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by Ted Schroder
June 11, 2006

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again [or born from above]."

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born1"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." (John 3:3-5)

What is this new birth? It is a spiritual birth not a physical birth. It is a birth that is as mysterious, and as uncontrollable as the wind. "The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) It cannot be manufactured or produced on demand. Water baptism may express the truth of the spiritual birth sacramentally, as a sign that points to it, but water baptism cannot deliver the baptism of the Spirit. It is possible to be a member of the Church by virtue of water baptism, but not be a member of the kingdom of God, or even understand the nature of the kingdom of God.

How do we experience this new birth? Spiritual rebirth is a new creation. It changes the recipient from being merely a physical being into a new creature in Christ. As we owe our physical birth to our parents, so we owe our spiritual rebirth to God the Spirit. We cannot give life to ourselves, it is a gift. We do not deserve it. It is a gift of grace to the undeserving. It is a gift of love from the God who loves us. Only God can give us this life.

Everyone's story of how they were spiritually reborn may be different. As one example, let me illustrate this spiritual birth from my own experience. My own perception is certainly deficient. All I have to go on is my own subjective recollection of the events that led up to it.

At twelve years of age I awoke one morning to the sound of running feet on the pavement. My uncle had run from my grandmother's house to tell us that she had died in the night. She had been ill for a few days after a heart attack. I had been to see her, propped up in bed, and surrounded by the rest of the family. After her death I remember viewing her body in the coffin in the same bedroom before the funeral service. I had been close to my grandmother, and spent a great deal of time at her house. We went to the movies together, and she baked delicious peanut brownies which I devoured. Her death left a large gap in my life. Although I had experienced other deaths of people I knew, this was the first death of someone so close. Death did not make sense to me. How could someone so alive one moment, and so real, suddenly disappear? Where did she go? This puzzled me, and I began looking for answers to my questions about the future, about life beyond death. It did not seem logical for a life that was filled with meaning to terminate without further explanation.

As I moved into adolescence, and became a teenager, the Christianity I was raised in began to challenge me about my ideals and my behavior. I attended Sunday School and worship, and learned about the Ten Commandments and the example of Jesus. I could find no fault with the church teachings but they did not appear to do me any personal good. I was the same person coming out of church as I went in. The message sounded good but it had no effect on me. Confirmation classes came around and I attended them. My attitude at age fourteen was that if God didn't prove himself to me by doing something different in my life, like zapping me with the Holy Spirit when the Bishop laid his hands on me, that I would give up on Christianity. I made it clear to the minister that I felt that being confirmed did not obligate me to attending church every Sunday since I could be a Christian without it! Confirmation came and went, and nothing different happened. God was biding his time.

I was still attending church, still seeking answers, and still feeling guilty about my life. Like most adolescents I exaggerated my deficiencies, and felt that I could never live up to my parents' expectations. They were perfectionists, hard working business people, who served the public seven days a week. I was expected to do the same, to do all the chores expected of me, to excel in my studies, and to live up to my father's reputation in rugby football and athletics. I never felt that I quite measured up, and felt that I failed living up to the virtues of the Christian faith as well. The adults seemed to have it all together while I was scrambling around feeling the guilt of falling short. I was looking for something that would make a difference in my life.

In 1956 the churches in town united in sponsoring a mission conducted by a group from the United States: Dr J. Edwin Orr (a Welsh Baptist), Robert B. Doing (from the Episcopal Brotherhood of St. Andrew), Bill Dunlap (a Presbyterian minister), and Corrie ten Boom (Dutch Reformed). I went to hear them. Corrie ten Boom mesmerized me when she showed slides of her ministry around the world, and talked of her experience of the love of God in Ravensbruck concentration camp. As I was leaving the church that night I asked her some question (which entirely escapes me), but it must have been on the order of what Nicodemus said to Jesus, "We know that you are a teacher come from God!" She replied by asking me, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and Savior?" I stammered and stuttered, but managed to say, "Well I have just been confirmed!"

