Monday, December 7, 2009

The Miracle of the New Birth

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me,” Matthew 16:24.
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” John 3:5.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new,” 2nd Corinthians 5:17.
The essence of the new birth, and becoming a new man in Christ Jesus are not merely mystical statements muttered by Christians. This is what I presently desire to consider, and delve into. But a disclaimer before I continue: the new birth and spiritual regeneration are entirely the work of the Holy Spirit within a man. He implants a new life within those who have accepted Christ by faith. It is an eternal life, a spiritual life, begotten by the Spirit and interested and desirous of the things of God. We are truly and literally born again. Our old life, with its condemnation and sin, is nailed to the cross, and our sins are no longer counted against us, but imputed to the One who died for them on the tree. To this end the work, and the glory, belong solely to God. He holds the breath of life, and breathes it into us.

But how does the new life translate into daily, practical terms for believers? What is the new life, and how should it impact us, if at all? Peter says of those born again through faith in Jesus, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light…Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,” 1st Peter 2:9,11. There has been a change of address; the new believer is one of the people of God. We are to show forth the praises of God, who has done so great a thing for us, by dying for us and redeeming us from our sin, and making us co-heirs with Christ in Heaven. Peter also warns that we are to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. These former lusts were the portion of our old life. Peter describes it so: “That [you] no longer should live the rest of [your] time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries,” 1st Peter 4:2-3. Are we in the flesh as new men? Yes. Is the sin nature present within us, “the old man”, as Paul describes it? Yes. Do we yield to our former lusts? Why should we be born again, if all we want to embrace is our former lusts? It reveals a glimmer into the heart of one who really does not believe he needs saving, and does not desire to part from the very things he must be saved from! Paul asks this question of born again believers: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Romans 6:1-2.
The new man is dead to sin, but alive in Christ, and because of Christ. The old man had the flesh enthroned: he had self enthroned. We ruled in our tiny universe, master of our fate, controller of our destiny, vainly erecting the illusion of our autonomy. But the veil was rent, and light entered therein, and showed us we have no control, and we never have. Self is a task master, driving us to one pleasure and pursuit after another for gain, for glory or for other self-ish reasons. The new man should have the Lord enthroned, and we should have God-centered, not self-centered eyes, to view our Savior and to be eager to do His will, as we were once eager to do our own. Our way of thinking needs to radically change from being entrenched and introverted, to being entirely extroverted, serving Christ, and by His Spirit serving others. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the [interests] of others,” Philippians 2:3-4. “For I have no one likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s,” Philippians 2:20-21. We are to love our God with all our faculties, and our neighbor as ourselves. This is the practice of the new life conducted in daily living. The new man within us, the spiritual man, should be hungry for God’s good word. First milk, and then solid food when he has matured and grown. Our inner man, the spiritual man, needs to be exercised with reading, prayer, and obeying the will of God as best as we presently understand it. “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath,” Matthew 13:12. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves,” James 1:22.
Our faith should be an epistle that may be read by all who know us, see 2nd Corinthians 3:2. Many people will (or will not) consider Christianity or the necessity of salvation in Christ based on how we live our lives. What we say means little to nothing, if it is not backed by a living, daily walk that reveals the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, bearing fruit that agrees with the testimony of our tongue, and the words of Scripture. Someone once wrote, “You may be the only gospel someone ever reads.” We are indeed ambassadors for Christ in this new life we have been given, and as stated earlier, we have been given much; so much will be expected of us.
The new man should put aside the former things. Anything that causes guilt and shame, anything we know to be sinful, harmful to others, ourselves, and displeasing to God. Even if it is not sinful to another, if you cannot abide it, or tolerate it with good conscience, turn from it. If others run into sin, it is not your place to follow them. You are not your own, you have been bought with a price, and our Lord would not wish that His sheep constantly run into mischief, despite His many warnings, tender and loving as they are. Evils habits must cease as you discover them, because this does not accord to godliness. When you are led by the Holy Spirit to understand that your actions (whatever they are) are evil, and you know it, obey Him and leave off. “Therefore to him who knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,” James 4:17. Will it cost you something? Yes, but what is the good of gaining material pleasure when you grieve the One who has done so much for you? Be wary of evil company. “Be not deceived: evil [company] corrupts good [habits],” 1st Corinthians 15:33. It is fitting that with our new life, we should strive to find those likeminded. My wife and I have been blessed to find the Duluth Bible Church, where there is a wide body of men and women whom we have met that love the Lord, believe His word, and have been saved and transformed by His grace.
Let us look at the matter this way: the old man, the unsaved man, is self-centered; he lives entirely for himself because he has nothing else to live for. The saved man, the new man, should be God-centered; that is, we should have our sphere of influence, thought, and action with an eye to God. Our every thought, word and deed should be so made as to consider that God is very real, very present, very mindful and jealous of both His name and glory, and our good; that we should walk worthy of the calling wherewith we have been called. There is certainly such a thing as a carnal Christian (that is, a worldly Christian who behaves and appears as an unsaved person), as Paul himself explains in 1st Corinthians chapter 3. For the new life to grow, he gives us an example of what we must do. We need to seek first milk, and then solid food. Peter says that as newborn Christians, men and women born again through faith in Christ, we should desire the pure milk of the word (the Bible), 1st Peter 2:2. Paul complained to the Corinthian church that after some years of being born again, they still needed milk; they weren’t growing in grace.
The writer of Hebrews tells us about spiritual growth in the new man: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” Hebrews 5:12-14. So we conclude on this point, that the believing child of God must grow in the word, must devour and consume the word and become by this, led by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, more acquainted with their Savior. Even Jesus our Lord, as a Man, learned wisdom, Luke 2:40,52. A little child, if unfed, will starve. It won’t fare differently for infant Christians. Our spiritual life will wane and dwindle, until it is feeble and emaciated. The Holy Spirit will never depart from us because He is our seal and pledge of salvation, yet we may never grow unless we exercise ourselves in such a way as learning the words and teachings of our God, whom we confess to serve, and applying them in our daily lives. This we do to the best of our understanding, and if we truly seek the Lord’s will, He is surely not reticent to withhold further growth, maturity, and wisdom.
Paul tells us the new man is an entirely different being. Old things are passed away, and all things have become new, see 2nd Corinthians 5:17. He also explain the initial consequence of this new birth: “[God] hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ…That God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them,” verses 18-19. How did this occur? “For he (God the Father) hath made him (Jesus, God the Son) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” verse 21. What is our position in this new birth? What is the function of the new man? For one, we are ambassadors of God now. John wrote that as Jesus was, so are we in this world. Jesus pled for men to be reconciled to His Father during His earthly ministry. In verse 20 born again believers do likewise: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” God wants all the world to know that He gave His only Son so the world could be reconciled back to Him through Christ. The sentence of just condemnation hangs over the old man; the wrath of God abides on the unsaved, and it is written that such will not so much as SEE life, John 3:36. Christ is the Door through which we may enter the Father’s court. He is the narrow road which leads to His Father’s mansion. He is the bread of life which is served unto eternal life at His Father’s table. He is the Vine which harbors all growth and life, the root from which all life derives nourishment. Christ is the resurrection; first He gives us spiritual re-birth, and then through death or Rapture He will raise our formerly corrupt bodies into new life, and we shall be whole and complete. There will at that time be no more war between the old man (our carnal wants and desires) and the new man (our spirit, born of God).
So many cults have risen from Christianity’s failure to grasp the genuine power and truth of the new birth, and sanctification through the Holy Spirit. Carnal men see a weak and vacillating church, cannot understand Scripture themselves since they are not born again, and twist what they read to their own desire, and to their own destruction, 2nd Peter 2:1-3; 3:16-17. Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, et al, preach doctrines which are not congruent, and in fact blatantly violent to the Bible they profess to teach and preach, with so many additions and private interpretations that it is no longer the gospel, but a complex and hopeless system of works that moves justification and sanctification from God’s doing alone, to at least our doing in part. And it must be maintained, or Heaven help the person who fails to keep working! Yet our Lord Himself addressed the hard working Jews of His day differently: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11:28. The apostle writes, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things,” 1st Timothy 6:11.
For so many, this is a sad misunderstanding, as the old adage goes, they put the cart before the horse. The Bible explains carefully and thoroughly that one must be justified before he may please God, before he is sanctified and cleansed, set apart for any usefulness to God. You cannot be justified before God by sanctifying yourself. You are missing the vital, necessary step of being born again! In Titus we read, “Unto the pure (the saved) all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving (the unsaved!) is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate,” Titus 1:15-16. In Mark’s gospel Jesus is recorded as saying, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” Mark 16:16. In John’s gospel He is equally clear: “He that is washed (bathed) needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean…ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you,” John 13:10; 15:3. Also see Ephesians 5:26 and Titus 3:5. Also see 1st Corinthians 6:12, 10:23, and Romans chapter 14. To those reading who are working their way to Heaven, I plead with you: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be (presently and eternally) saved,” Acts 16:31.
What are the traits of the new man? They could also be called the fruit of the Spirit, as God the Holy Spirit brings them to fruition in our lives as we walk in obedient faith with Him, allowing Him to will and to work His good pleasure. The fruit of the Spirit is again His work in us, the prophet reminds us, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts,” Zechariah 4:6. For our benefit Paul included a list of the fruit of the Spirit that the life of the new man should manifest. It includes: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” Galatians 5:22-23. Paul exhorts Christians that if we truly live in the Spirit, that is being born again, let us also walk in the Spirit, verse 25. We have spiritual life in us, we are literally born again beings, sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Jesus Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit who abides with us unto the day of redemption of the purchased possession; namely us.
