Now that we have a better idea of what Salvation is and why we need it, let’s stretch our spiritual muscles a little further as we learn how to appropriate this wonderful gift for ourselves–through something called the New Birth. Although some may consider the “head” knowledge of Salvation we gained in our previous workout session to be sufficient, that mere intellectual knowledge will prove to be woefully inadequate in providing us with the foundation we will need for our upcoming exercises in practical Christianity. For the purposes of this program, then, we can gain an experiential knowledge of Salvation (if it hasn’t been done already) through an active participation in each of the following four exercises…
Exercise #1—The Mandate for the New Birth
Exercise #2—The Spiritual Dynamics of the New Birth
Exercise #3—The Legalities of the New Birth
Exercise #4—Making the New Birth Personal
Exercise #1—The Mandate for the New Birth
In His encounter with Nicodemus, one of the religious leaders of His day, Jesus made the New Birth mandatory for anyone seeking entrance into the Kingdom of God. This meeting, recorded for us in John 3:1-14, took place one night when Nicodemus sought out Jesus for reasons which were never really made clear. That’s because, before Nicodemus had a chance to reveal the motivation for his visit, Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (V.3).” Thinking like a natural man, Nicodemus tried to figure out how he could go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time. To this, Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into 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 be amazed that I said unto you, ‘You must be born again’ (vv. 5-7).”
In this statement, Jesus made it clear that a fixed gulf exists between our fleshly and spiritual beings; and, while everyone born into the natural world would initially be born into a fleshly or physical state, that only those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God would be born into life in the Spirit. Here, then, we find the mandate, given by Jesus Himself, that anyone who hopes to see God and participate in His kingdom must be born again. However, what isn’t provided for us here is the reason why this New Birth is necessary, or the way that we go about experiencing it.
Exercise #2—The Spiritual Dynamics of the New Birth…
If we are to understand the reason for Jesus’ mandate, we first need to learn about the dynamics involved in the New Birth; dynamics which have everything to do with regeneration. Since, by definition, regeneration is—the act of bringing something into existence again—that is, to form again, or to be made new—for us…
…Regeneration is the act by which our dead spirits are brought back to life again by the Holy Spirit of God.
But, why is this necessary?
To answer to that question, we must go all the way back to the beginning of human history; back to the time when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. That’s when their spirits, as well as those of all of their future descendants, died because their sin caused them to be separated or cut off from God. This meant that every human being who would ever live, with the exception of Jesus Christ, would be born spiritually dead—or, with a spirit cut off from its source of life in God.
In his book, The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee explains what is meant when we speak about this state of spiritual death…
…when we say the spirit is dead it does not imply there is no more spirit; we simply mean the spirit has lost its sensitivity towards God and thus is dead to Him. The exact situation is that the spirit is incapacitated, unable to communicate with God…it remains in a coma as if non-existent.
Because of this spiritual death, no descendant of Adam has ever been able to have, much less maintain, a relationship with God while remaining in his or her natural or fleshly state. The New Birth, then, is what occurs when God’s Spirit brings a man’s spirit back to life, restoring that man’s lost relationship to God, and making it possible for him to communicate with God once again. But—and this is a very BIG BUT—before this can happen, there are certain legalities which must be addressed, legalities involving our repeated violations of God’s laws.
Exercise #3—The Legalities Involved in the New Birth…
As we learned back in Salvation—What It Is and Why We Need It, each of us has, throughout our lives, repeatedly offended God by violating His laws, or His codes of acceptable moral and spiritual conduct; and, in the process, we have unwittingly erected a barrier—or a wall of offence—between Him and us, something which makes any relationship between us impossible. Until such a time as we confess our faults—or, until we agree with God about what we have done wrong, and seek His forgiveness—we will continue to be “cut off” from Him; losing whatever opportunities we may have had to get to know Him and to experience His grace. Thus, the elimination of our offenses against God, as well as the removal of the wall which those offenses have created, is what the New Birth is all about.
Unfortunately, because most of us have no concept of what God’s righteous requirements for relationship with Him are, we don’t know what we have done to offend Him. Most of us have lived our lives according to the codes of conduct that we have acquired from our parents, picked up from our friends and associates, or created for ourselves in response to the ever-changing circumstances of life. Unlike God’s immutable standard of holiness, our concepts of what constitutes right and wrong have been derived from very human and fallible sources and, as a result, tend to have very nebulous boundaries. Consequently, the principles by which we live are often adapted to the situations in which we find ourselves at any given moment, with what is true and right in one situation differing from that in another. With backgrounds steeped in such a relativistic system of ethics, how are we to know for sure what God’s requirements are; and, how can we understand what our offenses against Him have been?
