How Do You Know You’re Born again?
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How Do You Know You’re Born Again?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Imagine that you had some deadly disease and the doctor came to you and told you that if you took these pink pills it would cure you — but they were the only cure for the disease. You went home and you took the pills and yet, the disease continued to get worse. You came back to the doctor and said, “I took those pills and yet, it doesn’t seem to be taking with me. It’s having no effect. I’m just getting weaker and weaker!” Then he said to you, “Now, are you sure you took those pills? Are you sure you took them? They were pink, you remember, did you take those? I mean, you didn’t have any red pills in the medicine cabinet, too — and maybe you took them by mistake?”
You know what you would hope. You would hope, “Well, maybe I DID take the wrong ones.” You would hope that when you went home, you’d found you HAD taken the wrong pills — because that gave you some reason to believe the pink pills would work with you the way they worked with others. I think most of us are in that situation, “I’d far rather discover that I hadn’t taken the right antidote than that I’d taken this antidote and it hadn’t worked for me.” That’s why I thought it would be good to talk about this “new birth” thing — because I think there are a lot of us very “thinking people” who hear about the new birth, and hear about how it changes everything, and how it makes sense out of life, and how it makes life satisfying, and how it makes life successful. A lot of us think we’ve tried it and it doesn’t seem to have taken with us.
Loved ones, all I’m anxious is that you really have tried it. That you will really have tried the new birth and not some of the counterfeits that you get today. You remember last Sunday morning, we talked about how many people think they’re born again when they’ve adopted a new set of values, a kind of “Christian set of values”, or they’ve changed their way of thinking, or they’ve adopted a new set of ethical standards in their life. They say, “I’ve been born again.” All they mean is, “My mind has come into some enlightenment. I’m seeing some things clearer than I did before.” That’s what they mean.
A new birth is not just that. The tragedy is that many of us have come into that after we’ve been struggling with alcoholism, or with immorality in our own life or with some drug addiction. So often, that change in our way of thinking is connected with a real freedom of some kind that we’ve come into in our own lives. Often we put the two together and say, “Ah, I must have been born again because I’m thinking differently. I’m thinking now the way all those Christians think, and I have come free of this drug addiction and so I’m born again.” Well, not necessarily.
Many of us can have changed our way of thinking and adopted a new set of values and even come into new friends. Many of us have joined some church and we feel, “Ah, I’ve been born again because I’ve changed all my friends. I’ve changed my whole social circle.” In fact, all that’s taken place is we’ve become groupies, religious groupies — but really, a new birth has not taken place inside us. You remember I suggested last day that one of the ways you can determine if you’re born again or not is, do you suffer the same dreadful plague that everybody suffers in our day — or do you not? That dreadful plague is this terrible sense of lack of self-worth that so many people in our society have, a dreadful feeling that they’re not worth anything, a dreadful lack of self-esteem, a dreadful lack of any value to their own lives. It seems that almost everybody you talk to, at least in western civilization, is suffering that agony inside in their own hearts. Loved ones, you can’t be born again and feel that. That’s a contradiction. The new birth, whatever it is, takes care of all that.
If you’re sitting here this morning saying, “Boy, well that’s what I feel. I feel, ah, what am I? I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I have no sense of value. I have no sense of self-esteem. I have no sense of self-worth. That’s me. I feel I mean nothing to anybody. And in fact, my life is kind of empty and pointless. I’m going here to the university. I chose a subject because you have to choose a subject. I chose a major because you have to choose a major. Everybody says you do these things. That’s why I’m doing them. But really, I don’t know where my life is going. This recession has just delivered me for the moment because now I can concentrate on making money — at least I have to make money to keep alive. But really, in my own heart, I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I just bounce from one position to another and that’s the way my life has been going for years. It seems every time I bounce from one occupation to another, from one job to another, I felt less and less value to myself or to anybody else.”