In Colossians we are again confronted by the reality of the new man, and what God’s intentions and purpose for this re-creation of man is. We read, “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him,” 3:10. This is a tremendous passage. Who created us? God of course! We were originally made in His image; God made all men, Genesis 1:27, Malachi 2:10. Yet when Adam sinned, we died spiritually, and began to have children no longer in God’s image, but in our own sinful likeness, Genesis 2:17; 5:3. Jesus warned, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh (mortal, temporal, doomed to die): and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (eternal, immortal). Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” John 3:6-7. Here we have God performing a re-genesis in us. He is making life where there was none, it is entirely and authentically a miracle of God wrought within us. Knowing this should produce a dramatic and dynamic change within us, as new life tends to grow, and the new man, the spiritual man becomes stronger. This primitive spiritual message was concreted in the days of Isaac and Rebekah, when God told Rebekah concerning her sons Esau and Jacob: “The elder shall serve the younger,” Genesis 25:23. Esau was a worldly man with worldly appetites, and Jacob was a quiet man with his eye on God, being saved by faith. Esau represents the old man, the flesh with its carnal desires, while Jacob, the younger brother, represents the new man, being born again through faith in Christ. Returning to Colossians we find a second list of spiritual attributes that should be noticed and practiced by professing, believing Christians: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, [tender] mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another…even as Christ forgave you…above all these things put on charity (love) which is the bond of perfectness,” 3:12-14.
Verses 16-17 clue us in on what things are so vital for a Christian’s new life and walk. We read, “Let the word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The new man needs to be fed the word of God if there is to be growth. It must dwell in us richly; we must know Scripture, and know it thoroughly. We must teach and admonish one another, and desire and pursue Biblical studies alone as well. Here we see the principal of having a God-centered life again. Do our deeds, public or private, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God. Christ’s name is no magic word, but a seal that what we have done we need not be ashamed to do. When we pray, we end in Jesus’ name, which basically means we are praying in the authority Jesus vested us with as born again believers, John 16:26-27; 17:22. We are seeking to pray in the Spirit of our Lord. Jesus always had an eye to the Father, the most God-centered Man who ever was. Likewise, Paul counsels that we follow suit, in word and deed, and everything we do. Whatsoever was his catch-all, so that any word or deed worth doing or saying would be done and said to God’s glory, abstaining from even the appearance of evil, 1st Thessalonians 5:22. Lastly, James also contributed in his epistle, by speaking of genuine wisdom given by God, and what such wisdom possessed by Christians should look like. He writes, "the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy," James 3:17. We are to be holy as God is holy; James refers to it as being pure, that is, undefiled in life and doctrine. To be peaceable is to be free from conflict; that is, not blown about by every wind of doctrine. Someone who is wise ought to be gentle also. Willing to yield does not mean giving way to everyone's beliefs. It is translated in a footnote in the King James Bible as "reasonable". Earlier in his epistle James reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment; while the good fruits are the fruits of the Spirit which mature us, benefit others, and please God our Father. A tree is known by its fruit, our Lord said (Matthew 7:16-20). We are to be impartial; Henry Morris suggests this means true humility. Lack of hypocrisy demonstrates that our speech and actions are not two faced, but genuinely sincere alone or with many. This type of wisdom comes only from God (see James 1:5), and is thus only endowed to the new man.
This is our position and mindset as Christians. God is to be feared, that is held in awe and the highest esteem, worshiped because He made the universe, made us in it, and sent the Savior to redeem a world that had forfeit their claim to Him. We are bought with a price, we are soldiers of Christ Jesus, children of God, destined for an eternity in Heaven: and it is only so because of the presence of our Triune God. We are to walk in the Spirit, and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We are to look forward to things ahead, and not things behind, and await the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. His imminent return for us through the Rapture at any given moment should excite our desire to be with Him, and compel us to holy living, and to warn others of the wrath to come. John wrote that every man who has the hope of Jesus’ appearing in him purifies himself (is sanctified) even as Jesus is pure. We want to be found by Him doing His will at His return! If you have this blessed hope of His soon return, then be holy, as God is holy, and come out from the world system that Christ purchased you from. The world hates God, and crucified our Lord, and is offended by the message of the cross. The new man should rejoice in the message of the gospel. For us it is our life: a resurrected Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father, coming soon to reign! An empty tomb and fulfilled prophecies, which only speak of His Second Coming, and the conclusion of all prophetic utterance. Jesus remarked that the things concerning Him (that is, His First Coming) have an end, Luke 22:37. So much more than, do we have an assurance that everything predicted concerning His Second Coming will happen just as He said!
I have only scratched the surface on what is a most compelling, enlightening subject. I pray that I have been honest and helpful to any reading; but more so to any Christians I urge you to follow your Master and practice holiness. Being born again we should crave His smile and His pleasure, not the world’s fleeting acceptance. They will accept a Christian whose sword is left in its scabbard; you no longer offend or threaten. Do not entangle yourself in civilian affairs, but please the officer who enlisted you! May the Holy Spirit lead us into deeper truth concerning the reality and power of the new man.

No comments:

Post a Comment

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," 2nd Timothy 3:16.

My wife and I welcome comments to our Blog. We believe that everyone deserves to voice their insight or opinion on a topic. Vulgar commentary will not be posted.

Thank you and God bless!

Joshua 24:15

All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.