Editor's Note: This is an edited version of the recorded Bible study under this title at Truthtellers.org.
Many today claim to have had "the born again experience." George W. Bush claimed it to earn tens of millions of evangelical votes and the presidency. Televangelists and mega church pastors preach, “All you have to do to be saved is accept Jesus into your life.” But they leave out the true meaning of being born again. Jesus said no adult can enter heaven without a transformative spiritual act of repentance and trust in Him. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7) A doctrine of salvation without sincerity has caused widespread skepticism of Christianity.
Is being born again mainly an emotional experience, like the Mormon “burning in the bosom?” Or is it a profound and lasting moral decision, assisted by the Holy Spirit who then changes our motives and actions for a lifetime?
What really happens when a person is sincerely born again?
Jesus said, "Unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3) In New Testament Greek the verb for conversion is “epistrepho.” It means to completely turn around and face the opposite direction. To be converted means that, although we are born into this world self-serving, loyal primarily to ourselves, we can make the choice to repent of our sins and become loyal to Christ for the rest of our lives. This includes learning to love our neighbor as much as ourselves. Being truly born again is the most monumental reversal of our instincts, ambitions and loyalties.
This is impossible without God's empowerment. Jesus said our human ego and the power of Satan are so strong we are powerless to resist sin and give ourselves to God. It’s only through God’s grace drawing us toward Him that we could ever break free from the gravitational attraction of self. Our spirits are mini-gods, made in the image of God. (Psalm 82:6) God says, “I come first,” and is entitled to say so since He is Love and His motives are perfect. Yet when our spirits say, “I come first,” something is very wrong.
God gave us life and all we might achieve through life. When we say life is all about ourselves and pleasures, not about gratitude toward the Giver of Life, we show ourselves colossally unthankful. We offend God who only wants to be our friend.
Imagine you gave your son or daughter on their 16th birthday an expensive new car, capable of speeding them anywhere in style. If receiving and enjoying this gift, they never said “Thank you” or even acknowledged you as the giver, wouldn’t you be justly offended, even very angry? Yet the unconverted man is blind to his need not only to thank God for the gift of life but to worship God, coming into perfect friendship with Him. Natural man sees nothing wrong with ignoring God as if He doesn’t exist. Unconverted man also does not appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus coming to earth and dying in torment for us at Calvary. He did so to create the spiritual power to deliver us from Satan and our egos, so that we could become compatible with a holy God forever. But sinful man couldn't care less.
Is the “born again” experience for real? For those who truly die to themselves as Jesus commanded and trust Him daily, nothing in life is more real. It is the most significant event of our earthly existence. It is like emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis.
It has nothing to do with emotion. Some Christians experience powerful emotions when they first truly commit to Christ. But many people also experience powerful emotions when they walk to the altar at a Christian worship service, before returning to their sin the next day. Many sinners are convinced they’re going to heaven, and some saints worry that they aren’t. Emotion is no barometer of truth. What matters is that our wills are truly given over to God and we live each day trusting Him with both our salvation and our earthly destinies—giving Him control over every aspect of our lives.
How sad when something goes wrong inside the cocoon, and the caterpillar is unable to develop, burst free and soar into the sky. Much sadder is the withering death of those who never choose for God, and never find friendship and life with Him. They die imprisoned in self-worship.
Scripture says, "God is not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance." (II Peter 3:9) Since He is all powerful and intelligent, it is a very small thing for God to hear if you repent and ask Him to save you. Jesus promises, "All that the Father gives me will come to me [in childlike faith], and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:37)
God has done all He can to save you by sending Christ to pay the penalty for your sins at Calvary, drawing you to Himself. Now it’s your time to come toward Him in repentance and faith and turn His direction for the rest of your life. You came into the world for the purpose of making this decision, which determines your eternal fate. Don’t let Satan distract you, saying you can think or act on it later. Scripture says now is the accepted day of salvation. If you've never accepted Christ, you’ve waited far too long. Now is your opportunity to fulfill the whole reason you were created: to become the friend of God and live with Him forever.
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