Born Again

 

Just a few days ago, I had lunch with a man who during our conversation asked what it meant to be born again. He admitted that he had little idea as to its meaning and we might suspect that he is not alone in his confusion. Pollsters and the general public use the term as a label to describe a certain kind of Christian. There is the larger Christian world and within that world, a certain segment who are “born again” Christians. But I ask you, is there any other kind of Christian? For Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Jesus addressed these words to Nicodemus, a highly respected and influential man in Jewish society, a religious leader who had come to Jesus saying some nice things about Him. But Jesus, knowing this man’s heart and need, told Nicodemus that he needed to go back and start all over again. He needed a new beginning effected by God, a spiritual birth, a supernatural birth. We all do, because in our natural birth, we were born in Adam and in sin, sin that has defiled us and disabled us and deadened us spiritually. In our fallen condition, we can do many things – we can outwardly reform our ways, we can make ourselves more moral and respectable, even more religious but one thing we cannot give ourselves is a new heart that is spiritually alive unto God and that embraces the salvation freely offered in Christ, and thus be converted. The new birth is God making us what we could never make ourselves to be, a new creation. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Being born again or regeneration is a once-for-all irreversible spiritual transformation. God changes what we are on the inside, not just temporarily, but eternally.

Jesus said, “You MUST be born again” (John 3:7). It is a universal necessity. What Jesus said to Nicodemus, he says to everyone, everywhere. It is an indispensable necessity. Without it we can neither see (John 3:3) nor enter (John 3:5) the kingdom of God. Everyone in God’s kingdom has been born again. It is an unchanging necessity. Despite all the advances in technology and mankind’s accumulated knowledge, time has not made us better. Society is just as corrupted and dead in sin as it was in the year 2000, in 1000, or in 100.

Christ likened the act of regeneration to the wind in John 3:8. Just as we cannot create the wind or control the wind or contain the wind – it blows where it wants, from what direction it wants, as strong or as soft as it wants and is completely out of our hands, so is the work of God in regeneration. It is God’s work alone. He effects it to whom He wills, where He wills, when he wills. James 1:18 says that “of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth”. That means that no lost person is beyond God’s renewing power. No heart is inaccessible to His sovereign work. He can enter the innermost being of any person that He wishes. The new birth is designed that way, to be entirely the work of God in order to drive us to God, to despair of any power in ourselves, and to look to God alone to give us a new heart and a new nature, to make us a new person in Christ.

The sure evidence of the new birth is conversion. “Old things are passed away, all things have become new”. Sinful pleasures and habits that we once loved now have no interest to us. What we once avoided like the plague, now that is what we love, God’s will, God’s word, and God’s people. Being born again is not an add-on, it’s not a luxury item for a special group of Christians. It’s what makes you a Christian! “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:7).

Christ’s Great Interest

The Church sits atop Christ’s chief interests. At His return He will find it spotless and pure. Christ has blessed His Church immensely: this divine institution has received the most benefits from His hand and is made up of a people called out from the world who are to live holy and separated lives, in the same manner that Christ had mirrored God`s holiness to us. Clouds_small As His Bride, God`s people still are too blemished and spotted to be thought of as anywhere near the perfection found in the bridegroom, with seemingly little hope of reaching that place anytime soon. However, the comments of R.C. Sproul are worth noting “Holiness is not so much what the church is at any given moment in her history, but what she will be.”1. At some point in history, the fullness of that holiness in the church will be achieved at His glorious return. In the meantime sin threatens to disrupt and usurp the process already begun in saints But as always Christ never leaves believers alone to find their own way but promotes spiritual wellness in the body. Just as health warnings deal with our physical state, so on a spiritual plane Christ keeps a close watch over His flock. With a firm hand the Shepherd pronounces three judgments to prevent sin from gaining a foothold in His Church and corrupting the whole. The three caveats are to be found in a block of teaching from Matthew  18:1-35.

In the first of these three warnings, the unrepentant offender who leads others into sin is promised in graphic terms a fate worse than having a millstone tied to his neck and drowned in the sea (Matt. 18:6). In similar tones, Jesus warned elsewhere in Matt. 25: 34-46 that whether you help or hurt a believer is as though you had done it to Christ Himself. Mistreatment against a believer is the sane as mistreating Christ and be sure that the consequences already described will follow. Believers should be advised that being responsible for causing a Christian to sin is not restrictive to overt acts alone, but can also be caused by failing to lead them into righteousness2. Put simply, it is not enough to refrain from corrupting others with our sins; but if we remain impassive to our brothers’ needs then it is no better as we become stumbling blocks to their development.

