How to experience Spiritual Birth
How do we truly become a child of God? What should the experience feel like? And why do some of us have a hard time getting there?
God is not some distant being, too hidden for us to know. We can know Him – He wants us to know Him – that is why He said: “No longer will each one teach his neighbour or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:11).
This is not an experience reserved for a worthy few. Every one of us is unworthy, and yet we are all still welcome. But as easy as that may sound, many of us have a great struggle in coming to God. We see other people come to salvation so easily, why then do we have such a battle? Where are the answers to our questions?
We sincerely hope this discussion will provide some help.
OUR PREVIOUS DISCUSSION
In our previous discussion, we showed that God has left us an impressive amount of proof, both of who He is, and His power to affect the course of history. One of those proofs is the Bible's 2000 fulfilled prophecies (a full 2000 more than any other religion's text). Only the God of the Bible has proved He knows the future (therefore stands outside of time), and can declare coming events which no rival power can overthrow. If you missed that piece, you can find it at the following link:
We must then conclude that there is a God, and He alone is God. And if so, then He alone can determine if, or how, we can approach Him. So in this discussion we will explore that path of finding Him.
STRUCTURE OF THIS DISCUSSION
This discussion will start by looking at how God draws men close, and why that is the only possible way to Him. Then we must ask if we are personally being called by God or not. We go on to discuss the obstacles that try to keep us from God. Finally, we will bring ourselves to God, trusting His miracle of a second birth. We close with the evidence that we have been accepted into His family.
ONE WAY TO GOD
The Bible says that there is only one way to approach God, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.“ John 14:6
“Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” – 1 John 2:23
There is a very good reason why Jesus Christ is the only way to God. So let's take the time to explore that:
Usually when we think about approaching God, we think of it from the perspective of us trying to reach up towards Him. But the story only really begins to make sense when we turn the picture around, and look at how God reaches down to us. God is the beginning and the source of everything in creation. So the puzzle of life falls into place when we look at it from that angle.
The entire story of the Bible is one of God searching out people who desire to walk in relationship with Him. He wants a relationship with mankind – that is why He made us. He had a relationship with Adam in the beginning, but Adam chose to sin (which is another way of saying Adam rejected God and chose to obey the serpent's words instead).
“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteousness?” – Romans 6:16
In obeying the devil instead of God, Adam chose to submit himself to a different authority – a different ruler. And so Adam changed camps, if you will, and his betrayal of God broke their relationship. The ripple effect of that choice still touches every human today. Adam fell into the kingdom of sin and every child he fathered, and every child they fathered after that, was born a sinner in that same kingdom.
“But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning.” – 1 John 3:8a
“through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” – Romans 5:12
This leaves God with a great dilemma, because He is holy.
GOD IS HOLY
God is holy, not just some holy – He is all holy. He is perfect, without any spot of darkness in Him, not anywhere.
“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5b
God is perfect truth, perfect light, perfect love – each of these to an infinite degree. Each of them so completely that there is no hint of a lie, or a corruption in Him. His holiness gives His Word power. When He speaks, His truth is so complete, so incorruptible, that all the universe bends towards His words to “make them true”. If He says something will be – it will be – because the very fabric of the universe bows to His Words. It is impossible for us to conceive of His holiness. But that is the problem – we are sinners, we are not holy.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23
When this holy God's presence descended on mount Sinai to meet with His chosen people Israel, “The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain” (Exodus 24:17a). His presence made the Israelites tremble and, “they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ ” Being near His absolute holiness made them so aware of their own sinfulness that they feared His glory would kill them.
We see this again (in Hosea 8 and Revelation 10), where sinners are faced with God's presence and beg the mountains to fall on them and hide them from Him. Even when men have been faced with mere angels, they repeatedly collapsed to the ground as dead men, and angels are just created beings that reflect the light of the truly holy One.
If we then, were to stand in the full brightness of that glory, it would destroy us. Faced with His holiness, our sin would be consumed, just like fire burns up impurities when it refines gold. Only we have no inner “gold”.
