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Normal Christian Life

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Lesson 13 of 40
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What is the New Birth?

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What is the New Birth?

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

I think there are many people that say, “Oh, I’m born again,” when what they’ve done is they’ve started to believe that there is a God, or they’ve started to believe that there may be a real Jesus Christ, or they’ve started to believe that maybe it is possible to have your sins forgiven, or it’s maybe possible to change your way of life. They say, “Ah, that’s the way I think. I’m born again.”

Now loved ones, Jesus once said, you remember, in that chapter that we read — he referred to being born again. In John 1, John said in interpretation of those words, “Who are born not of blood, or of the will of man, or the will of flesh, but of God.” Many of us are just being born of the flesh when we refer to the new birth as a change in the way we think about things.

Now others of us think we’re born again because we’re born once. That is we say, “Now wait a minute. This is a Christian country. America is a Christian country. Look, ‘In God We Trust’ on the coins and my parents were Christians. Really, our home was a good Christian home — no murders, no fornication. We were a good Christian ethical bunch. I was born into that group and I approve all the things you Christians approve. I approve of them. I think they’re good. I’m for all the things you’re for. I believe that Christianity has done more for the world than any other religion. I am for Christianity and I’ve always been Christian. I’ve never been anything else but Christian. I’ve always thought this way. I’ve always approved the things that Christians approve of. I always oppose abortion. I vote for the right politician and I read the right books. I’ve always been Christian. I don’t know what you mean by being “born again”. I think I was born again the first time I was born. I’m just a unique phenomenon in the world that happens always to have been Christian.”

Do you not think that there are many of us that have really nice personalities? Isn’t that true? I mean, there are many of us that have really pleasant personalities. We just had good dads or moms, and we’ve just inherited a lot of their kindliness and their goodness. And we tend to identify being born again with having a pleasant personality and on the whole, a loving attitude to other people and we feel, “I’ve always been like that.” Now loved ones, that’s being born of blood and it’s not what being born again is. Some of us say, “Born again? I’ve always been Lutheran.” Or, “I’ve always been Baptist. In fact, not only have I always been Baptist, but I’ve been baptized. Right, the whole deal, water over the top and everything.” “I’ve been Baptist,” or, “I’ve been Lutheran,” or, “I’ve been Methodist. I’ve always gone to church. I’ve always belonged to the right group and the right religious Lion’s Club. That’s me. If there’s a groupie, I’m a groupie. I’m in the right bunch. And isn’t that being ‘born again’, being with the crowd that are going to get into heaven? Well, I’m with them.” “I’ve always been a Lutheran. “I’ve always been a good Baptist.” “I’ve always been a good Methodist. I’m born again.”

Loved ones, the tragedy with so many brothers and sisters who say that “I’m born again because I’ve changed my intellectual approach to life,” or “I’m born again because I’ve always thought this way — I was born in a good Christian family,” or “I’m born in a Christian country,” or “I’m born again because I belong to the right church or the right group,” is that they share the same desperate psychological disease that fills the lives of so many who don’t believe in God at all. That is, they don’t think they’re worth anything. They have a great problem with self-esteem. They have a great problem with self-worth. They have a great problem feeling that they’re worth anything. They

have a terrible inferiority complex and they feel, “Ah, I’m nothing and I’m going nowhere.”

Now loved ones, a person who is really born again does not have that problem. But I think many of us who think we’re born again but aren’t really, have the same problem as all the other people in this world. Almost everybody else in this world has a real problem with self-esteem, with self-worth, with feeling that they’re of any value to anybody. It’s not hard to find out why they think that. Most of the world really thinks that there is no God or, if there ever was a God, he’s forgotten about us years ago. So you’re left with that neurotic conclusion that we must be on our own here — and then after you determine that, you begin to think, “What am I doing?” You begin to realize, “I’m sitting on a sphere.” And then you say, “Well, well the sphere must have a good solid foundation,” and then the word comes back from the old satellite pictures. “No, it has no foundation. There’s nothing underneath. This sphere is in space whirling around.” And you begin to think, “Well, well, at least it’s staying in one spot!” And they tell you, “No, no! It’s whirling hundreds of thousands of miles an hour spinning like that and then it’s whirling around planets missing them every time, century after century — you hope.” And you begin to think, “Wait a minute! I don’t even do this kind of thing in my car. I drive it. I steer it. I control it. I’m not sitting on something that’s whirling around madly.” And you begin to realize, “This is a pretty tentative situation I’m in.” And it’s not long loved ones, before you begin to have a little trouble with angst.