A second indictment is found at the end of the reconciliation process, Matt 18:17. If the sinner fails to repent after the first two steps are taken, then in the third step the entire church becomes involved. The individual runs the risk of being excommunicated and to be thought of as a non-believer until he repents. The point to this process is to restore the sinner to God and to the offended party. It is meant to keep the church pure and obedient to Christ., that its members work in harmony with each other in the bond of peace and love; whereas if an individual adamantly refuses to be held accountable for his sin, this final phase of expulsion then becomes needful. This declaration against the non-repentant is a pronouncement of unusual importance: I tell you the truth vv 19. While actions to bring the sinner to repentance are to be executed with love, diplomacy, and proper motive, the administration and final resolution reached in this process is spoken of as already having received approval beforehand in eternity vv. 18.

The third divine caveat is found at the end of the parable of the unmerciful servant vv. 21-35. Here, the unmerciful servant is forgiven a great debt, some estimate a little more than what it cost to build Solomon`s temple. Yet, this selfsame servant afterwards refuses to forgive another his debt which was considerably less. When the master heard of it, he rendered his unmerciful servant his just punishment until all was paid back that was originally owed to him. Since this servant demonstrated no real remorse, forgiveness was withheld. In the book of James this truth receives similar treatment: “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.”(James  2:13). Even a casual reading with an eye toward these ominous warnings, should tell us that God is quite serious about repentance and reconciliation.

Christ is incredibly wise to build His Church in the manner that He did and continues to do. Three judicial warnings are given to prevent sin and unrepentance from taking up residence in the church. Scales Even the thought of having to face these hard facts helps us maintain a keen sense of our duty to each other and to God. Though it is inevitable that sin will continue (Mat.18:7), believers must steer clear of it and measure the impact of their behavior and actions on fellow believers. Divine wisdom does not enlighten the believer with a thousand and one ways on how to manage Christians’ relationships, but speaks clearly about brotherly love and the repercussions that loom over us if indeed we throw our support behind sin instead of upholding our responsibility to our brethren. By way of analogy, Ottawa alone has in their planning and municipal act 876 pages of by-laws to regulate living arrangements within society. Try reading through some of these and the words ambivalence and incomprehensible may come to mind. But God issues three warnings for the local church assembly to live by to maintain peace and holiness that even someone like the apostle Peter can understand. In vv 21 he attempts to adjust the Christian standards a bit by suggesting his own version on the number of times a person may forgive. Christ corrects him and adjusts his reasoning to think along heavenly lines; to forgive as many times as is required.

Do ask yourself how holy is your church? Does it take hell fire seriously; does your Pastor speak about a real punishment for those who remain in their lost state? Is judgment some ancient teaching left in the past and only accentuated now and again, to be brought out for viewing and discussion when all else fails to move the audience and spoken of in almost apologetic tones? Does this happen regularly with those who frequent your circle? Worse yet, do Christ’s words and warnings only mean something when it is directed to the very vile and corrupt found in society? Chapter eighteen of Matthew is a single discourse designed on maintaining purity in the Church; so how can any think that God, who has dealt so forthrightly with His Bride, would then spare you if you remain in your sins? Praying Hands Real repentance is marked by sorrow. William Barclay tells the story of an old man on his deathbed who was terribly distraught. When asked what was bothering him he replied, “When we were boys at play, one day at a crossroads we reversed a signpost, and I`ve never ceased to wonder how many people were sent in the wrong direction by what we did.3” What have we been responsible for in our lifetime; how many have we turned away from Christ due to our speech and behavior? Has your life so far misled others of what being a Christian is really all about? What version of Christianity do you teach? Someone once objected that the church has hypocrites. But do not let this distract any of us since there is always room for one more. Let us admit that we have been somewhat shallow and maybe much more so at one point or another in our lives.. Yet, there is grace for the repentant soul who comes to Christ.

To recap then, the three divine judgments are closely connected in thought for they are designed to hedge in the redeemed people of God from unrepentant sinners who seek to lead them into sin, or directed to those who fail to live in harmony with the rest of God`s redeemed people and in essence have become a stumbling block in the church. Consequently, by means of these pronouncements how we manage to get along with each other in the church is not accomplished by weighty bureaucracy with its countless regulations but through a healthy fear of divine judgment. After reading this Scriptural portion from Mathew`s gospel, no one can say that they are impervious of God`s intentions if we do cross the yellow taped line that God has set out for our good. Christ’s love, protection and care for His church can be seen through these restraining measures.