“we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” – Isaiah 64:6a
But – let's dream for a moment – what if our sin could be removed? Well then, like the angels, we would be able to survive the presence of God. If there were no impurities to burn up, we could endure the consuming fire of God's glory. So the answer is simple, all God would need to do is forgive our sins and all is well. Only that is impossible. God cannot simply forgive our sins and make like they never happened.
GOD IS JUST
God is holy, which means He has to be just. He cannot allow our sin to go unpunished because that would be unjust. And injustice is darkness. And He has no darkness in Him. Therefore His own holiness compels Him to punish us. Our debt has to be paid.
One day all of creation will have to give an account to its Maker. Before the judgment seat of a Holy God, we will be weighed. His presence will expose every secret thought, every private deed, every evil intention our hearts have ever had. We will stand “naked“, and all will see the things we thought we had hidden. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13).
As the judge He will measure out our punishment – as much as we are due – no more, no less. We make a mistake to think of that judgement as a set of balances, where every good deed wipes away a bad one. No, God's measure is perfect, sinless holiness. One small blemish corrupts us like a single drop of ink discolours a whole glass of water. Every sin will be punished and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
But this is not what God wants. What He longs for, what He truly desires to do, is draw us near and shower His love and goodness on us. But His holiness will not let him do that. So therein lies God's great dilemma – desiring to love us but needing to punish us.
So what does God do?
ONE UNTHINKABLE ACT
The solution was extraordinary! God (Father and Son together), found a way to save us. The Son would come to earth in the form of a man, to live a life of perfect obedience – as a man. In Jesus Christ, God then had the sinless sacrifice He needed for this to work. God had an innocent man (who did not deserve death), who could take on the punishment of the guilty (who God wanted to save from death). In other words: God had a free man He could use to ransom those in captivity.
With Jesus hanging on the cross, God the Father (who, you will recall from Step One, we said is outside the limits of time), collected all the debt of human sin together. All of that guilt He imputed onto the person of His precious Son. In other words, though Jesus was sinless, God considered Him as the man who had committed every sin in human history.
Jesus willingly stretched out His arms to receive that unbearable mountain of shame, and guilt and filth.
“I am the good shepherd... and I lay down My life for the sheep... No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.” – John 10:14a, 15b, 18a
When God looked on His Son in that state – as the sum of all human sin – it put a wedge between them, much like Adam's fellowship with God was broken when he sinned. And Jesus cried out feeling His Father's eyes turn away from Him. God's fury burned against the sin Jesus now represented. And God judged Him. He struck Him with such great force that even the earth shook under it.
“Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’... And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit... and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.” – Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51
Together Father and Son had done something extraordinary! They had pronounced judgement on sin and paid the price of all of that sin. So instead of making us pay, God took the full price of our punishment – on Himself! He spent all His wrath for our sins on Himself.
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2
God's love and His justice came together on that cross. He showed everything He is, in that extraordinary moment.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
The cross & Christ
There is no greater revelation of the character or the heart of God, than in that single act of the cross. Every question we can ask, has an answer there:
Does God love us? Look to the cross and see His love on full display.
Is God just? Look to the cross and see Him offer sin no mercy (not even on His own precious Son).
Is God merciful? The cross is one extravagant act of mercy towards undeserving, sinful men.
Does God want us? Enough to be tortured and beaten and hung on display like the filth of the earth, to buy us back.
How can we become God's children? By trusting in that extraordinary sacrifice that paid the debt of all our sin.
On and on we can go...
Every answer is in the cross and the One who hung on it. That is why the Apostle Paul said:
“I resolved to know nothing... except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2
A divine exchange
He came because we could never deserve heaven. And that is the point: He came to make a way to give us what we do not deserve. He became our ransom – swopping what He deserved, for what we deserved:
So when He took on our guilt, He offered us His sinlessness.
When He took on our wounds, He offered us His wholeness.
When He died our death, He offered us His eternal life.
When He hung naked baring our shame, He offered us His robe of righteousness.
