There was a time in the history of this country the phrase “Born Again” was popular among Christians. In evangelistic meetings, “Are you Born Again?” is the most likely question you will hear. Proselytising friends will ask “Are You Born Again?”. The expression was ubiquitous.
Today, the story is different. The gospel−the preaching of the cross and of eternal life−has vanished into oblivion. In its stead, we have psychology, self-esteem, self-improvement, and prosperity masquerading as gospel on many pulpits−big and small.
Much of the content of our preaching lacks power to convict of sin. Why is this so? Somehow, we have managed to bury the gospel message under rubbles of pragmatism. Our need for salvation-−forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God-− has been overshadowed by the need to address so called pertinent life issues. As if the gospel has no relevance to this life. If we are to poll what is humankind’s greatest need, I trust we will have various responses. Top on the list I believe will be alleviation of poverty, disease and world peace. These answers will be influenced by our immediate needs as humans. If you follow world history, you would have observed the varied needs postulated as humanity’s needs; climate change, child labour, child trafficking, poverty, disease, terrorism and the likes. These indeed are important. But they are not our utmost need. They are only the symptoms and evidence of our fallen nature. Sin is our utmost predicament.
If it is true (and it is) that sin is our utmost predicament, then salvation from that sin is our utmost need. The mayhem of our times is just symptoms of the true state of the sinful heart of humankind. Scripture is replete with descriptions of our sin problem. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 8:23); “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:9). We are sinful and wretched−needy of God’s grace. “Desperately wicked”! That is an apt description of the human condition. The Bible goes straight to the root of all our predicaments: Sin. Because of our sinful nature, God condemns us all under His divine righteous judgement as fallen and separated from Him. To be separated from God is to be an enemy of God. Who can bear the thought of being an enemy of God? But that is what our sinful nature makes us until we are reconciled to God. Paul writing to the Ephesians described their former state before they were reconciled to God by faith.
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. (Ephesians 1:1-3).
The above describes every person who has not come to saving faith. (i) They are dead in sins. (ii) They are followers of Satan−the prince of the power of the air. (iii) They are children of disobedience. (iv) They follow after the passions of their flesh and carry out the desires of the body and the mind. And finally, (v) they are children of wrath−enemies of God. God’s wrath is upon them. Naturally, anyone who has not come to saving faith is heading towards eternal damnation and separation from God for all eternity.
Our destination is the place where we are going. In theology it refers to one of two places; either we are going to heaven or we are going to hell. In either case, we cannot cancel the trip. God gives us but two final options. One or the other is our final destination.1
Here is where God’s work of reconciliation comes in. Jesus says “Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”(John 3:3). Here, Jesus gives us the−sine qua non-prerequisite of entering the Kingdom of God. He tells us what is necessary to be reconciled to God. We must be born again. So what does it mean to be born again? The expression born again as used by Jesus is the Greek word anothen 2 which means “born from above” or “things which comes from heaven”. To be born again therefore is firstly a work initiated by God’s Spirit before humans respond through faith in Christ Jesus. It is God’s merciful act of grace towards humanity, where He saves us from sin and reconciles us unto Himself through Christ Jesus. For the Christian, salvation is not a consequence of our moral worth. Our moral worth is like filthy rags before God. Just as our natural birth is a necessary condition to be part of the human race, to be born again is also an indispensable necessary condition that has to be met to be a member of God’s family.
The necessity to be Born Again as a condition to enter God’s kingdom−eternal life−can be seen from the use of the literal device of repetition: “Truly, Truly…” I believe Jesus meant to drive home clearly a non-negotiable: “You must be Born Again”. Though it greatly counts, to be born again is not necessarily a change of mind or transformation of character. Anyone can undergo a character transformation without necessarily being born again. The starting point for all of us is to acknowledge we are sinners separated from God by sin brought upon the whole human race by the fall and disobedience of Adam. All, without Christ, are spiritually dead; a consequence of Adam’s disobedience. We all carry in our genes Original sin.(Romans 3:11-12, 23, 5:12). Alienated from God by sin, the Father placed our sins upon Jesus as an atonement to save us from sin and reconcile us to Himself through faith. “For God so loved the world, [that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “…he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.(2 Corinthians 5:21). Saving faith that leads to salvation is God Himself effecting a work of regeneration in our hearts by His Spirit. By ourselves, we are unable to come to God: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:44).
To be Born Again therefore is a work of God and we have to cry out for mercy to be given a heart that believes (Ezekiel 36:25-27).Would you acknowledge your need of a Saviour? Come just as you are. Forsake your sins. Repent and turn to the Saviour of our soul.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.(John 1:12-13).
1:R. C. Sproul, Chosen By God (1986 Tyndale House Publishers)