Many of us would like to have sin taken away. Who likes to have a hasty temper, a proud disposition, a worldly heart? No one! The unregenerate man asks Christ to take it away, but He doesn’t. Why does He not do it? It is because he wants Christ to take away the ugly fruits, while the poisonous roots remain in him. One must first yield himself entirely to the power of God’s Spirit. Do you suppose that a painter would want to work on a canvas which did not belong to him? Yet people want Jesus Christ to take away sin, while as yet they have not yielded themselves utterly to His control.
We want to think on the subject of “The New Birth.” In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” It is impossible to have Christ remove sin from our lives without our having a New Birth experience.
1. Why the New Birth Is Necessary
An interesting suggestion was made at the convention of the “Midwestern Barbers’ Association” in Chicago. “Let’s go down to Skid Row, find a vagrant derelict in great need of a shave and haircut, bring him before us and demonstrate to our group the change we can make in him.” The idea clicked. They found such a man and before the whole assembly, gave him all the beautifying treatments they could. They even took up a collection and bought him a whole new outfit of clothes. Outwardly he looked good; one couldn’t tell he was the same man. A local hotel manager attending that session of the convention was so impressed with what was done and the changed looks of the man, that he offered him a job. “I’ll be there at 8:00 in the morning,” the man said. But the next morning he failed to report for work. Later they found him on Skid Row, dead drunk.
The person who reads his Bible is not surprised that the man returned to his sinful ways. It takes more than new clothing, a shave, haircut, shampoo and massage to turn a drunkard into a gentleman. If possessions and a high standard of living made a person good and turned him into a Christian, we would be a very godly nation. But there is plenty of evidence that we are not. History tells us that it takes more than civilization, education, money, position and pleasant surroundings to keep people from sinning. The most destructive wars of history and some of the most brutal crimes have taken place in the most educated and civilized parts of the world. We also know that the rich and most educated do not have the reputation of being the most righteous people in a nation. It is futile to try to make Christians by removing people from the slums or jungles and giving them new and better jobs and living conditions. People’s problems and needs are much deeper. Man’s nature is depraved and corrupt. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9); so man needs a new nature. People are not made Christians by getting them to join a church, by baptizing them, or by having them turn over a new leaf. Being a Christian is more than doing good deeds and living in a religious environment. These are all important, but have no soul-saving qualities. The Bible says in Titus 3:5-6, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done (not because we were good enough to be saved), but according to his mercy he saved us (because of His kindness and pity), by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior (by washing away our sins and giving us the new joy of the indwelling Holy Spirit, all because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did on Calvary).”
2. Have You Been Born Again?
Have you experienced this life-giving power of regeneration in your life? Why is it that the absolute necessity of the New Birth is hardly mentioned in church circles today? Second Corinthians 4:4 may well have the answer, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the likeness of God.” We hear much today about being a good neighbor and living a good moral life; but when one speaks of being born again, a new birth and a personal experience with Jesus Christ, people don’t seem to know what he is speaking about; and sad to say, many church leaders are included. Wesley, when asked why he preached so often on the text, “Ye Must Be Born Again,” replied, “Because ye must be born again!”
What is The New Birth? One Bible commentator says, “The New Birth is a spiritual birth in contrast to our physical birth. As we were born into an earthly family, so we must be born into God’s spiritual family. When we receive Christ, we are given the right to become the children of God (John 1:12). We could do nothing to prevent our being born once, but we must by choice make the decision to surrender to Jesus Christ to be born again.” The necessity for the New Birth—for regeneration—lies in the very nature of unregenerate man. Jesus made it plain to Nicodemus that a Jew was of the seed of Abraham by natural birth, but only he who is born of water and of the Spirit of God is a son of God. Nicodemus was a very religious man; he knew the law; he was a leader in the synagogue. People looked up to him; he was a faithful and regular attender at services, but he was not a son or child of God. He was lost, because he had never been born again! Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, that a man can neither “see” nor “enter” the Kingdom of God without the transformation of his nature. The Kingdom of God is that spiritual realm where God’s Holy will is done in the hearts of men now and for all eternity. This transformation can never be achieved by man himself. Just as man is not responsible for his physical birth, so he cannot be the agent of his spiritual birth. A dead man cannot give himself life. First he must see his need and then become willing to accept God’s plan of salvation, for God alone has the power to bring about the spiritual rebirth.
We must be born again because (1) We all are sinners (Romans 3:23). (2) As sinners we are children of the devil (1 John 3:10). (3) We must be born into the family of God (John 3:3).
