The following was given as a devotional at Medicalodge,
Neosho, Mo. on Feb. 25, 2001
How many know what it means to be born again? What a simple question, about a subject that we've heard discussed all of our lives, but let's take another look at it to see what the Holy Spirit has to tell us about it. May the Lord open our eyes and ears to see and hear what He would have us to know.
Our text comes from the Gospel of John. We read,
"Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:1-6, RSV).
The Pharisees had the reputation for having the "inside track" to God. They knew the law; they knew the rules; and they knew how to sidestep those rules when it was more convenient to sleaze around them than to keep them. They were highly critical of Jesus' ministry throughout His time on earth. This may be the reason Nicodemus came by night, when there would be less likelihood of anyone seeing him and reporting his behavior to the "in-crowd," the authorities. All of us have read this story so many times, but I'm getting fresh insight into his question to Jesus about what it means to be born again.
My husband Lenny and I have been talking to the Lord and studying the subject of spirit, lately, specifically the fact that we were first created as spiritual beings, in the image and likeness of God before we were created as physical beings. In Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 26, it says, "Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" (Gen. 1:26, RSV). And yet, in Chapter two, at the end of verse 5, we see that "there was no man to till the ground" (Gen. 2:5, RSV). To repeat, Chapter one reports that God created man in His image and likeness, but in 2:5, it says, "There was no man to till the ground." This is not a contradiction, but rather a clue to what the Lord would have us see out of this account. God is a Spirit (Jn. 4:24), and so when we were first created in His image and likeness, we were created as spiritual beings. Later, we read, in verse seven of Gen., Chapter Two, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." First, we were spiritual beings and then, God created a natural, physical body for us.
Adam and Eve were spiritual beings living in a physical body. They walked with God and talked with God and fellowshipped with Him, face to face. God pointed out the beautiful "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and said to Adam, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gen. 2:17). When I was a little kid reading this verse, I was very confused, because tempted by the lies of the serpent, Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit of that tree, but they did NOT die physically, at least not immediately. Their physical bodies continued to live. Later, the Lord showed me that what happened to them was spiritual death, alienation from their creator, separation from all the good things available to them in the Garden of Eden. They died spiritually, lost all contact with God, and were cast out of the Garden. God did this for their protection, lest they eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life and live forever in that state (Gen. 3:22-23). He set an angel with a flaming sword to keep them from returning to the Garden. The spirit of man died, and his physical body would be cursed to eke out a living by the sweat of his brow amongst the thorns and the thistles, wresting his livlihood from the hostile ground. When the physical body died, it would return to dust from which it was made (Gen. 3:17-19). What a come down for these two who had fellowshipped with God.
And worse, they brought all mankind down with them! Paul said that "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." (I Cor. 15:22, ASV). I've always thought it was very unfair for me to be punished for Adam's sin, but notice here that the promise is that even as in Adam, we all died, we were all subjected to the death realm, so in Christ, all, that's A-L-L shall be made alive. My grandfather said that we begin to die the moment we are born. He may have been looking at this in the natural, but for sure, it is true of us spiritually speaking, because we were all born under the curse of death. This is why Jesus had to come to bring us resurrection life and power "And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:15).
This brings me back to the confusion that Nicodemus' question to Jesus has caused. He asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" That was "a red herring" for me and maybe it was for you as well. He was asking how he could be physically reborn, and wondering how such a thing could be possible? His question sidetracked me into thinking of the physical aspects of being born again, when Jesus was primarily talking about what happens to us spiritually. It is true, that there is enormous benefit for us, body, soul and spirit, when we are born again, but when you come right down to it, the born again experience usually has no immediate effect on the flesh. Oh, I have heard of people who experienced healing as a result of giving their lives to Christ, but typically, a person who is "born again" has the same physical defects after the experience as he did before. Thus, a blind man, may still be blind; or a not so smart person may remain not so smart. If that were not so, then everyone would run up front at the altar call to get healed in their bodies, never mind what happens to their spirits.
