What does it Mean to be Born Again?
How to Be Born Again
John Chapter 3
Sermon Transcript by Ernest O’Neill
I sense this morning that I should share on “How to Be Born Again”. I’d like to explain, simply and plainly, how to be born again. I thought that was important to do, because the phrase is so popular today. There are so many ideas going around about the new birth, yet the new birth has always been the same down through the centuries. There are not many ways to be born again — there is only one way. Now, I’d ask you if you’d be good enough to forget the things you know about it so we could just coolly, calmly, and quietly deal with this magnificent truth that God has given us.
Why do we need to be born again? Answer: Because there’s a tragic flaw in our personalities. There’s a radical flaw in our personalities. There’s a crookedness in us that we all feel, and we feel it should be straight. There’s a disintegration that we are all aware of, and we feel there should be integration instead. That’s why we need to be born again. The answer is almost the same as anything that comes from a factory and either at the factory or in transit; it was in some way damaged. Then it has to be sent back to the factory and made again. That’s why we need to be born again.
What is the radical flaw? You’ll recognize it, immediately when I give you this illustration. You’re going home one night about five o’clock, to your roommate or to your partner or to your family. You decide, it’s springtime and I feel happy, so I want to make them happy tonight. You buy flowers, or you buy ice cream and you go home looking forward to making them happy. You get home and there’s nobody there. So, you make a cup of coffee, put the flowers in the vase, or put the ice cream in the freezer, and you drink the coffee, but there’s still nobody home. Then, you turn the television on, you watch for a while, and then your tummy rumbles, so you have another cup of coffee. Then you get out the potato chips and you have some while you sit there for about another half hour.
Then, an unbelievable thing happens right alongside that beautiful, kindly, generous desire you have to make them happy. There springs up another attitude that is utterly different. It’s an attitude that begins to say, “Where on earth are they?!” and it just grows and grows. The two desires are going along inside and it’s unbelievable to you. You can’t imagine how, an evening that was to be so perfect, could turn out to be so lonely and tummy rumbling. At last, they arrive home at 9:30P.M. and tell you that they forgot to mention they were going shopping that evening.
Well, they don’t meet an ordinary human being. By this time, you are a raving lunatic and you lay on them every error they ever committed over the past centuries. You tell them off for spoiling your evening and as you stalk up to bed, a corner of your eye catches the sight of the flowers, or the ice cream that you were going to use to give them such a happy evening, and your heart just sinks.
That’s what I mean, loved ones, about a radical flaw in our personalities. All of us human beings are aware that there is one side of us that seems to want to be unselfish, good, kind and outgoing. Now, alongside that there is another side of us that wants to be cruel and selfish — to take in for itself. It’s as if we’re schizophrenic. It’s as if there isn’t one personality inside us, but there seem to be two. There seems to be a Dr. Jekyll who is kind, loving and unselfish, and there seems at the same time to be a Mr. Hyde who is cruel, selfish and hates.
Our world is filled with books and techniques of all kinds, for some way to lessen or modify this conflict, so at least we can get on with our lives in some sane fashion. These books continually work on the principle that we should try to lessen the evil side in us as much as possible. We should lessen the evil side of our temperaments by habits of mind control, by ways of thinking about people and ourselves that will somehow diminish the evil to the point where it virtually disappears. But “virtually” is the key word. Because what all of us have found is that that’s all these techniques and books ever manage to do. They seem to diminish the evil side of our temperaments to the point where it almost disappears.
But somehow we find that what we’re really doing is trying to encourage the good side of us to be stronger and stronger so that it can control the bad side of us. Now we’ve discovered that the good side only wants to do that so far, up to a certain point. Then we find that the good side that we’re trying to encourage seems to break away in all directions itself. It seems to be shot through with evil too, and there comes a time when even it doesn’t want to control the bad side. And so we find that the two are so inextricably mixed that at times we can’t tell when the good is uppermost and when the evil is uppermost, or when one is winning and the other is losing.
We’ve got to the point where we see you just can’t tell. For a while it seems the good is working and then that good seems to break away in all kinds of directions shattered. It seems the only thing to do is to destroy the whole thing and start all over again. And that’s why we need to be born again. There’s a radical flaw that runs right through the center of each of our personalities that it is utterly debilitating and destructive to anything we want to be. And that’s always what we’re saying: “The good side is fighting against the bad side so that I can’t do what I want to do.”
Now, how did that come about? Where did those good urges come from? Well, loved ones, those good urges come from the remains of the influence of the Spirit of your Creator, inside you, and there is that influence in us. Even the worst person here in this room, has part of the influence of the Spirit of our Creator inside them, which at times that produces good urges — good, outgoing, unselfish desires to help other people, even if it means having to forget ourselves. Those urges come from the remains of the influence of God’s Spirit in your life.