“By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for godliness. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvellous glory and excellence.” – 2 Peter 1:3
God can now consider us to be holy and pure, only because He first considered Jesus to be a sinner guilty of death. God literally takes the list of everything we have done, and everything we are – and then swops our list, for Jesus's list. In God's eyes we trade places. That is how we end up being worthy of heaven – because Jesus lived a perfect life and so earned our place there. He walked as a sinless man, obedient to His Father. And He did that as our substitute. The result is that He has already done for us everything necessary to make us children of God.
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
The Bible teaches that if we could save ourselves, then there would have been no reason for Christ to die on the cross (Galatians 2:21). If we could save ourselves, then Christianity would serve no purpose. But we are powerless to save ourselves and so Jesus Christ becomes our hope. This is why:
“there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” – I Timothy 2:5
Maybe now it makes more sense why Jesus Christ is our only way to God:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6
Only the God of the Bible could find, and accomplish, a way to wash sinners clean again. Jesus is not a way to a God – He is the only way to the only God. It cost so much to make that way, a price He paid because He loves us, and there was no other way.
“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” – John 17:3
So now that we have a picture of how God has said He will save us. What is the process of actually becoming a Christian and receiving all that Jesus bought for us on the cross?
SEARCHING FOR GOD
Before we can find God, we must look for Him. And before we can look for Him, He must call us. This is how the spiritual journey works. It's like a dance, God takes the first step, and then waits to see if we respond. Then He takes another step and waits for us again.
So the first few steps of the process of becoming God's child look like this:
Step one: First God calls us.
Step two: He waits to see if we will search for Him.
Step three: God offers us His truth.
Step four: He waits to see if we will accept His truth.
God must always act first because it is His will and power that makes Christianity possible. True Christianity is not just a set of habits, a culture, or a system of beliefs we adopt. Instead it is the life of God living in and working through us – it is a supernatural walk. In simple terms: Christianity is utterly impossible to do. But God doesn't look for those who can do Christianity – He looks for those who want to be Christians, then His power helps us do it. He must initiate the process (because we can't), so He must first call, but then He will wait to see how we reply (what we choose).
So how can we know if God has taken that first step? What is the sign that we “are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.” – Romans 1:6
ARE WE BEING CALLED?
We have already mentioned that we are born with a sinful nature. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1John 1:8). There is another word for it – we are selfish. When you take a long hard look at every kind of sin, you discover that they all satisfy our desires (our need for pleasure), while harming either ourselves, someone else or both. We sin because it makes us feel good (at least for a moment).
Even the good things we do (that are not sins), deep beneath the surface we find they are done for selfish reasons. We make people happy because they, in return, make us feel good or give us what we want. Behind everything we are always looking out for ourselves. That inner selfishness is our sinful nature at work – it is the evidence of the darkness of our hearts.
Our nature resists God
Because we have a sinful nature, it is natural for us to move away from God. We avoid Him, we dislike His rules and we want to decide what is best for us. We don't want His truth to reveal our secrets, or shine a light on our private desires, which is why our “sinful nature is always hostile to God” (Romans 8:7a).
“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.” – John 3:19
Our point is this: to search for God is actually a very unnatural thing for us to do. It takes an act of divine intervention (a touch of God) to make us start looking for Him. This is God's calling. It simply means He draws us to Himself. When that happens we have the desire to look for Him, to go searching for His truth.
It becomes very easy then to know if we are being called. We simply need to ask, are we searching for Him? Are we reading books, entering conversations or going to places in the hopes of finding Him? Do we long to know what the truth is for ourselves – not just because someone else told us so. If the answer is yes, then we know that He is already at work in our hearts, helping us do the impossible. He wants to draw us near to Himself and we know this because He has already begun to do it.
So that first step is one God takes for us. Then next one is ours:
WILL WE RESPOND TO GOD?
God does not want a legion of slaves, He would have created that if He did. He could easily make us desire Him, but He does not manipulate us like that. Instead, He created this earth to be a “neutral ground,” a space where we are free to decide if we want to be part of His family, and just as easily decide not to be. God is looking for children who desire an eternity with Him. That is why we are given a free will, and a lifetime – to choose or refuse God.
