Wiping Your Feet

shoes

For four years I lived and worked on an island which is famous for its tropical rain forests.  My job was to take groups of tourists and anthropologists out into the jungle to see orangutan, meed tribal people and see the amazing sites.  Being in the rain forest, there was always an abundance of water present – rivers, streams, springs, rain – but when you are hiking and carrying supplies, there is a very distinct aroma one develops after a few days.  Even if you go for a swim (or bath) in the river.  It is indescribably beautiful, but it is also muddy, it is wet, it is hot, and by the end of a few days in the jungle, everyone is filthy.  Arriving in a major city was always greeted by the pleasure of a cleansing shower.  Dirty clothes were sealed in air-tight bags to be washed, shoes were left in the sun to dry out, and every adventurist could not wait to be clean.

Because of the natural habitat and the worldview of the nationals, it is also cultural to take at least two baths a day.  They are exceptionally clean people.  One habit that they have, to maintain their cleanliness is to always remove shoes at the front door.  Americans take great pride in their shoes which help to “make the outfit”, but there shoes are always left outside or right at the front door in a rack so as to keep the house clean.

There was a similar habit in Jesus’ day.  Shoes were left at the door and a servant would actually wash people’s feet as they entered into the household.  The dust which gathered on people’s feet from outside was washed away so that they could still be clean and keep the house clean as well.  Jesus Himself used this as a powerful image to teach us about our personal Spiritual state in relationship to Him.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’  Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’  Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.’  Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’  For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’.”

– John 13.3-11

Apart from Jesus, we are filthy.  We are stinky and muddy, and even if we try to clean up in the jungle river, all of our belongings still reek of sweat, rain and filth.  This Spiritual state is described in various ways throughout Scripture:  we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1-3), we are of the devil (John 8.44), we are enemies of God (Rom 8.7).  Dead bodies stink.  However, once we come to Jesus, He takes away our guilt of sin by placing it on Himself and washes us clean:

“’Come now, and let us reason together,’
Says the Lord,
‘Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool’.”

– Is 1.18

“The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

– John 1.29

However.  Since we are still in the world and since we still have our flesh, we will continue to sin.  We will still get dirty.  When we come to Jesus, He washes us clean and makes us a new creation.  But when we go about life and when we give into temptation and when we choose to sin, we get mud or dust on our feet.  This dust needs to be washed off occasionally, as we enter into the house and presence of God.  This is what we call confession and repentance, and this is what is known as the ongoing process of sanctification.  We are not perfect, and will never be perfect until we shed our flesh and are in the presence of God.

This is why Jesus rebuked Peter, who simply did not understand what Jesus was doing.  “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”  If we have already been washed in the blood, we only need Jesus to deal with the present dirt, we do not need to be saved anew.  However, if we refuse to let Jesus wash away the dirt then we prove ourselves to be filthy and have no part of Him:

‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’

Sin is filthy and wicked and it is that which separates us from God.  If we do not allow Jesus to handle our sin problem, if we do not confess our sins, repent of them and submit to God’s definition of sin in all of our lives and worldview, then we have no part of Him.  We must continually work out our salvation by confessing sin, hating it, and allowing Jesus to wash us clean and change us so that we stop sinning (Phil 2.12, 1 John 1.9).

“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.  You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”

– 1 John 3.3-6

Are you in the habit of letting Jesus wash your feet?  Or did you take a bath after a long trek in the jungle and now assume that you are clean for the rest of your life?  Yes, that hot, revitalizing bath did wash you spotless, but Jesus says that we must allow Him to continually wash the dust from our feet in order to remain clean and prove ourselves to have had that initial washing.  If we do not allow Him to wash our feet, then we were never clean to begin with – just like Judas – whose feet Jesus did wash, but who himself was never cleansed from his sins.  Let us confess our sins, submit to Jesus and be washed anew daily.

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

ambulance

It has been said by some that our salvation experiences are the result of a crisis.  Some even say [heretically] that there are two crises required to achieve a higher, second experience with God.  What does that mean, however?  If by crisis we mean a turning point, then yes.  Absolutely.  Our salvation is the moment of Spiritual birth, when we begin walking in obedience to the Lord and abiding in the Holy Spirit.  A major change happens the moment that we are saved.