You can see that God Himself is clearly that kind of person. He is generous to the nth degree. God is extravagant in his generosity. Think of these spring mornings, one bird, two birds? No, a whole Hallelujah Chorus! One bird is whistling, the other’s chirping, and all kinds of singing is going on. Look at water: there’s a lake here, a lake there but all two thirds of the earth’s surface is covered with it — covered with water. There’s plenty of salt in it so that we can deluge the French coast with oil and the mighty sea will keep lapping it until after three years it’s washed it all away. Underneath the ocean there are colors that none of us will ever see, and yet, that’s our God. He is generous, and extravagant and outgoing all the time. The urges you feel to be like that, come from the remains of his Spirit inside you.
Now, God Himself is absolute love. He made you completely unique, and sent you here to earth to do work for Him, in bringing his world into the center of his will. And he gave you a love and a life of his own that you can express in a unique way that nobody else can. He intended you to come and do a definite job for him, and then because you would work so closely to Him, you’d sense his approval upon your life, and you’d just be content. You’d go to bed each night, really content with your situation. Of course, because you’d fit in to his economic scheme for the World you’d have all the money, and all the clothing that you’d need. So, you’d live your life in a real sense of contentment and peace, because you were doing what your Maker sent you to do.
Now, the security, happiness, and the sense of significance that comes from that original plan of God for your life — some of that still remains in you from time to time, and sends up an odd, unselfish act or kind word. That was God’s plan that you would have so much security, happiness, and significance that you could spend your whole life pouring that out to other people. And so the remains of that are still in you, and at times you can get up on a spring morning, and you can feel “all is well with the world.” There are odd moments in your life when you could sense, “yes, things are right, and life is great.” At those moments you’re able to send out some kindliness, or some unselfish thoughts for somebody else.
But of course, what happened was that our forefathers rebelled against this whole plan that the Creator had for us to pour forth his love and his life. They resolved that they would live their own life, and be their own god. And however intimate was the Father-child relationship that God had planned, they said, “No, we don’t want that, we want to be our own gods. We want to set our own directions for our own lives. We want to pick our own jobs. We want to make our own happiness, and we want to establish our own security.”
And so our forefathers, years ago, rebelled against that whole plan of God. Of course, immediately they cut themselves off from God, and from the sense of love that he gave them. They had to find it somewhere else. And so, they began to look in other places. That’s when they began to insist on their own rights, their own ways, determine their own goals and get their own way whatever happened to anybody else. And that, loved ones, is what is called sin.
Sin is not individual acts and words. Sin is that whole attitude to God that says: “No, I want to be god. I want to run my own life. I want to determine what I’m going to do. I want to get my own way. I want to decide how much I’m going to suffer or how much I’m not going to suffer.” That sin was bred into our race down through the centuries, and that’s what you find rising up within you at times — that’s it. It’s something that’s bigger than you yourself — that’s why you can’t control it. You notice that if you lose your temper when you know you should keep your temper, if you are irritable when you know you should be patient, if you’re cruel to your dear one when you know you should be loving, you notice that it’s something that seems to take hold of you. It seems to rise up inside you and you can’t control it. Now that’s because it’s sin. It’s a power that our forefathers developed and bred into generation after generation. It’s an attitude to God, and an attitude of self-righteousness in ourselves that is bred into us and passed into us from generation to generation.
Now, as well as that urge inside you that sends up those desires to hurt people and to walk over the top of people, there’s another problem. God made our personalities to work one way – from the inside out that way! You’ve only to look at his Son Jesus, to see how it should be. Jesus did not have a thought for the wounds in his hands, or a thought for the wound in the side, not a thought for his own discomfort. He was always going out to other people, always loving, and always giving out. And that’s what God is like Himself. God planned for our personalities to operate that way — going out. Having the love that we received from Him, we would give it out to others. Having the security that we had from Him, knowing that he will supply every need of ours, we could then give freely to others. Having the sense of significance and identity that comes from doing what he wants us to do here on earth, we could then give other people a sense of worth and value instead of taking it from them.
Of course we cut ourselves off from the source of that love and so inside, we have nothing to give out; in fact, we have a vacuum inside us. So, we began to take in from the only source we could get. We began to try to beat out the other three and a half billion people here on this earth, to get enough food, shelter and clothing for us ourselves. We found, of course, we never had enough. We found we always wanted more. We started to beat out hundreds of other people to try to beat them into a sense of respect for us, so that they would give us some sense of significance. Instead of giving out to others we began to drain from others. Worst of all, we took some of our most intimate relationships, where we should have been giving freely the love that God was giving us, and we began to use our wives and our friends for our own enjoyment. Then, if we had any time left we tried to give them a little — but usually we hadn’t.