The only way we can know how we have missed God’s “mark” for acceptable behavior (with “sin” being defined as “missing the mark” of God) is through the Bible, where God has set forth His standard of righteousness, or right living, in Exodus 20: 1-17—a standard we know today as the Ten Commandments. In these commandments, He makes it clear that, in order for us to have a spiritual relationship with Him, we must meet certain conditions:
- We can have no gods other than Him; ours is to be a personal and an exclusive relationship;
- We cannot make an idol, or anything in the form of a person, or an object from the natural or spiritual world, which we worship in His place; so, no person, possession, position, pleasure, power or money can be substituted for Him;
- We cannot take His name in vain—that is, use His name in a disrespectful or dishonest manner. We are not to use God’s name as a swear word, or to legitimatize or authorize any activity which He has not sanctioned;
- We are to remember the Sabbath day, or one day in seven as a day of rest and worship, and keep it holy, or set apart for Him;
- We are to honor our parents, respecting them as God’s appointed authorities in our lives;
- We are not to murder; or, according to Jesus in an expanded version found in Matthew 5: 22, to even harbor hatred in our hearts toward another person;
- We cannot steal—that is, take anything which is not ours, including money, property, an employer’s time, a person’s reputation, or the affection of someone who belongs to another;
- We cannot commit adultery, or any sexual sin, either by thinking about it or actually doing it (see Matthew 5: 28 for another amplified rendition);
- We cannot bear false witness or lie about anyone else; and,
- We are not to covet, or want for our own, anything that belongs to another person; this includes his or her spouse, children, positions, possessions, personalities, looks, or money.
Since we all have violated these laws at one time or another, how can we, as naturally unrighteous people, meet such rigorous demands for righteousness, and enter into a relationship with God? In all honesty, we can’t—at least, not on our own. We must have the help of Someone Else who can meet these demands on our behalf; Someone who can bridge the gap between God’s holiness and our sinful condition, thereby making a relationship between God and us possible.
Exercise #4—Making the New Birth Personal…
Since God is the only One who completely understands the strict demands of His law, as well as man’s total inability to meet those demands, He took it upon Himself to create a plan by which Someone named Jesus could bring God and man together. And, for us to understand how this plan works, here is what we need to know:
First, we need to understand that God is so holy that anyone who comes into His presence must be free from any and all impurities, or else he will die. When God told Adam that if he ate from the forbidden tree he would die, He was making clear to him the principle that “…the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23)” and that “the person who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:20).”
- Since the law of God’s holiness requires that sin’s offenses be paid for by death, the one who has offended Him must die to satisfy the judgment imposed upon him by the law.
- However, God in His grace also stipulated in His law that a substitution could be made for the offender—that is, the sinner could avoid paying the penalty for his own violations of God’s law if he could find Someone else who was willing to die in his place. But, in order to qualify as such a substitution, this Someone could not be a person who was himself a sinner—he would have to be a person without guilt in order to satisfy everyone of God’s specific rules for holiness. The only person who has ever lived who could meet these demands was Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
- Therefore, God sent Jesus into the world to live a life of sinless perfection; a life which would fulfill all of the righteous demands of the law. Then, Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross—a death which paid sin’s penalty, and one which could be substituted for the death required of each and every sinner who would ever live.
- In addition to paying the price for everyone’s sin through His substitutionary death, Jesus also conquered the power of death once and for all when He was raised from the dead to live again forever.
- But, even though Jesus’ death paid the price for everyone’s sin, the payment for any individual’s penalty would not automatically be credited to him:
– First, he must come humbly before God, acknowledging that he has violated the laws of God and is unable to meet God’s demands for righteousness on his own, in order to receive, by faith, what Christ has done on his behalf;
– He can then exchange his sin for the gift of salvation graciously made available to him through Christ’s sacrificial death; and,
– With this transaction, the wall of offense separating him from God will come down, his spirit will be Born Again, and God’s Spirit will come to live within him and begin teaching how to live like a son of God.
If you aren’t sure that you have experienced this New Birth, then let me urge you to go to God, acknowledging the offenses which have kept you spiritually dead and alienated from Him, and ask Him, for Jesus’ sake, to remove them. When you do, the Holy Spirit will come to live within your spirit and you, too, will be born again as a child of God.
The Talley Family shares the story of our Salvation in this moving medley…