 

[1] What is the Church?: 17 Crucial Questions Series.

[2] The McCarthur New Testament Commentary  — John MaCarthur  Pg -108

[3] The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew  16-23 — John MacArthur — pg. 109

The Testimony of a Wretched Man

The Testimony of a Wretched Man
Wretched Man That I Am!, an illustration by Grace Ellen Schiel. Used with permission.

My name is Josh Lachapelle, I’m 22, and this is my story.  The testimony of a wretched man.

I, like many, had grown up in church as a kid, hearing the typical Bible stories, going to Sunday School and such. I never really thought much of it, just being a kid. I thought they were very interesting stories, but I can’t say I thought anything beyond that. I always knew God had to exist, cause it was the only thing that ever made sense. Theories like the “Big Bang” or Evolution, or whatever else, just never made sense to me.

When I hit my early teenage years, I stopped going to church, stopped caring about anything to do with God, and just lived my own life. I was a rebel towards my parents, I developed a bad mouth, for a chunk of my teenage years I smoked cigarettes and pot, drank frequently, blasphemed, and other various things of those sorts. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve broken every single one of the 10 Commandments, multiple times, and in more than one way. I was the worst of the worse.  I’ve hated, lusted, committed adultery, lied, stolen, blasphemed, swore countless times, the list goes on and on.

Now, that being said, as bad as I was, I didn’t think I was as bad as the rest of the world. I mean, I always had some level of morality, that I figured was above the average person in the world. I always cared for people, and never liked to see people hurting, things like that. So hey, I couldn’t be THAT bad, right? I mean after all, I wasn’t doing things as bad as some people! Was I ever wrong. . .

So for years, all of my teenage years, I lived that way.  Just going on, living my life, without a care about God or anything to do with God. Whenever people tried talking to me about God (especially my Mom, who has been praying for me for countless years), I gave a cold shoulder, I didn’t care, didn’t want to hear it, and shut them out completely. I believed God was real, at times I thought about it and I knew I didn’t want to end up in Hell, yet I didn’t care, I was cold and hard hearted to the things of God. In one way I hated how immoral and twisted the world is, yet I was part of it.

October 31st, Halloween night, at 11:30 P.M., a date and time I’ll never forget. I was in bed, listening to some music, just like any other night. But I just so happened to be listening to a Christian rock band I hadn’t listened to in years. The song I was listening to, I had heard multiple times before, but this time, when they sang this line, “I’m at war with the world cause I, ain’t never gonna sell my soul, I’ve already made up my mind, no matter what I can’t be bought or sold.” Then the line, “I’m awake, I’m alive, now I know what I believe inside. . .” Suddenly, out of no where, all these thoughts started piling into my mind at once. Thoughts like, “if I hate how immoral and twisted the world is so much, why am I being a part of it?!” Then the sudden realization of “I’m so filthy, so twisted myself!” And then, “I’ve broken God’s Law, I’ve sinned against Him, and I’m doomed, I’m headed straight for Hell!” One after another, all these thoughts just started piling into my mind, to the point it overwhelmed me, I realized how much of a wretched, twisted, broken, evil, sinner I was, how doomed I was without God, how without His grace I wouldn’t even be breathing, and so I just broke down.

I cried so hard, with the realization that I’ve broken God’s holy Law, that I’ve sinned against the God of the Universe, the God who gave me life! What a wretched sinner, what a wretched man! How could I have done something so horrible?! I cried out to God for mercy and forgiveness. I didn’t just ask, I begged, I pleaded! I was on Hell’s doorsteps, I was hanging by a thread, dangling, within a split second, I could be dead, and in Hell! I didn’t want that! I didn’t want to be an enemy of God, I wanted to be on God’s side, not the world’s!

So I cried out to Him, begging for His forgiveness and mercy. I told God, I didn’t want to live this way any more, I didn’t want to live for the world, and against Him! What’s the point in that?! Matthew 16:26 says “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” I realized that. What good is it, if I please myself, gain the world, do everything that’s satisfying to my flesh, yet burn in Hell for eternity over it? That’s not worth it! I was sick of being a part of something I hated; immorality. I begged God, to forgive me, to change me, and that I knew there was NO way I was doing this on my own, that it’d only be by His grace that I’d be able to change! I told God, I wanted to serve Him, I wanted to do what’s right in His eyes, what’s pleasing to Him, and not to myself. I wanted to live for Him alone. Not for me, for the world, or for anyone else but Him. If I were to die for the name of Christ, I was willing. Because at that point forward, nothing has mattered more than Him.