If, however, by crisis we mean that something major or tragic must happen in order to turn us to God, then I fear we gravely misunderstand salvation, God and the nature of man, and we turn well meaning evangelists into Spiritual ambulance chasers.

Jesus is not a Spiritual band-aid or medicine to fix our problems.

When Jesus came to the Earth and began His ministry, He met the people’s physical needs.  In fact, we are told regularly that He healed all who came to Him (Matt 4.24).  He gave sight to blind people, He healed sick people and He even raised people from the dead.  He was concerned about people’s situational maladies.  He also preached to the crowds who came to Him for healing!  And while He promised to meet all of our needs to the end of our Spiritual maturity and God’s glory, He never promised that the Christian life would be easy, or would relieve us from worldly suffering.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He promised that in the same way people hated Him, they will hate us (John 15.18-20), and we should consider ourselves blessed when we are persecuted for His name’s sake (Matt 5.12).  Jesus never intended to remove believers from the world, but to empower them to live righteously in  the world:

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”

 – John 17.15

Jesus is also not a supplement, He demands our entire life.  If we wish to find our lives in Him, we must lose them to ourselves (Matt 16.25).  He is not a Spiritual genie that we call upon when the going gets tough, He is our Lord, our boss, our authority as we wade through the trials and temptations of this life.  Life will get more complicated and hairy for those who turn their lives to Jesus, not easier.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

 – Matt 10.34-36

Mankind is Spiritually dead apart from Jesus.

People regularly say that “there is a God-sized hole in each of us”, and that “we are all searching for something”.  Now, considering the fact that God is infinite and everywhere, to have a void of that size would mean we are, in fact, infinite black holes.  If we understood the magnitude of God we would never make such a claim.  We are not beings which God must complete, we are nothing which God must create.  We are Spiritually dead, needing God’s life-breath.

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

 – Eph 2.1-2

Nothing can help dead people.  Only a supernatural miracle can give life to the dust.  Salvation is not Jesus coming in and healing a disease, or filling in a hole, salvation is Jesus giving us life, breathing air into dry, dead bones.  Making something out of nothing.  He takes our hearts of stone away and gives us a heart of flesh, completely making us new, Spiritual, God-inclined creatures:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

 – Ez 36.26

Such a worldview implies that we are fundamentally good and we just need a boost to get us through this crisis and into eternity.  It implies that we are all on a Spiritual journey and we just need direction, we are searching for the light and Jesus is that light.  We are doing it.  However Scripture teaches us that not only are we Spiritually dead, there are none who seek after God, there are none who are righteous, and we are all naturally born enemies of God.

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

 – Rom 3.10-12

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

 – Rom 5.10

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

People have observed that it is often in a moment of crisis that people come to faith.  A child is terminally ill and the parents are desperate to find an answer and a cure.  A man has lost his job and is unable to provide for his wife and family.  A woman is so overwhelmed by depression that she cannot even get herself out of bed in the mornings.  These weak and hurting people are prime for the picking, because they need an answer.

Unfortunately, it is often the reality that this type of conversion is not genuine.  Why?  Because us ambulance chasers are looking for the quick fix.  We promise that God has the answer – a perfect plan for their lives – and once the crisis is over, there is no longer a need for God.  Sure, they might continue to go to Church, they might fix up their behavior so they can call out on God during the next crisis, but they have not understood the promise of salvation.

If we are all born without Spiritual life, if we are all separated from God, and if we all deserve an eternity of damnation because of our sin (Rom 3.23, 6.23,) then our greatest need is not someone to walk us through trials:  heal a sick child, provide a job, or cure depression.  Our greatest need is a savior who can intervene and change the entire course of our lives.  We need Spiritual life.  And when we find Spiritual life, we find our joy and pleasure in Jesus Christ.

Yes, when we are walking with and abiding in Jesus Christ, He will give us the wisdom and strength to walk through unimaginable trials, but if all we want out of Jesus is to get through trials, then we are not saved.  Do you want Jesus?  Or do you just want His benefits and help?

The irony of being a Spiritual ambulance chaser is that we have come to believe that people need to be searching for help because of a trial in order to come to faith.  But then, when we encounter someone walking through great difficulty, we are afraid to tell them about Jesus because we might sound insensitive, or we think that they may be hurting too badly.  This is an ingenious tactic of the enemy to keep us silent.