Do we choose Him?
He is our creator, so in effect we already belonged to Him. But instead of claiming His right to us, He sets us free and asks what we want. That boundary God has set for Himself – to never violate our free will – is actually also our first evidence that He loves us. See here how the Israelites (who were already God's chosen people), were offered that same choice:
“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” – Joshua 24:15
Some of us think God should rather give us a nudge into His kingdom – send a sign from heaven, make an angel appear, something more “tangible” like that. But God is extremely gentle with us. He will not force Himself on us and the simple fact is that such a display would manipulate us into choosing Him, and that is not how He wants to win us.
So when we are being called, what is the response God is waiting to see from us? He wants us to search for Him.
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13
“those who seek Me diligently will find Me.” – Proverbs 8:17b
GOD OFFERS HIS TRUTH
Once we start searching for God He will reveal His truth to us. We will hear about the hope God offers us, that through Jesus Christ's death on the cross, we can be freed of our guilt and welcomed into the kingdom of God. And even though we may have heard that story a thousand times before, it feels different this time – the story comes alive. It doesn't just feel like words anymore – it feels like truth.
Because we are searching for God, we are able to be stirred by His Spirit, for the first time, to see the truth. “from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard [in heaven]” (Daniel 10:12). When we set ourselves to find God's truth, He begins to make our hearts more receptive to that truth.
If our hearts are soft enough, just one experience like this will be enough and we immediately grab hold of that message and effortlessly trust in this God who is willing to offer Himself for us. And when we do, we are changed forever. (We will come back to explore this experience in Section Four and Five below). But that is more often the experience of those who are younger.
Some first have to wrestle
More often than not, if we have gone through more hurts, or have travelled deeper into the world of sin, our hearts have become too hard, too cynical for such an easy surrender. For us, this moment is just the beginning of what will be a battle for our souls. Our journey to this moment, and the darkness we have encountered, has sunk hooks into us. It has established strongholds in our belief system, to fortify us against accepting God's truth.
We will have to travel a journey of being loosed from the lies that have become a part of us. This is a journey God is very willing to take us on. (And this is what Section Three below is about). Our part to play will be to, “set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God” (Daniel 10:12).
WILL WE ACCEPT GOD'S TRUTH?
For those who find God's truth harder to accept, that truth will challenge us when it comes. It will confront the lies in our hearts. In other words, it will expose us to God's ways and that will make us feel uncomfortable in all the places we have preferred the lie, over the Truth.
In fact a very effective way to discover the lies in our hearts is to ask God to open our eyes to His truth, and then to read through the New Testament (repeatedly if necessary). Then notice every time the text annoys us, scares us or makes us feel uncomfortable. Whatever is being spoken about in those upsetting texts, will be the places the lie has taken hold of our hearts.
“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” – Hebrews 4:12
The truth wants to save us from our inner darkness. It will not bend to accommodate it. To receive the Truth therefore, we must be willing to bend to it – or more correctly – to Him. He must be Lord of all. The Truth must shape our belief system until we agree with it.
So accepting God's truth means we no longer think we know better. We no longer imagine that our lives will be better off if we have control and make the decisions. We let God shape our understanding of His universe and values, and let God shape the course of our lives as well.
So let's take a moment, to better explore this idea of God's truth, and the lies that try to keep us for Him.
THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE
When God calls us, that spiritual touch we receive does not go unnoticed by the forces of darkness. While most of us do not think of it this way, the reality is that until we enter the Kingdom of God, we are in fact in that other kingdom. We are sinners and therefore sons of the father of sin.
So the moment God stirs us, the devil knows he must respond or he will lose his claim over us. Satan knows better than we do, that the truth will set us free – and that truth is Jesus Christ. So he must do all he can to keep us from finding Him.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am... the truth.’” – John 14:6a
“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” – John 8:31b-32
Everything Jesus is, everything He did for us, and everything He taught us – is the Truth.
