THE MARVEL OF THE NEW BIRTH
Holding forth the word of life;
that I may rejoice in the day of Christ,
that I have not run in vain,
neither laboured in vain.
Fight the good fight of faith,
lay hold on eternal life,
whereunto thou art also called,
and hast professed a good profession
before many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12
…Beware of phrases heard today, such as, ‘evangelical Christian’, or ‘a born again believer’. There is a no such person! One has either been quickened by God the Spirit, and is therefore Christian and evangelical – or not. When those who are truly ‘born again’ use these expressions, and some similar to them, reprobate clergy and their followers are encouraged still further to masquerade as bonafide Christians. One will hear them say, `I’m a Christian, but not a born again Christian!’: a ludicrous statement! One might as well say, ‘I’m a unsaved Christian!’ Let not God’s covenant people be taken in by this ecumenical ruse; this deception.
Prior to Pentecost, not even Jesus’ disciples really understood the spiritual aspect of his teaching, (eg. Matt. 16:21-23; John 14:5-9) He had stood alone. Yet, since that day when God the Spirit arrived with mighty power upon Jerusalem (Acts 2), the youngest and least educated of Christ’s true followers in each generation have grasped it (John 16:13), because of the Holy Spirit’s mysterious indwelling. He is the Spirit of truth. (1 Cor.3:16; 6:19) Surely a proof, if one is needed, of the reality behind the blessed experience of being ‘born again’.
Even the learned Nicodemus was startled into foolishness at that famous meeting with Jesus ‘by night’ (John 3:1-8): ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’, he said puzzled, ‘can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?’ Really! Despite his educational and religious advantages – ‘a master of Israel’, Jesus reminded him (John 3:10) Nicodemus was on that occasion incapable of comprehending the discussion (although, later he evidently was able to – John 19:39), and we are not surprised. As the Lord stated on another occasion to his listeners: ‘Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.’ (John 8:43) The few ‘hear’ it today (John 10:3-5), but the majority do not (John 18:37), and it is this extraordinary paradox which causes so much irritation. The few and the majority are capable of holding conversations with each other on numerous topics, yet when entering the orbit of ‘new birth’ a thick curtain is drawn across the divide.
No aspect of Christian truth is more detested by those devoid of the experience. They cannot tolerate the alarm its generates, the possibility of having been overlooked. Not even an atheist likes to think he has been, by the God in whose existence he does not believe! In any case, the very suggestion of a ‘new birth’ implies the insufficiency in heaven’s sight of the ‘old birth’, and pride resents it. Were the subject not so serious, the experience vital for salvation (John 3:5), there might be a humorous side to it. Roam the world for subjects to discuss and the room will hum with excited chatter, but toss into the conversation even a veiled hint about having been ‘born again’, and the hubbub will drain away into the ‘black hole’ of an embarrassed silence. Reasons will suddenly be discovered for a swift exit.
That being so, one hears some strange theories from these gropers-in-the-dark about matters relating to almighty God and the kingdom of heaven. Opinions are openly expressed through the media and the mischievous, from books and bar stools, pulpits, pundits and self-appointed armchair philosophers. The coldly philosophic, and the outrageously blasphemous; the sentimentally silly, and the downright daft: piffling trifles aired with such panache, yet rooted in spiritual ignorance. It would be more sensible to invite a baby to author a work about the cosmos, than to expect an understanding of revealed truth from those who cannot ‘hear’ it. G.K. Chesterton’s wit is applicable (and fitting for a Roman Catholic, one would have thought!): ‘A man will believe anything, providing it is not found in the Bible!’
THE EXPERIENCE REQUIRED
A story is told about Benjamin Franklyn. He had heard the 18th century’s greatest actor, David Garrick, recite the 23rd Psalm. He had also heard the 18th century’s greatest preacher, George Whitefield, recite the same Psalm. Franklyn was asked how they compared, and his reply is interesting: ‘Garrick knew the Psalm, but Whitefield evidently knew the Shepherd!’ The Psalm’s composer was able to write, ‘the Lord is MY shepherd’, but only after his anointing by the Spirit of God. (1 Sam. 16:13) How wide is the chasm between those who ‘hear’, and those who do not.