So what does happen when we are "born again?" Let's go to a statement the Apostle Paul makes in Eph. 1:4. He declares, "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Eph. 1:4, RSV). I hope you can luxuriate in that wonderful, though radical declaration and soak it up in every cell of your body, and every aspect of your soul and spirit. We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world! Before time began, before ever the planet spun on its axis, before God flung the stars into the velvety black night, we were chosen in Him. We were with Him in Spirit, before this grand adventure of life on earth ever took shape and became a reality. Our new birth is all about His will for us, rather than any choices we made for ourselves. We "....were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13, KJV).
Now that fact alone takes away any glory or credit we'd like to try to grab for ourselves by saying that we chose Christ. No, we did NOT! He chose us! Remember that Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44, RSV). If God hadn't drawn you to Himself, then you would not have come to Christ. End of statement; end of self pride in our actions; end of glorifying ourselves. Another statement of Jesus' makes this even clearer. He said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16, RSV). That is so very plain, it's hard to see how so many people miss it, or why so many pastors and preachers rail on the congregation to "Make a choice for Christ, today!" It is impossible for us to choose Christ, unless God has first drawn us. Make no mistake about it, God called us and chose us, Paul says, before the world began, and He even decided the path we would walk. Paul wrote Timothy, "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (II Tim. 1:9, KJV).
I'm sure that it is obvious to everyone that when we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, we were in spirit form. We were not yet natural, fleshly beings, but rather, we were spiritual beings. God combined the spiritual with the natural in Adam and Eve, but alas, when they sinned, their spirits died, and from that time until Christ came to save us, we were all "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13). We were living after "the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Eph. 2:3). Paul continues by saying that "at that time (we were) separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2: 12). This was our inheritance from Adam and Eve's transgression. It was the fine kettle of fish that we found ourselves in prior to being "born again."
What I've been pondering recently, is that when we are "born again," we are taken back to the pristine state we were in before the foundation of the world, before we took on flesh, and before we entered into the death realm via the birth canal. If we were never joined in spirit to the Father, then Jesus would not have said to Nicodemus that he needed to be born AGAIN. To be born again means we were once born of spirit, but lost it through Adam's disobedience, and now need to have our spirits regenerated, which is exactly how the Apostle Paul explains this glorious process by which we are again made one with God. He wrote, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5, KJV). The Holy Ghost renews and restores that which was lost at the fall of man, including the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). The Apostle Peter has two comments about this. "...By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you," (I Pet. 1:3,4, RSV).
In heaven, or in spirit, which is another way to say in heaven, we have a new inheritance. In fact, Paul affirms that God has made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1). "and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6, RSV). He goes on to say that the carnal nature, which we inherited from Adam, has been canceled, nailed to the cross, done away with forever. Paul said about Jesus' actions on the cross, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and (he) took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col. 2:14). Because He did, we can now enjoy the new inheritance which is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." How glorious that is for us to know. The Apostle Peter tells us the divine process by which we are born again, He states, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (I Pet. 1:23, KJV). When we are born again, the seed of God, impregnates our spirit, and like Mary, we give birth to the son of God within us (Rom. 8:29;Gal. 4:19). I want you to know that the word of God which Peter calls the incorruptible seed, is not the Bible, as so many think. The word of God, the living, active, powerful, incorruptible seed of God is the only begotten of the Father who took on flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:1). He regenerated us and birthed us into the kingdom. Without the born again experience, we cannot see the kingdom (Jn. 3:3) nor can we enter the kingdom (Jn. 3:5). But the reverse is true. When we are born again by the incorruptible seed of the Father, we can see the kingdom, which is everywhere around us, and we can enter the kingdom. Lenny and I have come to call our writings, "The Glory Road," and on our Glory Road website, we explain that our writings are a journal, a travelogue of sorts of our journey through the kingdom of God. How sad that the church has projected the kingdom to some far off time in the future when Jesus is supposed to come back and rule and reign on the throne of David in the actual city of Jerusalem. To believe that is to rob yourself and deprive yourself of the magnificent kingdom of God which is our glorious inheritance NOW.