Satan, by contrast, is “a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44b). So the most common method he uses to keep us from the truth, is to bring us a lie. If we believe his lie, he has effectively stolen the truth from us. He did that in the Garden of Eden when he offered Adam an alternative reason why God told him not to eat the fruit. Adam believed the serpent (instead of God), and the truth was stolen from him.
The devil does not care which lie we believe, since any lie will do the job. This is why he has dreamed up so many different religions, and so many distortions of Christianity. He hopes we will get lost in the maze of options, unable to discern the one truth out of a hundred lies. It is a very effective ploy.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” – Matthew 7:13.
So when we begin searching for the truth, it isn't only God that replies. Suddenly we have all these various options to choose from. One of those options leads to the one true God. All the others are trying to keep us from finding Him. So how can we know which is which?
THE BIBLE IS OUR GUIDE
God has given us one very powerful tool to separate the truth from the lie – that is the Bible. Of course, because the Bible exposes Satan's deceptions so effectively, he has tried to attack it since the beginning. In our days people's trust in it has been brought lower than ever before. And again, a great tool for doing that has been the writing of so many different versions. But maybe an even more effective tool has been the many different interpretations of the Bible sinful men have imagined.
“our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him... and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” – 2 Peter 3:15b, 16b
Despite all of Satan's efforts, the Bible has been preserved faithfully, and we can prove it through archaeological findings, some of which date all the way back to the time of the Apostles. For more on that see our – LIVING WORD – section.
And as for how we untangle the many different interpretations of the Bible, that is quite simple too. A true and correct interpretation of the Bible, is the one which agrees with every text on the subject. Every single mis-doctrine that is “based on the Bible.” uses only a chosen group of verses, while needing to ignore others. Doing that is kind of like walking into a conversation halfway though. You will misunderstand what is being said, because you only have half of the story to work with. The correct interpretation puts the whole story together.
All the scriptures agree. There is no contradiction in them (only mis-interpretations). So the test of a true interpretation is to look for verses which disprove it. Let's use examples to see how Satan tries to keep us from the truth, with a lie – notice how powerfully the Bible exposes that lie for us:
Twisting the way to God
The truth: Jesus alone (by His obedience and sacrifice), purchased our right to become children of God. Because of what He has done, God can offer salvation as a free gift to unrighteous and unworthy men.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
“Therefore, as through one man’s [Adam] sin judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s [Jesus] righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”– Romans 5:18
The distortion: God does not accept unrighteous sinners. If we do not obey His commands, He will not accept us as His children. As a result, salvation is not simply a free gift, but something we need to earn – either completely by our own efforts, or at least in part by our obedience.
Does the Bible disprove this?
“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:16
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” – Titus 3:4-5a
The conclusion: We cannot be saved by our own obedience, only by placing our faith (or trust) in what Jesus did for us.
Yes, obedience to God is important – it is critical in fact – but it plays absolutely no part in us becoming God's children. We do not become children because we are obedient – we become obedient because we are children. We become obedient after we are saved. Our obedience is a result of God's gift of salvation which changes our hearts to want to obey Him. God does not expect fallen sinners to obey Him, He expects redeemed children to obey Him. Look how clearly this next verse reveals this truth:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us... when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” – Romans 5:8,10a
So any doctrine that says something must be added to what Jesus did on the cross before we can be saved, is a lie because, “His divine power... has given us everything we need for godliness” (2 Peter 1:3a). To say otherwise is to steal away from the extraordinary gift of God's love, and it undermines the power of Jesus's blood to remove our sin. God is both willing and able to save sinners, to wash them clean, and bring them home. Therefore:
“if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” – Galatians 5:4
“I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” – Galatians 2:21
Let's have a look at another way the truth can be distorted into a lie:
Who is Jesus Christ?
The truth: Jesus Christ is Immanuel (God with us). He is the Son of God, who Himself is also part of the Godhead. And as God, He took on the form of a man. The result was the God-man (fully God, and by the strange miracle of the virgin birth, also fully man). Better said:
“For in Christ dwells all the fullness of God in a human body.” – Colossians 2:9
Even God the Father, calls His own Son, God:
“And when He [God the Father] brought His only begotten Son into the world, God said, ‘Let all of God’s angels worship Him’... to the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.” – Hebrews 1:6, 8.