There are no Biblical examples of people being called to salvation in the midst of or because of a great tragedy in their lives.  Yes, countless people came to Jesus for help, but they turned on Him continually throughout His ministry.  They received help and got through their tragedy, but then could not handle the requirement of His calling.  All of the apostles were busy about their jobs and Jesus simply called them.  Paul was zealously persecuting the Church and Jesus knocked him off his feet.  Literally.  Peter was sent to Cornelius – the first non-Jewish believer – because the Holy Spirit was already working in His life and He was ready to hear the Truth of the Gospel.  God calls people when He is ready.  God breathes Spiritual life into dead bones at His perfect timing.  We cannot generate or predict a conversion based on someone’s life circumstances.

So what?  What does this all mean?  Jesus promised us that the harvest is plentiful.  There are many people out there in whom He is already working (like Cornelius), and they need only to hear the Gospel.  Some of them might be in the midst of suffering.  Most of them are simply going about their daily lives like the apostles were.  And there may even be some who are out trying to kill us – like Paul.  Our fundamental need, and their fundamental need is not a crutch to get through life, it is a savior to redeem us from our sins.  Salvation has to start with a recognition of our sins.  The wrath of God is and will be poured out from Heaven against all ungodliness and sin, and if we have not settled our repentance with God, we have no hope.

We must make sure that our Spirituality is not crisis-based, that we do not only turn to God in our moment of need, and that we do not only desire God’s benefits, but that we desire God.  When we preach the Gospel, we must make sure that we do not promise God’s benefits without explaining God’s expectations.  We must explain new, Spiritual life – not just an answer to a felt need.

And the beauty of all of this is that it is only our responsibility to share.  God breathes the life.  God causes the growth.  If you have shared the true Gospel, then you have done your part!  And we can leave the rest up to God.  If the hearer rejects this salvation, they are rejecting God and not us!

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.7

Can People Be Saved After Death?

heaven and hell

I had a conversation with a friend recently regarding the nature of death and whether or not people will have a chance to be saved after they die.  This is a relatively new belief that was made widely popular by Rob Bell and his book “Love Wins”, and it is defined by theologians as “postmortem evangelism” (PME).  It is certainly a warm fuzzy thought and comfort: that people can get through life and either never hear of Jesus or deny His salvation, but then be given one last chance as they stand at the brink of eternity to choose between Heaven over Hell.

The good thing, and the truth found within this belief, is that Jesus is the only way to find eternal salvation.  It is still exclusive and right in this claim.

But the problem is that Scripture clearly teaches that this is an impossibility.  The author of Hebrews makes a clear assertion that upon our moment of death we will be taken to judgment.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

Heb 9:27

This is a difficult concept to understand.  We know that God, being Spirit (John 4.24) and being the creator (Col 1, Gen 1-3), exists outside of time.  He is not governed by the physical laws that uphold the world (Is 57.15), and the passing of time to God is irrelevant (Ps 90.5, 2 Peter 3.8, Ps 102.12, 24-27).  So it is not only possible but likely that when we leave our physical bodies we will enter into that state of existence where time does not constrain us.  In short, we can go straight from death to judgment – with everyone (even those who are still alive when we die) – at the end of time.

When we go to the judgment, we will go through two phases.  The first is the Great White Throne Judgment where the believers will be separated from the non believers (Rev 20.11-15).  The non believers, at judgment will be sent immediately to Hell.  Then the believers will give an account for the deeds that they did while in the body, the Bema Seat judgment (1 Cor 3.12-15).  This is the time where all of our deeds that were preformed to the glory of God will be refined from our sinful and wicked ones through fire and rewarded to us as Heavenly, eternal treasures:  treasures that we can present to Jesus as gifts.

Not only does Scripture teach that judgment is what awaits us at death, Jesus also taught in a parable of the impassable chasm between Heaven and Hell in his story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  The story teaches us that after death the two were taken immediately to their eternity (through judgment):  Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Heaven/the New Earth), and the rich man to Hell (Luke 16.22).  The rich man could see Lazarus and in his torment begged Abraham to let Lazarus give him a drink of water, but he was denied (Luke 16.23-26).  Abraham told him that the chasm between Heaven and Hell was impassable (Luke 16.26).  No one can go from Heaven to Hell, and no one can go from Hell to Heaven.  Abraham also condemned the rich man for his actions while he was alive and asserted that he was receiving the reward for his wickedness in life (Luke 16.25).

