Without The Holy Spirit, There’s No Rebirth

The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus seems straightforward on the surface. Jesus said that, in order to see the kingdom of God, one must be born again. (John 3:3-7). At least, it did when I was a new Christian.

As a newly saved teenager, I latched on to that passage, zealously quoting it to family and friends in my attempts to strongarm them into salvation. At that time, I believed that I could claim credit for “accepting” Jesus, and I consequently thought I’d made the choice to be born again. I understood John 3:7 as an imperative command rather than as a cause and effect principle. In my mind, someone needed to make a decision to believe in Jesus so that he or she could experience the new birth. Much of the teaching I received back then only reinforced my misunderstanding of the passage.

During my college years, Jimmy Carter popularized the phrase “born-again Christian” as he campaigned for the presidency. One evening, as she got me ready to visit a neighbor’s church service, my mom asked me to explain what Jimmy Carter, my neighbor and I meant by this seemingly new terminology. I merely quoted John 3:3-7, secretly relieved that I didn’t have time to really explain it. Yes, relieved — because deep down I knew that, although I had been born again, I didn’t understand how it actually worked. The expanded passage frustrated me by failing to detail what a person needed to do to make the new birth happen.

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So Much More Than A Pretty Piece Of Jewelry

Like many Christian women, I wear a pendant shaped like a cross. It’s a pretty silver thing — slightly fanciful, but nothing ornate. Truth be told, it’s a bit bigger than it should be, making me look a bit like a nun. One of John’s Avon customers ordered it years ago, but decided she didn’t want it, so John offered it to me. I’ve worn it for several years because I like identifying myself as a Christian.

Cross shaped pendants really are pretty, don’t you think? That fact is sort of bizarre, considering that execution by crucifixion was one of the cruelest ways to put even the vilest criminal to death. Some critics of using it as jewelry argue that we might as well wear little gold and silver replicas of electric chairs around our necks. Grudgingly, I see their point. When I think about the gruesome realities of the crucifixion process, it does seem a bit barbaric to turn the cross into a fashion accessory.

In an article on the Learn Religion website, Marcy Fairchild explains The Definition of Crucifixion, an Ancient Method of Execution. If you’ve never read about the things crucifixion entails, her article outlines it delicately but accurately, so I’d strongly encourage you to take a minute to read through it before continuing with this post.

You can see the inhumanity of crucifixion in Ms. Fairchild’s post, and you probably wince at the thought that the sinless Lord endured such physical pain and degradation. Wincing is definitely an appropriate response to the barbaric execution of the One Who created the universe, I daresay! Never has there been a miscarriage of justice as extreme and unfounded! Jesus did nothing to deserve the death of a criminal, and even Pilate (who sentenced Him to death) knew it.

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His Wrath Makes His Love Even More Beautiful

Years ago (before Facebook, Twitter or blogging existed), I used to send out group emails in which I addressed a variety of Christian topics. At one point I warned against a popular evangelism and discipleship program that distorted the Gospel so horribly that non-Christian groups were adapting it to advance their false teachings.

As you can imagine, I received tremendous pushback from many of my friends. The email that made the greatest impression on me came from a dad of one of my close girlfriends. He very forcefully defended the program, but not with the Word of God. Instead, he praised it because it emphasized God’s love and never mentioned His wrath. This an complained that he had heard fire and brimstone preaching all his life, and therefore he appreciated teaching that excluded all such negativity.

I felt disappointed by that man’s rejection of balanced Biblical teaching. But the email he sent reminded me that even professing Christians can fashion God into their ideas of how He should conduct Himself. And I admit that I’d prefer God to lay aside His wrath and concentrate on making me happy and comfortable. I suspect you share my preference. After all, most of us equate love with happiness and comfort rather than with wrath, don’t we?

In my last essay, I wrote about the Father’s love for us, basing my thoughts on John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NASB95)

It’s indeed a beautiful verse — arguably the most beloved verse in the entire Bible. How wonderful that the Father loves us so profoundly that He sacrificed His only begotten Son to keep us from perishing! Ironically, we can get so caught up in the splendor of this verse that we forget to ask ourselves some questions about it. Those questions need to be asked and answered if we want to really see the beauty of the Father’s love.

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The Father Started It

Typically, Christians connect salvation exclusively with Jesus. That connection makes perfect sense because Jesus is indeed our one and only Savior. Revelation 5:11-14 depicts Him as the object of angelic worship in heaven, and Colossians 1:13-23 unmistakably teaches that the entirety of creation revolves around Him because of His work on the cross. We rightly exalt Him for taking our sin upon Himself and applying His righteousness to us. As the old hymn says, “Hallelujah — what a Savior!”

Jesus, however, didn’t effect our salvation independently of the other two Members of the Trinity. Therefore, we ought to spend some time thinking together about the Father and the Holy Spirit in Their parts of saving us. So let’s begin by focusing on God the Father, shall we?

Most of us can quote John 3:16 by heart, properly understanding its message that Jesus died for us. We may have even recognized God the Father in these treasured words:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NASB95)

Usually we read this verse with the emphasis on the Father’s love for us, which is certainly the emphasis Jesus intended when He spoke those words to Nicodemus. Love motivated the Father to provide His only begotten Son in order to atone for sin, and we have every reason to praise the Father for such a powerful demonstration of love. If anything, this verse illuminates the character of the Father, showing us the amazing depth and vastness of His love! How tragic it would be to gloss over this point!

