Chapter 3: Born Again"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you." Ezekiel 36:26
Opening prayer: Father, despite my best efforts, my life comes short of even my own standards. Please open my eyes to see what You will do to and through me if I permit You.
Your New Life Starts *Here*
The Bible says that God has a plan for our lives, but what we've seen of it seems pretty backwards. And what about all the violence in this world? Living in a big city, I've sometimes felt trapped behind enemy lines.
I was surprised to learn what Scripture says about our world. It explains that today's thugs and terrorists are being manipulated by an invisible enemy, sometimes called the devil.
You cannot make peace with this enemy, who hates you without a cause. Therefore you must learn to fight back and protect yourself. Unfortunately, physical strength, physical weapons, diplomacy and human intellect are powerless to cope with our invisible, relentless enemy.
Military weapons won't stop our enemy. If you bomb all his followers into ashes, the enemy will simply recruit a fresh batch of lunatics. Likewise all man-made religions are powerless to help you, since they are based on philosophy rather than power.
Since our enemy is spiritual and the real battle is in the realm of the spirit, we need spiritual help in order to survive.
The Gospel (literally "Good News") message is that God wants to give us an implant of His Holy Spirit, a new nature that can be nurtured and developed.
This new nature can see into the realm of the spirit world, and does have power against the invisible enemy. This new nature can give us joy despite our circumstances.
More importantly, this new nature is our passport to Heaven. Without this new nature, we will lose the spiritual battle here on earth and spend eternity on the losing side, surrounded by other losers.
Born From Above
This is a difficult concept. It is completely backwards from everything I learned in college. In short, the Bible says we cannot save ourselves by our own efforts. We need a complete "life transplant" to survive.
Our Lord Himself expressed this principle in John 3 verses 3 through 6:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 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?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (NKJV)
This is an important principle. Ordinary flesh life can be very nice at times, but it won't get anybody into Heaven. Furthermore, our ordinary fleshly desires will constantly betray us in the midst of the spiritual battle that rages around us today.
Jesus promised a new nature. If we choose to receive and nurture it, will inevitably transform our lives. God's own Spirit will give us a new heart, a renewed mind, and the power to make a difference in the lives of other people. It sounds backwards, but it's effective.
What do you mean "backwards?"
For starters, there are four elements that make the Gospel seem backwards from worldly philosophy:
- It works indirectly. Very little in God's kingdom is achieved by the head-on, direct approach. Jesus says the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He who would be greatest of all must first be servant of all. He who exalts himself will be humbled; he who humbles himself will be exalted. Most importantly, we gain salvation when we stop trying to earn it by our own merits and begin trusting in the completed work of Jesus.
- It works by displacement. Being "born again" means receiving an implant of supernatural life that we didn't have before - life which must be fed and nurtured. Yet our old sinful nature wages war against our new nature, and continually strives to divert our attention. Spiritual growth depends on consciously choosing to feed the new nature and starve the old. No man can serve two masters or two natures. One nature will outgrow and displace the other, as light displaces darkness.
- It works by power. God's life-changing power can transform us from the inside out, if we feed our new nature and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. In our own strength, all we can do is act religious and go to Hell with all the other religious folks.
- Upright living looks different. The transforming power of God enables us to walk uprightly, in the light of God's love, on the straight and narrow path. All the rest of the world prefers darkness and "diversity" - another term for the wide, well-traveled paths that lead to destruction. If we walk uprightly, we will look upside down and backwards to our neighbors who don't yet know which way is up.
This way *up*
Let's look for guidance in Paul's letter to the Romans, Chapter 1, verses 16-17:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Paul hits several key points in quick succession here:
- He is not ashamed to stand up and proclaim the gospel (literally "the good news") of Christ (literally "the anointed one" - the Messiah). He's ready to preach even in Rome, where the snobbish power elite will ridicule him and the government will eventually kill him.
- This gospel involves God's miracle-working power. The gospel is not a clever collection of words and ideas. There is life-changing power available to do a work in somebody.
- The work is salvation. The gospel promises a life-changing implant of the Holy Spirit, being born again, being saved from the eternal consequences of sin, being saved to the eternal kingdom of God.
- This power and this work are available freely to everyone who believes. Anyone that exercises faith in the completed work of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, will receive the life-giving power.
How is that faith different from what I'm doing now?
In our culture, "faith" is defined as any type of intellectual belief system. The English language permits "faith" to be a mental exercise, sterile and lifeless as a museum exhibit. The languages of the Bible, both Hebrew and Greek, do not permit such slothfulness. Both languages use these words as action verbs, not just nouns.
All of my previous religions required a continuous stream of good works in order to merit eternal rewards. They assured me that good people all go to Heaven.
By contrast, the Bible tells us that we can't possibly be good enough to merit Heaven. In the Old Testament, God commanded daily, weekly and annual animal sacrifices to atone for (cover up) our sin. In the New Testament, Jesus gave Himself once and for all as the atoning sacrifice.
Our sins pose a real dilemma for us. It feels backwards to say "no" to our favorite sin, in hopes of pleasing a God we can't directly see. But sin is sin. Every type of sin is a deviation from God's standards. The Greek word for sin is hamartia, meaning to come short or to miss the mark, like archers failing to hit the target. Our sins, then, are just our shortcomings.
Each of us has a treasured set of shortcomings. Some folks struggle with lying. Some struggle with stealing. Some struggle with drinking or drugs. Some struggle with lust. Some struggle with anger and violence. Some have eating disorders. If you tell me you don't struggle with anything, then your problem is lying.
All sin is harmful to the sinner and to the community. Some sin (murder, adultery, rape, homosexuality, idolatry) is so damaging to the moral fabric of the community that God commanded the nation of Israel to stone the offenders. Now remember that the kingdom of God works by displacement. Instead of criticizing sin, let us build up our new nature, which can displace the weak, sinful nature we're born with.
Whether your particular weakness is violence, substance abuse or lust, it's a waste of time to say, "God made me this way." God's original design (with Adam and Eve) was perfection in paradise. Sin changed all that, and the consequences of sin have wreaked havoc on humanity's gene pool.
God's solution for sin is a life-changing heart transplant (being born again), accompanied by life-changing power. If you were born warped (hint: we all were), then you need to be born again. All of us can freely partake of that life-changing experience if we choose to.
The problem is not that God's plan is too difficult to understand or too hard to accomplish. The problem is that we're willing to try almost anything to avoid submitting to God and His plan.
So how do we take advantage of God's plan? The next chapter, "Belonging" explains how.Closing Prayer: Father, I think I understand Your plan this far, but it sure sounds different from what I thought it was. Please help me, by Your Holy Spirit, to understand Your plan for my life and how it differs from man-made religious traditions. Amen.