How are we born into God’s family? (1) Through believing the Word (1 Peter 1:23). (2) By receiving Christ and exercising faith in Him (John 1:12 and Galatians 3:26). (3) By God’s receiving us upon our separation from uncleanness (2 Corinthians 6:17,18). (4) Through the power of the Holy Spirit upon receiving Christian baptism (Acts 2:38, John 3:6, 6:63).
The New Birth is a mysterious work of God in the human heart that makes us completely new and affects our tastes, habits, desires, appetites, judgments, opinions, appearance, hopes and fears. This change takes place, through the operation of God’s Holy Spirit in the center of our hearts and wills. It is an evidence that we have died to self and this world and have been born anew by the Spirit unto obedience to God. This new life also involves a change in our citizenship from this dying world to Heaven itself. It is a passing from death to life, from servitude to Satan to freedom in Christ, from darkness to light. All this is through the mercy and power of God. Friend, have you been born again? Did you have an experience in which God’s Spirit came upon you and made you a new creature? Has there been a change in your life, one so complete that others see that you are a different person? The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the only one who can save you. There is no other way to Heaven. Have you been reborn? Are you indwelt by the Holy Spirit?
3. Aids To Spiritual Growth After the New Birth
After a child is born physically, he needs proper, regular nourishment. To read the Bible day by day is the most spiritually enriching practice a child of God can cultivate. In worship, public or private, with your family or alone with God, Bible reading shapes the soul. The spiritual poverty so evident today reveals the neglect of serious, persistent Bible reading. The joy of the Lord can still be found in the Bible, but finding it takes time. No hasty sitting down at random will stir the heart. A born-again person will find time regularly for solitary Bible reading when God can speak to just him and he can reply—whether it be in joy or in tears. Growing in a love for the Word will automatically inspire us to pray often and will teach us how to pray. These two are the most essential aids to growth in a born-again person’s life, the Word being the “food,” and prayer being the “breath.”
4. Guidelines To Christian Conduct Following the New Birth
After an individual has been born again, this question is going to come up time after time—is it wrong for me as a Christian, a child of God, to do this or that? Sometimes there is no question as to whether certain practices are wrong, because they are so clearly unscriptural and inconsistent with a true Christian testimony. These are clearly recognized as violations of proper Christian conduct. In many instances the Word of God names the specific practice as being sinful; but there are other things, borderline practices, which are not so obviously contrary to definite biblical injunctions, and concerning these many true believers are puzzled. Desiring to be true to the Lord and obedient to His Word, yet wishing to avoid unreasonable extremes in other directions, they find it difficult to decide what their attitude and participation should be. However, the Bible will give us the answers to these questions too. When we are confronted with a decision as to whether we will or will not engage in a certain practice, we can solve the problem or answer the question by using the following guidelines:
(1) Does it bring glory to God? 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Romans 14:12 adds, “So then everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.” These scriptures bring to mind the believer’s personal responsibility to God. This is the most important question to be answered in reaching a decision concerning any practice. Will my participation in it glorify the Lord? Can I do it in view of the fact that I must give an account of all my actions to God?
(2) Does it help me grow? 2 Peter 3:18 admonishes, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” When we consider farming, animal growing, material gain (physically speaking), we usually abstain from things that will hinder growth or induce sickness. But which growth is the more important? Oftentimes we are the least concerned about growing spiritually, but we want Heaven to be our home. Life here is so short, and the need for yielded Christian lives is so great that we must not run the slightest risk of hindering our usefulness in any way. Many professing Christians engage in things which are absolutely useless in relation to their growth in Christlikeness. “Times are changing; opinions are different now.” Who gives the authority for such ideas? God is the same; His Word is true; sin is still sin! Jesus is our example. Does it help me grow?
(3) Does it mar my testimony? “Let not then your good be evil spoken of” (Romans 14:16). This is another way of saying, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). It is sometimes wrong to do right things, because this question involves the consciences and convictions of other people. There are things which we may do and places where we may go, which will not weaken us spiritually, but if we do them, we may injure or diminish our Christian testimony. The born-again Christian who truly desires to do what is right, will at times forgo his privileges. He will ask himself the question, “Will my participation in this, even though I am convinced in my own mind that it is right for me to do it, cause others to `speak evil’ of me or question the sincerity of my Christian testimony?”