Jesus was categoric about it: ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.’ (John 3:6,7) Humanity, of whatever nationality or creed, is either ‘in the flesh’ or ‘in the Spirit’. There is no in-between; no alternative. Jesus did not suggest, or even imply, that there is a loop-hole through which some might worm their way. Indeed, he described a potential wriggler as ‘a thief and a robber’. (John 10:1)
Being ‘in the flesh’, and therefore without the experience of ‘new birth’, is the reason why the unregenerate are incapable of grasping spiritual truth, the door being barred against them. They have not been ‘given’ it. (Matt. 13:11) It is God the Spirit alone who grants an understanding of ‘the mysteries’ (John 16:13); who unfolds the ‘hidden wisdom’. (1 Cor.2:7) Through the ‘new birth’ blessing the covenant people of God are ‘mystically’ united to God the Son, and are therefore astonishingly in possession of ‘the mind of Christ’. (1 Cor.216) Indwelt with his Spirit, this means they share his delights, and reflect his frowns: they ‘see’ as he sees, albeit partially. (1 Cor. 13:12)
THE EXPERIENCE RECEIVED
When their people become alarmed upon realising they have not been ‘born again’, reprobate clergy calm the troubled by suggesting the possibility of their GROWING into the experience. Although some claim to have had ‘a dramatic conversion’, they assure these deceived souls (a cynical emphasis is invariably placed upon the supposed drama behind it), loyalty to ‘the church’ coupled with a life of good deeds is just as valid. They will tell them, that although they cannot claim what evangelicals do, not to worry, they are nevertheless gradually ascending to acceptance in God’s sight! However, these poor deluded unregenerate churchgoers need to ask themselves a vital question, because their apostate clergy cannot answer it for them: how it is possible to be removed from ‘the power of DARKNESS’ (Col.l:13) and placed within ‘the marvellous LIGHT’ of grace (1 Peter 2:9), by human effort? The question correctly answered will make them realise an appalling fact -that they have been pushed nearer to hell by these ‘ravening wolves’ (Matt.7:15), in an aura of false peace.
To remember the actual moment when the experience took place is not always possible, nor is it important to do so. Neither need it have been an overtly dramatic experience, but nevertheless, the FACT of what has happened in the soul cannot be denied. Those arriving from an untaught background will not be capable of explaining what has occurred, but they will certainly know ‘something different’ has taken place within them. Equally, that it is not a passing phase, but is to be a permanent fixture of their lives. In the language of John Wesley’s famous encounter with the Holy Spirit, the heart will be ‘strangely warmed’, unrelated to anything superficial. Romantic idealism, psychology or sentiment will not have entered the equation. To be ‘born again’ is a balanced experience, affecting every part of one’s being, and by no means the emotional child of eccentricity.
How can one describe such a unique moment, when heaven’s gift of saving faith is received, and the soul is drawn into an intimate communion with Christ? Without doubt, the first impression is negative: one has a sudden dread of sin, and sinning. After all, even if the recipient of the gift is grossly ignorant about what has happened, the HOLY Spirit instinctively unveils a realm of purity. As the apostle John reminds his readers: ‘This then is the message which we have heard of him (Jesus), and declare unto you, that God is LIGHT, and in him is no darkness at all.’ (1 John 1:5) But conversely and wickedly, reprobates soothe souls by teaching that the essence of the revelation about the Being of God is that he is LOVE. Throughout this century, they have deliberately overlooked or even rejected his other attributes – and thus have created the ‘Love is god’ cultus, which dominates modern society. In fact, although the Divine attributes are of equal significance and he is aware of them, the infant in the faith is PRIMARILY aware of the HOLINESS of God. He has to be, because of his own natural sinful condition. Personal sinfulness, God’s righteousness and the coming judgment: these awesome subjects, said Jesus, are the first which the Holy Spirit brings to the soul when he arrives. (John 16:8)
The ‘message’ received by John and the other apostles was that known to the Israelites during the Old Testament dispensation. It was not the LOVE of God which first impressed itself upon them, although it was never far away, but rather his dread-full HOLINESS. Repeatedly throughout their history this fact was emphasised to the Jews. For this reason, Moses (later Joshua also – 5:15) was commanded to remove his sandals when confronted by the Divine presence. (Exod.3:15) It is a theme with its roots deeply embedded in the Torah (Lev. 11:44,45), and especially in that section of it known as the Ten Commandments, or the Moral Law. (Exod.20:l-17)
When God appeared on Sinai with 10,000 angels (Deut.33:2) and revealed his law (Exod.l9:16), Moses quaked ‘exceedingly’. (Heb.12:21) Likewise, to be ‘born again’ and numbered among the ‘partakers of the DIVINE NATURE’ (2 Peter 1:4), is first of all to be confronted with the Being of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (John 14:9) In other words, whereas at the ‘old birth’ it is the mother who receives the pain, at the ‘new birth’ the ‘baby’ does! Nobody, but nobody, born of the Spirit can avoid the ‘pain’ of being exposed in the light of God’s perfect purity. His righteous law, ‘holy, and just, and good’ (Rom.7:12), has been introduced. Genuine remorse and true repentance result.