Now loved ones, if you feel like that — and thousands of us do in these days — see that you haven’t been born again: “Whoopee, you’ve taken the red pill — so there’s hope! There’s a chance that you can take the pink pill.” There’s a chance that you can be delivered from that because, you remember what we’ve shared, that when you feel like that, you feel that way because you feel you’re “a nothing”. You feel you’re unimportant, You feel that way because you’ve been preoccupied with pleasing everybody else from the moment you decided to please your mom, the moment you decided to please your dad by going into a certain job, the moment you began to try to please the peers in your high school by getting a letter on the football team right through to the time you began to please your wife, or please your husband by cooking the right food. You’ve been pleasing, pleasing, pleasing people, people, people. You’ve been concentrating on doing what this old society of ours tells you you should do. You’ve been trying to treat it as if it were god and therefore have never paid any attention to God, himself.
What we said last Sunday was, the new birth is you, saying, “Stop! I’m going to stop this game I’m playing. What does it matter whether I please all the bosses? What does it matter whether I please all the parents? What does it matter whether I please all the parents, or all the peers? If I’m here and there’s no reason to my life, what’s the point of it all?” And then you turn around to God, the Creator, and see that he has made you absolutely unique! He has put you here to do something in his world that only you can do. And you say, “God, I noticed I am different. I AM different and I’ve often thought I was different. Even as I sit and crouch like this, I keep thinking, ‘But I am different. I think differently from them. I know they may be better than me, they may be cleverer than me, they may be richer than me, they may look better than I do but I know I’m different from them. I know I’m different than everybody else in this room.’” It’s amazing you can say that. It’s amazing.
There isn’t one of us here, there isn’t one little person, not one of us little souls, but can say that this morning. It’s a miracle. You can say, “That guy can be up there and he can look okay, and the guy sitting beside me can look okay, and the girl down the row, but I am different from them. I’m different from everybody in this room.” And the new birth is turning around to your Maker and saying, “God, you have made me different, I can just assume you made me different and knew you made me different. You have put me here different from everybody else to do something that none of the rest can. So dear God, will you start telling me what I’m supposed to be doing here? Tell me why I’m here. Tell me what you want me to do with my life because I am tired and worn out trying to please everybody else and get a sense of value from everybody else’s approval. God I need you to tell me why you’ve put me here.”
Loved ones, what we’ve said was, your Creator DID make you different from all the rest of us here. He made you different for one purpose and that purpose you’ve to fulfill — none of the rest of us can. If you don’t do it, that bit will be forever missing in this universe. Your God is able to let you know — he can get through to you.
Now you say, “I don’t know how he’ll get through to me. Will he speak out loud? Will he speak through an amplifying system? Will he speak through some other person?” Loved one, he’ll speak deep down in your conscience. It’s just you’re so used to ignoring that, that you can’t imagine he’ll speak. He has a person called his Spirit, it’s the real him. He is able to speak to you deep, deep down to the part of you that has died — because, there is a part of you that has died. There’s a little bit of you, yourself, that died years ago and has been buried under layers and layers of trying to please other people. God’s own Spirit is able to speak to that part of you and begin to make you alive again inside. That’s it.
I’ve quoted this poem before [Yonder See the Morning] written by an English poet, A.E. Housman, who taught Greek in Oxford at Cambridge. I think it’s so good because it says what many of us feel: (cid:160) “Yonder see the morning blink: (cid:160)(cid:160)(cid:160)(cid:160) The sun is up, and up must I, To wash and dress and eat and drink And look at things and talk and think (cid:160)(cid:160)(cid:160)(cid:160) And work, and God knows why. (cid:160) Oh often have I washed and dressed (cid:160)(cid:160)(cid:160)(cid:160) And what’s to show for all my pain? Let me lie abed and rest: Ten thousand times I’ve done my best And all’s to do again.” (cid:160) If you’ve ever felt like that, loved ones, there’s a dear God who has made you, who is able to tell you why he put you here. He’s able to bring that part of you that has died alive again inside. That’s what the new birth is. It’s you coming alive inside. It’s the real you that’s buried underneath all the people-pleasing, and the principle-practicing, and the regulation and rule-obeying-self that has been created. It’s YOU deep down inside coming alive.
