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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The Lamb Who Shepherds His Flock

The Old Testament required that the priests sacrifice innocent lambs to atone for the sins of the people.  Currently, I’m reading Matthew’s Gospel, and yesterday I read about Christ’s final Passover meal with His disciples — a meal foreshadowing His sacrifice on the cross that next day. For all those centuries, Jewish priests had unknowingly pictured the Messiah as the Lamb Who would be slain as the ultimate sacrifice of atonement.

Jesus became the meek Lamb of God as He voluntarily allowed the jealous leaders of the Jews to wrongfully condemn Him. As the meek Lamb of God,  He permitted the Roman soldiers to verbally and physically abuse Him. And, as the meek Lamb of God, He sacrificed His life, shedding His precious blood to cleanse all who believe in Him.

Curiously, this Lamb calls Himself our Shepherd, guiding us with the rod and staff of Scripture as we learn His ways of meekness. Under the sanctifying influence of His Holy Spirit, we slowly but surely learn to be meek. We become His lambs.

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Beautiful Writing Should Be More Than Beautiful Writing

John and I, remembering that we met online 22 years ago, celebrated Valentine’s Day by watching You’ve Got Mail. Some time ago, I blogged about how I love the writing in this movie, and Friday night I again found myself wishing that The Outspoken TULIP afforded me the opportunity to write the sort of things that the characters in the story wrote to each other.

I couldn’t resist wondering how I might sneak in an occasional post that centered merely on writing for the sake of writing. Who knows? Some of my readers might enjoy it!

As I searched YouTube for a hymn yesterday, I decided on a contemporary one that I learned through our church. I chose it because of its clear picture of God’s grace in bringing sinners to salvation. But as I reviewed various versions of videos, I was mesmerized by the beautiful writing in this hymn. After watching You’ve Got Mail the night before, perhaps I felt particularly aware of how the hymn writer organized the words. At any rate, I couldn’t help marveling at  the power in the phrases.

The hymn writer did something that the characters in the movie could never have done — he used beautiful writing to honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. If I want to write beautifully, may I write beautiful words that draw attention to His grace.

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I, For One, Prefer The Solid Rock

Nobody really enjoys uncertainty. At least, I don’t. Like most women, I crave security, and struggle with the sin of anxiety when circumstances become questionable. Regretfully, I all too often respond to trials by metaphorically flailing my arms as I sink into the quicksand of despair and pragmatism.

We sink into all kinds of sands in the face of uncertainty and opposition, don’t we? Sometimes we trust in politicians, believing that certain political agendas will safeguard our country from ruin. Other times we trust in popular Christian teachers, ignoring their subtle deviations from Biblical doctrine. Still other times we, like me, fall into despair and then try to fix our situations through our own efforts.

But the Lord mercifully always brings us back to Himself, reminding us that He alone is our solid rock. And as we return to Him, we find His sufficient grace protecting us from the stormy trials and the rising waters of uncertainty. Best of all, we have assurance that His righteousness enables us, despite all the times we put our foot on foundations of sand, to stand before His throne without fault.

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The Drudgery And Privilege Of Prayer And Bible Reading

Flourishes04We’ve all had those days. We grudgingly open our Bibles because we know we should, but we’d really rather finish that crafts project or read another chapter in that novel.

If I can publicly admit to having days that I simply don’t want to spend time with the Lord, the least you could do is privately confess it to Him. After all, He already knows your secret thoughts.

Of course we feel guilty about approaching our devotions as if they were a chore like cleaning the oven. And I have no intention of alleviating our guilt. We need to come to terms with the fact that we fail to Continue reading

I Thought I Knew, But I Still Have No Idea

When Christ convicted my 17-year-old heart of sin and then sent somebody to tell me that He paid for my sin, I knew that I owed him my very life. Like most teenagers, I was absolutely convinced that I understood both the magnitude of His atoning work on the cross and the depths of my sin.

I knew neither.

In my prayer time lately I’ve been pondering the fact that I really don’t understand how truly wretched I am. The Lord occasionally gives me glimpses of how horrendous my sin actually is, but much of a time I struggle to see how profoundly sinful I am. I know it intellectually, but my emotions resist that knowledge. And thus I confess that I have no idea how great a debt I owe the Lord.

Praise the Lord for erasing that debt, even as He shields me from the devastating realization of it. In heaven, once He frees me from the effects of sin that continue to cling to me, He will show me the extent of His mercy. Then I’ll understand how much I owe.

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Singing Christmas Theology

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing has been my favorite Christmas hymn for most of my Christian life. It’s packed full of solid Biblical doctrine ranging from the Incarnation to regeneration, always bringing us back to His glory.

Singing this beloved hymn grows more meaningful each year as I notice new depths of theology in its familiar verses. As a result, I love it even more now than I loved it as a new Christian. I pray that you’ll discover truths about our wonderful Savior every time you sing it too.

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