Yet alarmingly, how many today who claim to be ‘born-again Christians’ are evident strangers to these vital matters of the soul; are, in fact, no different from the world? ‘Alive’, but have never been ‘slain’ by the Moral Law (Rom.7:9-l 1), and are therefore masquerading as Christ’s followers. Thanks to the apostate Billy Graham, and the ‘deciders for Christ’ evangelists whom lie has influenced around the world during the past half century, many of their pseudo ‘converts’ now stand in ‘evangelical’ pulpits and conduct ‘evangelical’ Sunday school classes. One shudders upon thinking about the spiritual dangers lurking for future generations within the true church as a result.
The role models appear everywhere, whose life-styles and demeanor expose them for what they are: sabbath-breaking, fashion-conscious, trend-setting ‘stars’ of stage, screen, sport and ‘gospel scream’. These are the modern Nicolaitanes, ‘which I also hate’ condemns the ascended Christ (Rev.2:6), for whom Love is god, and whose spirituality rises no higher then their tongues. It is evident they know nothing of Calvary and its challenge. (Luke 14:27) The thorny pathway and the carried cross are not for them! Their’s is a feel-good-about-yourself philosophy, following a ‘Jesus’ of their own making, who leads them where they wish to go, and smiles at whatever they ‘pray’ to do. Jeremiah’s indictment of idolatry springs to mind. (10:1-10)
Having genuinely therefore been drawn into the sovereign God’s realm of holiness and grace, and experienced the humbling which true repentance brings, the ‘new-born’ infant will be subdued in spirit. He, and she, will NOT be giggling ‘happy-clappy’ morons, and would be appalled by the thought, but will desire to sit quietly amid the redeemed in order to learn ‘stedfastly’ about the precious truth from heaven which has now gripped their lives. (Acts 2:42) Righteous zeal for eternal matters has entered where once sat ungodly sloth. They will express astonishment at their paucity of Bible knowledge, and wonder how they could have overlooked such treasures for so long. ‘Hidden wisdom’ indeed, and kept hidden from them until now. (1 Cor.2:7)
Like David centuries earlier (2 Sam.7:16-18) – for the purposes of grace are ageless – upon discovering revealed truth, the ‘newly-born’ will sit ‘before the Lord’ in awe – and marvel. Together they will stand in Eden with their first parents, and learn to trust their story, recognizing its vital importance to world history and Christian theology. (Matt.19:4) Eve, tempted by the serpent, had dared to disobey the Divine injunction to refrain eating from (“Oh, NOT an apple?’) ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. (Gen.2:17) The covenant of works had been shattered, death of a physical and spiritual nature conceived. (1 Cor.l5:22) They therefore watch them driven from the garden, scattered by the holy presence of the offended God, cherubim and a flaming sword guarding ‘the tree of life’. (Gen.3) Fellowship between the Creator and his creatures was now broken.