I cried out for nearly an hour, feeling so desperate, so ashamed, so dirty, so wretched, so broken, so helpless, in such intense need of a Savior. Begging God to change me, knowing it’d only be by His grace, and with His help, that I’d be saved, and able to change. It then felt like a huge weight was then lifted off my shoulders. Like I was saved, like I was born again, like I was forgiven! Matthew 11:28-30 says: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Part of me wondered, is this really real, have I actually been saved?! Well the next few days would prove so. Certain bad habits were broken, my bad mouth, which I used to barely be able to say one sentence without swearing was now gone! I found myself replacing those bad words with other things that weren’t vulgar, and it seemed to come so naturally! My views changed, I didn’t want to live for myself any more, pleasing myself, I wanted to live for God, pleasing Him! I didn’t want to do anything that would displease God in anyway. I had new desires, I was made a “new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Suddenly I had such an intense urge to read God’s Word, The Bible. All these stories and phrases I heard growing up, suddenly came to life and made so much sense! God opened my eyes, turned on the light, and truly saved me. I couldn’t believe the changes in me. I couldn’t believe how much of God’s Word I was actually understanding!

Since that day, I’ve been growing more and more in my faith. I’ve read  God’s Word every day without fail, not cause I feel obligated, but because I actually want to! Every day I pray that God continues to grow me, sanctify me, continue to give me the desires of His heart, and let His will be done in my life, rather than my own. Every day I also pray that He’ll use me for His purpose and will, and that He’ll continue to give me such deep understanding and wisdom of His Word, so I can walk according to truth, and nothing else. He’s been kind enough to grant me much of these things, and not a day goes by that I don’t thank Him. I have so much to learn yet, so much that’ll take a life time, and even eternity to really grasp and comprehend, but I’m so grateful God’s been showing me the truth of His Word, and giving me understanding of it so fast. All I desire is for the truth, to understand it, to know it, to know Him more and more each day. It’s a miracle that God would save someone like me, someone who was such a corrupt, evil, wicked, twisted, sinner. God demonstrates His love and kindness by saving people who don’t deserve it. Which in reality, no one deserves it.

The fact is, if you’ve lied even once, even a white lie, you’ve broken God’s law. If you’re not saved, answer these questions, and be honest with yourself. Have you ever lied? Even a small one. If you have that would make you a liar. Have you ever stolen anything irrespective of it’s value? Simply taking something that didn’t belong to you? If you have that would make you a thief. How about using God’s name in vain, have you ever done that? If so that’s called blasphemy, and it’s very serious. It’s taking the name of the God who gave you life, and using it as a curse word to express filth or disgust. Now here’s the one that gets a lot of guys, even girls. Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28: ““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Have you ever looked at someone with lust? If so you’re an adulterer at heart. If you’re like me, and you answered yes to all 4 questions, you’d be considered a liar, a thief, a blasphemer, and an adulterer at heart, and that’s only FOUR of the Ten Commandments!

As loving and kind as God is, He’s also very holy and just, and must punish guilty sinners. If you died right now, and God judged you by those standards, do you think you’d be innocent or guilty? Well if you’ve broken His Law, that should mean you’re guilty right? So where should God send a guilty sinner, Heaven or Hell? Just like a guilty criminal goes to jail, a guilty sinner would be sent to Hell. It’s a harsh reality. Well, maybe you don’t believe in all this God stuff, maybe you say it’s not real. Let me give you a couple analogies to ponder. If you look at your house, how do you know someone built it? Well it’s common sense of course! A building needs a living, breathing being; a human, to build it. It obviously can’t built itself! Well the same thing works with the world/universe and God. The world couldn’t have just appeared, or came from carbon and chemicals, or a Big Bang, or whatever other theory you may believe in. There had to have been a living, breathing being; God, who created it all. Nothing can’t create something. It’s just not possible. Maybe you say, well where did God come from? Well, He’s God, He is, was, and always will be. It makes a lot more sense to say God was always there, who created the world, than to say carbon and chemicals came from no where and somehow made this very complex, intelligently designed, world we live in.

