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Description: If life seems to be generally satisfying--why would I want or need 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
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
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
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
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
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
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