And so our whole personality turned in. The personality that was to go out like that, started to work in this way, so that the personality itself became twisted. So we not only had an urge within us of sin — to have our own way and to establish our own rights — but we also had a personality now that became twisted and perverted. It was as if the Spirit of God is somehow still in all of us in some sense. Your little conscience at times is trying to send out something good. So the Spirit of God tries to send out weakly some kindliness and some generosity to other people. But, it’s as if the pure fresh water is there but it can’t get out of the reservoir because the pipeline is now running up hill. The personality is working in this way, and the Spirit is trying to get out. The personality has for years got used to taking in. For years, the personality has been taking in from other people.
The Spirit of God wants to go out to somebody this morning from you and compliment them. The Spirit of God wants to say something nice to somebody through you this morning. But you’ve been so used to trying to persuade yourself in other people’s eyes that you alone are worth complimenting that you’re always searching for compliments, looking for praise, and always looking for men’s approval. So, it’s as if the fresh clear water wants to get out of the reservoir, but the pipe line is running down hill now, and the water can’t get up. Instead all the drain water from the surrounding hills filters down this pipe line. So, inside you, you find a tremendous conflict. Some little weak desires go out to be kind and loving, but coming in is this personality that is utterly reversed and perverted.
Now, loved ones, that’s the mess that we’re in. You can see that every human technique will do nothing but modify that or mellow it out a little. You can see there is a perversion that has taken place in these personalities that you can never fix. No surgery by a physical, medical surgeon will ever do the job. You, yourself can never change that personality — it always wants to come in like that. The only one who can change it is the one who originally made it. That personality has to be utterly destroyed and a new outgoing one that was God’s original plan has to be created. Otherwise, there’s no point in God giving his Spirit of life to us. That dear Spirit will continue to be imprisoned within us and it’ll never get out to others
Now that’s why a new birth is needed. And that’s what God did in Jesus. He took your perverted, reversed personality, and he took all that evil desire to make yourself God, to have your own way, and to establish your own rights in the world at anybody else’s expense. He put that into his Son, Jesus, and he destroyed it there. That’s the part of the gospel that applies to the new birth.
Now, loved ones, it might be good if you just look at it, it’s 2 Corinthians 5:21. It’s the piece that we read as the New Testament lesson. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God took the sin inside
you, (the independence of Him and the urge to be your own god), and he put it into Jesus and destroyed it there. You see in verse 17 that that means it’s possible to create you anew. He did the same with your reverse perverted personality. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Why? Because “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Now, some people think that you can come without the old passing away. There is a light teaching of the new birth today that is popular. It says, “Just believe the Lord — believe in the Lord.” It’s that kind of theory that says, “Sit back and let it happen”, and it just does not work. It does not work. God knows that if the old creation is not destroyed, the new one will be absolutely suffocated. The problem is not God’s unwillingness to give us the Holy Spirit. We already have in some sense the remains of God’s influence of the Holy Spirit within us when we sensed in our conscience that we should do certain things that are right. The problem is not on God’s part. The problem is on ours. Unless we are willing for Him to destroy the old creation completely in his Son, he cannot do anything to recreate us, and to make us born again.
It used to be in the old days, when liberalism ruled in theology, that people said, “Imitate Jesus”. It’s impossible of course because the old self won’t let you imitate Him. But now, there’s a great deal of theorizing; “Just receive Jesus and that’s all you need.” No, you’ll crucify the dear Savior again inside you if that’s all you do. You’ll crucify Him afresh inside you –unless — you are willing for this in-turned personality, for this deification of self to be destroyed in Him.
Now, how do you do it? You can’t do it — only the Holy Spirit can. Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will take of the things that our mine, and he will share them with you.” The Greek word for “share” means he’ll make them real to you. He’ll make them real in your life. Only the Holy Spirit can actualize in you the complete reversing of your personality that took place in Jesus’ death. You can’t do it at all. So, do you see, you’re utterly at the mercy of the Holy Spirit. He’s the one that we’ve to deal with in order to be born of God. We’ve to deal with the Holy Spirit.
