance. There is something built into us human beings that thrives on us having a clean slate. If you are a Christian, you understand this especially well. This is why I want to challenge you, Christian: Begin this new year reflecting on the new birth you have received in Jesus Christ.
You probably haven’t considered the term “new birth” before. Perhaps you like simpler terms such as, “my relationship with God,” “my faith in Christ,” or, “my walk with the Lord.” Although these terms can mean similar things, they fall far short of explaining what the Bible calls being, “born again.” There is no such thing as a type of Christian called, “born again.” That is a title someone came up with to describe a certain sect of professing Christians. Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as a Christian who has never been born again.
But, what exactly does this mean? Good question.
A Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus asked a similar question when Jesus blind-sided him in the first part of John chapter three. Nicodemus told Jesus that not just him, but other Pharisees as well know that He is sent from God. That no one can do what He does unless God is with Him. Instead of rejoicing in this news (possibly what Nicodemus expected), Jesus makes a shocking statement:
“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Jesus here is telling Nicodemus that it doesn’t matter what the Pharisees (or anyone) says about Him. What matters is whether they are born again.
Born again? Why those two words? Why not, “unless one believes in me He cannot see the kingdom”? Or, “unless you trust in me your knowledge means nothing”? Why, “born again”? Why not get to the point, Jesus? Why throw in such a term to confuse Nicodemus? Surely you know better than to give us a term without explaining it.
But, see! He does.
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 again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:4-8 ESV)
Think about it: Jesus is not saying that your physical body needs to be reborn. He is talking about the inner person; about the soul; about the heart. We were born corrupted, filthy, and sinful. Sin and rebellion is our default mode (don’t believe me? Read Romans 3:1-23). He is telling you that it is impossible to be a Christian in your current state. Something must change, something beyond your intellectual beliefs. You need a new status, a new nature, a new heart. Jesus is making a claim that says salvation requires more than faith, it requires a rebirth.
You see, our faith doesn’t have any supernatural power. Our faith isn’t a special key that unlocks heaven’s gates or persuades God to forgive us. Our faith doesn’t do anything. Our faith does not have supernatural power; rather, our faith is the result of supernatural power (Eph. 2:8-10). We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4).
Theologically, you could put it this way: “Unless the Holy Spirit regenerates you into a new creation (Titus 3:5-6). Unless God replaces your sinful heart of stone and gives you a new heart of obedience (Ezekiel 36:26). Unless the grace of God pours out on you and changes you (Eph. 2:8-10), you will not see the kingdom of God.”
There are many people who will come and go throughout your life claiming to be Christians, but are not truly so. They may go to church, sing the same songs, profess the same faith, and receive the same communion elements, but on the inside are no different than your atheist neighbor or Buddhist co-worker. Jesus tells us in Matthew seven that not everyone who claims Jesus as Lord is a Christian. There are many people who will claim to have faith in Christ, but a claim to faith isn’t enough. It requires more than your volition, it requires Divine help. The kind of faith you need to place in Christ is the kind that only the Holy Spirit can produce (Jn. 6:41). It is a different kind of faith, founded on the fertile soil of repentance and an understanding of the gospel (Mark 4).
In John chapter three, Jesus is placing a condition on salvation that is impossible for anyone to accomplish. He is making a claim that digs deeper than our ideas of faith, or miracles, or Himself. Jesus here is talking about the supernatural work that must take place in order for someone to be saved. Unless the Holy Spirit acts and recreates you, you cannot see the kingdom.
So what is being born again?
1) It means God changes you into a new person. Although you were born with a sin nature, God changes it into a new nature, one that resembles His. (Ezek. 36:26). The influence of sin is still present (Romans 8:1-13) but the power of sin is defeated in Christ (Romans 6).
2) It means you will never be the same person you once were. You may wear the same clothes, have the same family, go to the same school, and work the same job, but on the inside you are new. (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
3) It means the Holy Spirit indwells you and enables you to obey God out of a love for Him and His commandments (Jn. 14:1-15)
You may say, “that sounds all fine and dandy, but what do I do now?” First, think about this: what has He done already? Then consider: What is He calling me to do as this new person?
Here is where I find Francis Schaeffer to be a helpful guide:
After we are born, the important thing is the living of our life in all its relationships, possibilities, and capabilities. It is exactly the same with the new birth. In one way, the new birth is the most important thing in our spiritual life, because we are not Christians until we have come this way. In another way, however, after one has become a Christian, it must be minimized, in that we should not always have our mind only on our new birth. The important thing after being born spiritually is to live. There is a new birth, and then there is the Christian life to be lived. This is the area of sanctification, from the time of the new birth through this present life, until Jesus comes or until we die.
Excerpt From: Francis A. Schaeffer. “True Spirituality.” Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001-09-01.
Your new birth is just that: a new birth. It is only the beginning of your Christian life. You have a new life to live, one that is centered on Christ and no longer yourself (Philippians 2:5-11). Once you understand that you are a new creation in Christ, it is then that obedience begins to make sense. You’re not a sinner trying to live like a Christian, you’re a Christian struggling with sin because you’re fighting to live as the person you really are in Jesus (don’t believe me? Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Therefore, as you head into this year, remember this truth: You are already born again. Live as you really are and forget what lies behind (Philippians 3).
May God bless your New Years!