The distortion: Jesus was not actually God. Maybe he was an angel, or some heavenly being that was less than God is, or simply the best of all men. But what does the Bible say?
“Christ Himself was an Israelite as far as His human nature is concerned. And He is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise!” – Romans 9:5
“Christ Jesus, though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” – Philippians 2:6-7
Our minds have a hard time understanding the God of the Bible. He is in every way, too great, too unique, too unlike this earth, for us to fully grasp Him. But we do not have to understand Him, if we could, He would not be very much greater than us now would He? Our journey is to find Him and accept His truth, not to lower Him down to something our minds can comprehend. God did indeed walk the earth as a man:
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” – 1 Timothy 3:16
“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God... So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only begotten Son.” – John 1:1, 14
The conclusion: Jesus was no mere human, He was God in the flesh. The marvel of salvation is that God came down to us, to suffer our torture and buy our righteousness. Jesus Christ was the great revelation of the heart of a loving God too hight to grasp, and too deep to understand. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15a).
Do we dare to believe?
“Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at My hands. Put your hand into the wound in My side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe! And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” – John 20:27-28
The Bible exposes every lie, and leads us into God's truth. If we will only let it do a work to shape us, teach us and transform our beliefs, we will very quickly find our way to God. Let's have a look at how the Bible can shape even our ideas about us.
Can God accept even a sinner like us?
One of the things that keeps us from God is the belief that we are too far gone, too dirty to be saved, we are too unworthy to be accepted by a holy God. But is that the truth, or is it another one of Satan’s lies?
David had one of his own men killed so that he could take the man’s wife. God forgave him, and restored his heart.
Saul had such a hatred for Christians that he murdered as many as he could. God transformed him into the greatest of all the apostles.
Peter was a liar and a coward and he abandoned his Lord. Yet God became his strength and used Him to build His chruch.
A man possessed by a legion of demons, so wild that chains could not hold him and his clothes were always being ripped off. God freed him, restored his mind and used him to bring the truth to his whole village.
A prostitute who heard where she could find Jesus, came with hope and ointment. Jesus did not turn her away either, instead He let her touch Him, and said:
“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer Me water to wash the dust from My feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet Me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing My feet... I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown Me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” – Luke 7:44-45, 47
The truth is that Jesus can and wants to forgive us. He came for such as us. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32). There is no sin too dark, and no pile of guilt too high that His love cannot save us. It can – it will! Do not let the father of lies tell you otherwise.
Can we trust God?
Some of us struggle to surrender to God, because we do not trust Him. We remember a day we called to Him for help but it never came. Where was He? Why didn’t He do something? And how can we be expected to place our lives in His care after that? If He loves us, why didn't He save us from the pain we went through? Why didn't He give us the thing we needed? These questions can form a very powerful stronghold (a deeply embedded belief) in our hearts, to keep us from God “for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27).
While our experience is very real, is it true that God betrayed us? Were we right to expect Him to intervene, to demand Him to and conclude He doesn't love us if He didn't? The Bible says He cannot be unfaithful to us because that is against His holy nature:
“If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is.” - 2 Timothy 2:13
We see a moment and judge how good or bad it is, by how much happiness it gives. We value the things that bring us pleasure or comfort, and we avoid the things that bring us pain. We conclude therefore that a God who loves us would give us pleasure and spare us from pain.
But there is far more at play than just that. God sees into eternity. He judges each moment by how it affects, not only us but all His children, not just this moment but all eternity. Does our prayer bring a beautiful end, or a temporary comfort with a darker end? These are things we do not know, but He does.
We put value in the wrong things and as a result we use the wrong measuring stick to find evidence of God's love.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18
Sometimes what we are asking God to do is violate His own character, His will or the ways He has laid down. Prayers like that may seem reasonable to us, but God will not answer them. Does that mean He doesn't care about our pain? No. He put down all the glories of eternity for a moment, so that He could take our pain and grief off us, and carry it up a hill to free us there. He made a way to give us peace in this life, and take us to a world without suffering in the next.
