Posted by: stpowen | August 29, 2010

New Birth (9). Evidences of the New Birth

‘That which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:6)

 We now come to the question of the proofs of the New Birth.   If, as we have seen, being born again is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and if without such a birth, no-one will see or enter the Kingdom of God then surely the most important question we can ask ourselves is, “What evidence can I find that the Spirit has wrought new life in me?   How can I be assured that I am truly a child of God?”   We must be very careful here;  if anyone is relying on feelings or on supposed spiritual gifts (Matt. 7:21ff), or on his good deeds (Isaiah 64:6) as proof that he is a child of God, he is very likely deceiving himself.   The only true ground for assurance of salvation is trust that the blood of Christ shed on the cross was shed for you and that the penalty for your sin has been paid already.   Nevertheless, Scripture tells us that there are certain tests that can be applied to be sure that one’s conversion is genuine;  “Examine yourselves”, says Paul (2Cor.13:5), “As to whether you are in the faith.   Test yourselves.    Do you not know that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you do not stand the test” (NKJV margin).   These proofs or evidences divide themselves into two types:  subjective, where the witness is within ourselves, and objective, where the evidence is either external and visible to all or where there is a test which we can apply to ourselves.

We will look first at four subjective evidences, though the reader may well find more:-

 1:  Consciousness of two competing natures within us.   Galatians 5:17 says, ‘For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh;  and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.’   As we have seen, the born-again Christian is a new creation with a new principle of righteousness within him.   However, we still live in our old bodies and a relic of our old, sinful nature remains, not in our essential nature that has been renewed in Christ, but in those physical bodies (Rom 7:19-20; 2Cor. 4:7).   When the Lord returns, we shall be raised with glorified, resurrection bodies (1Cor. 15:42ff) and sin will be a thing of the past.   Until then, we have this constant battle with our old natures as we strive to live a life pleasing to God (Rom. 6:12).   Now this should not be confused with merely having a conscience;  unredeemed people often set themselves high standards and their consciences will sometimes afflict them when they fail to live up to them.   With the Christian there is a genuine struggle between two natures going on.   We shall have more to say on this later, but suffice it to say here that conflict with sin is actually a sign of spiritual life;  a life lived without spiritual warfare is unlikely to be a Christian one. 

 2: Experimental Knowledge of God as Father.   Romans 8:15 says, ‘For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”‘   The Moslems have ninety-nine names for their god, but none of them is ‘Father’.   To be sure, there is a sense in which God is the Father of all Mankind inasmuch as He created all people (Acts 17:28), but it is only the Christian who is encouraged to address his Lord and God as his Heavenly Father (Matt.6v9; 23v9.  cf. John 8v44).   The Aramaic word, Abba, was the word little children in Israel used to call their fathers (Abba should not really be identified with our word, Dad, as no Israelite child would be as familiar towards its parents as children are today);  it is a word denoting a simple trust and dependence.   When a Christian comes before his Lord in simple, child-like faith (Luke 18:17) and instinctively addresses Him as ‘Father’, it is a sign both of reverence and intimacy, and an indication that he is truly born of God.

 3:  The Feeling of not Belonging to the World.  “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.   Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19;  cf. 1John 2:15ff).   The Christian is no longer a citizen of this present, fallen world;  he is a citizen of Heaven (Phil. 3v20) and merely a temporary resident down here as he journeys through it (1Peter 2:11).   New Christians soon find that they lose their former pleasure in many of the things they used to enjoy;  wild parties, lewd jokes, gossip, violent T.V. programmes and so forth.   Instead they find that they prefer the company of God’s people, which, after all, is that which they will enjoy throughout eternity.   This will very often make them unpopular with their non-Christian friends, work-mates and even family, and is sometimes a cause of sadness and loneliness.   This is one reason why it is so important for all Christians, but especially new ones, to have a loving and supportive Church family.  Let us be quite sure however that if we are rejected by our non-Christian friends, it is not because we have become sanctimonious kill-joys, or aggressive and bullying in our witnessing. There are innocent pleasures that both believers and non-believers may join in together.   

 4:  The direct witness of the Spirit.   ‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God’ (Rom. 8v16).   The suggestion here is that when we are engaged in prayer or worship and we feel in ourselves the truth that God has loved us with an everlasting love, at that moment, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us and we feel another witness outside ourselves telling us of  God’s favour towards us.   Many great men of God have spoken of this experience;  Dr. Lloyd-Jones claimed (1) that it is the highest possible form of assurance.   That may be so, but it is certainly possible to be deceived by one’s feelings, especially in the highly charged atmosphere of some modern church meetings.   In the absence of other, more material evidences, it is dangerous to rely upon what may be no more than emotion.

