Posted by: stpowen | August 24, 2010

New Birth (8). The Results of the New Birth.

Results  of the New Birth

‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is  Spirit’ (John 3v6).

 Having dealt with the process and the details of the New Birth, we now come to two vital questions;  “What does it mean to be born again?” and “How can I be sure that I really am born again?”.   The answers to these questions are implicit rather than explicit in John 3, so once again we shall be chasing round the Bible to find the answers.

 Our Lord told Nicodemus that without being born again no one would see or enter the Kingdom of God.   Therefore it follows by implication that if we are born again we will see it and we will enter it.   We saw in Chapter Two that ‘seeing’ the Kingdom means more than just making visual contact;  it means understanding or ‘taking on board’ what that Kingdom is all about.   It means seeing the holiness and purity of that Kingdom and realizing that, ‘There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life’ (Rev. 21:27).   Perhaps one’s first impulse is to cry out like Isaiah;  “Woe is me, for I am undone!   Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;  for my eyes have seen the King the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:5).   But then one sees, like Jacob, the ladder stretching up from Earth to Heaven which is Jesus Christ, the mediator between sinful man and righteous God, who has taken all the sins of His people upon Himself, paid the penalty for it on the cross and opened up the way to Heaven for them;  and when we see, we enter the Kingdom on the two legs of repentance and faith, and as someone once said, no one ever hopped into the Kingdom of God;  there are no Long John Silvers hobbling in on one leg, crying out, “I believe, I believe!” Without sin being acknowledged and repudiated, just as no one goes in simply mourning over sin, without trusting in Christ as his only Lord and Saviour.   To think otherwise is to say that something born of the flesh can nonetheless be Spirit.

 So what does it mean to have entered the Kingdom of God?   It means that you are a child of God and a co-heir with Christ.   Just think what that means- what incredible status that gives us.   What unbelievable blessedness!   An unhappy Christian ought to be a contradiction in terms.   Whatever troubles, sadness, sickness or any other problems you, the reader, may have as you peruse these words- if you are born again, you are going to live with God forever and ever, and He has promised to wipe every tear from your eyes (Rev. 7:17).   Paul says (Rom. 8:18), ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’   The problem with many Christians today is that they let their circumstances depress them.   Circumstances will always be with us.   Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation….”  Contrary to the claims of the ‘Word-faith’ teachers, we are never promised an easy ride.    “…But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16v33).   Many Christians seem to be like the woman with the spirit of infirmity in Luke 13, and are so bowed down by their troubles, that they cannot lift up their heads to see what a wonderful inheritance they have.

 Let us look at what the Apostle Peter has to say about those who are born again.   In 1Peter 1, he says firstly (v3), that they have a ‘living hope.’   If you are a Christian, you haven’t put your trust in dead people like Mohammed or Buddha or Karl Marx.    The One you trust has risen from the dead and He is reigning in Heaven at this very moment.   Secondly, you have (v4), ‘an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away.’   Pity all the poor kings, presidents and billionaires!   All they have are money, power and palaces, all of which can easily be lost, even in this life;  and not one vestige of any of them can follow their owners to the grave.   Yet your inheritance is, ‘reserved in Heaven for you’– it is absolutely secure, and so are you, ‘kept by the power of God through faith for salvation.’   Nothing can take you out of God’s hands, because as Peter continues in Chapter Two, you are, ‘a chosen people’ (v9);  God Himself has chosen you in Christ before time began.   ‘A royal priesthood;’  you have direct access in prayer through Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, to the King of Kings.   ‘A holy nation;’  you are dressed in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Himself;  you are, ‘His own special people.’   How could anything be more wonderful?     Pause for a moment to pray through this paragraph and to give God thanks for what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.

 We may see from the parable of the Sower that it is possible for people to become very interested in Christianity and then to fall away, but let us be quite clear that anyone who is truly born again can never lose salvation.   “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;  neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.   My Father, Who has given them to Me is greater than all;  and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.   I and My Father are One” (John 10 vs 28-30).    If you are born again, you are ‘in Christ’ (Eph. 1v3 etc.);  ‘for you died (to your old life), and your (new) life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3v3).    It is ridiculous to suppose that one can be ‘in Christ’ and ‘in God’ one minute, out again the next and in and out at irregular periods throughout one’s life.   It is certainly possible for one of Christ’s sheep to become backslidden and lost for a time, but he can never become a goat!   The Good Shepherd will always find him and bring him home (1).