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
The truth is that God has not promised to spare us from every suffering, loss or pain. He has only promised to lighten our load, to heal our broken hearts and to comfort us. He will come and stand with us in the fire, and give us strength to get through it.
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28b
God is good to us, whether we understand His goodness or not. God does love us, whether we recognise that love or not. He is drawing us towards something far richer, far higher, far more beautiful than what we can imagine. Can we trust Him? What more of Himself can He give to prove His character and His love?
Letting go of our Strongholds
Our final example of the lies that keep us from the truth, are the strongholds we have built. Meaning the things we hold onto so tightly, we do not even want to consider letting them go. For example:
We may hate a person or a group of people and we are not willing to put that hatred down.
Or maybe we know we are living in sexual sin and we don't want to give it up.
Some of us have spent a lifetime collecting money and we are scared that as Christians we will have to give it up.
Others have talents for manipulation, bullying people or underhanded deals that we don't intend to stop using.
Or maybe we have a skill-set like a martial art, which gives us a sense of being in control, and we won't surrender that.
“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Matthew 16:26
Christianity is a crossing over, from an old life, and old us, to a new life and a new us. If we are not willing to let the old things go, we will not be able to enter into the new things.
We said Step One is God calling us. Step Two, we start searching for Him. Step Three, He shows us the truth in Jesus Christ (and His death), and Step Four, God waits to see if we will accept His truth. We went on to explore the lies the try to keep us from accepting Jesus Christ and His cross.
So now the final step, Step Five, is surrender. Once we are finally willing to accept God's truth is better than our own “truths”. And we believe that our lives will be better off if He make the decisions, then we are ready. We must understand that:
To come to God, we do not need to fix anything in our lives.
We need surrender our will to God, to agree with Him that we need fixing, and to ask Him to fix us.
To put that another way, we submit to His authority. We let God be our God. We offer Him the throne of our hearts to make the rules, show the way and shape us into what He wants.
When we are willing to bring ourselves to God like that, He responds with a miracle. He takes our old heart out (the one that always wants to resist Him), and He gives us a new heart (one that truly wants to love Him).
“And I will give you a new heart... I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”
Once we have become Christians, we begin to desire the same things that God desires, and love the same things He does.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Christianity is not a life sentence of doing things we naturally hate to do. It is being changed into creatures that have a new nature, that love God and His will. But before God will re-create us like this, He waits to see if we want Him. He waits for us to recognise that we are sinful and our desires are wrong, that He is holy and His desires are right – and therefore we bow the knee before Him and ask Him to please make us right as well – and so He does. That is what repentance is. That is what surrender is. That is what God is patiently waiting for – and what He will respond to.
Too many people have been told that a magic prayer (usually called “the Sinner's Prayer”), makes us children of God. It does not. That is why many of us have prayed it many times over with no result. We can say that prayer a thousand times, but if our hearts have not yet surrendered, the words are useless. God is not fooled by outward appearances. But say that exact same prayer, with a heart that is surrendered and trusting in the hand of God to save – and then we will have our miracle.
A final mercy
There are of course those of us who though a part of us wants God, our sinful nature will not surrender. Even though we know the truth, we refuse to submit to it. If we will not lay down our own will, at some point God will stop calling us. Remember, we have a free will – free to choose or refuse Him. We are the ones then that have walked away from Him. We have hardened our hearts and as a consequence, opened ourselves to the devil. Satan will be happy to bring us a lie that better suits our “needs,” a lie that feels more convenient to believe.
“He [Satan] will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them... They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” – 2 Thesselonians 2:10
If this speaks to you, and you are terrified it might be the last glimpse of hope for you, there is one final mercy. Even in your stubbornness, even with your hard heart, pray to God. Ask Him not to let you go. Ask Him to wrestle with you like He did with Jacob. Ask Him to do whatever He needs to do, to bring you to Himself. That prayer (even if that is all you can offer God), gives Him the licence to wear you down.