 Next we come to the more objective proofs.     Many of them are found in the First Letter of John.  It appears that John set out to write this letter to distinguish between true and false assurance and to encourage those to whom he was writing in their assurance.  He wrote (1John 5:13), ‘These things  have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.’  There are a great many of these proofs elsewhere in the Bible also, and we shall only look at some of the most important of them:-

 1:  An evangelical obedience to our Lord’s commands.   The Lord Jesus told His disciples;  “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15;  cf.1John 2:3-4).   Now I have never met anyone who claimed to be a Christian who did not also claim to love Jesus, so here’s a very simple test:  do you make it your first principle in life to obey the commands of Christ and His Apostles as laid down in the Bible?   Does it grieve you whenever you fail to do so?   If not, how can you claim to love Jesus?   We have already seen that Christians are not under the law in the sense that they stand or fall by their minute observation of it, but if we believe that Christ shed His blood for us on the cross, then surely we shall seek to live lives that are pleasing to Him and bring glory to Him?

2:  Spiritual Fruit.   Christ told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches.   He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5).   So what is spiritual fruit?   Some people imagine that ‘fruit’ means getting lots of converts for Christ, but that is actually the Lord’s work (Matt.11:25-27, but see the next chapter).    So, bearing in mind our key text, John 3:6, let us look at Galatians 5:19ff:  ‘Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are:  adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions and the like;  of which I tell you ……that those who practise such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’    Now perhaps many readers can look at the first list in this text and say, “Well, I’ve never done most of those things,” but let us remember that our Lord’s definition of adultery is considerably wider than that of most people  (Matt. 5:28) and that the biblical definition of sorcery would certainly cover anyone who has ever studied a horoscope.  Moreover, which of us have never given way to needless anger, selfish ambition or and argumentative spirit?   We need therefore to approach this text with a degree of humility.   However, if we can look soberly at our lives since our conversion and see a change from the first list to the second then this is evidence that we are born again.

 3:  A Sincere Commitment to Righteousness.   The Apostle John wrote, ‘Whoever does not practise righteousness is not of God’ (1John 3:10).   It is usual for children to resemble their parents.   If a child is born who bears no similarity whatever to its father, eyebrows tend to be raised, suspicions aroused and searching questions asked.   So if God is righteous, is it not somewhat surprising if He has given new life to children who retain constant sin in their lives?   May we not be a little suspicious of those who claim to be Christians but whose day-to-day existence is marked by carnality and self-indulgence?   Now God forbid that anyone should think that I am speaking of sinless perfection here;  if there is a reader thinking to himself, “Well, amen to all this!   I agree with it so much that I no longer sin at all!” Then he’s fooling himself.   John himself wrote, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1John 1:8), whilst James tells us that, ‘We all stumble in many ways’ (James 3:2).   What we are talking about here is a true longing for holiness;  a desire to be like our Lord.   We cannot lay hold of Heaven while our hands are still full of our sins.   Therefore the true Christian joyfully lays down all his sins at the foot of the cross and declares with the Psalmist, ‘I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart’ (Psalm 40:8).   That is why it is not possible for a practising thief, liar, adulterer or homosexual to be a Christian, whatever they may declare.   Anyone who says to himself, “I want to become a Christian, but I won’t stop doing that…”, whatever “that” may be, is on the broad road to destruction (Matt. 7:13).   We are told of Levi, the tax collector that he, left all, rose up and followed [Jesus]’ (Luke 5:28).   We may or may not be called to leave our jobs or our families when we become Christians, but we are certainly called to leave our sins (John 8:11) even if they are as dear to us as our right hands or right eyes (Matt. 5:29).   Alas, perfect sinlessness will still elude us, but when we confess our sins, God looks into our hearts, sees our sincerity and forgives us for Christ’s sake.   ‘My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin.   And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous’ (1John 2:1).

4:  Christian Love.    ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God;  and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God (1John 4:7).   At first sight this text seems rather strange.   If everybody who loves is born of God, then surely the whole world must be saved because, as an old song goes, ‘Everybody loves somebody sometime’?   The answer lies in the difference between the New Testament meaning of the word, ‘love’ and the very broad English usage.   For example, we might ‘love’ strawberry cheesecake, playing tennis and freedom as well as our families, whilst ‘making love’ is, of course in these days, a euphemism for the sex act.   Greek has three different words for ‘love’.  Eros is the word for sexual love.   It is not found in the New Testament.   Philia is the general word for love;  a philosopher is someone who loves wisdom, while a philatelist is someone who loves postage stamps.   The word denotes an emotional attachment to someone or something.   The third word used is agape.   This word is seldom found outside the New Testament.   It denotes that love which seeks the good of others out of love for Jesus Christ (2).   “A new commandment I give to you;  as I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).   Now agape is not just a warm fuzzy feeling towards our friends and family , it is a response to that agape that brought our Lord to the cross.   ‘For so God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…..’   God’s love (agape) for us, expressed in Jesus Christ, is the template for our love for others, and we must seek to do others good even though it hurts.   ‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.   Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’ (1John 5:10f;  cf. also Phil. 2:5ff).