 We now come to consider the relationship of the born-again believer to the law.  We can start with the statement of Paul.  ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8v1).   The Christian is outside the realm of the law (2).   This may seem a rather dangerous thing to say but as we have seen, the born-again believer has the Holy Spirit within him and therefore has a different principle of righteousness from the non-Christian.  The Pharisees tried to establish their righteousness before God by minute observance of the Law of Moses, but they failed because of their innate sinful nature (Rom. 3:20, 8:8, 9:30ff; Matt. 23:23).   Yet four hundred years before Moses, Abraham had known a righteousness from God which had nothing to do with legal observation but came through faith (Gen. 15v6).   It is this imputed righteousness that saves us.   It is entirely of God’s grace and as such is not affected by anything we do.   This is the argument of the Apostle, Paul, in Galatians 3.   Certain teachers were persuading the Galatians that faith alone in Christ was not sufficient and that they needed to follow the Mosaic Laws as well, specifically that of circumcision.   Paul resisted this strongly, with three quotes from the Old Testament;   ‘But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident for “The just shall live by faith”.   Yet the law is not of faith, but “The man who does these things shall live by them”.   Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree”), that………. we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’(Gal. 3:11-14; cf. Deut 21:23; 27:26; Hab. 2:4; Lev 18:5).

 The born-again Christian does not have a legal righteousness- that is, a pharisaic righteousness that comes from a slavish outward obedience to the law, whether it be the Mosaic Law or any other code of regulations.  Such a righteousness is unavailable in any case because no one can keep God’s laws perfectly in his own strength (Acts 15:10; Rom 3:9, 23).     Rather he has an evangelical righteousness;  he seeks to keep the commandments of Christ out of love for the One who has loved him so much (John 14:15) and he does so by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16).  I find the 1646 Baptist Confession very helpful when it states (Art XXIX),  All believers are a holy and sanctified people, and that sanctification is a spiritual grace of the new covenant, and an effect of the love of God manifested in the soul, whereby the believer presseth after a heavenly and evangelical obedience to all the commands, which Christ as head and king in His new covenant hath prescribed to them.’   Those who try to be justified by keeping the law in their own strength find it impossible and cry out, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26), but they who have been justified by faith find that ‘His commandments are not burdensome’ (1John 5:3) for there is really only one command for the Christian, the commandment of love (Rom. 13:8-10) and we love because He first loved us.

 Perhaps someone might ask what purpose there is for the law if believers are no longer subject to it.   Paul gives us two answers in Galatians 3;  firstly, ‘it was added because of transgressions’(v19).   Any law is introduced to restrict wrongdoing by the threat of punishment, but of course it is never completely effective because people’s sinful nature inevitably leads them into law-breaking.   The Israelites could not keep the laws of Moses and were regularly punished by God, for the nature of the law is to demand obedience and to punish disobedience.   Nevertheless, the law regulated Israel’s behaviour to some degree until the coming of Christ.  The law also has another purpose;  ‘The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ’ (v24).   No one ever becomes a Christian until he has seen himself as a sinner.   By revealing to us in the law His righteousness and our own sinfulness, God uses the law to drive us to Christ for salvation.  Paul writes, ‘I would not have known sin except through the law.  For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet”’ (Rom 7:7).

 So if we are Christians, does the law still have anything to say to us?   Can we now forget all about it since we are under grace?   Has our old tutor, having served his purpose, been pensioned off for good?   Surely not!   If that were the case then we would have to cut Psalm 119 from the Bible, since we could no longer say with the Psalmist, ‘Oh, how I love your law!   It is my meditation all the day’ (v97).   Those of us who had really good tutors or schoolmasters when we were young have not forgotten their wise instruction just because they are no longer in authority over us.   For instance, we are no longer under the obligation to tithe as the Israelites were (eg. Deut. 14:22ff; 1Cor 9:7), but if we want to know how much we should be looking to give to the Lord’s work then where else should we look but to the Old Testament where God’s heart is so clearly revealed?   But of course, we are free as Christians to give even more than a tithe if the Lord has prospered us (1Cor. 16:2).   In every part of our Christian lives, we will find in God’s law wise teaching and wholesome advice.   If we feel that we can do without it, then we had better be quite sure that we are Christians at all.

 So what about the Ten Commandments, written by the very finger of God on Mount Horeb (Deut 5:22)?  Do these still apply to the born-again believer?  These commandments were written on the hearts of Adam and Eve in the garden (3), and are still on the hearts of all men, though defaced and obscured by the Fall (Rom 2:14-15).  These Commandments, written on stone tablets for Israel under the Old Covenant, are written anew on the hearts of all believers in the New (2Cor 3:3; Heb 10:16).  So we can say with the Psalmist, ‘I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart’ (Psalm 40:8) (4).  What law is within our hearts?  The one previously written upon stone tablets; the Ten Commandments.  Those who try to make out that the fourth Commandment has somehow become detached along the way are mistaken.   To be sure there are difficulties with the application of the Sabbath to today’s society, and I do not intend to address them here, but if the reader will carefully consider the texts quoted above, he will see that the law written on our hearts is the same as that which was formerly written on stone.  And the stones contained ten commandments, not nine.