Her question continued to bother me over the next day or so. On the Saturday night there was a youth event in our fellowship hall, at which Bill Dunlap spoke. For the first time I heard clearly the answers to my questions. Jesus had died on the Cross so that my guilt would be atoned for, and I would be cleansed, forgiven and accepted by God who loved me. Jesus also rose from the dead to give me eternal life. Jesus also stood outside my heart and was knocking on the door. All I had to do was to open the door and let him come in to live in me. If I did this he would live out his life through me by his Spirit, and give me the power to do his will. As Corrie ten Boom put it, "Jesus is Victor".

On the next day in church, we were given the opportunity to commit our lives to Christ in this way by coming forward and kneeling at the communion rails. I did so. What had been a religion of morality, and church going, became an inward experience of Christ's presence. I was given a Bible and a daily devotional to use. The words on the pages became like an illuminated manuscript. I could not get enough of it. I read and studied it voraciously. God seemed to be speaking to me personally. I experienced the forgiveness, and the love of God in a new way. Fear of death was taken away. Heaven became a new reality. I was spiritually reborn, born from above.

My parents did not understand what had happened. It must have been frightening to them. All of a sudden their only son had changed. It would be like an alcoholic family having to cope with a family member who decided never to drink again. It altered all the relationships in the family system. Listen to what J.C. Ryle wrote about this spiritual rebirth in his commentary on John 3: "The change which our Lord here declares needful to salvation is evidently no slight or superficial one. It is not merely reformation, or amendment, or moral change, or outward alteration of life. It is a thorough change of heart, will, and character. It is a resurrection. It is a new creation. It is a passing from death to life. It is the implanting in our dead hearts of a new principle from above. It is the calling into existence of a new creature, with a new nature, new habits of life, new tastes, new desires, new appetites, new judgments, new opinions, new hopes, and new fears. All this, and nothing less than this is implied, when our Lord declares that we all need a 'new birth.'" (p.120)

Twenty years later I had the privilege of hosting Corrie ten Boom at Gordon College when she was our commencement speaker. Imagine her surprise when I told her how her question to me had been so used by God in my life. A few years later I was able to thank Dr. J. Edwin Orr when he preached for me at Grace Church, Orange Park.

This is my story. What about yours? Do you have a story about your spiritual awakening? Have you resolved your questions about, among other things, the future, about death, about morality, about guilt, about forgiveness? Have you been spiritually reborn, born from above? Do you want to be?

I have several books by Corrie ten Boom and Edwin Orr on my shelves. In reviewing them again I find that they provide a clear presentation of the essence of the Christian Gospel. Despite my years of further study I come back to the basic truths they contain: the truth of the Bible, the centrality of Jesus, his death on the Cross for our forgiveness, his resurrection from the dead for our victory over evil, his gift of eternal life and the indwelling Spirit to empower us to serve him.

These truths are universal. They transcend all cultures and denominations. We are saved, not by our traditions, not by our church affiliation, not by our education, not by our good works, but by what Jesus has done for us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

This is a message for the whole world. Since no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again, then all need to be born from above. Since no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit, then all need to experience the new birth.

On what do you base your qualification to enter the kingdom of God? What do you think will get you into heaven, or prepare you for death and judgment? Let there be no mention of personal merit or achievements, of what you have tried to do in your life that is good, of how generous or kind or loving you have tried to be, however praiseworthy they may be. Jesus said that it depends on receiving the gift that he gives of himself, of what he has done for you, and your response to that gift. Any other answer is egocentric and a rejection of God's love in Christ.

The birth from above is a gift. Life is given to us. We do not birth ourselves. Therefore we must receive the gift of the Spirit which is offered to us in Jesus. Welcome him into your heart and mind. Admit your need of forgiveness. Believe that he has died and risen for your salvation. Surrender to his leadership in your life. Let the Spirit give you new life, eternal life from above.

An audio version of this presentation is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel, Amelia Island, Florida

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