Now, the Holy Spirit is already dealing with you this morning and in past days. He has already pointed out some things in your life that evidence that you are working with an in-turned personality, that evidence that you are still deifying self. The Holy Spirit has put his finger on some attitudes in you, some critical attitudes, that are obviously treating everybody else as minions and you as the great god who judges them. The Holy Spirit has put his finger on some actions of yours that are dishonest, some stealing that you’ve done, some dishonest words that you used to other people to make them think better of you than they ought to think. The Holy Spirit has already put his finger on different things in your life that show you clearly that you are not crucified with Christ, and you’re not willing to stop soaking life in from other people. You’re not willing to begin to live on God alone. The Holy Spirit has already pointed those things out to you, loved ones.
The first step in coming to a new birth is agreeing with the Holy Spirit about those things. Stop pretending that they’re just personality shortcomings. Stop pretending that they’re something that you’ll gradually grow out of. When the Holy Spirit points out sin in your life, you need to agree with Him. That’s what “confesses” means. Confess means that you agree with God. That’s what God has said, “If you confess your sins, I am faithful and just to forgive you your sins.”
Now, one of the reasons I wanted to share this morning was that I think some of you are superficial about sin. You’re a little light hearted about sin. I was glad when several couples came to me and
said, “Look, we’ve been living together, and we know that that is wrong. We are both in Jesus and we want to be married.” Do you see that ought not to exist in the heart of a loved one who is born again? So, I say to you, if you’re fornicating, or you’re being promiscuous, forget the new birth! Stop saying you’re born of God. You’re not born of God if you’re still disagreeing with the Holy Spirit on the basic, most plain commandments of the Father. So, you have to start agreeing with Him.
It is the same with those of us who think we’re so religious and continue to be critical of other people and gossip about them. If the Holy Spirit has said, “Agree”, do you agree that that (i.e. gossiping) is not Christ? Do you agree that, that is still you living off the world and off other people? Loved ones you have to agree! If you are going to move into a new birth, or if you’re going to continue to be born again, you must continue to agree with the dear Holy Spirit, who is a sensitive gentleman. He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door (but you’ll have to open the door) I will come in and will sup with him and he with me. If he doesn’t open the door, I won’t knock it down.” The Holy Spirit is unable to actualize the victory of Jesus’ death in your personality unless you respond to Him instantly. I think a lot of you are in trouble, because you’re still arguing with the Holy Spirit. I know it in my own life. I find it less easy to sense the closeness of Jesus or the complete new transformation and creation that he’s wrought in my life if at any time I step back a little from what the Holy Spirit is saying. The first step is confession.
The second step is: Stop doing it! Stop doing it!! That’s what repentance is. Jesus said, “Except you repent, you will all likewise perish.” You must repent. It’s not, be sorry, use up three boxes of Kleenex and say you’ll try harder next time. No! That isn’t repentance. You stop doing the thing, you stop sinning, and you stop it. We’re such weak-kneed little creatures because we accept all the brain washing that anybody gives us.
Of course, we all cry out, “Oh I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!” But, yes you can, you can, you can! Why? Because God has put you into Jesus, destroyed all in you that wouldn’t obey Him, and then recreated you anew. It’s all been done. The thing has been done. All you have to do is act in light of the fact that you’re a new creation. You just do it. Every time Satan says, “But you failed a thousand times before. For years you’ve been doing this thing.” You say, “Yes, but I am a new creation. The old has passed away, and all things have become new. My old self — you are right about that, Satan– but that has been crucified with Christ. And I am now operating on the basis of the miracle that God has wrought in Jesus.” Then you stop sinning.
Loved ones, anybody here who is still sinning wants to sin. That’s right. You can play the noble sinner stuff which I played for years and say, “Oh no, I really want to stop sinning.” No. God has arranged the miracle in Jesus. He has destroyed all in you that used to sin. All you have to do is agree with that and stop sinning — and it’s essential to do it. I don’t know how you all are behaving in your marriages but, if any of you even dream of swearing at each other or touching each other physically in a way that would be hurtful or in a way that would be unkind; you have no experience of the new birth! You are pretending, because one that is born of God’s Spirit, is gentle as Jesus is, as kind as Jesus is, and as pure as Jesus is. That’s what it is – that what’s the new birth is.
The new birth isn’t the old struggle that Plato and Socrates had to endure. The new birth isn’t the struggle that you had to endure where you tried to beat down the evil in order to do good at least sixty percent of the time. The new birth is a mighty change that God works in your heart through faith in Christ, whereby he plants in you the desires of Jesus and the love of Jesus. He does that
if you’re willing.
Loved ones, the heart of the new birth is your willingness. The heart of the new birth is not even believing. It’s not even this; “Oh, receive Jesus!” You do have to receive Jesus, but that’s not the difficulty of the new birth. There’s no problem in receiving Jesus, if you’re willing to let Jesus be Lord of your life. If you’re not willing for Him to be Lord of your life, what you receive is an evil spirit that imitates Jesus. And that’s why you have such an unsatisfactory Christian experience.
