Jesus said, “You must be born again.” (John 3:3, Greek Translation)
What does this mean? What does it really mean to be born again? As you are reading this (or listening to me speak), ask yourself, “Have I been born again…..and how do I know?”
John says this: “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (II John 3:7-10, NIV)
Jesus said this at the beginning of His ministry: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged.” (John 5:24 NIV)
So praise God! If you are truly born again, you will not be judged! Why? We have entered into eternal life NOW. We’ve passed from death and judgment to life and being absolved from sin based upon our decision to receive Jesus Christ into our hearts.
Does this mean that we never sin? Well, from God’s perspective we don’t; we’ve passed from sin and death to not sinning. We’ve been totally cleaned, and in the eyes of God, made pure. That’s the power of the blood of Jesus when we begin born again! Does this mean I never err, or choose poorly, or slip or do something wrong? No, I still do things that are bad and inappropriate—-I have not reached perfection—-but I have already passed into eternal life—-it’s already happened—the adoption has been made legal. And I will therefore NOT stand to be judged. Thank goodness! I don’t need to have those morbid thoughts about all my sins and failures being presented before all mankind at the end of my life of all my sins being presented on drive-in theatre screen for all the world to see. Jesus Christ was taken a pen filled with His precious blood and has written across page upon page of sin—-paid for and forgiven by the blood of God’s Lamb.
Do you believe this? Do you want to be saved, or do you want to walk away from an eternal time of being with God and all that He has prepared for you? Do you want to have peace in your soul? You might say yes, but, do you really want to be born again? It requires that we admit our failures and that we are willing to turn away from sin We are born again to be made anew for Him as creatures of light and purity. We can choose to stop sinning——but must first choose to be reborn—-will we?
John says these these things:
1. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” Is this true of you and me? He does not say that we won’t sin, but we can’t “go on sinning”, which suggests the concept of “living in sin”, i.e., you can’t be truly born again and a run a drug cartel, or kidnap and abuse children, or be professional thief. And none of us here are those things, I hope, but his point is that if you are genuinely born again, you can’t keep sinning because it is contrary to the new nature of Jesus Christ within you. You have lost your taste for sin, and whereas you might slip from time to time, the Holy Spirit within you reminds you, confronts you, and produces an awareness that this is not who you now are nor who you want to be now that you are His.
We’re living in a time when people seem to believe salvation is achieved by simply accepting God’s gift of salvation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this “cheap grace”. It sees God’s gift of Jesus as basically little value, to us, and we put a low price on it because it was given to us, the reasoning goes, “without a price, and without a cost". This kind of grace, or free gift from God, has no doctrine, standards or expectations. I heard that many years ago a man in Orlando was trying to get rid of an old refrigerator he had. It worked fine, but he just got a new one and decided to just give the old one away. So he put the fridge on his front porch, which was near the road, and put a sign on it saying, “Free fridge, works fine, just take it”. For days it sat there and no one took it, called him or asked about it. Then one day he had an idea, and he took off the “free sign” and put a new sign on it saying, “For sale, $200”. That same night someone stole it.
Much of our Christian living today and teaching seem to suggest that the Christian life is a disciplined, principled life-style that recognizes God’s love and Christ’s teaching to love each other. Many believe that universally all of us are going to heaven and have received forgiveness because of this cheap grace. It means that all sins of all mankind are simply covered up and eliminated.
The idea that all we have to do is forgive ourselves, believe that God has forgiven us and claim salvation as our inheritance or right is the source of great trouble with our churches and the primary source of decline in attendance, in my opinion. It denies true discipleship and the cost of following Jesus Christ as well as the inspiration of holy scripture. True understanding of who Jesus is and his work goes unacknowledged and his message does not speak to our hearts because it’s all been watered down, compromised and reduced to what is accepted in our culture.
Bonhoeffer reminds us that, “Those who rely on cheap grace proclaim salvation through God alone, but live in accordance with the world around them.” And when you claim to be a follower of Jesus but are obviously not transformed, the teachings of Jesus appear impractical, unattainable and deliberately impossible to live. Those that accept forgiveness on these grounds go along living as they did before they had the assurance of salvation!
For us to talk about being born again devoid of discipleship happens when you preach forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of living in community with other believers; it is the Lord’s Supper without the confession of sin; it is expecting God’s favor and love without discipleship, it removes the need for the cross or the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. It means that God just forgives us and accepts us because He is somehow desperate for our fellowship no matter who we are, how we live and what we think!
2. According to John there is a test to take to see if you are truly born again and His. He says, in effect, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” So think about that when you are around people who are habitually unkind, mean, hateful and that deliberately do things that are wrong. Clearly they have not been born of God! I am not judging their hearts or their worthiness, I am simply reading the word and using reason! They are not disciples of Jesus—-they don’t know Him. Fellowship with Jesus Christ requires discipleship with Jesus Christ.
When we are truly born again, what Bonhoeffer calls “costly grace" we experience true conversion. As Bonhoeffer explains “It is costly, because it calls us to discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”
Bonhoeffer compares being born again and being a disciple of Jesus to the life of a monastic. In living as a monastic, one fights against secularization and the cheapening salvation. Those who live this way move away from the society which contradicts scripture and into a community of faith. They sell all of their goods, dedicate themselves to the Lord, and leave their families and previous lifestyles behind them. Monastics apply their beliefs to their lifestyle, which thus resembles discipleship. The monastic lifestyle defines costly grace. When Christians journey toward costly grace, they are then led down the path of discipleship. This is not a call for Christians to rack up their achievements in the church, but rather an invitation into a life of following Jesus authentically. Discipleship requires the daily task of applying the teachings found in scripture, combining faith with action and works with belief. Grace only becomes costly when paired with discipleship. This relationship between grace and discipleship becomes the foundation for the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged." Ok, so that is the assurance that either leads to a new life of eternal gratitude, service and praise, or to a licentious life of doing anything you want (even if doing what you want is good?), knowing that you won’t and can’t be judged because God can’t break His promise—even if we break His! But you cannot “hear His word, believe in Him” and be the same. I would defy anyone to taste of the gift of life and want to return to another taste. His salvation leads to and requires the follow-up of discipleship.
The sermon on the mount is real and practiced if you are born again. If you are without Christ and have only experienced “cheap grace”, the sermon on the mount is an unattainable standard that pushes one away from the church and discipleship. It’s too hard, too lofty, and ultimately it’s seen cruelly required by a God that knows it’s impossible to achieve.
CAN I stop sinning and can I stop hating? Only if I have been born again and have proclaimed that Jesus is Lord of my life. The truth is, as far as my salvation is concerned, I HAVE stopped sinning, so I can have peace and certainty of my election and preservation. And the truth is, if I want to grow into the man He created me to be, with all the power and gifts He’s offered, I MUST stop sinning and allow Him to point out where I am still grieving His Holy Spirit. And I will tell you how that played out in my life most recently:
A older minister died a few days ago that I believe hated me. He was mean to me, dismissive of my attempts to minister to others when I worked under his authority, and in general as unkind to me as anyone has ever been in my life. Truly most of what I have done in my early ministry was to consider what he would do and then to do the opposite. Although he claimed to be a minister of the gospel, from the time I worked with him till the time he passed, I wonder if he turned people toward the Kingdom of God or discouraged them from looking any further. I am not at all inclined to think he was a believer. I saw this because of the hatred I saw in his life for people that disagreed or crossed him. But what hit me very hard yesterday was the animosity that I still hold in my heart to him and a dozen other people that have hurt me, hated me, spoke ill of me and/or taken advantage of me. Yes, we can candy-coat the words we use to describe the feelings we have towards people in our lives like this, but there’s no euphemism for the hate I feel towards the way some folks have treated me. And the danger is that hatred for actions being turned into hatred for that person—-one of the lost Jesus came to save. I went through a few hours Saturday afternoon of some self-loathing for the hate I feel towards the way I was treated by many people in my life.
My confession to you is that I am not where I ought to be in terms of loving my enemies. I am not and may God have mercy on me. But, I know that I am not there yet—-and that’s where I'm ahead of many others, and I am being discipled! It’s the ones of us that think they have already arrived that are spiritually dead.
I can let go and I can stop sinning and I can love even those that have cursed me. But only as a disciple of Jesus Christ! I cannot do it alone!! I can’t love some of those that have betrayed or hurt me in my own strength—He has to hold my hand and help me! He has to remind me of those I have ill-feelings towards and remind me how it is totally inconsistent with being His disciple. And He is—-He did yesterday…..
But because of Him I have the ability to acclaim, believe in and live by the beatitudes. It’s not my inner strength or experience or education or special gifts—-it’s His grace, that can allow me to say:
“Blessed….because I am the poor in spirit—-and I know that mine is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed….because I mourn, …for I know that I shall be comforted.
Blessed….because I am meek…..and I know that I shall inherit the earth.
Blessed….because I hunger and thirst for righteousness,…..and shall be satisfied.
Blessed…because I am merciful….and I can be certain that I shall obtain mercy.
Blessed….because I am pure of heart…and I shall see God.
Blessed . . . . because I am a peacemaker….and I shall be called a child of God.
Blessed . . . . because I have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness…..because mine is the very kingdom of heaven."