Now how do you know? How do you know you have come alive? How can you know that you are born again? It’s interesting, there’s a piece in this Bible that says it. A man called Paul was writing to people who lived in Rome and he said this [Romans 8:16], “The Spirit himself” — that is the Spirit of God, God’s own eye, God himself, his own little self, the very heart of God, the Spirit himself — “will bear witness with your spirit” — with your little eye, the little self that is in deep down inside you, the real you. The Spirit himself, the Spirit of God, will bear witness with your spirit that you’re a child of God. That’s how you’ll know. That’s how you’ll know.
In other words, if you ask God to put his Spirit into you this morning and to make you start living again inside and being fresh again, and beginning to see things new again, and beginning to come alive inside, and be you and not what everybody else wants you to be, but be you, yourself, as you really are, you’ll have a sense of another person being inside you. That’s what it means, the Spirit himself will bear witness with you.
You’ll have a sense of another Spirit being inside you. You’ll sense you’re not living by your own judgment any longer. You’ll sense it’s not just YOU talking to yourself. It’s not just you and yourself inside alone in your own head. You’ll sense there’s another person inside you who is giving you directions and you’ll begin to sense that there is another person, the Spirit of God inside, who is beginning to lead you. That’s what this Bible says. It says, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.” You then begin to sense you’re not just doing things by what you think is right or what you think is best.
You’ll begin to get up in the morning and sense another little impression inside you that is saying, “Now, why not do this today?” And it’s interesting, as you respond to that and do what this Spirit inside you tells you, you’ll begin to hear him more and more loudly in your own mind — sometimes through your thoughts, sometimes through your own spirit, sometimes through your conscience, sometimes even through something that you read — but you’ll begin to be delivered from that prison of introspection in which you’ve been encased in so many years. The Spirit himself will bear witness with you. You’ll find you’re no longer being dominated by rules and regulations. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that.
Sometimes I think we’re the dumbest people alive. I don’t know that I’m for abortion any more than anybody else is, and I don’t know that I’m for any of the other things any more than the rest of you are, but do you not feel sometimes we’re all doing the same thing because we’re all supposed to do the same thing? I mean, the things themselves are good but we are not alive inside. We’re just a bundle of little principle-practicing, rule-obeying, regulation-observing animals. When the Spirit of God comes inside you, suddenly you break into glorious individualism. You begin to sense that you’re doing things because your God actually wants you to do them. The Spirit himself bears witness with you. He gives you a sense that you’re doing these things because God wants you to do them. It’s not because some preacher has told us to do them. It’s not because we’ve read some book and we think it’s good for us to do them. It’s not because we’ve read some self-help book and we think it’ll be good for our psychological makeup or emotional experience, or good for our marriage, or good for our church or good for our job. We’ll do it because we feel GOD wants us to do it — it’s a glorious feeling. He might not want anybody else in the world to do it — but he wants us to do it. Suddenly you’ll begin to sense that there is Someone inside you who is giving you individual directions. That’s part of what the witness of God’s Spirit is, loved ones.
Another part of the witness of God’s Spirit is that he bears what the Bible calls “fruit”. There’s a verse in Galatians (5:22) which reads like this, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” You’ll begin to see that there’s something like a stream of fresh water coming up from inside you. I don’t know how many of you have felt, “There’s a stream of poison coming up from inside me.” I don’t know how many of you have felt, “There’s a huge monstrous self-inside me that I can’t keep down or control?” But loved ones, when you’re born of God there’s a new Spirit of love that begins to come up from inside you. You begin to get up in the morning and feel joy. You begin to find yourself in difficult situations at work, or in the class which are chaos and conflicting and yet, a peace rises up from inside you.
