Yes, everyone knows it: men don’t read instruction manuals. They somehow feel that they’ve either got it all down, or they’re smart enough that they don’t need them, or that they can do just as well by figuring out things as they go along. Consequently, our culture is filled with stories of how badly things go wrong when men fail to read the manual.
For those who can remember back to the eighties, there was even a television series based solely on one premise: a man living without the instruction manual. The sci-fi comedy/drama The Greatest American Hero featured a schoolteacher who was given a mysterious alien super suit. His only problem: he lost the instruction manual. So, every show was about him desperately trying to use this amazing suit with incredible powers, but always comically messing up because he didn’t have the instruction manual to read. Every week millions of people across America tuned in to watch a guy with the capability to do supernatural stuff fail over and over.
Guess what? That story is more than just a TV show— it’s really the story of the church in America. You see, as Christians we have more than a dorky looking super suit: we have a regenerated soul indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We have the ability to lead truly supernatural lives: to be supernaturally loving, wise, joyful, and self-controlled.
So what’s the problem? Why aren’t we leading supernatural lives? Could it be that part of the problem is that we aren’t paying enough attention to the instruction manual?
Yes, we have the most incredible “instruction manual” ever written: the Bible. In its pages we can learn all that we need to know about God, about ourselves, and about the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. We have all the directions to the “super suit” that God has given us in the new birth. And yet, research studies show that less than 1 in 10 Americans who identify themselves as being born-again have a Biblical worldview.
John Eldredge once wrote, “I need to study the Word of God with all the intensity of the men who studied the maps of the Normandy coastline before they hit the beaches on D-Day.” Do we really have that heart-felt intensity, to study the Bible for all that its worth? Or are we stumbling clumsily through life unable to fly, just because we aren’t studying God’s instruction manual?
I had someone email me with a question on what the Bible taught about losing one’s salvation. Of course, I couldn’t think of the question in any ordinary way, and the thought popped into my head, “That’s just like asking about flying pigs!”
“Sweet niblets! How is losing your salvation like flying pigs!? What was he thinking?” Hmm…. What I was thinking was: if you haven’t been taught what a pig is, then the question as to whether a pig can fly is a perfectly reasonable one. But once you really understand what a pig is, you don’t even think to ask the question, because it’s obvious a pig could never fly.
In the same way, many people wonder if a Christian can “lose their salvation”– can stop believing in Jesus or do something evil enough to go to hell. My answer is that once you thoroughly understand what the Bible teaches about what a Christian really is, then the question becomes meaningless— you know that a Christian by their inherent nature could not possibly lose their salvation.
Unfortunately, many people can spend their whole life going to a church without developing a complete understanding of what being a Christian really means. Some believe it means that they have “given their heart to Jesus” or that they belong to a church or that they once prayed for God to forgive their sin. It’s hard to even come up with a good word to use— sometimes we’ll use the terms “Christian” or “born again” or “saved” or “follower of Christ” or “child of God” without stopping to think that each of those terms may mean very different things to different people.
There’s a good reason for the confusion, actually: salvation in Christ is not just one single thing, but many. Salvation is not just having one’s sins forgiven, is not just being granted eternal life, is not just having a personal relationship with God, is not just being adopted as a child of God, and is not just spending eternity with God— it is ALL of those things and many more. God pulls out all the stops and pours on the blessings when he saves a soul. (You can find my chart of the major aspects of salvation here.)
But of all the different facets of what God does for us in salvation, there is one that often gets pushed to the side in our thinking, that of regeneration. Regeneration is the theological term for what Jesus referred to as being born again in John chapter 3. It is God bringing our souls from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:5). Theologian J. I. Packer states, “The regenerate man has forever ceased to be the man he was; his old life is over and a new life has begun; he is a new creature in Christ.” John Piper in his book Finally Alive writes:
What happens in the new birth is not getting new religion but getting new life. What happens in the new birth is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus but experiencing the supernatural in yourself. What happens in the new birth is not the improvement of your old human nature but the creation of a new human nature— a nature that is really you, and is forgiven and cleansed; and a nature that is really new, and is being formed by the indwelling Spirit of God.
When I study the Bible texts about the new birth, it is abundantly clear that this radical transformation and recreation that God gave to me is irreversible; it cannot be undone anymore than a butterfly cannot return to being a caterpillar. I am now spiritually alive: nothing that I did caused it (Ephesians 2:9) and nothing that I do or don’t do can un-cause it. By its very nature it is a glorious eternal change; there is no way it can be “lost.” Praise God, pigs can never fly, and I can never lose my salvation.
It’s a phrase that has been widely misunderstood for two thousand years, since the first time it was spoken:
“You must be born again.”
The new birth, or what theologians call regeneration, is one of the most stunning and crucial realities of the universe, one which every child of God should thoroughlly understand and rejoice in.
But that’s not how it is. Most church goers have vague, incomplete answers to such basic questions as:
What is the new birth?
Why must we be born again?
How does the new birth come about?
What are the effects of the new birth?
How can we help others become born again?
Those are the five questions answered by Finally Alive, a book by pastor John Piper that takes a comprehensive look at what it means to be born again. He lays out his goals for the reader:
When you are truly born again and grow in the grace and knowledge of what the Lord has done for you, your fellowship with God will be sweet, and your assurance that he is your Father will be deep. I want that for you.
If you know what really happened to you in your new birth, you will treasure God and his Spirit and his Son and his word more highly than you ever have. In this, Christ will be glorified.
In the process of believers discovering what really happened to them, the seriousness and the supernatural nature of conversion will rise and that, I pray, will serve a more general awakening of authenticity in the Christian church so that religious hypocrisy will diminish and the world will see real love and sacrifice and courage in the service of Christ.
If you want Bible-saturated, passion-filled answers to what really happened when you became born again, this is your book. It will both inform your mind and ignite your heart in greater love for Jesus and greater desire to see others come to Christ. It is available for purchase or available as a FREE DOWNLOAD from Desiring God Ministries.
Although it won’t make any “top ten” list of theologically correct movies, Weekend at Bernie’s does vividly teach one very important truth:
Despite your best efforts, there is a difference between someone who is dead and someone who is alive.
Think about it. Two guys go to a lot of trouble to make a dead guy look alive. They put clothes and sunglasses on him just like a person who’s alive. They talk with him. He goes to parties and out on a speedboat. He does a lot of things that live people do.
What’s more, everyone thinks he’s alive, from just casual acquaintances to his girlfriend to the hit man who is intent on killing him(again).
Yea, everything seems to be smooth sailing, except for one little detail: he’s dead.
So, what exactly is this teaching me about Christianity?
Simply this: Bernie has a lot in common with most people, including many people that attend a church each Sunday. They may dress like a Christian, talk like a Christian, hang out with Christians, and do “Christiany” things like tithe and serve the church. They may convince a lot of people that they are a Christian, maybe even themselves.
Yea, everything seems to be smooth sailing, except for one little detail: they’re dead.
No amount of dressing up or going through the motions was going to bring Bernie to life, and no amount of religious activity will bring a dead soul to spiritual life. That’s exactly what Jesus was getting at when he told the religious leader Nicodemus “You must be born again” in John chapter 3.
Don’t settle for a good religious “life” for yourself, or for anyone else you know. What you do or what you appear to be on the outside really doesn’t matter: it’s whether God has taken the dead spiritual heart of stone that you were born with and remade it into a living heart (Ezekiel 36:26).
Have you experienced God remaking your heart? Have you been born again? Then thank God, and seek to grow & live as someone now fully alive.
Or maybe you feel like Bernie, going through all the motions of being a good person, but somehow knowing that something is missing? Maybe what’s missing is a heart that is truly reborn. If so, then watching this video may help show you the path to a life that will last more than a weekend.
A friend showed me his brand new MacBook Pro yesterday. He bought it because it is (of course) the mostly insanely perfect & powerful piece of greatness that a human can possess. However, he is a brand new Apple user, so I was giving him a quick tour of some of the features of the computer. Since his mind had been
corruptedtrained on (gag) Microsoft, he himself could not yet demonstrate to me how insanely great this machine was until his mind had been retrained to think like an Apple user & act like an Apple user.
Hmmmm…. that reminds me of something….
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
Think about this: with the new birth & the Spirit living within us we really do have the most insanely perfect & powerful piece of greatness that a human can possess (yes, even better than a MacBook Pro!).
But…. how many of us truly live transformed lives, lives that are radically different as a result of the new birth, lives that “prove” (or demonstrate, show to the world) that God’s will is perfect?
What does the Apostle Paul say must happen before you can do this, to be transformed to the point that your life can prove that God’s will is insanely great? Your mind has to be renewed. Your mind has to be remolded to understand what it means to love God & walk with Him.
I admit it, I’m an “Apple evangelist”— a term commonly used for people who are so sold on how insanely great Apple products are that they tell everyone around them & try to convince them to buy Apple too.
But it’s not enough to be an evangelist, is it? It’s not enough to get someone to buy a MacBook Pro, or to receive the new birth, is it? It won’t really, radically change your life until you learn to use it.
So, that’s my focus for today: to renew my mind, to change my paradigms, my faulty thinking, so that I can truly be a “power user” of the new birth & live a truly transformed life.
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 again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3 ESV)
Wasn’t this a strange way for Jesus to start a conversation? A prominent rabbi comes in, and confesses to Jesus that he is a “teacher come from God.” At first glance, you might think Jesus might reply, “Yes, you’re right, you’re very perceptive.” “Yes, you have seen the truth.” or at least, “Why do you say that? Why do you think I am from God?”
But, as Jesus often did, he throws Nicodemus something seemingly out of the blue— “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Where did that come from?
If you examine Jesus’ conversations, He often challenged unbelievers along the path of their perceived but wrong opinions. To the rich young ruler he first challenged him about his notion of what being “good” was. To Nathanael he challenged his image of what the Messiah would be like. To the woman at the well he challenged her idea of what thirst was really all about. To Pilate he challenged his idea of how an innocent man would speak before him.
So Christ immediately challenged Nicodemus on his opinion of what spiritual sight was. Specifically, Nicodemus had studied the Scriptures all his life, and was intellectually one of the most learned men in Israel. In addition to his learning, he had lived an exemplary holy and pious life. If anyone in Israel was qualified to know who would be truly from God and who wasn’t, both Nicodemus himself and any other Jew would have said, “Yes, Nicodemus can see.”
But Jesus jumps in and in effect says, “You’ve just said you can see that I’m from God. But you can’t. You’re blind. All your knowledge and all your holiness can’t give you spiritual sight— only being born again can allow you to see the kingdom of God.”
This statement completely blows Nicodemus and his world away. The fact that spiritual sight can’t be attained though even his lifetime of diligent effort— he just can’t comprehend it (well, duh, because he doesn’t have any spiritual sight.) But the spiritual blindness of humanity is a fact. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
It is only after God directly intervenes in our life through the new birth that we can see, as Paul says in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Nicodemus was convinced he could see spiritual reality, but he couldn’t until he was born again. When someone is born again, their eyes are opened to a whole new world of spiritual reality, just as in the movie The Matrix Neo sees his reality in a whole new and deeper way after he is reborn:
So, how should believers respond to this truth from John’s gospel?
First, we need to be thankful to God that He has in His mercy chosen to allow us to have spiritual sight.
Second, we need to pray and strive to use this spiritual sight, to see the Kingdom of God as we journey in this world, in the situations we deal with and the people that we minister to.
Third, we need to know that the battle to bring people to see the Kingdom of God, to see the truth of the gospel, is not just a battle with their emotions or minds or wills, but with spiritual blindness, a battle where we must pray and ask God to remove their blindness and grant them spiritual sight.
One of my favorite early Dilbert panels shows some space aliens coming down to Dogbert saying that they want to share their advanced technology to rid the Earth of disease and bring peace to the world. Dogbert’s reply is “What’s in it for me?”—which prompts the aliens to get back into their spaceship and take off. Dogbert then muses, “I’ll always wonder if I could have handled that better.”
“What’s in it for me?” is the core question in every human heart. The whole structure of our soul is built on our total devotion to our own self interest, ever since the Fall. That is the core question that Adam and Eve asked themselves when they first disobeyed God, and their children have asked it every day since. Whether it is what food we eat, or how we treat someone else, or our goals or aspirations, our natural devotion is irrevocably “what’s in it for me?”
The problem is, humans weren’t designed to live this way—with our programming fixated on the self. As Douglas Wilson once said in a post, with every step we take focused on “what’s in it for me”, we become more hollow, empty, and wretched.
What’s the alternative? It is what we were originally designed for, to be devoted to the glory of God. Our souls were originially designed to continually focus on “What’s in it for God?” Devotion to God was meant to guide our every thought, our every word, our every deed. Through having a life solely and purely focused on God we were meant to live in freedom and love and joy and peace and fulfillment.
Only through Christ, only through the new birth, do we gain a new nature that can shift our paradigm from self to God. This paradigm shift is one part of being in “the kingdom of God”. If you are in a kingdom, if you a subject of the king, your life is consummed with whatever the king’s business is, whatever will benefit and glorify the king, and your joy rests in being a good and faithful servant. When we enter the Kingdom of God through regeneration, then we gain a new heart that is inclined to God, that lives and works and dreams unto God. Living in this new state of “God-devotion” vs. “self-devotion” frees us from so much that brings confusion and pain into our lives and allows us to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
If we have a new heart, we don’t have to be slaves to self-devotion anymore. We can choose to live from our new heart, to live joyous lives of devotion to our God.
Just imagine that this morning you woke up, and God decided to switch your DNA with Lance Armstrong’s overnight. You now have one of the best genetic structures in the world—your bones, your muscles, your heart and lungs, your reflexes, all genetically programmed to have the potential of winning the Tour De France.
All this is yours, an incredilble undeserved gift of God.
Question: Now what would it take to actually win the Tour De France? To live out the potential you now had been given by God?
First, you would have to realize your genetic structure was different, that you had been fundamentally changed.
Second, you would have to understand how you had been changed—if you knew you had been given Lance Armstrong’s DNA but didn’t know who he was or what he was good at, you would still be at a loss.
Third, you would have to train—you would have to bring those qualities to full maturity over a course of time through focused, dedicated discipline. Only then would you be able to win the race.
So it is with the new birth: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17 ESV) A fundamental change takes place in our heart; we are given a complete new set of “spiritual DNA”—all things have become new.
But to realize this potential, to live out what God has done for use, requires the same three things: to realize that we have been given a new heart, to understand the nature of our new heart, and then through time and discipline to train and use our new heart until it reaches the full measure of maturity and potential that God has uniquely gifted us to be, until we fully become the people that God has destined us to be.