Travelling through time, the spiritual beginners journey with Abram (Abraham) from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan (Gen. 12:1-6), and with Moses and the Israelites to Mount Nebo on the border of the Promised Land. (Deut.34:l-4) They observe Joshua and the Hebrew hordes enter the country promised to them (Josh.3), and the tribes claim their inheritance. (Josh. 13-21) They hear the prophets at a later date denounce the peoples’ sins, demanding repentance in return (Ezek.18:30), and are amazed at the prophecies concerning the long-awaited Messiah. (Is.7:14 etc) 332 of them in all! They are in awe at them in Eden (Gen.3:15), in the desert (Deut.l8:15), in David’s court (2 Sam.7:16) and during the exile (Ezek.34:23) – even from an enemy’s mouth. (Numb.24:15-17)
They will thrill also at the way the Divine finger pointed towards the location from where the Messiah would arise. Gradually the mystery had been unveiled. First, in Abram (Abraham), to the barren country of Israel (Gen.12:1-3), and through his grandson Jacob to the territory of Judah in that land. (Gen.49:10) Centuries later, spotlighted in that kingly tribe was the little town of Bethlehem (Mic.5:2), where there stood a lodging house and alongside a stable, in which lay a squalid manger. (Luke 2:15,16) The Messiah had arrived! (Matt. 1:21)
The freshly quickened will display the major sign of the indwelling Spirit; Christ’s Word eagerly embraced. (Col.3:16) Fascinated by his person (John 7:46), intrigued by his teaching (Matt.7:28,29), amazed by his miracles (John 3:2), redeemed by his Sacrifice (2 Cor.5:21), assured by his resurrection (Rom.4:25), uplifted by his ascension (Luke 24:51 -53), excited by his promised return. (Matt.24:30) So numerous are the benefits of his grace, each hour affords further opportunities for thanksgiving. Just think!: ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved US, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins……We love him (now), because he FIRST loved US.'(1 John 4:10,19) As a result, those ‘born again’ (and no one else) love him as the Divine law demands, and as the prophets foretold they would (Jer.31:31-34; Ezek.36:25-27): ‘with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might’ (Deut.6:5), and, ‘thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Matt.22:37) It is not surprising therefore, that when the beauty of revealed truth is unfolded, and the fact of their part in it is made plain, deeply moved spiritual infants (and their brethren and sisters) will in prayerful worship share David’s astonishment: ‘Who am I, O Lord God…..?’ (2 Sam.7:18) Wonder follows ‘new birth’ as assuredly as night the day.
Light, Life and Joy
Even if at first they are at-a-loss to grasp the theological implications of what it means for the soul to be quickened by the Holy Spirit, one thing will be evident, a marked change will have taken place in their demeanour. No longer will Self demand attention, or pride loosen the tongue. (Rom.3:19) Rather, a quiet unassuming peace and joy will have filled their lives. (John 14:27; 15:11) A genuine work of grace is devoid of mere sentimentality, but nevertheless it has to be stated, their’s will be a heart-warming glow not experienced before. Everything will appear new and fresh: the attitude towards God, his people and godly matters in general, and also because of that, their relationship to family, friends, neighbours and circumstances. The ‘gems’ of ‘new birth’, to a higher or lesser degree, will be observed (closely) in the home and work place. Expressing ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance’ (Gal.6:22,23), can anything for one freshly quickened ever again be a drudgery, or boring? (Col.3:17)
Why, mysteriously, even creation itself will have assumed an even more wonderful appearance: ‘Heaven above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green; something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen; birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine, since I know, as now I know, I am His and He is mine.’ And being aware of this, can the ‘newly-born’ ever again be lonely, or feel isolated? Has not their Lord declared, ‘I am with you ALWAY, even unto the end of the world’? (Matt.28:20) Little wonder a spiritual infant was heard to say to me on more than one occasion, ‘I used to think I was living, but I was only existing. NOW I’M LIVING!’ Jesus was, of course, correct: ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, AND THEY ARE LIFE.’ (John 6:63)
YES, OR NO
Nobody would blame one born blind for marvelling when he receives his sight, or the condemned prisoner for rejoicing in his new-found freedom. Likewise, for one born anew, the transaction could not be starker: ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.’ (Is.61:3) Or as the apostle Paul confirms, whoever is ‘in Christ’ is a ‘new creature, old things are passed away….all things are become new.’ (2 Cor.5:17) What a breathtaking privilege! There is nothing in between, and let not the masqueraders be allowed to say otherwise.
Dr. Peter Trumper