No wonder they talk about angst in our days, that terrible anxiety that comes upon you when you wonder, “Where am I and what am I doing? What is this world about? What am I about?” It’s easy to understand why loved ones would feel that and I think most of the world feels that. That’s why we begin to realize, “Wait a minute! I’m on a spaceship here in space and I don’t know where it’s going!” And then somebody says to us, “Yeah, yeah, but you better eat while you’re here,” and so you decide, “Yeah, I better eat. I better keep alive to see if I can find out where I’m going.” So, we all begin to give ourselves to trying to get enough to eat, and enough to cloth us and enough to keep us safe so that we can survive a little longer.

But it all has a dreadful sick and drunken feeling to it. It’s like being on a bus that is hurling along a highway and at 100 miles an hour — and there’s a concrete wall and you know you’re going to hit it! You know at the end of 70 years, or 80 years, or if you run a lot, 85 or 90 years, you’re going to hit that brick wall and yet, here’s somebody coming along saying, “Chocolate? Cigarettes? Would you like a biscuit?” And you are there, stuffing the old cookies in and drinking the Coke, and all the while you realize, “This thing is going to hit sooner or later” — that is not a happy situation to be in. Yet loved ones, that is the position with most of us who don’t really believe there’s a God. We realize, “This is a terrifying situation I’m in.” Of course, all the world keeps telling us is, “Yeah, but there’s nothing to do but keep yourself alive as long as you can any way.” So we all do that. We run to keep ourselves alive as long as possible. We eat food to do the same. Then gradually, we begin to give ourselves up to that absolutely nonsensical occupation of the person giving out the chocolate, cigarettes and cookies. We begin to get into the same act. We begin to find ourselves breaking our backs to get more food, and to get more cookies and to get more clothing. We find that we devote most of our lives to that — all of us, eight hours a day at least — many of us, much more than eight hours a day simply to keep ourselves alive. Underneath, from time-to-time, in those moments near midnight, you think, “But why am I keeping myself alive?” John Barryman — the poet who taught here at the University of Minnesota and had thrown himself off of the bridge down at the river there — is only one of the many guys who have thought like this, who eventually come to the conclusion, “There is no sense in this! This is hopeless!”

Many of us of course, play the game a little longer. We say, “Yeah, yeah, well there must be some reason for it.” We think, “Well, I am different. There’s something different about me. None of the rest seem to notice it, but I am different. Maybe if I somehow get them to notice that I’m different, maybe that will give me a sense of stability.” So we begin to buy nicer clothes and we begin to try to get bigger jobs, and better executive positions, and better houses, and nicer cars so that maybe they’ll notice we are different, we are better, we’re unique and that we’re significant. There’s something inside us that says, “You ARE different — but still, there are four billion of us in this world and none of the rest seem to think we’re different.” So we get onto this rat race of trying to get better houses, better jobs, better grades. It starts right from the beginning.

It seems to start right from our mom — she gives us cookies when we eat our greens. (We say “greens” in Ireland.) You eat your greens, you eat your vegetables. And your mom says, “I’ll give you a cookie if you eat your vegetables.” So we eat the vegetables and we get a cookie. And then when we go to school everybody seems to praise us if we get a letter for football, and so we see, “Ah, if I get a letter everybody praises me!” And then we get to business and we see, “Ah, if I sell more than everybody else I’ll get a key to the executive washroom. That’ll be the height of significance.” And so we go on, and more and more, we’re becoming like little dogs, begging up, “Give me attention! Give me attention! I’ll do anything! I’ll get a better degree. I’ll sell more products. I’ll do anything to get attention.”

Of course, gradually as it goes on, we feel more and more lost because we sense, “This is unreal. I don’t know what this whole thing is about, and I don’t know why I’m doing all these things and yet, I feel more and more I’m like a little puppet on a string. The strings are attached to my boss at times and I want to please him. At times, the strings are attached to the commercials that I see on television and I want to be what they want me to be. The commercials and the educational posters separate us up into introverts and extroverts, overachievers and underachievers. They tend to make us more and more feel like little puppets on a string — almost like little robots. We’re doing what they want us to do.”

