Sunday, July 22, 2018

180722 The Mystery of the New Birth

Jesus was approached by one of the Pharisees, a man named Nicodemus. He wanted to talk to Jesus about the obvious power, which came from God, in the work of Jesus. Instead of answering his question we find Jesus’ response in John 3:3-7. Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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 new birth is one of the most difficult concepts in the Christian faith. The Bible is very clear. Apart from a secret act of God which gives us spiritual life, there is no salvation. If there is no salvation then we are all doomed. In observing the news, day after day, we can see that there is a tremendous need for a new and better life. Not for a new set of rules or new habits instead, we need a new life!
The new life that we need does not come about as a result of turning over a new leaf, attending a seminar, or workshop, or anything else that we can possibly do.
You see…
We are literally “born dead”! Let’s look at the familiar verses in Ephesians 2:1-3. 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.
As a result of our human birth, we received the physical DNA of Adam and Eve! Along side that inheritance was spiritual death, that they experienced when they ate the forbidden fruit. Being “dead in trespasses and sins” was not the result of anything that we have done. It is a consequence of the condemnation that God imposed on Adam and Eve. They were told that when they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they would die. They did not immediately die physically but they certainly did immediately die spiritually. Therefore, when we were born into this world by the natural process we inherited the consequences imposed on Adam and Eve. We were born subject to the prince of the power of the air! That individual is none other than Satan himself! As result, we lived in the passions of our flesh rather than in the spiritual life our first ancestors had known before they sinned. Through no fault of our own, we were born dead to God and alive to sin!
No human activity — no religious ceremony — no intellectual improvement — can give life in place of death. Spiritual death works the same, in its realm, as physical death. When one is physically dead there is nothing they can do! NOTHING at all! In the same way, when a person is spiritually dead they can do NOTHING spiritual, either good or bad. In order to escape the wages of sin, we have to cease to be dead. We can no more choose life spiritually then we were able to choose life physically. Remember, you had nothing to do with your physical birth. In the same manner, we have nothing to do with our spiritual birth.
In order to be spiritually alive, we must be given new life. God’s process of new life was predicted in Ezekiel 36:26-27 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
God promised a time in the future when he would give new spiritual life to his people. God was speaking to Israel in captivity. They had been carried away because of their extreme rebellion against God. They had profaned his name among the nations. Now they were in great need of a new life. He didn’t say “I will teach you to do right.” Instead, he said, “I will give you a new heart”. This would not be accomplished until the Son of God was made to be sin and paid the ultimate price of physical death and separation from his Father! He became sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our human arrogance makes us desire to have a major part in our new birth.
We are passive in the new birth. Let’s look at James 1:16-18. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
There is a lot of deception in the world concerning the Christian life. James, the Lord’s brother in the flesh, saw the deception at work in the first few years after Jesus’ resurrection. James saw that there was a need to understand that the good and perfect gifts that we need come down from above. Every good gift! Every perfect gift! Comes from God.
No one wakes up one morning and says, “I believe I will be born again today”. No more than a person can decide when he will be born physically. James points to the fact that it was by God’s OWN WILL that we were brought forth.
Peter, later, added this, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3-4). It was God’s great mercy that gives us new birth! And we have no control over that! Let’s look at John’s view of…
What happens in the new birth? John 3:8. 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.”
We hear the wind, we see its effects, but we have no control over it! Being born of the Spirit is like the wind. We see from this that the new birth is given by God the Holy Spirit. Since the Trinity is indivisible the Father is also involved as is, of course, the Son! It is God who makes us alive together with Christ! The Bible says that it is the Father of Lights who gave us new birth. And, remember the words of Peter, that God has given us new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ! The new life given to us in Christ Jesus releases spiritual abilities that we never had before. We are born again and as a consequence…
We become new creatures. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:17-19. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
The old life of spiritual death has passed away! Now, that may sound contradictory. But remember when we are born into this world we are born spiritually dead even though we are physically alive. That condition of spiritual death has to be ended.
The good news that we take to the world is that this same God, whose judgment is death, has provided an answer to this tragedy through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Death has died in the death of Christ. The old has passed away the new has come. Not in any way by righteous work that we have done! The old passed away in Christ when he died on the cross. God was ending the hostility between men and himself when he laid the sin of the world on Jesus. He no longer counts our sin against us if we are in Christ Jesus.
It is absolutely essential that we recognize…
The new birth cannot be earned. Let’s turn to Titus 3:4-7. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
We see the goodness of God and the love he has shown in Christ Jesus. He sent his only son to die for us because of his love for the world (John 3:16). In his goodness, he saved us by the washing of regeneration. Wow! What does that mean? A definite moral change occurs in our life when God generates life in us. Once we have been born again we find spiritual abilities that have come to new life. We have been made holy by God not by our goodness! In fact, this life cannot be earned because we are spiritually dead prior to God’s generating work in us.
Once we have been born again we will not continue to sin as a habit or a pattern of life (1 John 3:9). The power of the new spiritual life in us will break us away from the power of sin and death. What we lost in the Garden of Eden we gained back in the garden tomb! Jesus death burial and resurrection defeats the power of sin and death. When we receive him and believe in his name he gives us the right — power — to become the children of God (John 1:12). This is God’s work, not ours.
It is very important that we recognize…
It is the gift of God. Let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-10. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Grace can best be understood if we turn it into an acrostic: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense! The first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans is an explanation of the fact that no one will ever be able to make himself righteous before God. Since all have sinned and the wages of sin is death we can only be made right with God — saved — by his grace. Only by his gift of redemption in Jesus Christ.
God’s “grace” means his “unmerited favor”. Jesus’ death on the cross, burial and resurrection are the means by which God justifies us. Justification means that we are declared to be not guilty. Or as someone put it, “Just as if I had never sinned!” We are completely unable to earn favor with God.
The only way we could be declared righteous is for God to freely provide salvation apart from any work on our part. It is very important for us to recognize that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. “Dead in sin” is our condition at birth. God could have left us that way but instead, by his choice, chose to give life to some.
Usually, when Ephesians 2:8-9 is used, verse 10 is excluded. I suspect that is because most teachers are afraid of confusing the class. I see no contradiction. Verse 10 tells us that “we are his workmanship” and does not present any contradiction to verse nine, “not as result of works”. The Bible tells us that we are to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. When we do this we will be fully pleasing to him and we will be bearing good fruit. Having received God’s grace through faith we have new life and new spiritual abilities!
There is nothing we can do to cause us to receive the new birth. Since it is the gift of God it cannot be taken away from us. However, when we receive that new life we immediately have work to do that is given to us by God. That work does not save us. We have been created in Christ Jesus and as such we have work to do — a life to live.
Have you received the wonderful gift of God? I’m not talking about believing about Jesus or accepting the fact that God is real. The Bible tells us that the demons believe in the existence of God and tremble in fear. In fact, the demons believe because they have seen God and were at one time part of God’s heavenly host. You and I, on the other hand, have come to believe in God because of his work in us. We have received him — believed in his name — and he gave us the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13). To be born again is not the result of a human decision. To be born again — born of God is to be made able to receive and believe. Without the new life given by God we cannot even see the kingdom of God. When God gives us new life, and we are born again, we can make spiritual decisions that count. I ask you again, have you received the wonderful gift of God? This can be your day of salvation.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.

Monday, July 16, 2018

180715 The Call of God in Jesus Christ

John 1:14-16 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
The call of God is spoken through the human proclamation of the gospel. The call of God is not simply human words but requires a saving faith on the part of the person who hears the call. Paul asked the question of the Roman believers. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). It is very important that the lost world hear the gospel and understand the love of God that’s found in Christ Jesus. You and I have the responsibility to share the good news that we have received for ourselves. Jesus calls us to invite our friends and family to come to Jesus, and with that, to come to a church where they will hear the Bible taught and can worship God in spirit and truth!
The call of God in Jesus Christ is found throughout the gospel of John. John the Baptist (not John the gospel writer) began the process of calling. He came to be a witness to the light that would come after him. The Baptist understood that he was not what it was all about! He knew, from the very beginning, that it was all about Jesus! Remember, when he was still in his mother’s womb and she met Mary who was carrying the baby Jesus in her womb, John jumped excitedly at the presence of his Lord. (Luke 1:39-42). John, who would later be called the Baptist, recognized his Lord before either of them were born!
We need to carry on with exactly that same theme. It’s not about us! It’s about Jesus! Let’s look at a few of the times that Jesus extended a call.
First of all…
Jesus extended the call to disciples. Let’s look ahead to John 1:40-42. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
These two disciples were first of all disciples of the Baptist. They had often heard John say that he was not worthy to tie the sandals of the one coming after him. One day, the Baptist looked across the crowd and saw the subject of his ministry. In my mind’s eye, I see John standing by the river Jordan. He was baptizing people as they repented of their sin. Suddenly he felt an unseen presence and lifting up his eyes he sensed that the One had come! I believe he pointed across the crowd and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b). His recognition was made complete when he saw the Spirit descending from heaven and remaining on Jesus.
His disciples observed all this and must’ve had long conversations about what they had seen that day. The next day two of his disciples stood near him when he said again, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). Immediately, John’s two disciples graduated from his school and moved on to graduate school. They followed Jesus. One of these men was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Immediately he went to find his own brother with the good news — the gospel — “We have found the Messiah”. It’s important to recognize that Jesus immediately knew who Simon was. Jesus gave him a new name, Cephas! The name translates as “Rock”! He was not to be the stone foundation of Christ’s new church but he was a chip off the block so to speak.
In looking at all of the gospel records we can see that Jesus ended, what was essentially his first day of ministry, with four disciples: James and John the sons of Zebedee, Andrew, and Simon, his brother.
The very next day he found Philip and commanded him to follow. Not only did Philip follow Jesus but he went, immediately, to invite his friend Nathaniel. He told Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah — a man named Jesus from Nazareth. Nathaniel doubted that anything good could come out of Nazareth. He was quickly set straight.
Going on with his new group of disciples Jesus attended a wedding in Cana with his mother as well as his disciples. There John, the gospel writer, tells us that Jesus did his first sign when he turned the water into wine. As we follow on in the gospel of John we see that…
Jesus called a Pharisee. Let’s move ahead to John 3:11-15. Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
I have heard many explanations of why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Usually, the explanation has something to do with wanting to hide from the crowds. I think that’s part of it but not for the usual reasons. Both men, Jesus and Nicodemus, had a very busy ministry. In order to have an uninterrupted conversation, they needed to get away from the crowds. Nicodemus revealed his growing faith in Jesus by saying the obvious. He calls Jesus “Rabbi” which means teacher and he affirmed that the source of Jesus’ teaching was none other than God himself!
Nicodemus met the first test of faith. That test is described by the writer of Hebrews as, “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6b). Before he ever heard of Jesus Nicodemus believed in the existence of God.
Later, Nicodemus would challenge the other Pharisees with these words, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:50). This certainly showed his willingness to speak on behalf of Jesus. Finally, Nicodemus was one of two men who came to take the body of Jesus from the cross and prepare him for burial. I think it is interesting, but not essential, that Jesus came into the world with the adoption of a man named Joseph, and at the end of his life, he was buried in a tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea, the other man who was with Nicodemus. Jesus only had need of that tomb for a part of three days. On the third day, he rose from the dead. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
After calling his disciples, and a Pharisee Jesus did the unexpected…
Jesus called a Samaritan. Let’s move ahead to John 4:10-11. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
Jesus’ disciples were growing in number faster than the growth of John’s disciples had been. The Pharisees were very unhappy about this. So he left Judea and went north through Samaria. Now, this was highly unusual. In order to go from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north, most Jews would never go through Samaria. Because they had no dealings with Samaritans!
I believe Jesus intentionally set out to meet one particular Samaritan that day as he traveled north. As they came to the middle of the day they stopped by Jacob’s well. Jesus sent his disciples into the nearby town to buy food. The first taboo had been going into Samaria the second would have been eating Samaritan food. The disciples must’ve left him with some uneasiness but he did not need their protection. As soon as they were gone a woman came to the well. Remember, it is the middle of the day. Most of the women would have gone to the well in the early morning to draw water for the day. Or they might have gone in the evening to draw water for the cleanup before going to bed. It was not likely that many of them would have gone there in the middle of the day. I think it is very likely that this woman intended to go at a time when no other women would be there because she was a woman with a tarnished reputation. Jesus did not reject her instead he asked her for water! She immediately questioned why a man who was obviously a Jew would accept water from her, a Samaritan! Jesus’ response was to offer her living water.
He convinced her that he was the Messiah and she dropped her water pot and hurried back into the town to invite her friends and neighbors to see a man who had told her all that she had ever done. Well, we know he didn’t talk about everything she had done, but he did tell her the significant events in our life. He called a Samaritan…
And many more. John 4:39-40 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.
She must’ve been obviously changed in some way causing her friends and neighbors accept her testimony. Many of them believed in Jesus because of her words. The situation was so convincing that they asked Jesus to stay with them a while. He stayed there two more days and many more believed in him! Might this have laid the groundwork for Phillip’s successful ministry in Samaria as recorded in the book of Acts? Since the Bible does not explicitly tell us we can’t know for sure.
As we move forward through the gospel we find explicit teaching that…
The Father enables the call. Let’s look at John 6:35-37. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Jesus had healed the son of an official in Cana and in Jerusalem a man who had been paralyzed all his life. In doing so, Jesus had asserted the truth that he was the Son of God! As far as the Pharisees were concerned he deserved to die because he healed on the Sabbath and claimed to be the Son of God!
This gave him the opportunity to tell them clearly that he was only doing what the Father wanted him to do. He came to meet their spiritual hunger and thirst assuring them that they only had to come to him and believe in him. But this was not something they could do on their own. The ones who would come and believe were those that the Father gave to him. Looking ahead we see that…
The call includes a promise. In John 6:38-40. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
His promise that he would never cast out anyone who came to him was reinforced by the fact that he came from heaven, and would soon be returning, only to do the will of the Father. Repeatedly, Jesus asserted that anyone coming to him would be coming because of the Father’s work in them. In fact, it is the will of God the Father that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him will never be lost.
God’s call is effective because he has spoken to all aspects of our human nature. He speaks to our intellect by explaining the facts of salvation. He speaks to our emotions by giving an invitation to respond. He speaks to our wills by asking us to hear and respond in repentance. Our repentance involves a decision to turn from our sin, receive Christ as Savior and cast our cares on him in all matters.

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.