PURSUING THE ETERNAL WORD
The Bible teaching ministry of John Lifflander

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN?

"Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’" – Jesus Christ, John 3:7 (NKJV)

Jesus said this to Nicodemus, who was a religious ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus saw the supernatural gifts that Jesus had, and knew that He had to be sent by God. He was trained in the Scriptures and had a high position in society, but he did not understand what God required of him. He did not know that he could have a supernatural experience with God that would change his life forever – but he was honestly seeking the truth when he went secretly to Jesus one night.

In other words, Nicodemus did not know that there is evidence for faith in Christ, which many of us also are not aware of. We have been taught that faith is a blind belief – even most dictionaries define it as belief without support. However, the Bible gives us a very different definition. We read in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." This tells us that faith has substance and evidence, and evidence is not something unknowable, but by definition is something very specific and knowable. So what is this evidence? What proves the claims of a literal heaven and hell that have been the butt of numerous jokes and skits for hundreds of years? How could anyone believe something so prosaic, unscientific, and unsophisticated in a world as modern as ours? What evidence would cause a person to believe in such things?

The question might also be asked as to how one can have evidence of "things not seen?" The answer is that even in a human courtroom the eyewitness testimony of a person is considered evidence. And the four gospels include such eyewitness testimonies. Nevertheless, how can their veracity be confirmed? The answer is that the evidence is supernatural and is confirmed by Jesus Christ. He tells us in Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." The promise here is unmistakable – Jesus is promising to reveal Himself to the person who will open the door of his or her heart to Him. A person cannot eat with another without realizing the other person’s presence. Jesus uses the word "dine" because in the Greek culture eating with a person was considered an intimate matter – a time of friendship and fellowship.

In an old song from years past the singer laments "I’m looking for a miracle in my life." Jesus promises that miracle – something very specific, something life-changing, and something that occurs privately between Him and the person who seeks Him. The only conditions are that the person understands his or her own sin and need for His forgiveness, and seeks to come under Christ’s authority.

Separation in the Garden of Eden

Some reading this have mocked this Genesis story as a foolish old tale. However, to understand what it means to be "born again" one needs to understand that separation from God began when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden. From that time on, man’s spirit became dead to God, and man was lost from knowing why he existed on earth or how he came to exist. When we ask Jesus to forgive us, and turn our lives over to Him, it is then that God gives our dead spirits new life. This is what born again means. We were born as humans into this world, but to know God we must have a spiritual birth. When this occurs, the relationship that Adam had in the Garden of Eden with God before he sinned is restored. For prior to his sin, Adam knew exactly who God is and he even walked with Him in the garden daily. Likewise, when Jesus cleanses us of our sins by His sacrifice on the cross, the lost relationship is restored and we begin a new life with Him.

The Imperative from Christ

"Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’" John 3:3 (NKJV)

Jesus also said this to Nicodemus – and so He says it to everyone in the world. If we are not born again, we will not see the kingdom of God, meaning we are still separated from Him. This is not only an invitation – it is an ultimatum. Grace and mercy are there to be certain, but so also is the clarity of speech. And it is exceedingly clear from this statement that we are not truly Christians unless we are born again. Nevertheless, some reading this have been in church all their lives, or are attending now and feel quite comfortable that they must be on their way to heaven because they feel they are serving God. The question then arises as to how a person can feel comfortable and still be lost. The answer is found in the Bible, where we read: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)

Where is the Logic?

The Bible is then telling us that we can be easily deceived. If we doubt it and are older, let us then consider some of the foolishness we engaged in as youths – or simply mistakes we have made in the past few years. In any event, many of us consider ourselves to be logical, and the whole concept of the world being doomed without Jesus seems illogical to us. Some think it cannot be that extreme.

Let us then pretend we are on the outside, looking in at this planet. We are in the role of an observer, looking at life on earth with curiosity. We see human beings discuss the meaning of life and throw their hands up, unable to come to any conclusion about it. And yet there are a small percentage of people who claim to know the truth. They say that man sinned and must be forgiven or he is doomed. It is not a popular message, nor are these people popular for their beliefs. Nevertheless, they say that if a person will truly repent and ask Jesus into their lives, they will find a relationship with God. They even say this can happen in a few minutes, providing a person is earnest about the decision. However, few respond and seek Jesus for forgiveness.