We sense these things until we come to that place that Wordsworth described in his poem. He said,

“Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begins to close Upon the growing Boy. At length the Man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day.”

Somehow the fun of living, and the fun of life, and the fun of being ourselves is all around us when we’re children. More and more of us begin to feel that. We begin to lose the sense that there’s any “me” inside at all.

It’s all intensified by the way our modern technology is going because this dumb computer keeps sending our credit cards back to us and won’t listen to us. And here we are dumbly trying to talk to a computer and we feel, “Am I not something better than a machine? I’m talking to a computer — how mad can you get?” Then we begin to find that the moods, even those we thought were very personal to us, can be influenced by taking certain pills: uppers when you’re depressed and downers when you’re too uptight. When people like Skinner tells us we’re just machines, we begin to wonder, “Yeah, are we? I seem to be just the product of my heredity plus my environment, and I seem to have

no ability to do anything myself or decide anything myself. I wonder is there any “me” inside at all?”

Sometimes it comes to that place, doesn’t it? You perform THIS way for the coach. You perform THIS way for your husband or your wife. You perform THIS way for your religious friends. From time-to-time you wonder, “I wonder what I’m REALLY like? I wonder why I’m here? I wonder am I really different? I feel I am — but it’s almost as if I’ve lost myself now. I feel as if there’s no me inside here at all. I could be put along with all the other executives. I could be put along with all the other ‘B students’, or all the other ‘A- students’. I could be put along with any of the four billion others in this world and I don’t seem very different from any of them.” That loved ones, is the terrible hopelessness that hits so many in our world — and certainly hit me at one time — and I don’t know if it’s ever hit you. Often you come to the place where you think, “I must try to find myself again. I must try to find out who I am. I must try to find out what I’m really like. I must try to be myself.” Then you try to be yourself and that’s worse because what you’ve become is a kind of principle-pleasing, people-pleasing, little self-indulgent animal. If you try to be yourself now, it’s horrible — nobody wants anything to do with you.

All you’re doing is trying to use the things that you see around us and the people you see around yourself to make yourself feel satisfied. It’s very easy to come to the place where you say, “Well, that’s no good. I can’t be myself. Well, maybe I can be what they expect me to do in that sensitivity group. Maybe I can be what they all expect me to be.” Loved ones, I think many of us in our world are at the place where we haven’t a clue who we are and we don’t really know what we’re like. We are like that movie that was produced years and years ago, “Georgy Girl” — that there’s somebody beautiful inside — if it could only get out.

I think many of us are like that. I think many of you are like that. I think there is something beautiful in there but nobody else seems to be interested enough in us to help us find it. The fact is nobody IS because they’re all in the same trouble themselves. The truth is loved ones, you ARE different. You are different. There is nobody like you — there isn’t. There’s nobody like you in the whole world. There is nobody like you in the whole universe. Our Creator made you different from all the rest of us. Even if you’re an identical twin, you know that you’re different from him or her.

Do you realize there’s nobody in China like you — there’s nobody in Africa like you? But then do you realize there never has been anybody like you? There hasn’t! There never has been anybody like you in the whole of the world’s history. Do you realize there never will be anybody like you? Nobody will ever be born who is exactly like you. You are different. The Creator who made us made us all different from each other, You are different from everybody else and he knows that. He knows that this would happen to you. He knew. He knew that we would forget him and start depending on the world and everybody else for our own needs. He knew that we’d become what we have become, the very opposite of what he wanted us to be.

Instead of being individuals that are different, people that are free and fresh and spontaneous, we’ve become stereotyped reproductions of everybody else — and he knew that. He knew that there would come a time when we would bury ourselves over a whole lot of automatic responses and reflections just like Pavlov’s dogs until no longer was it possible for us to find ourselves at all. He knew that. In a great miracle that I don’t even attempt this morning to explain philosophically — though the heart of it is in Einstein’s theory of relativity and the whole fact that there is no such thing as time — but in a mighty miracle in his Son Jesus in eternity, he foresaw the way you

would develop. He foresaw the things that would develop in your life. He foresaw the automatic responses and reflections that now bury you under themselves. He saw the resentments, and the greed, and the anger that would develop in you that you couldn’t control. He put you into his Son Jesus and he destroyed you there in an eternity death that was shown in our era in 29 AD. He recreated you and made you new. He set loose his own Spirit.