Yet it would be equally tragic to stop at this point.

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It Takes A Trinity To Save One Sinner

Have you ever thought about the role each Person of the Trinity plays in your salvation?

Yes, we’re going to get into some theology for the next few posts, and many of you probably don’t regard theology as light summer reading. I get that. People at the community pool will ask what you’re reading on your phone, and when you answer they’ll back away as if you have COVID. Can’t we evaluate Ed Litton or talk about the controversy over women’s roles? At least those topics are popular right now. The Trinity and salvation, in contrast, seems awfully dry and academic.

But before you decide to take a vacation from my blog, consider the possibility that you might actually grow in your appreciation of God’s loving care in bringing you to Himself. Over the past two years, I’ve meditated on the way each Person of the Trinity works in my salvation, only to feel deeper wonder the more I think about it! This point of theology is anything but dry and academic!

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Talking About The Gospel Ain’t Necessarily Explaining The Gospel

Several years ago, John and I sat in an adult Sunday School class where the teacher asked if anyone could explain the Gospel. The church heavily emphasized evangelism, and sponsored a food pantry for the specific purpose of sharing the Gospel along with groceries. They also regularly visited a local nursing home as an evangelistic outreach. The wall of that Sunday School classroom sported a poster detailed the Romans Road. And those who had gone through the membership class had been required to share the Gospel with a friend or relative outside the church.

You would think people in that class would be stepping all over each other to answer the teacher’s question.

The silence was awkward, if not embarrassing. Finally someone answered, correctly using 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as the basis for her response. The teacher expressed his relief that somebody knew the answer, though later he confessed to me his discouragement and frustration over the obvious confusion people exhibited when he asked a question that he assumed each of us could readily answer.

Sometimes I wonder whether or not most evangelicals could explain the Gospel. Frankly, I seriously doubt they could. Popular teachers like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Beth Moore have mangled it so badly with false teaching and worldly additives that few professing Christians remember what the Bible says.

I’ve included pages entitled Statement Of Faith and What Is The Gospel, Anyway on this little website, and I pray you’ll look at them once in a while. Before ladies can develop discernment, or even grow in doctrine, we need to understand the Gospel basics.

In What Is The Gospel, Anyway I wrote:

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Preaching The Gospel To Myself As I Pray

I don’t know where people get the idea that those of us with physical disabilities are especially proficient in prayer. I definitely struggle in that spiritual discipline, quite frankly. Thankfully, E-Sword, the free Bible software that I use, includes a feature that helps me organize my prayer life.

So this past year I’ve been taking time during my daily prayers to thank the Lord for saving me. In so doing, I have developed the practice of thanking each Person of the Trinity for His specific role in bringing me to that salvation. Prayers along those lines has both heightened my awareness that my salvation comes completely from God and deepened my love for the Trinity.

Writing about aspects of my prayer life makes me nervous, fearing that I come across as boastful. Believe me, I’m all too aware that I have a very long way to go before I could consider my prayer life to be exemplary! In writing this article, I most assuredly don’t mean to hold myself up as a standard to follow.

Rather, I write this article in hopes that I might honor the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while demonstrating how each of Them has worked to save me from the due penalty of my sins. Although time doesn’t allow me to give you all the Scriptures substantiating my points, perhaps this little blog post might encourage you to study the matter for yourself.

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You’ll Never Find Assurance Apart From Christ

This week I had several severe episodes of anger. Usually, such behavior causes me to doubt that I was ever genuinely saved.

In one sense, our sins should lead us to examine ourselves. If we show absolutely no evidence that Christ is transforming us into His image, perhaps we really need to question our salvation.

But Satan often uses our occasional lapses into sin as an effort to discourage us. Once we attach salvation to our performance, we deny the very heart of the Gospel. Salvation comes exclusively from the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross.

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I Couldn’t Have Paid Anything

Most of us have no idea of how extensive our sin is. Personally, I can understand it only by realizing that erasing it required nothing less than the innocent blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But I do know that I have absolutely no resources with which to atone for my sin. Any good that I might have done could never outweigh the ways that I have offended the thrice holy God. My debt towards Him is just too formidable.

Thankfully, Jesus is a merciful God Who took my debt upon Himself. He graciously paid the entire price of my sin, leaving me free to worship God with a clear conscience. Throughout eternity, I will praise Him for paying a debt that I never could have paid.

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Remembering Where I Come From

About 20 years ago, I developed an interest in genealogy. A cousin on Mom’s side of the family sent me some information going back to our grandmother’s grandfather, who came to America from Ireland in the mid 1800s.

As always when someone investigates their family history, there were things about my great-great-grandfather that disturbed me. Having settled in the South, for example, he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War (Granny tried to get me to call it The War Between The States). I feel embarrassed that he fought for the side that wanted to preserve black slavery, but I can’t change my heritage.

There are things about my personal past that I can’t change my either. The 17 years of my life before Jesus brought me to salvation may have been characterized by socially acceptable sins like my fascination with the occult (which would have pleased my great-great-grandmother, by the way), but I still rebelled against the Lord. I was headed for hell.

Thankfully, Jesus circumvented my path of self-destruction, convincing me that He took my sin on Himself. As I look back on who I was before His Holy Spirit enabled me to trust in Him as my Savior, I feel even more embarrassed than I do about my great-great-grandfather. But remembering where I came from only increases my gratitude to the Lord. I love Him most when I remember how lost I was without Him.

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