Jesus comes in when you’re willing to repent; that is, you stop doing the things you know are sin. If, you say to me, “What if I do it again tomorrow?” then you stop doing it again tomorrow. What if you do it again the next day? Then, you stop doing it the next day. I’m not talking about never sinning. I’m just saying, you set your mind ruthlessly and relentlessly against sin. You determine that you will fight sin in your life at every corner. You declare war, unconditional war, on sin in your life. And you stop it every time you become aware of it. You confess it to Jesus, and you move on in obedience. You keep doing that, until he brings you into a full understanding of what he has done for you on the cross. Loved ones, unless you do that you’re playing with the thing.
Confess! Repent! Consecrate! “I beseech you, therefore brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice unto God; which is your spiritual and reasonable service.” You give yourself to God. You say, “Lord I’m willing to be the kind of child that Jesus was. I’m willing to live as he lived, for you alone. I give myself to you. I separate myself from all other lesser purposes that I had in mind about bank accounts, homes, futures and successes. I give myself to you. Do what you want with my life.”
Loved ones, if you honestly confess, and repent, and honestly with all your heart consecrate, God gives the Holy Spirit of his Son to you. He sends the Spirit of his Son into your heart, and a beautiful new person is born inside. By miraculous, supernatural power, you begin to find sweet water coming out from inside. You begin to find love rising instead of hate. You begin to find a kindly spirit coming out from inside you. Once again you have to almost say “There are two people inside me.” Except now you say, “It must be Jesus inside me because I cannot account for these feelings any other way.”
Loved ones that’s the new birth and it is for you, but only if you’ll have done with sin. I’d be glad just to stand here hour after hour, and you could ask me, “Is this sin? Is that sin?” Do you see that you cannot be born of God and shout at your wife? You cannot be born of God and steal pens from your employer. You cannot be born of God and deceive on the income tax returns. You cannot be born of God and have fights at home and domestic battles. You can’t! Why? Because Jesus never did those things. He does not do those things now, and if he is in you he is not doing those things.
If you say to me, “Oh well, does that mean that I can never sin?” No, but every time you do sin you realize it’s an alien thing. So, at this moment as you sit there, your heart rises and you say, “Brother, I at times fall but I know those are wrong, and I am fighting them with all my being. I am determined by God’s grace to live clear and clean of these things.”
You’re either doing that or you’re sitting there and saying, “Ah well, I’ve to do my best and try to improve. I’ve to try to be better than I am, but I don’t see how. I don’t see how I can avoid being selfish with my wife or cruel to my children or cynical about the people at school. I don’t see it.” You’re right you see, it’s your heart, it’s the heart. It’s not even the outside performance –
(though surely, it will show on the outside performance), but it’s the heart. Does your heart stand against sin at every turn in your life? Or, does it compromise with it? The new birth brings you into cleanness. I pray you’ll know that God brings you to it.
Let us pray. Father, thank you that it’s so clear. Thank you that you talked about it as life and death. Thank you that you talked about it as light and darkness. Thank you that you talked about it as day and night. Thank you Lord that you made it plain. There is absolute contrast between those of us who are born of the flesh, and who are still insisting on our own way, wanting our own rights, and using other people to get the love and security that we need. There’s a complete difference between that and your children who want only your way, only your rights upheld, only to do your will in sharing your love and security with others.
Lord, thank you, that there can be no mistaking what is a valid new birth and what is a counterfeit. No Lord, we want to come into the reality ourselves. So Holy Spirit, will you show each one of us where we’re disagreeing with you, where we’re still pretending that we hate sin, where we’re still calling something our infirmity or our weakness when it is really downright sin. Show us when we’re regarding something as justifiable because of the particular kinds of artistic or scientific personalities that we have. Holy Spirit, show us where we’re not calling sin, sin in our lives. We see that the first big step towards you is to agree with you. It’s to stop bickering, stop questioning and rationalizing and agree with you. We are to agree with you against ourselves.
Then Holy Spirit we see that we have been put on the cross and that we are new people. There is no reason why we can’t obey our God if we’re willing to stay on that cross with Jesus. We can simply stop sinning. We commit ourselves to doing that. Dear Father, you have put up with so much from us. Lord, we do not any longer want to stab your Son to death in our lives. We want to give ourselves to you to be what you want us to be, and to live the kind of life that you want. So now, Lord will you feel free to pour your Spirit through us, and we’ll let Him out every time he wants, for your glory.
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 evermore. Amen