(4) Does it cause my brother to stumble? Romans 14:21 says, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” This fourth question has to do with the direct effect that my act or participation will have upon a weaker Christian. The question is, “If I do this thing or attend that place, will my action be the cause of leading a weaker Christian into sin?” I may have the ability to curb my desires and tendencies so that I do not commit sinful acts; but my brother may be subject to stronger unrestrained tendencies than I, and upon seeing me take this step in a certain direction, may follow, and not be able to stop where I was able to draw the line, and may fall into grievous sin.
(5) Does it appear doubtful? If in doubt—don’t! Romans 14:23 says, “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” We might paraphrase the statement like this: Whatsoever I cannot do (a) without violating some clearly defined declaration or principle in the Word of God, (b) without giving offence to other Christians, (c) without diminishing the effectiveness of my own Christian testimony, (d) without causing a weaker brother to stumble, or (e) without going against the dictates of my own conscience, is sin!
5. Signs To Identify a Church Whose Members Are Born Again
I would like to share with you eight signs characterizing a church that has born-again people as its members. These are taken from the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Acts.
(1) Confessions. The first sign is confessions. Members of a church whose members are born again will confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Matthew 16:16-18 tells us that Jesus Christ built His Church upon Himself and upon Peter’s confession of Him as the Christ. There are many professing Christians in the world today. Some of these profess to love the Lord and seek to lead good lives, but they never confess Christ before men. Witnessing by life is important, but witnessing by word of mouth is also required (Matthew 10:32,33).
(2) Evangelism. The Church that has born again members will grow in numbers. Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be (were being) saved.” Confessions of Christ naturally lead to additions to the Body of Christ, the Church. A growing church will conduct evangelistic efforts; the midweek Bible studies and prayer meetings will be well attended.
(3) Holiness. A strong church fears God and lives accordingly. Acts 5:11 states that “great fear came upon all the Church” after the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira who had failed to fulfill their vows to God. What about the vows to God that we have made! Born-again Christians should have such an awesome respect for God that they seek to live lives of purity, for He is pure. The challenge is to see how close we can get to the heart of God and how separated unto Him we can be, not how far we may wander and still consider ourselves in adequate fellowship.
(4) Boldness. Born again members of a church will persevere in spite of persecution. Acts 8:1-4 describes the first persecutions of the Church. As a result, the early Christians were scattered abroad, but still they “went everywhere preaching the Word.” Church members sometimes are so easily hurt and discouraged. What if real persecution would come our way? The early Christians were unafraid to face persecution and even death. How bold are we; are we willing to show on whose side we are?
(5) Christian education. A strong church is ever wanting to learn new things about God. In Acts 11:22-26, we see that the Church in Antioch of Syria invited Paul and Barnabas to come and teach them, and the record states that “a whole year they assembled themselves with the church and taught much people.” No church can grow in strength if it neglects to provide capable teaching of God’s Word. Ministers and Sunday School teachers must accept the challenge to teach the Word, for each is going to be held accountable to God for the time he spends in proclaiming the Word, in breaking the Bread of Life. Christians grow spiritually according to how well they are fed.
(6) Prayer. A strong church prays for itself and for others. Acts 12:1-5 recounts the events surrounding the imprisonment of Peter, at which time “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” It was during times of prayer that the Holy Spirit fell upon the early believers to strengthen them for their work. They prayed for themselves (petition) and for others (intercession). A church whose members have experienced the New Birth will be a praying church.
(7) Missions. A born-again person is missionary-minded. Acts 13:1-3 portrays the action of the Church in Antioch of Syria as it separated Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey. It has been the testimony of many churches that money spent for mission work does not impoverish or hinder the home church. The members of such a church will also be mission-minded in their homes and toward their neighbors.
(8) Organization. A soul-saving, born-again church is organized to do its best for God. Acts 14:23 tells about the ordination of elders in every church established by Paul and Barnabas. In 1 Corinthians 14:40, Paul admonished the Church at Corinth to “let all things be done decently and in order.” Some churches have become so organized however, that the Holy Spirit can no longer work in them; but this will not happen to the church which seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit concerning all efforts that are undertaken, and whose primary and uppermost concern is to do the Lord’s will, that in all things God may be glorified.
The New Birth is necessary, for it is the means by which we enter the Kingdom to become children in the family of God. It is the source of power which motivates our actions and makes us new creatures in Christ Jesus. The New Birth, being born again, entitles us to a home in Heaven. It marks the beginning of a joyous, wonderful life; but with it goes grave responsibilities. The pathway for the Christian is strait (difficult) and narrow; the road is even uphill; but praise the Lord, eternal bliss at God’s right hand is the reward awaiting all those who have been faithful.