In my previous post, I identified six things we need (minimum) to be a useful vessel for the Master. In todays post, I will expand on the first of those: We must be born again.
For most Christians, this seems like a bit of a no-brainer. So why write about it? Because, while the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple and easy to understand, it is the most important and most misunderstood topic in all of Scripture. I hinted at some of the “misunderstandings” in the last post, such as the view many have concerning salvation as simply a ticket to heaven. So, today, I hope to answer the question: What does it mean to be born again? I also hope to identify a few ideas people have that are exactly not what it means to be born again.
In answering our question, we need to go to Scripture and gain a clear understanding of what being born again means. The first place in the Bible we find the term born again is John 3 when Nicodemus goes out to meet with Jesus.
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 CSB)
In the conversation that follows, it appears as though this idea of being “born again” confused Nicodemus just as much as it seems to many Christians today. Often, this term is not even present in our conversations. We will use the term saved more often than not and the idea of being save seems to be as deep as it goes for most professing Christians today. Being saved from Hell is an easy thing for people to understand and want. No one wants to go to Hell if they truly believe the place exists. Everyone wants to go to Heaven.
The problem in all this is that being born again isn’t about going to Heaven instead of going to Hell. Being born again is about the will of God, new life, and death to sin and self. Let’s look at each of those 3 points briefly.
The Will of God
Very early on in John’s Gospel, we get the idea of being born again. Speaking of the Lord, Jesus Christ, John writes this:
“He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:10-13)
You see that? It wasn’t because they wanted to go to heaven. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to go to Hell. It wasn’t because they wanted their life to be better socially or economically. It was those that received Him by believing on His name who were born by the will of God. This isn’t talking about a physical birth but a spiritual birth or “re-birth” because we were dead in our sins. Yet God made us alive with Christ. (Ephesians 2:1-6)
If we are born again, we have new life. We don’t live the way we did before we received Christ. We don’t find pleasure in sin and rebellion against God and His word. We have a new heart and a new mind given to us that desire God and His righteousness. Our identity is no longer in what we were, but what He has made us through Christ. Paul tells the church at Corinth that the old has passed away and the new has come:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Not only has God made us new, He has also given us His Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13) So we no longer desire what is sinful and evil, but we desire what is good and righteous. We desire to study Scripture and grow in knowledge of the Lord. We desire to love God and love people. We desire to walk upright and keep God’s commands. Do we do all that perfectly? No. That’s why Paul talks a great deal about the battle between the Spirit and the flesh. ( see Romans 7:14-8:11) Which also brings us to our next point.
Death to Sin and Self
In the battle that wages against flesh and Spirit, we must be victorious by putting to death the deeds of the body. Paul says it this way:
“So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13)
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things – as I warned you before – that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
The automatic result of us living through the Spirit as given us is that we will battle against the things our flesh wants – the things we sought after prior to receiving Christ. Yes, if we want to live, we first must be willing to die to our own flesh. Then we can live in Christ through His Spirit.
John Owen was so serious about the need to kill sin, he wrote this:
“Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
― John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
I want to be clear that the three points I went through above are not “the way to be born again”, they are the facts of being born again. There is only one way we are born again or regenerated as we often call it in theological discussions. That way is Jesus Christ who reconciles us to the Father through paying our sin debt by His atoning sacrifice by taking our place in dying on the cross. But the things discussed in this post should be self-evident in your life. If they aren’t, you need to be asking yourself if you have been born again.
I don’t believe there has ever been a time in history where there are more professing Christians who are no more born again than Satan himself than there are today…especially here in America. Being born again is not some prayer you say and go on living like you did the day before. Being born again brings new life to you and it is obvious change. Other people see it and notice that you have changed…you’re not the person you used to be.
If you have asked yourself if you have been born again and are unsure or want to know more on how you can be born again, please contact me so I can share with you how you can know that you are a new creation in Christ. If you have been born again, then you will have a desire to be obedient to Christ – which will be our next article in this series. I hope you will come back to read it. Until then, I pray you are being blessed and that you each are finding new life through Christ and seeking to kill the sin in your lives.
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2 thoughts on “Becoming a Useful Vessel – Part 2”
Right before coming on here, I quick-read a piece on Slate titled “Sixteen and Evangelical,” by a former member of Willow Creek. What really interested me was that while she talked a lot about Christian culture, Christian camp, Christian friends, etc., she never touched on any experience with being born again. It took one terrible tragedy to reveal that her faith, and the faith of her friends, was largely external. The way we practice Christianity in this part of the world, and the way we try to impart it to our children, leaves great potential for false conversions. Given easy circumstances, a false convert might go years or even a lifetime without realizing they haven’t been born again.
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I think this is one of the many reasons why local churches should be taking intentional steps towards discipling members of the local body. If discipleship is taking place, the unregenerate member should become obvious. So often today church members operate on a principle that says, “I’m here on Sunday, I don’t need you in my life Monday thru Saturday.” When churches allow that mentality, the unregenerate member can go on completely unnoticed by the body.