 This agape, although it starts with our fellow Christians, does not end there.   ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31;  Lev. 19:18). ‘Husbands, love your wives….’ (Eph. 5:25).   Now here’s a challenge to all married men!   How are men to love their wives?   ‘…..Just as Christ loved the Church’!   How did He show that love?   Well, first of all by washing His disciples’ feet and then by going to the cross for her.   Although (actually, because) the husband has the leadership role in marriage, He is to serve his wife by putting her needs before his own, even to the point of giving his life for her.   Anything less fails to express the love of Christ for His Church.   There is nothing half-hearted in Christian love, which is why it is a sure birth-mark of a Christian.

 5:  Theological Orthodoxy.   ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1John 5:1).    Nicodemus thought that Jesus was someone special.   “You are a teacher come from God,” he said, but he fell short of understanding who He really was.   Lots of people believe in Jesus to some extent, but the faith that saves acknowledges Him as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).  It is interesting to look through the Gospels at the people who met with our Lord.  Those who called Him ‘Master’ or ‘Teacher’ often received short shrift from Him (e.g. Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25 etc.).  Those who call Him ‘Lord’ or ‘Son of David’ (i.e. ‘Messiah’) have their desires granted (e.g. Matt 15:22; Mark 11:27 etc.).   

 What does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah?   Well, the two words mean the same thing, Anointed One.  The term means that Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son is the One who fulfills all the Old Testament prophecies.   He is the Seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15);  He is the Prophet like Moses whom the Lord would raise up (Deut. 18:15);  He is the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4);  He is the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53;  He is the Son of Man to whom has been given an everlasting dominion (Dan. 7:14);  He is the Branch of David who shall be called the LORD (3), our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6).   In short, He is our Prophet, Priest and King as well as very God.   Do you know Him in each of these roles?    Is the Lord Jesus your Prophet?   Do you look to His word alone to teach you about life, death and eternity?   Is He your High Priest?   Do you come directly to Him alone for purification from sin?   Is He your King?   Is it your delight to obey His commands as laid down in His word?   Is He your God?   Do you worship Him as such and do you constantly seek to tear down from the high places in your heart every idol, such as greed or selfish ambition, that might supplant Him in your affections?   If so, here is a clear indication that you are a child of God.   If not, go to Him, in His word and in prayer, and give yourself no peace until you come to know Him as He truly is and as He reveals Himself to those who earnestly seek Him.

 6:  Overcoming the World.   Now here’s a really searching test for those who claim to love God!   ‘For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.   And this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith ’ (1John 5:4).    Now this world that we are to overcome- indeed, which you have already overcome if you are born of God- is not the planet Earth, nor is it the people in the world, whom we are to love.   The world of which John speaks here and in 1John 2v15 is the world as it exists under the sway of Satan, ‘the god of this age’ (2Cor. 4:4).   It is the world that we see in newspapers and magazines, full of excitement, glamour and all kinds of temptations (1John 2:16).   It is a world that has very little time indeed for the laws and commandments of God.   So are you, on a daily basis, overcoming the world and keeping a healthy distance from it?   Or do you find that increasingly the world is squeezing you into its mold?   That your opinions and actions are based more and more on the views and standards of the world around you, and less and less on the truths of Scripture?   If so, you are trying to serve two masters, God and Mammon (Matt. 6:24).   Take a few minutes right now to read through 1John 2:15-17 and to pray about your response to it. 

 7:  Doctrinal Purity.   ‘Whoever transgresses (NIV ‘runs ahead’) and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God’ (2John 9).   This is somewhat self-explanatory.   The Pharisees added the Traditions of the elders to the word of God (Mark 7:5);  the Mormons add the Book of Mormon.  These things are gross and obvious, but there are more subtle additions to the word of God.  Many churches give credence to ‘words of prophecy’ uttered by members of the congregation.  Others give their leaders more powers to bind the consciences of their followers than the Bible does.  The Christian is content to rest in the doctrine of the Bible.  He respects his leaders, but follows them only as far as they follow Christ.  ‘Imitate me,’ said Paul, ‘Just as I also imitate Christ’ (1Cor 11:1).  No further, and no less. 

 In writing this section of the book, I have been concerned lest it should appear that I am setting up some sort of sacrifice or ‘works righteousness.’  We are not saved by the things we do, but if anyone claims to have trusted in Christ, but there is no change in his life, he is deceiving himself.  He is saying that, ‘That which is born of the Spirit’ can still be flesh.  If you, reader, have looked at these seven proofs of spiritual life and found them lacking in you, don’t simply try harder to make yourself into a Christian.  Go to the Father and confess your failings and give Him no peace until He gives you the Holy Spirit.  ‘For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened……..If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him’ (Luke 11:10, 13). 

Notes.

(1)  D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable (Kingsway 1984).

(2)  To do so for any other reason falls short of true agape and may be mere Pharisaism.

(3)  When we see LORD written in capitol letters in the Bible, it signifies Yahveh (or Jehovah), the personal, covenant name of God (cf. Exod 3:13f).

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