What you will probably experience is that God will pull away from you – meaning you will no longer feel His call or even want to search for Him. You will think your prayer was not heard and will keep going down your chosen path. But soon enough, everything you do will start to fall apart. All your skills, your money, your moral high-ground, none of them will be able to save you from this collapse. You will know you are headed to self-destruction.
And on a day, when you have reached rock-bottom, and spent the last of your strength and there is no way out anymore. You will turn your face to God again. By then, the things you trusted in will mean nothing to you. You will see them as no more than rubbish, nothing can save you but God's mercy. On that day you will be willing to follow Him wherever He leads, you are broken and surrendered. Call to Him on that day – and He will hear you.
“The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.“ – 2 Peter 3:9
Let God pull us out
Our enemies are our own dark nature and the devil who fuels it. We do not have the power to overcome either of them. But Jesus came to do the impossible for us. We can trust Him. Instead of trying to wrestle off the darkness, all we need to do is turn around, look up and see our saviour standing there. If we call out to Him, if we hold on to hope in Him, He will pull us free. We can no more save ourselves than a drowning man can pull himself up, by grabbing onto his own shirt. But can God save us – and He will!
“ ‘What must I do to be saved? They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ ” – Acts 16:30b-31a
SURRENDERING TO GOD
We don't bring anything to God except a heart ready to trust in His saving power and to surrender to His will. Once we are ready to do that, how do we become children of God? Ah, it is so simple that it seems like foolishness – and yet it is the way God has chosen. We simply look to the cross of Christ and trust Him to save us.
“it is impossible to please God without faith [believing]. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6
A divine exchange
It is not difficult or complicated to become a child of God. God does everything for us, we just look to Him and trust. Once all the obstacles have been removed from our hearts, the divine exchange is perfectly effortless. It is not about a special prayer, it is all about the state of our hearts and our hope in Jesus. For those who will allow us the privilege of sharing in this most precious of all moments, we would like to pray this with you:
• • •
“Lord God of heaven and earth, You have called me, and here I am. I have followed my own wisdom, and sinned against You Lord – please forgive me. Please save me from my own unrighteousness. I surrender to Your will. I choose to follow Your ways. I trust my life to You. Please wash me in the blood of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself so that I could go free. I believe that His punishment was enough to buy my life back to You. I choose You, my Lord and my God. Amen.” • • •
PROOF WE ARE SAVED
When God has made us His, we just know it has happened. No one else needs to tell us that we have become a child of God, because God Himself reveals that truth to our heart. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”(Romans 8:16).
There may be no other evidence except that one change. We turned to God and in an instant (in the most quiet, most gentle, most uneventful moment), we are suddenly changed and we simply know we are His. Nothing may have actually "happened” on the outside. No angel appeared and the earth did not shake – but we know, that we know, that we belong to God now. This has been the experience of countless of God's greatest men through history – that was all the proof they had, and it is enough.
For some however, the experience is more dramatic. Often if we have had a great wrestle with God, the moment of salvation comes with an enormous sense of relief. It is like the weight of the entire world has just been lifted off our shoulders. For some we discover immediately that the anger we constantly carried with us has simply vanished. For others the heaviness of depression that hung over us like a cloud is instantly gone. For some we just weep tears of joy, or gratitude, or relief or we don't even know what all.
What happens when God gives us spiritual birth, is a spiritual event. Spiritual things don't have an immediate physical outworking. The physical evidence of a spiritual change comes slightly later. This is why the only real way to know if we have been reborn in that moment, is by the witness deep inside our hearts – because that is God's Spirit, speaking directly into our own, new-born, spirit. Within a few days or so, we will see more evidence, we will begin noticing that we are different.
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you.”
There is so much to share about this new life. There is so much to tell about what has actually just happened to us. We will do all that in phase 3 of our series of discussions. For now, get some rest. There will be answers to your many questions soon. Come back again so we can start exploring this “New Life in Christ”. You are like a tender chick that just hatched, you will need spiritual nourishment very soon.
Till then – be extraordinarily blessed!