His Spirit is really himself and his Spirit is able to make you alive. That’s why Jesus would often say, “There is a real you inside. There is a real you underneath. There’s a real spirit that is you — but at the moment, you’re dead in your trespasses and sins. At the moment, you’re dead in all the things you’re doing to try to make the world work without God. You’re dead. You’re asleep. The real you is asleep inside and I alone, by my Spirit, can show you who you really are and can make you alive inside.” Loved ones, that’s the truth.

There is a real person inside you. There is a unique you. Jesus often called it your “spirit”, but it’s really the real you and it’s the real me. He wants that to come alive because he has put you here to do something that none of the rest of us can do — now that’s true. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a freshman at the Minnesota University. It doesn’t matter whether you’re old and you’ve retired. Your Creator put you here to do something that none of the rest of us can do. He can show you through his own Spirit coming into your life who you are and what he wants you to do. That’s it. He can change you from the inside out. That’s what it means to be born again.

You can see why it’s appropriate because it is like a new person being born — really that’s what it is. It’s the old person who was originally made finding themselves again. If you say, “Well, yeah I mean, a lot of that applies to me. What do I do?” First, believe it. Believe that that’s true. Believe that your Creator has made you unique and different from the rest of us. Believe that deep down you are different, and you’re here to do something that none of the rest of us can do and that your Creator is able to tell you that. Then secondly, believe that he did change you completely in his Son Jesus– he did.

You don’t understand all the details of that now, but you can believe that by faith, that he changed you in his Son Jesus. He destroyed the old self that you were and made you completely new. Then, ask his Spirit to come in and show you. That’s it. That’s the faith part of it, and I agree, that’s pretty dumb if there is no Spirit — but there IS loved ones. God has set his Spirit loose in this world and his Spirit is the power inside you that has often made you feel you should try to find your way to God. It’s the part of you that has often stirred in your conscience and made you feel you ought to do certain things. It’s the part of you that has made you feel, “I am different — I am! I am! People can tell me what they like, but I am different. I know I’m different — not just my name, but I am unique. I feel I’m unique. I’m not the best. I’m not the greatest but I am different. Somebody up there knows that I’m here. Somebody up there will receive me at the end of this life.” It’s the Spirit inside you that has made you feel that.

So what you need to do is turn to that dear Spirit, it’s the Spirit of Jesus, and say, “Lord Jesus, would you help me to find who I am inside? Will you come in and begin to show me what my Maker wants me to do for my 70 or 80 years here on earth?” Loved ones, it doesn’t matter how clumsily you do it or how crudely you do it, God will answer you and his Spirit will begin to deal with you in ways that will be different from all the rest of us here. He will begin to deal with you and begin to show you why he put you here on earth. I pray especially for anybody who feels some of the things that I’ve described — that you’ll do that today.

Let us pray. Dear God, we do thank you for your goodness in making us and confess that we do feel lost at times in this world. At times we get exacerbated because we seem to be nothing but little people-pleasers. So often, we seem to be living a half-life. So often, we are trying to do what everybody expects us to do, and what we’ve been taught to do and not really doing what we believe we are deep down.

So dear God, we do believe that you put us here and that you know that we’re here, and you actually even know our names and that you’ve put us here to do something for you that is different. Everything that you have made has a purpose in it. We believe that you have put us here for a purpose. So dear God, we ask you now, will you send your Spirit into our minds, and into our emotions and into our own spirits? Will you make us alive inside so that we can begin to talk to you and to have some conversation with you? Dear God, we do believe that you did something in Jesus that we can’t understand and that you knew all this would happen, and that not only our computers can project into the future, but YOU can with your great infinite mind. You foresaw that we’d become like this, and that you have changed us in Jesus and that we can have that change made real in us through your Spirit.

So we ask you, dear Spirit of God, will you come and show us what games we have to stop playing in our lives, and what people we have to stop pleasing and show us how to turn to God and start living our life to please him? Lord, we ask this so that you will be satisfied and glad that you’ve made us and so that our lives may begin to go in some direction that it’s worthwhile. We ask this in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.