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