It’s no longer, “Let me get to the first counselor,” or, “Let me get to my friend,” or, “Let me get to a tranquilizer. Let me get something that will steady me and steady my nerves” — but instead, you find there’s a peace that begins to well up from inside that God’s own Spirit is creating inside you. That’s another mark of a person who is born of God. There’s a verse in Romans 5:5 that says that, “We experience the love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” A person who is born again, who is changed by God’s Spirit coming into them, begins to sense an
incomprehensible love for other people coming out from inside their hearts — really.
It’s not that love that just loves because you’re hoping they’ll love you back. It’s not that love that loves just because you’re supposed to love, but it’s a love that is patient and kind, that is gentle, that is not arrogant or rude. It’s a love that is not irritable or resentful, or a love that does not insist on its own way. You begin to sense a love coming from inside your heart that actually wants to put the other people first because you’ll have a clear sense yourself that your Father is looking after you, and you can afford to live for other people and not for yourself.
So the Spirit that comes inside you makes you aware that there’s another person inside you. Have you ever tried being yourself? Have you? It’s the most disgusting disappointing experiment that you ever carry out. You know how you get — you feel, “Yeah, you’re right. You’re right, I’m just a little animal doing what everybody else tells me. You’re right, I’m trying to please my parents here. I’m trying to please my peers here. I’m trying to please the professor here and trying to please my friends here. You’re right. I ought to be myself. I’m just going to be myself and let it all hang out.” And the great ugly creature starts hanging out. It’s terrible! Nobody can stand you. Eventually, you can’t stand yourself and you call the whole experiment off.
Now the truth is, that’s NOT your real self. That’s the miserable selfish monstrosity that has become you since you were born. But the new self that is born again is a completely new being. And loved ones, you find your own spirit bears witness, your own spirit begins to give you a sense that your God really does know you. That’s it. You begin to sense, “He knows me.” You hear me saying it — and I think you love me — and so you believe me, but that’s different from you sensing inside, “My God DOES know me.” You walk under those stars at night and you look up, and you have a sense inside your own breast that says, “God knows me. My Creator knows who I am. He knows me.” You begin to feel you KNOW. You can tell the world, “He knows me. My Maker knows me.”
That’s part of it. You begin to sense that your Maker does know you. He knows Ronald Regan. He knows Leonid Brezhnev — but amazing of all things, he knows YOU and he knows your name. You begin to sense you know what to do with your life and he’s beginning to tell you what to do. Your own spirit bears witness that you are an individual here on earth with a special thing to do that none of the rest have to do.
Do you know loved ones, that it doesn’t matter if you spend your whole life washing floors? Do you know that everyone of us here who has come into any kind of satisfaction in our own lives would say the same thing. We’d say, “Actually, it doesn’t matter what you do? It doesn’t much matter what you do?” Most jobs get down to doing the job, finally — however interesting the job might be — it finally gets down to you have to do the job day after day and be faithful. The truth is it doesn’t matter too much what you do. The fact is, God may want you to wash floors — but if he wants you to wash floors, that will fulfill you completely and absolutely, and that’s the only thing that matters, and it will prepare you for the job he has for you when the universe becomes ours. So, there’s a sense in your own spirit, your own spirit bears witness, “Yeah, I don’t care what my parents think of me. I don’t care what my peers think of me. I don’t care how I look like to other people. I don’t care how important the job seems to be that I have, my God has given me this. He knows that I know, and I know that he knows that I’m doing this because he put me here to do it.”
Boy, loved ones, no money pays you for that. Nothing makes up for that feeling that you’re doing what your Maker put you here to do and he’s the only one whose opinion really counts. You get a greater sense of that. The spirit too bears witness to Jesus and you’re place in Jesus. You know,
a lot of us have real trouble. We say, “Oh, I know what you say. I know what you say but I can’t feel I’m forgiven. I can’t feel God’s forgiveness. Yeah, I know he’s forgiven me and I know Jesus died for me. I know all that — but I don’t feel it. I don’t feel it.” Well, when you’re born of God you have no trouble with that.