Scripture regularly teaches that our eternal destiny is based on our actions in life, whether to eternal blessing or damnation:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

– 2 Cor 5.10

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

– John 5.28-29

The deeds we preform and the salvation we receive or reject while alive will determine our eternity after death.

We also need to consider the sovereignty of God over salvation.  Paul teaches us that everyone who will come to God for salvation was predestined to be saved before the foundation of the world:

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

– Eph 1.4-6

Those who have been predestined have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21.27), and they have been there since before time began.  This is why Jesus so boldly taught the disciples that God has given some people on Earth to Him, and everyone that God has given to Jesus will come to Him:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

– John 6.37

The sheep analogy is continued and completed in this, as well.  Jesus says that we are His sheep, and His sheep know His voice and come when He calls (John 10.27-28).  Those who are not Jesus’ sheep are goats.  We are fundamentally, by nature, different creatures.  And that is why the first judgment will be the separation of the sheep and goats (Matt 25.31-46).

The last point we need to consider is the command and urgency of the Great Commission and missions.  Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, and the last thing He said as He was leaving the world was “Go and make disciples” of the whole world (Matt 28.18-20).  Paul said that He was obligated to the lost to preach the gospel (Rom 1.14-17).  And we are commanded to be disciples, and part of being a disciple is to make disciples.  If people had a chance to be saved after they left this Earth, then there is no urgency to go and tell.  Why?  Because anyone standing in front of two destinies, a fiery prison of suffering in Hell or eternal blessing in Heaven, will choose Heaven.  If everyone will get to see those options and choose, then there is no point to struggle to take the Gospel to the world.

Ultimately, Jesus taught us that belief in Him, through the Gospel, means that one has already begun their eternal life while alive on Earth.  Whoever does not believe still has the wrath of God abiding on him.

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

– John 3.36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

– John 5.24

And ultimately Jesus taught that those eternal destinies are already determined before life, those who are damned are already judged and condemned even though they might still be physically alive:

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.18

In summary, God has chosen us for salvation from the moment that He created the world.  His plan cannot be thwarted.  When we die, we go immediately to judgment – judgment for our deeds in the flesh and our belief in Jesus – and after judgment we will enter eternity in either Heaven or Hell, and the chasm between the two cannot be passed, in either direction.  This is why evangelism is so necessary and urgent, because we only have a limited time on Earth and then we will spend an eternity in reward for our faith or our lack of faith.  No, people cannot be saved after they die.  So let’s get our own salvation established and then let us be obedient to the ultimate call of Jesus to go out and make disciples of the world, so that we can be obedient and we can spend eternity with our brothers and sisters from all nations!

You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

deception

There once was a missionary effort in a Muslim country where the nationals adamantly asserted, “To be from here is to be Muslim”.  The work was hard and slow as the small team scoured the region looking for anyone in whom the Spirit was moving, anyone who would believe.  After years, there were a few here and a few there who had believed, but the follow up and discipleship work was poorly executed.  Being secluded with a new faith and not even a Bible to read, these people were left extremely vulnerable.  Shortly thereafter, Jehovah’s Witnesses came in and led these new believers astray.  Years later, a new wave of missionaries came through and were surprised to find random Jehovah’s Witnesses in these remote areas, and only learned this tragic reality from their conversion stories.

Jesus taught a parable of different types of seeds that fall to the Earth.  Some fall on the hard ground and the birds eat the seeds before they can take root.  Some fall on rocky soil and grow up quickly, but are scorched by the sun because they are unable to take deep root amongst the rocks.  Some fall in the midst of thorns and weeds and are choked out.  And some fall on good soil and grow strong – producing fruit.  The hard soil into which the seed does not penetrate it is one who hears the Gospel and denies it – never understands it.  The rocky soil is one who hears the Gospel and receives it but has no depth of root or transformation, and when persecution and trials arise he falls away and abandons the faith.  The weeds represent wealth and/or worries of the world that consume someone and his faith withers away because of his love for and focus on the world.  Lastly, the good soil is one who hears the Gospel, establishes deep roots, and grows fruitfully (Matt 13).

