Throwback Thursday: If I Must Be Born Again, How Do I Manage It?

Originally posted November 28, 2018.

IMG_0356As a young Christian,  I had a zeal for evangelism. Not a talent for it, mind you, and not the best motives, but certainly the burning conviction that everybody needed to be born again. So I’d drive my motorized wheelchair all over my high school campus, passing out tracts and telling people they must be born again.

I frequently referred to John 3:1-8 as substantiation for my message. That indeed is the appropriate passage.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ~~John 3:1-8 (ESV)

Actually, I ignored verses 5, 6 and 8 because I just plain didn’t understand them! Anyway, I wanted to emphasize the apparent command to be born again. I demanded that people repent of sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to escape eternal hell. In my overly simplistic mind, accepting Jesus and living for Him caused someone to be born again.

My misinterpretation of the words “must be” created the problem, both in understanding the concept for myself and in presenting the Gospel to others. By separating those two words from their context, I emphasized human responsibility over the prerogative of the Holy Spirit.

Being born again isn’t a human accomplishment; it’s the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit on those He wills to save. In fact, the words of the apostle John two chapters earlier help clarify that very point.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 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 (ESV)

Notice verse 13, please.  Although the acts of receiving Him and believing in His name are involved in becoming children of God (verse 12), the spiritual birth results from God’s will, not human will or effort.

Jesus taught Nicodemus that, though being born again is an essential requisite to  entering the kingdom of God, it isn’t something we do ourselves. As John MacArthur has explained numerous times, we played no part in our physical births, so what makes us think that we could possibly have anything to do with our spiritual ones?

Yes, Jesus said we must be born again. Like a child must be a certain height and weight to ride in a car without a booster seat. Like you have to be 18 to register as a voter. You can’t reach those conditions through your own efforts, but those conditions must be met. Although we must be born again, that rebirth happens through the work of the Holy Spirit.

I still have evangelism as a high priority, even if I do it better online than in person. I also still want people to know that they must be born again. Now, however, I understand what it means and how it happens. That understanding makes a huge difference!

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Responding To The World’s Sin On Social Media

Hope in the LordI can’t remember anything about the show I watched on TV that evening 40 years ago except for that few seconds. An old man sat in his rocking chair, excitedly reading his Bible. As I recall, he read a chapter on Israel’s conquest of Canaan. He sat on the edge of his seat gleefully shouting, “Get ’em, Lord!”

It turned my stomach and broke my heart. What a horrible characterization of Christians!

Over the years, I reassured myself that the scene from the TV show merely betrayed Hollywood’s well-known bias against Christianity. That theory definitely has its merit. Even in its early days, the film industry had a certain animosity towards Biblical thought. By the 1980s that animosity was beginning to get less covert. So course the writers of that show would depict a Christian character as a vengeful old man who got his jollies from the destruction of sinners.

Lately, as I scroll through things Christians post on Twitter and Facebook, I find myself wondering if Continue reading

She Thought Speaking Forcefully Would Attract Them To Jesus — In My Dreams!

Soccor Mom 01Dream analysis has no place in Biblical thought. It’s a construct of Freudian psychology, developed by a man who was openly hostile to religion of any type. So please don’t misunderstand my article — I mention last night’s dream only to make a point about what sharing the Gospel.

It was one of my crazy dreams about Boston in which the places bear absolutely no resemblance to the way they are in real life. Nevertheless, John and I cut through a non-existent (in real life) red brick alley to get to one side of Quincy Market to the other so that I could get a cannoli. As we approached the cannoli stand, we Continue reading

Evangelism Isn’t My Gift, But I’m Responsible To Proclaim The Gospel

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To my knowledge, no one has become a Christian as a result of my evangelistic efforts. Furthermore, I’m notoriously shy about face-to-face witnessing. Although I was so bold about the Gospel in high school that I often became obnoxious, college eroded that boldness. Sadly, I never have regained it.

I’ve been thinking about evangelism lately because of a recent sermon our associate pastor preached and a variety of articles I’ve been reading. But the Lord has particularly convicted me about evangelism through Continue reading

Are We Telling The World?

Jesus has delivered us from sin and death! So why aren’t we proclaiming the Gospel from the rooftops?

For decades, Western culture has told us that religion is a private matter, not to be discussed in polite conversation. It warns us that people might get offended if we evangelize them. And in recent years, various entities have taken measures to silence Christians altogether.

The intimidation has a much greater effect on us than it should, I’m sorry to say. I regret that, though I’m bold when I write,  I struggle with face-to-face evangelism. And I suspect a lot of you share my struggle. We shrink from telling people the good news because culture demands that we do so!

But think about the power of the Gospel in your life. Think about how Jesus rescued you from an eternity in hell and liberated you from slavery to sin. Don’t you want everyone to know that same joy and freedom? Don’t you want everyone to glorify Him by singing His praises?

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How Should We Witness To Homosexuals?

Gay Evangelism

I remember a presentation Frank Worthen gave on homosexuality and ex-gay ministry back in the early 1980s. More accurately, I remember his reply when someone asked how she should witness to  homosexuals. He said that their primary need was the Gospel, not deliverance from homosexuality.

“If they don’t know the Lord, they’re going to hell anyway — what does it matter whether they’re gay or straight?”

Frank had a way with words.

I thought back to his answer during a recent episode of The Dividing Line this weekend. In that episode, James White responded to criticisms against Continue reading

Flashback Friday: Full Bellies — Starving For Truth

Originally published February 23, 2016:

At The Cross“No one wants to hear about God’s wrath,” the young pastor explained to my friend. Then he added, “We help the poor in our community as a demonstration of His love.”

Look, I have nothing against helping the poor. In fact, if more  churches provided such services, less of us would be forced to rely on government programs. So as you read this essay, please don’t misunderstand me as saying that Christians shouldn’t care for the needs of those less fortunate than themselves. Yet I believe we must keep practical ministry secondary to our primary commission to declare the Gospel.

And whether we like it or not, declaring the Gospel first necessitates telling people that they’re sinners who deserve God’s wrath. I agree with the young pastor that no one enjoys hearing about their sin, nor do they like being confronted with the fact that their sin consigns them to an eternity in hell. And Christians don’t relish the duty of proclaiming that part of the Gospel message, if you want to know the truth.

But, dear sisters in the Lord, we don’t get to pick and choose what aspects of the Gospel we present in our evangelism. As ambassadors of Christ, we bear the responsibility to tell people the Gospel in its entirety, aware that we represent Him rather than ourselves.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~~2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (ESV)

If we offer a message of reconciliation to God, we must begin by helping people understand that such a reconciliation indeed needs to take place. Most non-Christians and Christians-in-name-only simply don’t believe that God takes their sin seriously enough to send them to hell. They may admit that they’ve done some bad things here and there, but they reassure themselves that the good they’ve done outweighs the bad. Consequently, all our talk about Jesus showing His love by dying in their place strikes them as absurd until we show them that they’ve offended a holy God.

The beauty of God’s love shines through the fact that Jesus willingly shed His blood on the cross, bearing His Father’s fury over the sin that you and I committed. That act, more than anything else, epitomizes His love.

It’s wonderful when churches run soup kitchens and pregnancy resource centers. And praise God for missionaries who dig wells and build orphanages. But when people deliberately repress part of the Gospel in order to attract people to their services, they no longer represent the Lord. Leave humanitarian work to secular agencies unless you do it in a way that offers people the eternal hope of Jesus Christ.

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