 Another result of the New Birth is the Union of the believer with Christ.   We saw this expression, ‘in Christ,’ earlier;  what does it mean?   Back in Chapter Two, we looked at the doctrine of Original Sin and we saw that it was the first-ever sin in the Garden of Eden that caused Mankind as a whole to fall and that Adam’s fallen nature was imputed to all his posterity.   This is because Adam was our Federal Head.   The meaning of this is best explained by reference to nations;  those of us who live in Great Britain are federally joined to that country.   If the British Government makes a treaty with another nation, we are part of that treaty, whether we like it or not.   If the Government were to declare war on France, then we personally should be at war with France even though we had not individually declared war;  we might well be called up to fight and if we were to meet a Frenchman with a gun, he would probably feel justified in shooting us.   In much the same way, all mankind was federally joined to Adam.   As we have seen elsewhere (5), God made a covenant with Adam, the so-called Covenant of Works granting him eternal life in perfect surroundings in return for his obedience.   Adam was made the Covenant or Federal Head.   This means that, had he kept the terms of the Covenant, all those he represented (ie. all mankind) would have received the promised benefits.   But, as we know, Adam fell, and the teaching of the Bible is that all mankind fell with him and also inherited his fallen, sinful nature (Rom. 5:12).  

 However, even before the foundation of the world, God had foreseen the Fall and though He was not obliged to do anything about it except to punish sin, He decreed salvation, not for everyone, but for a vast crowd of Adam’s fallen progeny (Rev. 7v9f).   This He did by what is called the Covenant of Grace.   This covenant was made between the three persons of the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   Mankind, being dead in trespasses and sin, could do nothing.   The Father decreed salvation for His chosen or elect people (2Thes. 2:13);  the Son became their Covenant Head, promising to redeem them by paying the price of their sins upon the cross (1Peter 1:18-20);  the Holy Spirit acted as guarantor, sealing the elect until the Day of Redemption (Eph. 1:14).   Whereas Adam failed as Covenant Head, Christ has gloriously succeeded:  ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive’ (1Cor. 15:22).   ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom. 5:19).  

 Therefore, whereas we were once united to Adam in sin- ‘in Adam’, so we, if we are believers, are now united to Christ in righteousness- ‘in Christ’.   Through this Union, whatever Christ has done, believers have done in Him.  As Christ died on the cross, so we have now ‘died to sin’ (Rom. 6:1);  as Christ rose from the dead, so we have now been ‘raised with Christ’ (Col. 3:1), and as He is now seated at the right hand of God so we ‘sit together in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 2:6).

 Someone will say, “What sort of nonsense is this?”  I’m not seated in the heavenly places, I’m seated in front of my computer at home.”  Well, I’ve just quoted the Scriptures to you, and in the heavenlies is where God sees you. I can do no better than to quote Hendrickson, who writes (5), ‘Not at once do we receive this glory in full measure.  But the right to receive it has already been secured, and the new life has already begun.  Even now our life “is hid with Christ in God.”  Our names are inscribed in heaven’s register.  Our interests are being promoted there.  We are being governed by heavenly standards and motivated by heavenly impulses.  he blessings of heaven constantly descend upon us.  Heaven’s grace fills our hearts.  Its power enables us to be more than conquerors.  And to heaven our thoughts aspire and our prayers ascend.’

 There is a whole lot more that might be said about our union with Christ- enough to fill several books.  But I will leave it there and move on in the next article to look at the proofs and evidences of the New Birth.

 Notes

(1)  If, of course, the Good Shepherd does not come to find you, the implication is very clear.  Christ’s sheep are a special breed.  They are distinguished by their ears and their feet.  They hear His voice and they follow Him (John 10:27).  If you are not obeying Christ’s voice and following His words, what reason do you have to suppose that you are one of His flock?

(2)  As it concerns our salvation.  I trust that it will quickly become apparent that I am no antinomian!

(3) A moment’s thought will confirm this.  Suppose Adam had strangled Eve, or had erected an altar to the Sun in the garden of Eden.  Would God have said, “That’s alright, Adam!  Just so long as you don’t eat that apple!”  The very idea is ridiculous.

(4)  The Christian is in the position of the freed slave in Exodus 21:5-6.  He has been freed from his old master, sin, but loves his new Master, Christ and does not wish to be freed from Him.  So our ear is pierced (cf. Psalm 40:6, NIV) showing that although he has been made free, he still serves the master he loves (Rom 6:15-18).

(5) William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary, Galatians & Ephesians  (My copy published 1969 by Banner of Truth.ISBN 0-85151-333-6).

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