The Spirit bears witness to the fact that you were crucified with Christ, that your old miserable self was destroyed with him, and that you’ve been made new, and that God has made him to be sin who knew no sin so that you could be freed from yourself, and that he is no longer counting your trespasses against you, and does not reward you according to your iniquities but he has forgiven you, and you are his own child, and he is your Father, and he has forgiven all your sins. Loved ones, the Spirit bears witness to that. A person who is born of God has no trouble trying to feel that they’re forgiven of God. They KNOW they’re forgiven. They know that their God loves them and has forgiven them and regards them as his own dear child.
Maybe one of the clearest indications that you’re born of God is one that’s put it like this in John, “Hereby know we that we are the children of God by the spirit of obedience that he has given us.” That’s it.
You find that, “Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin”. (1 John 3:9) That is, when you allow God’s Spirit to come into you, you find that the laws and the commandments don’t describe what you “ought to do”, they describe “you”. You find that anyone who has allowed his old self to be destroyed with Jesus and has allowed God’s Spirit to come into him, he doesn’t have any other gods except God. He doesn’t commit adultery. He doesn’t steal. He doesn’t bear false witness. He doesn’t take the name of the Lord his God in vain. He doesn’t have trouble with resentment, and anger, and envy and jealousy. He finds that it’s more natural to do what his Father wants him to do. The reason is that the Spirit of his Father’s Son has come into him and he finds he wants to please him.
He’s like a little boy who has a dear Father that he loves with all his heart. It’s not hard to please that Father. He WANTS to please him. You think back to teachers that you respected. Think back to teachers or coaches that you looked up to. Did you have to beat yourself to bits to obey them? You know you didn’t! You know you almost lived day-after-day to do something that would please them. You wanted to impress them. You wanted them to think that you were good and that you were doing what they wanted you to do. It’s the same when God’s own Spirit comes into you — you find that it’s natural not to sin.
Now I know that’s bad talk in our day. Our society tells us continually, “Oh, everybody, every good red-blooded American gets angry once a week — you must! Every good red-blooded American beats his wife at least once a month. Everybody who is real, and healthy and normal expresses their anger and is human — good human beings.” Really, the Bible says, “good carnal beings” –because so often our psychology studies fallen man and describes what fallen man is like. Fallen man is pretty retched. But real psychology studies the one Man who lived as we were all meant to live, the man called Jesus. He’s the man that lived a truly human life. When we’re most like him we’re most human. That’s why this dear Bible says, “Look, if you’re born of God, you don’t commit sin. Anybody born of God doesn’t commit sin. He can’t sin because God’s nature abides in him.” Of course, it doesn’t really mean he can’t sin. You CAN if you want to, but he finds that he’s acting against his nature if he does.
You know the way before you’re born of God, it’s easy to lose your temper. I mean, you don’t have
to concentrate too much. You don’t have to do a couple of courses at the university on “Temper-Losing” in order to, “I must try today to lose my temper. Let me concentrate.” It’s natural to lose your temper, it seems. It’s just natural to get angry. It’s natural to get irritable. It’s natural to get resentful and critical of other people. Well, do you see when God’s nature comes into you when you’re born of God, it’s natural to do what Jesus does. It’s natural to be like him.
So whosoever is born of God does not commit sin — commit sin in a sense of making a mistake? Oh no, you make mistakes. You’ll make all kinds of errors because you can’t be saved from that. Your mind is still a human mind and you’ll make all kinds of mistakes and errors. You’ll at times do things even that you didn’t know were wrong. You’ll do them and suddenly, you’ll find out it’s wrong, and you’ll feel, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.” But what it means is, whosoever is born of God does not commit sin. “Sin” in the sense in which it’s described in James 2, “Anybody who knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” That’s it –not a high philosophical definition of sin about avoiding the things that you don’t know. You can’t do that. You can’t be as perfect as God himself — but sin in the sense of avoiding the things that you know are wrong. You know those are the things that drive us crazy, aren’t they? I mean, you’re not concerned with all the little fine mistakes you make over things that you don’t know anything about. That doesn’t bring guilt to you. What brings guilt is those wretched things in our lives that we know are wrong, and we try to overcome and we cannot stop them. That’s what drives you crazy.