Maybe your argument is that, well I can’t see God, therefore He must not exist. So let me give you yet another analogy. If I were to strongly believe gravity weren’t real, because I don’t believe in it and can’t see it, would that change it’s reality? I mean after all, I can’t see it. If I walked off a 6 story building, I’d hit that ground just like anyone else. Even if I yelled “see I told you it’s not real!” while flying past the 2nd story. Just cause I didn’t hit the ground the split second I walked off, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. Fact is, a few seconds later I’d hit the ground just like anyone else would. Not believing in God won’t make Him any less real. We’re all going to face God when we die, just because He’s patient right now, doesn’t mean He’s not there. He’s not willing that any should perish, but those who die in their sins will have to face God’s wrath and punishment, and that’s a very scary thought.

Romans 1:18-32 tells us that NONE are without excuse. Mark 10:18 tells us no one is good but God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 tells us that no fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus says in John 14:6 ““I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In the beginning of Luke 13 we’re told unless we repent we will likewise perish. We’re told over and over again, in order to be saved, we must repent and put full trust in the Savior, who is Jesus Christ.

Jesus was born fully man, yet fully God. He lived a perfect, sinless life, the life neither you or I could achieve. He was then beaten and whipped so bad He was not even recognizable as a human being! He was mocked, spat on, had a crown of thorns smashed onto His head (these are not little thorns, these are long thorns), and finally He was nailed to a cross, with a sign above His head which read “This Is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” He took the full weight of our sins upon Himself on that cross, being a living sacrifice for our sins. We violated God’s Law, we are the liars, thieves, blasphemers, adulterers, fornicators, and more. Yet Jesus paid our price. Wow.  Romans 5:6-11 talks about how Christ died for guilty sinners. Verse 8 says: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And that’s exactly what Christ did. He suffered for our sins, He took the weight of our sins upon Himself. So that we could be free, if we simply repent, and put full trust in Him and not in ourselves. But that’s not it! He was then raised from the dead on the third day, conquering and defeating death and sin, and He now sits at the right hand of the Father.

So if you aren’t saved, please think about these things. It’s so very important. You never know when you’ll die. 150,000 people die every single day, and you could be next. Don’t wait to repent and put full trust in the Savior. Tomorrow is never promised, the next hour isn’t even promised.  If you sincerely repent and put full trust in Christ, you’ll have the price Jesus paid credited to your account, having your slate wiped clean, you’ll be forgiven, made a new creation, and given new desires which will want to do what’s pleasing in your Creator’s eyes.  If you’re not saved, I hope and pray God uses my story to save you yourself! And if you are already saved, then I hope and pray somehow God uses this to inspire and encourage you!  Romans 7:24-25 “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!. . .”

Now, go and serve your King!

– Josh Lachapelle, a wretched man saved by a merciful, loving, and holy God

Make an Effort

 

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?  Asked Nathaniel, “Come and see”, said Philip. (John  1:46)

Nathaniel had asked this question after he had been given an authentic eye witness report about Jesus by Philip.  Philip told Nathaniel, “ we have found the One Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.”  Giving testimony about Christ is what the Holy Spirit prompts us to do when Jesus comes into our hearts.  Because we are saved by the free grace of God, the Christian is to witness for Jesus wherever he goes and to everyone he meets. Evangelism is an on going activity.

Immediately after salvation, changes in the Christian`s life that take place are obvious.  The joy of salvation leads us to rejoice in being with our Savior and to share the gospel with those who are still outside of God.  Philip followed Christ’s example by freely giving his own gospel encounter to Nathaniel and inviting him to see for himself Jesus of Nazareth..  Perhaps Nathaniel had some misconceptions about the town of Nazareth.  Did he have a preconceived idea about it?  We are not sure.  But the geographical location is not what matters the most.  Whether we live in a town or in a countryside, what we do need is Jesus the Nazarene.

Nazareth is situated on the southern range of Lower Galilee, about ten miles from the plain of Esdraelon.  Since Nazareth is located in a basin, you cannot see the surrounding countryside.  But the moment you climb to the edge of this basin….what a view you have! (Unger`s Bible Dictionary, page 857)

The Son of God raised Nazareth to a higher level, not only because he lived there, but also, because of what He declared about Himself.  For example, according to Paul`s testimony before the people, Jesus was revealed under the title of “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” Acts 22:8.

If today we testify about the Savior to someone, we need to be able to prove that Jesus is the Messiah that is promised in the Old Testament.  No one sees Jesus in His physical form, so His example should be seen in us.  In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He exhorted us to shine for Him.  Let`s look in Matthew 5:16 to see what He said:  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”