Preachers and pastors tell us that if we will be born again, our lives will be better, and that is true, but most of us think of our lives in physical terms. The man who comes to Christ, who gives up drinking, quits beating his wife and kids, quits stealing from his employer, quits lusting after his neighbor's wife, and starts being a productive member of society is nicer to be around, but something happened to him far beyond just physical improvement. He drank and beat his wife and kids, or he was a thief or a murderer or a liar or a fornicator or any number of other bad things because his spirit was dead in trespasses and sins. He did not know God, and worse, He did not know that God knew him (Gal. 4:9), from his mother's womb (Jer. 1:5), in fact, before time began. When he accepted Christ, his spirit was made alive; he was regenerated by the incorruptible seed of the Father and the Holy Spirit began the process of transforming him into the image and likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:29). When we are born again, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us and He will lead us into all truth (Jn. 16:13); He will teach us about God and He will give us the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16). Sometimes, listening to preachers lay guilt on people, it seems to me they think that something wonderful happened at the new birth, which it most certainly did, but after that, they seem to imply that we're on our own to be good, obey the rules, and hopefully end up in heaven when we die. Paul explains why this is just not so. He said to the Galatians, "Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3).
The answer to living a Christian life, with the power to stop continuing in sin is to know that "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (Gal. 2:20,21, KJV). There's a man in prison in Colorado who somehow found out about our writings, and wrote asking for them. We correspond with him regularly and he's a perfect example of what I'm talking about here. He reads his bible every day. He goes to the services they have in prison, prays, repents of his sins, but still he messes up. He's now in what they call "lock up," which is a prison within the prison. He told us that they have assigned him to a class called "Anger Management" because he has difficulty controlling his temper. For six months now, I have been telling him to QUIT depending on himself and his own efforts to get out of this mess, and start looking to the Christ who was birthed within him. If he could have done better, he would have. Every one of us would do better than we do, if we could, but the human condition is that in the flesh, in the natural, we cannot do any better, no matter how hard we try. Paul said, "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it" (Rom. 7:18). This is why his revelation in Gal. 2:20-21, about Christ living in us is so awesome, so refreshing, so beautiful.
Here's one last thought about being born again. Think of it as going back home. We all came from God. He is the father of us all, and He is the end of the journey for everyone. Listen to this verse, "Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (I Cor. 8:6). God is the prime cause of everything. "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Rom. 11:36, KJV). When I say He is the prime cause of everything, I mean every thing! Paul tells us in Rom. 11:32, that God is the one who consigned all men to disobedience. Now, I know this is not what you've heard in church all your life, and I'm sorry about that, but this is what the Bible says. Look it up for yourself. You can believe it, or not, but as for me and my house I believe it. Why? Because if God consigned all men to disobedience, then we can surely count on Him to do something about it. The high-water mark of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this statement in Romans 11:32, "For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32, RSV). It was God, Paul says in Romans 8:20, who subjected the creation to frustration. But the good news here is that "the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21). That means that God will restore us back to the Garden, which will be pure and pristine like it was when Adam and Eve strolled through it in the cool of the day. There will be no sorrow or sickness or dying, only fellowship with our Father and those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The account of man's relationship with God begins with a garden, and ends with a garden within a city. As our friend Marvin Cope says, there is only one story in the bible, the story of the prodigal son going home to his father.
Here is the Apostle John's beautiful description of what we have to look forward to: "Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 22:1-5, RSV).
"Born from Above," Click Here!
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850
"God is all in all," by Lenny
"Depending on God to teach you," by Lenny
"The Urim and the What?" by Jan
(It's a historical look at how God leads us by the Spirit)
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 2/22/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last edited on 10/30/08.