Ken Rudge, St. Austell, England
Becoming a Christian is a staggering event. The Scriptures provide us with a variety of terms to help us understand what it means. As we mention briefly a few of these, the wonder of our blessings should stir us to praise God for His matchless grace.
We read of being "saved", Acts 16. 31. This points us to the fact that God has delivered us from sin's penalty.
Often the actual experience of salvation is said to come by "believing", John 3. 14-15. This clearly underlines the fact that salvation comes only through an act of faith in Christ.
We read also of being "converted", Matt. 18. 3. By this we see that God had turned us around and made us to travel in the opposite direction.
We find that we have "turned to God", 1 Thess. 1.9. This describes a movement in the direction of the One who exceeds anything in our previous experience. The Thessalonians turned to God from their idols.
We have also experienced "regeneration", Titus 3. 5. This means that we are now found in a completely new state. Thank God for that!
Largely in the writings of John, although not limited to them, we find the description "born again" or some similar expression. This is the means by which God communicates new life-His life-to us.
By means of this spiritual birth, God gave us new life-His very own life. It is eternal. We now possess a life which never had a beginning and which will never have an end. By this birth, God gave us a new nature-His own divine nature, 2 Pet. 1. 4. We have, therefore, two natures; we have our old, sinful nature which we received from our parents and we have a new nature which is God's and which cannot sin, 1 John 5. 18.
By new birth, God also bestowed upon us a new status. We are His children, Rom. 8. 16, and His sons, Gal. 4. 6-7. The description "children" emphasizes our new relationship to God, as forming part of His family. The description "sons" emphasizes the dignity of our position and the need for His character to be formed in us.
The apostle John describes the new birth variously as being (i) "born again" (which can also be translated (i) "born from above"), John 3. 3; (ii) "born of God", 1 John 5. 1; and (iii) "born of water and of the Spirit", John 3. 5. These expressions direct our attention to (i) the experience, (ii) the source, and (iii) the means of the new birth.
(i) Being "born again" as an experience is to start a totally new life-to begin again. The Lord Jesus helped Nicodemus to understand that this is a spiritual birth and not a natural one; "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit", John 3. 6. In other words, it is something inward and not something external. It does not alter our outside appearance but it revolutionizes our inner life. New birth does not make you suddenly good-looking or beautiful but, far more important, it puts the very life of God into you. This new force will change your entire way of living.
(ii) Being "born of God" identifies the source of this new life, Eternal life is not derived from earth or in any way from mankind. It has its origin in God alone.
Our spiritual birth was not "of blood", John 1. 13. That is, it had nothing to do with some particular line of descent. It was not "of the will of the flesh", That is, it did not come as the product of human desire. It was not "of the will of man". That is, it did not result from human design. The new birth, John insists, is "of God".
Nobody has ever been born again as the result of some religious ceremony or of human progress or effort. New birth is the sovereign act of God, accomplished only by His power.
(iii) The Lord Jesus spoke at water and the Spirit as he means by which new birth is effected. We can be certain that the Lord did not intend us to understand "water" in the sense of "baptism". Baptism always follows on conversion in the N.T. It never precedes conversion!
"Water" is often used symbolically in Scripture. One of its uses is to depict the Word of God as a means of cleansing; see Psa. 119. 9; John 15. 5; 17. 17; Eph. 5. 26. The Word of God plays a vital part in the new birth. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth", James 1. 18. Apart from God's Word, we would be ignorant of our true spiritual condition and of God's appointed way of salvation. That is why it is important that the Word of God should be preached widely, clearly and fully.
New birth is also "of the Spirit", The Holy Spirit brings conviction, John 16. 8. It is by His divine operation that the great spiritual change is accomplished. The Spirit of God takes up His abiding residence in all those who have been born of God. It is not enough, then, for the Word of God to be preached; the preaching must be in the power of the Spirit. 1 Thess. 1. 5.
The Lord Jesus emphasized the absolute necessity of the new birth. He told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again", John 3. 7. Without this, there can be no seeing or entering the kingdom of God. By the grace of God, we can say that we do see, we do understand; everything is different now.
In John's first Epistle, we are constantly reminded of the fact that, if we have been born of God, there must be evidence of this in our lives. New birth changes the way we think and live so dramatically that the new birth cannot go unnoticed. If there is no evidence of new life, then we have every right to doubt its existence!
Everyone that is born of God practises righteousness, 1 John 2. 29. The true Christian does not continue in sin, 3. 7-8, although undoubtedly he will commit sin, 1. 10. New birth brings a new attitude towards sin.
Another evidence of new birth is that we love others who have been similarly born of God, 4. 7. To be found with the people of God is now one of our chief joys. We have discovered the fellowship of God's family.
Again, we have overcome the world, 5. 4, in that it no longer compels us to conform to its indulgence and lust. It does not attract and allure us as once it did. Now we are able to swim against the tide of godless and of selfish living.
Finally, we have the witness of God within us, 5. 10-11, We do not need to be told that we arc different now; we know it deep inside. We have a God-given assurance and conviction. Although we may not understand very much of God's truth, we can each say witch the man of John 9, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see", v. 25.
Let us determine to live in such a way that the life of God, which became ours from the moment of our new birth, dominates and controls all that we have and are.