Now anybody born of God doesn’t commit sin in that he finds it natural to avoid those things. If you say to me, “Oh, does that mean if I have ever sinned that I’m not born of God?” The Bible says if we do sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. So obviously, if you trip, you immediately go to God and you say, “Lord, I’m sorry I didn’t mean that.” And he says, “Son, I know you didn’t mean it. I know you didn’t mean it.” There’s that immediate sense.
Whereas, have you not felt at times that there might not be that sense — that you go to God and you say, “Lord, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it.” And he’d say, “Really? Did you not?” And we wouldn’t be too sure. Now, when you’re born of God, when God puts his Spirit inside you, you find it’s natural to obey. It’s natural to obey where it used to be natural to disobey. That’s one of the clearest signs that you’re a child of God, loved ones.
I’d push you on it yourself — those of you who have children and those of you who would like to have children. Isn’t it true we would really like our children to be like that? I mean, we’d really like to think that we didn’t have to persuade them to obey us. We’d really like to think that they loved us so much that they wanted to be like us. That’s what it is when you’re born of God’s Spirit. You begin to find it’s natural to obey him and natural to avoid sin. Then loved ones, could I just say this, the biggest reason for brothers and sisters in the university not believing in Christianity is not what you think. Many of us think, “Oh well yes, it’s because of evolution, you see,” or, “It’s because of intellectual difficulties that they’re having,” or, “It’s because they really don’t believe in the historical veracity of the Bible.” It isn’t. It’s because thousands, and thousands of people say they’re born of God but they don’t live like God. That’s right. That’s right.
I’ve been on the campus now for 15 years and I know that’s it. I guarantee – I assure you, that’s it. Students of all ages are skeptical of Christianity, not primarily because of intellectual difficulties, but because those who say they’re born of God don’t live like people who are born of God. Now if you sense this morning that some of these things speak to you, don’t cover up the
symptoms. Don’t! Don’t argue about them, don’t rationalize, don’t battle with them. That’s like having cancer and trying to pretend you haven’t cancer. That’s why I started, loved ones, with the illustration about the pink and red pills. Why not go to the medicine cabinet and get the pink pills? Why not go before God this morning and say, “God, I thought I was born again and I thought I was your child. But from that description given this morning, I’m not! So God, I ask you now, will you show me what things I have to leave off in my life so that you can put the Spirit of your Son inside me and make me new? Lord, I want to be myself as you intended me to be. I want to come alive inside. I want to be real and alive with you. Will you show me what I have to put aside so that your Spirit can come in and make me new?” And loved ones, God will do it with you as he did it with me.
He’ll be faithful. He will come into you and you’ll sense a new spirit inside you, and you’ll be a changed person this day. That can be for you if you are really serious about beginning to be a real, alive person and no longer just a robot.
Let us pray.
Dear God, we would ask you to show us if there is any unreality in our lives that prevents you making us what you wanted us to be in the first place. Dear God, if you see any sins in our lives that we have simply been rationalizing, or pretending weren’t there, will you convict us now of those sins so that we can deal with those habits that we’ve got used to, that make us so course that your Spirit cannot dwell within us. Lord, we’ve felt great emptiness at times in our lives and a terrible boredom at times with life itself, and we see that part of it is because we’re managing the whole thing on our own and we really are boring without you.
So Lord God, will you reveal to us if there are any sins that we need to put away and stop doing so that you can bring your Spirit into our lives and make us alive inside. Dear God, if we have done that honestly, and have resolved never to touch those things again, will you now send the Spirit of your Son into us, and will you make us alive inside, Holy Spirit, so that we are able to know God as our own dear Father and to love him, and to love our friends, and our colleagues the way you dear Father, love us. We ask this for your own satisfaction Father and for the sake of our own salvation.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of us now and ever more. Amen.