If someone asked you what it means be be a born again Christian, what would you say?
A born-again Christian is someone who has repented of their sins and turned to Christ for their salvation, and as a result has become part of God’s family forever. All this takes place as God’s Spirit works in our lives.
Barna, an organization that does surveys and analysis has performed studies about born again Christians over the years. Here are a few of their headlines:
We’re not going to explore the content of these articles. What is interesting for our purposes is the definition Barna uses for what it means to be “born again.”
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
- Born Again Christians Remain Skeptical, Divided About Global Warming, https://www.barna.com
Barna goes on to describe the term “evangelical.
Do you notice any specific problems with how these organizations define being born again?
The main (but not only) problem with these definitions of being born again is that they focus on the confessions or commitments of the person, and not on the invisible work of God. These definitions are much more sociological than theological. According to Barna, born again Christians do not behave much differently than non Christians. According to the Bible born again Christians are radically transformed by the power of God. According to my reading of Barna’s definition, many born again Christians may end up in Hell. According to the Bible, every single born again person is finally and ultimately saved.
This morning, we will see that regeneration (or new birth) is a work of God that guarantees salvation to those who experience it. This work is solely by God’s mercy, and leads to great humbling and rejoicing in those who receive it, and to great glory for the God who gives it.
We’ll organize the sermon today based on the past, present, and future (though not in that order).
1 Peter 1:3 (ESV)
Before we dive in to our main topic, I do want us to see the overall ethos of this passage. It is filled with doxology. We are still at the beginning of Peter’s letter, and he takes no time at all to burst out in worship and praise to God.
Peter rightly helps us see that even when dealing with deep, mysterious truths about salvation and the decrees of God, we are meant to be in wonder and to respond in praise.
We are going to deal with some theological truths this morning. You’ll need your Bibles out and open. We will be discussing some aspects of salvation that are often misunderstood or mischaracterized. In the end, however, I believe we will be faced with the goodness and mercy of God and be able to say with Peter:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
This first point will wrestle with what the Bible means by “born again” in verse 3. We will start here in 1 Peter, but we will be exploring some other passages in the Old and New Testaments. The theological term often used to describe being born again is “regeneration.” We’ll find that the Bible uses several different phrases to get at this idea of new birth. There are many different facets to salvation—some which are seen from God’s perspective, and some from man’s. It can be helpful to remember that sometimes we use words to summarize the whole thing, and sometimes we are very specific about a particular aspect. Born again is one of those phrases that is often used of the broader idea of salvation, yet, technically should be much more specific.
We’re going to look at eight (or so) aspects of Regeneration in the Bible.
This is right here in our text, but it would be easy to miss. Daniel helped us see God’s mercy in salvation last week when discussing verse 2 and God’s foreknowledge, which is not merely God knowing what will happen in the future, but God knowing his chosen ones (the elect) in a special, relational, covenantal way. In verse 3, we see that there is a special mercy given to God’s chosen ones, the elect, to enable and display this covenant relationship.
Notice that verse 3 does NOT say. It does NOT say that God saved us because of the faith or good works that he foresaw we would have. It is solely on the basis of God’s mercy. God does NOT give us the judgment we deserve. This is completely undeserved; totally unearned. This is what makes it mercy.
There is no ambiguity in our text about who is doing the work. We’ll see this point illustrated in many of the other texts about the new birth as well. This is something that God does, not man. This truth is inherent in the image itself. No baby chooses to be given birth to. Our language doesn’t even work that way. To use an older term, we don’t “beget” ourselves, or choose to be begotten.
To connect this point to the first, if God didn’t cause us to be born again by his mercy, no one would be saved.
Not only is new birth given according to God’s mercy and a work of God, it is also necessary for salvation.
John 3:3–8 (ESV)
- (3) Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
- (4) 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?”
- (5) Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
- (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
- (7) Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
- (8) The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3 is perhaps the most well known passage about being born again. We can’t preach that text today, but I do want you to notice this point, that without being born again, you cannot see or enter the kingdom of God—you cannot go to heaven.
As Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus, before he could even ask his question, Jesus interrupted him and told him that he must be born again. This was a very religious man, and Jesus told him that his efforts at religion could never be enough—he needed something that he couldn’t do himself in order to be saved.
If religion (man’s attempts to access God and achieve salvation) cannot bring salvation, we’re are in a pickle. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews. He was a very religious person.
The fact that religion and self-improvement cannot save us means we are actually in a very serious predicament. We are not merely flawed and in need of help to be a better person. We are dead and must be given life.
Paul uses this language to communicate our situation.
Ephesians 2:1–3 (ESV) — And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Some Christians want to treat this “dead” like the “mostly dead” Wesley in the Princess Bride, only needing a magic pill from Miracle Max. But, this is not the case, we are not just mostly dead in need of help; we are totally spiritually dead in need of new life from outside us.
Thankfully, Paul goes on in vv 4-5
Ephesians 2:4–5 (ESV) — But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Perhaps one of the greatest misunderstandings about regeneration is viewing it as the result of faith. This is understandable experientially. Since we can’t see regeneration take place, and only see the resultant faith and repentance of conversion, we tend to read our experience and observation into the text. This is a mistake.
Temporally, regeneration and faith happen almost simultaneously, but it is theologically and doxologically important to understand their relationship.
We could make the case from Ephesians 2 that faith is part of the gift of salvation:
Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) — For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
But, I think a clearer text comes from the Apostle John. We’ll look at two texts.
1 John 5:1 (ESV) — Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.
Notice which comes first. Those who believe “have been born of God.” If you believe in Christ, you were previously born of God, or born again, or regenerated. We can also see this in John’s gospel.
John 1:12–13 (ESV) — But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Who received him (Jesus)? Those who were born of God. This birth was not based on the will of man, but of God.
Although we must not put faith ahead of regeneration, we also must not separate the two. This is clear here in John 1. Our adoption into God’s family is connected to our faith and regeneration.
We cannot technically observe the new birth. It is mysterious. We already saw this in John 3.
But we also must say that regeneration does bring about visible, observable change. This is a large part of John’s argument in 1 John.
Through the new birth, your relationship to sin changes:
1 John 3:9 (ESV) — No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
Your relationship to loving others changes.
1 John 4:7 (ESV) — Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
This is from our text back in 1 Peter.
1 Peter 1:3 (ESV)
The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that brings us to new life in Christ and unites us to him.
This new birth is also not temporary. It is to an eternal new life in Christ. We’ll look at this more with our inheritance in a minute.
I’m cheating a little here and stealing from someone else’s text in a few weeks. But, Peter mentions the new birth again in verse 23.
1 Peter 1:23 (ESV)
Peter not only connects the new birth to the resurrection of Jesus, but also to the Word of God.
Though the New Testament gives us a much fuller understanding of the new birth, it is in the Old Testament as part of the promise of the New Covenant.
Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Perhaps the connection to this description from Ezekiel is most clearly seen in Titus.
Titus 3:5 (ESV) — he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
Just to recap:
We’ve looked (in depth) at what God has done previously to save us. Of course, if you’re not yet a Christian, this new birth is in your future if you believe.
But now we’ll look at what the new birth will bring us in the future.
We are often motivated and sustained through some difficulty based on what is promised to us at the end. This could be the simple delayed gratification of rewarding yourself with a snickers bar after working hard for some amount of time.
In some sense, the magnitude of the reward is related to the amount of work or suffering you’re willing to endure.
Example: exercise - Oreos
Example: TV Show - “Alone” - $100k
There is a truth in Christianity that God rewards those who seek him. In fact, it is built into how faith fundamentally works.
Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) — And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Peter is telling us something slightly different. He’s not describing “rewards” necessarily, but our inheritance as his children and co-heirs with Christ.
1 Peter 1:4 (ESV)
We have been born again…
This is what is waiting for us in heaven. It’s helpful to compare this to the best that this world has to offer. Consider anything you’d suffer hardship to attain in this life, and you’ll find that it fails in all three of these promises.
Our inheritance will last eternally. We really have no ability to fathom what this means. We can really only think in years, or decades, or at best lifetimes. We will endure a lot for a very short-lived pleasure. But, our inherence that God is keeping for us is imperishable. It never ceases.
We are not born again to a short-lived hope, but to a living hope—that never dies—because it rests in Christ who will live forever.
What good would an imperishable inheritance be if it spoiled over time. So many of the good things we enjoy in this world can be corrupted or spoiled. Ever since sin entered the world, all of the good things God created for our pleasure and enjoyment have been tainted by sin.
The Israelites were looking for their inheritance in the Land, but it was full of Giants, and also full of corruption.
The inheritance we anticipate with confidence is undefiled. It is not, and cannot be spoiled. It is not, and cannot be corrupted. It will remain perfectly whole and pure for all eternity.
Not only is our inheritance imperishable and undefiled, it is also unfading. It take this to mean two things. First, it’s glory and purity and greatness will never wane. It will be as wonderful 3 million years from now as when we first enter in to its fulness. But I also think this promise speaks to our enjoyment of it. Our delight in God’s goodness will never fade, but will endure.
For many of us, when we think of heaven, our unspoken concern is that we will get bored with it. Rest assured, the inheritance that God has for us will never fade, and our enjoyment of it and of God himself will never diminish.
This kind if inheritance is meant to encourage us today, and no doubt, Peter intended on these promises to help his readers endure much suffering at the time.
For Peter’s readers and for us, God promises that he will keep this inheritance ready for us.
Which brings us to our last point.
1 Peter 1:5 (ESV)
Not only is God keeping the inheritance ready for us, he is keeping us.
God is guarding us, protecting us, sustaining us so that we might enjoy this inheritance.
We’re already spoken at length about God’s grace in giving us new birth. Here God is granting us grace to endure well. Our salvation is the accomplishment from God from start to finish.
Also notice that we are guarded through faith.
There is a reason that we need faith in the present—we will suffer trials that threaten our faith and faithfulness to God.
1 Peter 1:6–7 (ESV)
This is both sobering and hope-giving. God does not allow us to endure any trials that he does not intend for our good.
Notice what he says: tested faith is precious—more precious than gold.
It is precious because it will result in praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:8–9 (ESV)
Peter had seen the crucified and risen Christ. His readers (and us) have not.
We rejoice because we have experience God’s mercy.
We rejoice because we have been promised an inheritance beyond our greatest expectations.
We rejoice because God promise to keep us so that we cannot fail to attain his inheritance.
Though we have tasted the goodness of God already through the forgiveness of our sins, and the cleansing of our conscience, there is a healthy emphasis here to realize that we have not YET experienced the fullness of our salvation. This is the already and not yet. We have been saved. We are being saved. But we also will be saved at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
How do I know if I’m born again?
The Prayer Team is here to pray with you.
Song: Psalm 34 “O Taste and See”
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