As this aloof, objective observer, how could we conclude that the majority who refuse this message are logical? They do not know what will happen when they die, and are told by some it will mean eternal torment in hell, and yet they still will not spend even a few minutes seeking Christ for the answer. Moreover, it seems that many of the most intelligent and well educated reject the message even more vehemently. They look condescendingly upon those who believe even though they themselves have no inkling of how they came to exist or what will happen when they die. Imagine to live a whole life, and to be told of such terrible consequences, and then to not make even a slight effort to investigate it. Could anyone be more illogical? As an observer looking at planet earth, would we not wonder why there is so much resistance to this message?

What then is the cause for such reluctance? In the natural realm there is no question that these people appear foolhardy. Why will they not spend five minutes of their life to investigate Christ’s claims? Would it not be reasonable then to conclude that there are forces of some type influencing their minds? Otherwise, why would these people be so cold to the claims of Christ? Let us then see if any of the claims of the Bible can clarify this issue. It tells us that there is spiritual opposition to the truth, due to the rebellion of a powerful angel named Satan who left heaven with many other angels. And so we read:

"…the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." 1John 5:19

"…the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…" Revelation 12:9

The Bible claims there is a mind behind the system. A manipulator who is able to deceive men and blind them to truth. This would certainly explain the lack of logic of those who will not investigate the claims of Christ. However, are people that easily deceived? We look at humanity and its history and see that many admired and lauded a perverted murderer named Adolph Hitler who tried to dominate the world. Although he mercilessly killed millions, many followed him with cheers. Among them were some of the brightest and most intellectual in German society – so we cannot attribute this dedication to a lack of intelligence or education. Then we look at religions which teach people they are doing God great service by going into a crowded area and blowing themselves up. They are convinced that killing as many as they can will be greatly rewarded in heaven! Looking to India, we see people drinking their own urine, and worshiping people they think are gods, as they parade through the streets to be honored. They have been told that the excrement that falls from the animals these "holy men" ride upon is sacred, so they take it and smear it on their heads.

How can these people be so blind – how can they be so deceived? And yet, are we not arrogant to assume that if we were brought up in these cultures, we would not be influenced as they are? Are we not human beings just as they are? Then how can we be certain that our own thinking is not skewed? Can we honestly believe that our logic is perfect? Moreover, if we have not found the truth of life in places we have looked thus far, should we not become open-minded enough to consider the narrow way Christianity presents? What about the haunting feeling that we feel at times – could this be God seeking us? How can we ignore the evidence – the promise He has made us? What will we say if it is all true and we appear before the Judge of the whole earth and have to answer to Him for our sins?

Is Sin Really that Serious?

Everyone reading this has lied, cheated, stolen, and worse. Everyone – there are no exceptions – this is why the Bible says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 (NKJV) But we think, so has everyone else – surely this is not worthy of eternal condemnation – surely God is nicer than that. He would not reject me just because I rejected Christ – it is not fair. This thinking is like the famous Fitzgerald poem, in which he says:

"Why" said another, "Some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss in Hell
The luckless Pots he marr’d in making – Pish!
He’s a Good Fellow, and ‘twill all be well."

And Henley writes:

"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the captain of my fate:
I am the master of my soul."

Is this not the crux of the matter? Fitzgerald and Henley both despise what the Bible states and say what they believe, instead. But what is their belief based on? Will God wink at Fitzgerald’s sin just because he wants Him to? Will the punishments of the Bible for sin not affect Henley because he says he is the captain of his own fate? The whole idea of men stating what is real in the spiritual world is absurd, because they have no knowledge of it. How can one say the Bible is not true without evidence against it – and who has such evidence? And if no one has such evidence, how can we be certain it is not true – especially when the Bible says there is evidence that it is true?

On the one hand we have beliefs of men which only represent what they think things should be like. Essentially they are making themselves God because they say the universe must be ordered in a manner than seems reasonable to them. But they know nothing, and God tells people like them: "…You thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you…" in Psalm 50:21. Why are they so against the Bible? The reason might be spiritual blindness, but they also bear responsibility for that blindness because they choose to stay in it rather then open their hearts to the truth, to Jesus, the Light of the World. Christ speaks of this saying:

"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." John 3:19-20 (NKJV)

Jesus further tells us, in testifying the truth about the world, that "it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil." John 7:7

A confirmation of how far we have drifted is revealed in the Ten Commandments. God tells us that coveting something that does not belong to us is a sin, but today few would consider this a serious matter. Jesus tells us that lusting in our hearts is as serious as adultery, but everything in our society, from all types of media, is geared towards eliciting lust – so much so that it has become a national pastime. We are so far from understanding what constitutes sin, it is no wonder that we think we are okay when we are actually under an eternal death sentence.