The new believer who is deceived by a false religion like Jehovah’s Witness could be the young plant in the rocky soil or amongst the thorns.  He could be deceived by the promised pleasures of a false religion, or he could be tempted to fear the consequence of not following the false religion (be it persecution or spiritual consequences).  Either way, the lack of growth of the seed proves the seed to not be in the good soil.  If one remains in this state, Jesus says he will not be saved eternally.  We see this terrifyingly severe admonition in the fifth church Jesus addresses in His revelation to John, the Church in Sardis:

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.1-6

The Church at Sardis had a great reputation.  People from all around took note of the good things that the church was doing, and/or the numbers that they were drawing.  Everyone thought Sardis was alive and thriving because of their outward success, but Jesus terrifyingly pronounces them to be dead.  The Church as a whole was preforming “good deeds” in their own power, and Jesus was not a part of it.  He bids them to wake up and to strengthen that small remnant within them who still had some Spiritual life, but are about to die.  They are about to be choked out by the weeds or scorched by the sun.

Jesus says to the Church, “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God”.  This is not to imply that more good deeds and service will merit salvation, rather it is the truth that works must be the result of salvation and love (James 2.18).  We must have good works, if we do not serve God with our strength, our minds, and our hearts, we prove ourselves to not be saved(Matt 22.37).  He has created us to do good deeds (Eph 2.10).  But our deeds are only completed when they are driven by a love and respect for God through our humble reception of His grace which is our salvation.  This Church had heard the Gospel and twisted it so slightly that they looked extremely religious and holy to the outside world, but had neglected the inward transformation which God requires.  They were white washed tombs (Matt 22.37).

Jesus affirms, however, that they had heard the true Gospel, and he implores them to remember the foundation and to repent.  He warns them that if they do not repent, they will suffer eternity in Hell.  The stakes here are extremely high.  He again points out the fact that there are a few left in their midst who are alive, and Jesus promises to redeem them on the last day and to clothe them in white.  Their sins have been covered and washed clean, and they are clothed in white which represents their purity before God by the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus will be their advocate at judgment day and they will enter His rest.

This is a terrifying reality, as are all of the warnings Jesus gave to the Churches.  Jesus is addressing and warning the churches – and our churches – about eternity.  He is not speaking about preference, He is not speaking about our level of reward in eternity.  He is speaking about Heaven and Hell.  The stakes are most severe, and the consequences are of utmost importance.  If we deceive ourselves and follow the actions and deeds of the church without having been transformed from the heart, we are damned to Hell.  And Jesus says that churches can thrive in the eyes of the world and other Christians, yet be dead.

This is why Paul teaches us to continually be aware of the thoughts and motives of our hearts, and to be continually conscious of our salvation:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 13.5

While this may seem depressing and weighty, the consequence for not being diligent over our souls is eternal.  Compared to eternity, our lives on Earth is a vapor, like a breath that disappears on a winter’s morning.  We experience it slowly now, but in eternity we will be grieved that we did not slow down and examine our hearts.

Let us not find ourselves on judgment day to be dead.  Let us nurture that baby plant, removing the weeds and digging up the rocks that might thwart our growth.  Let us help our brothers and sisters in our church do the same, so that our churches will not only look good from the outside, but will be a thriving body which is recognized and honored by God.

How do you know that you were born?

baby

Yesterday I wrote on eternal life and how it begins at the moment of Spiritual birth, and not at the moment of physical death.  Jesus taught Nicodemus clearly that in order to be a child of God, one must be born Spiritually.  No one is a believer in Christ if he has not been born again, born Spiritually.  We cannot go to Heaven when we die unless we are born Spiritually.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”

– John 3.3-7

So that begs the question, “How do you know that you were born again?”  As your mind starts running to answer the question, stop and consider your physical existence.  How do you know that you were born physically?  It is because you are alive!  No one would go and pull out his birth certificate as proof that he was born.  No one would go search out a video of the birth or a witness who knew his mother when she was pregnant.  No.  We simply understand that all who are alive now were born.  That is how human life and existence begins!  The actions of a man and a woman led to conception which resulted in a new life that was physically born nine months later.

Now, consider again the question, “How do you know that you were born again?”  Is your knee jerk answer to say, “I asked Jesus into my heart”?  Jesus very intentionally chose the imagery of birth to describe what happens spiritually when we are saved.  No one has any control over when he is born, physically.  It was not your choice to be conceived, to grow for nine months inside of the womb and then to come out into the world.  You were not a Spirit that chose and said, “Now is my time!”  This truth is the same Spiritually.  Paul teaches us that before we were born again, we were dead Spiritually.  There was no life in us:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

We were dead and walking in Spiritual darkness.  When we fumble around in the dark we cannot find our way, but God chooses to reveal His light:

“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

– 2 Cor 4.6

As a dead creature that resides in the darkness, we cannot and will not ever choose to come to God on our own.  It is an impossibility.  It is like someone choosing to be born physically.  And Jesus said that,

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

– John 6.44

God gives faith (Eph 2.8-9), and God grants repentance (2 Tim 2.25).  We cannot have faith or repent in our own strength, that is of the Spirit.

And after the seed of the Gospel was planted in our lives, only God causes Spiritual growth:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6-7

God grants it to some to believe:

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

– Phil 1.29

After God gives us this Spiritual life, He makes us a new creation.  We were one type of creation before having Spiritual life, and then He recreated us into a Spiritual child of God.  We did not create or form ourselves physically or Spiritually.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

– 2 Cor 5.17

Jesus Himself said that no knows God or can see God except those to whom He chooses to reveal Himself and God:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

– Matt 11.27

And ultimately, Jesus teaches us that it is of the will of God alone that we are born Spiritually:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

– John 1.12-13

Now, understanding that Scripture teaches us clearly that the new birth, our Spiritual birth, is not anything that we do or of ourselves, but of God and His will, how do we know that we were born Spiritually?  Asking Jesus into our hearts is not the proof.  Spiritual life is the proof.  In the very same way that we know we were born physically by the fact that we are alive, we can know that we were born Spiritually because are alive Spiritually!  The moment of birth comes at the moment of faith.  The moment that God reveals Himself to us, draws us to Himself, causes us to be aware of our sin and the righteousness of Christ that is made available to us by repentance, we have life.  Then God begins the work of sanctification:  causing us to die to our flesh and be transformed into the image of Christ.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

God began the work of salvation in our lives and He will complete it.  He is the one who is causing our Spiritual growth and maturity, by transforming us.

Does that mean that we are off the hook of responsibility?  Most certainly not!  We know that people go to Hell as punishment for their sins, and we know that we prove ourselves to be of God by our submission to the Spirit.  If we refuse to obey then we ultimately prove ourselves to have never been saved, to have never been of God.  Therefore if we continue in sin we know that the just reward is an eternity separated from God in Hell.  But we also must understand that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit alone that we can obey.  Thus we must seek Him daily, we must rely on His strength and pursue His will.  We must die to our flesh, put away the deeds of sin that we enjoy, and put on righteousness – by the strength and power that He provides.

Are you alive Spiritually?  Do you hear the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin and righteousness (John 16.8)?  When you approach a decision and entertain a sinful path, does the Spirit convict you?  When you choose to sin, do you experience the grief of the Spirit and desire to make right what was wronged?  Do you understand the voice of the Spirit guiding you to make decisions that honor God, that proclaim the Gospel, that obey His word?  Do you enjoy worshiping Him and making much of Him?  Do you have hope?  Do you have peace?  Do you have faith?

These are the markers of Spiritual life.  Not an action that you preformed, a prayer that you prayed or a card that you signed.  Do you know that you were born?

Let the dead bury their own dead.

Grave stones in the snow in balck and white

Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”  But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”

– Matt 8.21-22

There once was a man who was following Jesus who asked permission to go home and bury his father before joining the disciples in following Jesus.  Now, scholars have argued and hypothesized over the meaning of this request for years:  was the father dead?  Did the man need to go just for the funeral?  Or did he want to go home and take care of his father who was elderly until he died?  Or did he want to be there to collect his inheritance?

Regardless of what the man’s intentions and meaning, Jesus’ response was crystal clear.  No.  What did He mean, however, by “let the dead bury their own dead”?  Scripture teaches a terrifying, confusing, and difficult truth:  apart from Christ, we are Spiritually dead.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

– Eph 2.1-7

Jesus also taught that in order to be alive Spiritually, we must be born Spiritually.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

– John 3.3-6

We are alive physically because we have been born physically.  All of us have a mother, all of us were conceived, and all of us were born – one way or another.  Spiritual life is the same.  We are all Spiritually dead or non-existent until we have been born.  This is what Jesus means by, “let the dead bury their own dead”.  Those who have not been spiritually born are dead – dead in their trespasses – and Jesus instructed this would-be disciple to let those take care of their own dead.  This should not be something that hinders our relationship with and following of Jesus.  Apart from Jesus, we are Spiritually dead.  We do not have the Holy Spirit.

“But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.”

– 1 Tim 5.6

What, then, is new birth?  What does it mean, what does it look like to be made alive?

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

– Ez 36.26

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

It starts with the core.  The heart.  God has to give us a new heart.  We cannot get a new heart for ourselves.  We can certainly learn a level of morality, but it is not based on our works; only evidenced by them.  Notice that Paul says we should be diligent to put away the old person with its practices.

But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

– Col 3.8-11

The old self, the dead self, is not simply the evil practices.  It is the being who revels in those practices, who is Spiritually dead, who values things of this world.  The new self is that being who is renewed by knowledge of God, who is refreshed by being with Jesus, who glories in the things of the Lord and all of this is exemplified by good deeds.  Remember the parable of the wedding feast?

“The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.  Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”’  But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.  But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.  Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’  Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.  But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless.  Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

– Matt 22.2-13

When we are Spiritually born, we are given a new heart and a new mind.  We are transformed into a new creature and the old things have passed away.  We must put on the new self, and all of it’s deeds.  We must put on the wedding clothes.  We cannot just iron our old shirt and tuck it in.  We cannot just polish our old shoes and comb our old hair.  We must be transformed and made new.  And we only do that by faith.

Are you Spiritually dead or are you Spiritually alive?  You can dress up a corpse as much as you want, but unless he is born of the Spirit, He will never have life.  He will never produce God-honoring deeds.  He will never be saved.  So let us check ourselves today, look for that Spiritual heartbeat.  Actions and obedience are the outpouring of the new creation who is putting away the old self, who is changing his clothes.  But let us check our motives and be confident that we are alive.

The Life.

waytruthlife

Have you ever stopped to consider what “real living” is?  Many of us are raised in routines, starting school at five years old, going until eighteen, then a new routine of college or work, then starting a career…you know, the basics.  But is that living?  What does it mean to be alive?  Blood pumping through your veins?  Eating?  Talking?  Having activities to do?

On occasion Jesus made fairly radical, and difficult to understand statements.  For instance:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

– John 14.6

Now, we can understand to an extent Jesus saying, “I am the way”.  It is noteworthy, however, that He did not say He would show us the way, rather that He is the way.  If we are on a trip, we need a GPS or a map to tell us which roads to take and where to turn.  If we are intending to go to Heaven, we have to be in Jesus.  We do not follow Jesus down a path, we get in relationship with Him and remaining close to Him takes us to Heaven.  He is the way.

His claim to be “the truth” can also cognitively be grasped, to an extent, in our carnal minds.  Is there truth outside of Jesus?  If we understand Jesus as the author of creation, as God, then we realize that He wrote all empirical laws, He established the order of life, the universe, natural cycles, and dreamed up all intelligence and applications of it.  But what does “the truth” mean?  He is the only way to salvation, no other religions or efforts will earn us eternity in grace.  All other religions and efforts to appease God are lies.  Jesus is the truth.

Lastly, He claimed to be “the life”.  This one, I believe, is the most difficult to grasp.  Paul teaches us that until we come to Jesus for forgiveness, we are all spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We are corpses walking around, living for our flesh.  I have heard it said that apart from Jesus, we are all spiritually dead, though at different points of decay.  Some people look almost lifelike: they are moral, they are kind, they do good deeds, and some people are just bones with all of the flesh rotted away:  the murder people, they commit crimes, they are people that society would lock up in prison and throw away the key.  But our root problem is the same:  we are all dead, spiritually.

Jesus gives Spiritual life.  He gives physical life, too, but to have life – and have life to the fullest – is to be Spiritually alive and abiding in Jesus (John 10.10).  Jesus offers us Spiritual life, and this is the life that is the fullest.  It is satisfying.  It may not be full of physical pleasures, but it affords true joy and eternal hope and peace.  This is life.  Being in Jesus.  Do you have that life?  Or are you a corpse walking around, in some phase of decay?  Or are you assured of eternal hope in Jesus?  If you want to have that life, claim this promise and ask God to make you alive:

“Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.”

– Deut 30.6