Because of our twisted view of the world, we cannot understand God’s righteousness. His ways are also beyond our understanding for He has told us:

"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9

But though His ways are too deep for us to fathom, so also is His mercy, for He also tells us:

"For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him." Psalms 103:11

And because of that mercy, He seeks us in love, asking us:

"‘Come now, and let us reason together,’
Says the Lord,
‘Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.’"
Isaiah 1:18

But Church People are Hypocrites

Indeed we find many hypocrites in the Church, but that proves nothing against Christianity – rather it only corroborates the fact that we live in a fallen place. Many have masqueraded in the disguise of religion – moreover, many have been sincere in their beliefs but terribly flawed and skewed from sin, nevertheless. However, the Bible does not tell us to look at people who go to church to determine the truth of Christianity. If it depended on that, possibly no one would believe. Every person on the planet is a hypocrite to some extent – and that is one reason why Christ died for our sins. We will meet those in the church who will disappoint us as well as those who care about us and bless us.

If God Loves Us Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Terrible things happen in this world. Horrible stories of parental abuse have now become quite commonplace. The thought then is that if God is omnipotent, why are these things allowed? The answer is that God has set in motion a world where people have free will – He has not made us as robots. Consequently one person wakes up in the morning and does everything he can to help others, and another wakes up and tries to shoot people he has worked with for several years. The free will we have been given is a grave responsibility, and is germane in understanding why God judges us for our actions.

People who have been emotionally devastated by earthly parents and others sometimes think of God in a negative light, since it is natural to associate a heavenly father with the worldly. Nevertheless, although God is not the cause of such terrible incidents, He is the cure. We have in our hearts the thought that there is justice somewhere, and that there must also be deliverance for those who have suffered. And indeed there is – but only in Jesus. He tell us: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28 (NKJV), and "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed". John 8:36 (NKJV) These are supernatural promises that are realized in Jesus Christ. We can have rest and freedom not only from the things we have suffered from others, but also from our own sins. It is as close as whispering His name in repentance.

What About Those Who Have not Heard?

The old question is, what about the people in the far away village who never heard of Jesus? The answer is, anyone who wants God will find Him. We know this because God tells us that His will is that everyone would be saved: "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1Timothy 2:3-4 (NKJV)

He would not say such a thing if He were not willing to make it possible for them to know Him, and He also tells us:

"And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13 (NKJV)

Perhaps to this point we have thought that missionaries traveling to remote places in the world were of little value. However, the very people who have not heard will hear of Christ if they seek Him with all their heart. And if there is no missionary, there are many accounts of Jesus appearing to people who seek Him – particularly in Muslim countries. The problem is that due to sin, few find Him because few want to find Him, because finding Him involves admitting our sinful condition. Moreover, few are open to allowing Christ to change their lives so that they may live according to His principles and not their own. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:14: "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."

The Supernatural Experience

The question was asked earlier as to how anyone can believe the extraordinary claims of the Bible. In fact, just the concept that the Bible contains no errors (in the original languages) seems ludicrous to the natural mind. Who would believe an old book that is thousands of years old is from God, and how would one know? The answer is there is only one way for a person to know, and that is through supernatural revelation. The reality of heaven and hell, and all the other Christian beliefs that are held in contempt by the world, seem like foolishness unless the Spirit of God imparts them to a person. This is why God tells us: "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV).

We may say we do not believe, but that does not make it untrue. For if the veracity of something was measured by how many believe in it, the earth would have to be flat, since most of the world believed it was flat until about five hundred years ago. We may think that sin is not a serious matter since we are all guilty of it, but a lawbreaker appearing before a court of law has never been acquitted because he or she pointed out that others have also offended. And we will not be acquitted for that reason when we appear before the judgment seat of God. The commonness of sin does not ameliorate it – it only makes it appear less grievous and more acceptable to those engaged in it. Nevertheless, it is not acceptable to God. We then protest, saying that the standard of His perfection is too strict, and cannot be achieved, and is therefore unfair. God agrees that it is too strict, and this is why He has made things more than fair – He offers complete forgiveness and cleansing of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If we turn it down, we can only blame ourselves.

There is no logic against it, only spiritual opposition. If we come to Him, the truth will dawn on us like a light turning on in a dark room – like something we never imagined could happen to us. That is the promise that God gives us. If we pray, "Jesus forgive me, and come into my heart – I will serve You," and mean that prayer with all our heart, He will not fail to reveal Himself and change our lives. We will get what the old secular song sought for – a miracle in our life, but then we can sing a different song, a believer’s song, which goes like this: "You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart."