His Robe or Mine?

The born-again experience spoken of more than a dozen times in the New Testament is often grossly misunderstood. To many, it is simply believing in Jesus. To others, accepting Jesus as Saviour is to be born-again. To still others, baptism by immersion equals being born-again.

May I suggest that the new birth is such a dynamic, vitalising experience, as pictured in God’s Word, that many people find it difficult to accept literally what the Scriptures teach.

“Then man who is really God’s son does not practise sin, for God’s nature is in him, for good, and such a heredity is incapable of sin.” 1 John 3:9, Phillips

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” 1 John 5:1, N.I.V.

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5:4.

We can see that being born-again is where the power of the Christian life resides. Now we must discover what makes this power a real experience to us personally. John declares, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” 1 John 5:11, 12.

Could it be that in our eagerness to learn what is truth we have neglected to see is who is the Truth? In our search for truth there may be something that is blinding us to truth. We shall try to discover what it is that blinds, so effectively, honest searchers and thus learn how to clear the way for this marvellous experience of the new birth.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20. Apparently these words are addressed to God’s Laodicean church of today, for they are a part of the special message of Jesus to His last church. It is, therefore, imperative that we know the answer to the oft repeated question, “How am I born again?” Or is this merely a verbal experience? Is it literal? If literal, how much of my life does this give Jesus access to? My religious life? My business life? My recreational life? Just how much is necessary before He will enter my life?

“Every thought is to be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ. All animal propensities are to be subjected to the higher powers of the soul. The love of God must reign supreme; Christ must occupy an undivided throne. Our bodies are to be regarded as His purchased possession. The members of the body are to become the instruments of righteousness.” [1]

Obviously, this experience involves much more than being willing to part with our bad habits, our evil nature, our love of the world, and our earthly possessions. Every thought must be under His control. All natural inclinations and members of the body itself must reflect His righteousness.

In order to accomplish this, Jesus says, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.” Revelation 3:18.

“What is it that constitutes the wretchedness, the nakedness, of those who feel rich and increased with goods? It is the want of the righteousness of Christ.” [2] Even a strong belief in the correct doctrinal teachings of the church cannot save anyone. Jesus must have full control of every facet of our lives. This is not an arbitrary demand of our Saviour; it is simply one of God’s divine natural laws. It is the law that says, “. . . the carnal mind is enmity against God . . .” Romans 8:7.

For this reason, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. His heart was heavy, for he desired the covering of Christ’s righteousness, the assurance of salvation, but he did not know how to get it. Jesus saw his need and went straight to the point. “. . . Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3. Nicodemus’ wealth, influence, personal achievements were of no value in meeting Jesus’ requirements of a new birth.

Here was Nicodemus’ crisis. Unable to see the answer, he declared, “ . . . How can these things be?” John 3:9. Jesus had already told him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Verse 6. Nicodemus did not wish to see this. Self was very much alive in him.

Christ’s statement to Nicodemus still stands. Flesh cannot crucify flesh, no matter how many promises, pledges, commitments we might make, or how much sincere effort we might expend. There is always a little bit of flesh-self still alive to take over again. Someone has said that self would rather be thought evil of than not to be thought of at all.

Christ is standing at the door of His church with His voice pleading, “. . . If any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in . . . “ Revelation 3:20. Why does Jesus picture Himself thus? Because we, like Nicodemus, are still blind to self. We have yet to see that Christians are born and not made.

Many earnest Christian people have the idea that with God’s help their old nature—the flesh—can be cleansed, purified, freed from the evil within and then they will be able to live victorious lives for God. This is Satan’s counterfeit! His plan is to lead human beings to believe that human nature can be changed. He knows that it is only fit to die, but he tries to cover the truth with lies and keep us blinded.

“The Christian’s life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit.” [3]

“Christ came to earth, taking humanity and standing as man’s representative, to show in the controversy with Satan that man, as God created him, connected with the Father and the Son, could obey every divine requirement.” [4]

This quotation deserves some very serious thought. In it we find the reason why it was absolutely necessary for Jesus to be born with a sinless nature such as the first Adam had. It is only that which is born of the Spirit that God can work with to mold and fashion according to His will. Sinful nature is unstable and will not respond to the Master Worker. The desire may be in the mind, but the flesh is incorrigible. The result is failure.

When Jesus said, “. . . Except a corn of wheat fall in the ground and die, it abideth alone . . .” John 12:34, He was obviously speaking of baptism which, in truth, symbolises death.

“The new birth is a rare experience in this age of the world. This is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the churches. Many, so many, who assume the name of Christ are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptised, but they were buried alive. Self did not die, and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ.” [5] (written in 1897)

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12,13. It is quite clear that Inspiration teaches the necessity of the spiritual birth before one becomes a son of God or a member of His family. However, death must precede life.

The solution to this problem is beyond man’s abilities. Man, even in his sinful nature, can exercise his God-given will and choose to die and be born again.

This process is described in chapter one of this book. We had nothing to do with our natural birth but, praise God, we do have a God-given part in the born-again experience. We can choose to be born again. However, even in this new birth there must be a connection with the Father and the Son. This is what justification accomplishes.

The Father justifies the believer on the basis of his acceptance of Jesus and His atonement on the cross in the believer’s behalf.

Jesus lived His life in direct connection with His Father. He said, “. . . The Son can do nothing of Himself . . .” John 5:19. His life of obedience to every divine requirement was not independent from His Father but 100 percent dependent upon His Father. It is thus that His life is a perfect example for us to follow.

Jesus tells us, “ . . . without Me ye can do nothing.” John 15:5. Independent of Jesus, even in the new birth experience, we cannot obey the divine requirements. But Jesus living in us, as the Father lived in Him, makes it possible to obey. He does this in us. And that is good news, isn’t it?

The question we must ask is, “What is the divine requirement I must meet?” We find the answer in the following quotation: “God requires the entire surrender of the heart before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.” [6]

You will notice that while the condition for justification is surrender, the condition for retaining justification is continual obedience. Does justification enable us to obey? No. Justification deals only with our legal record—our standing before God. How can we meet the second condition? Here is how:

“As God works in the heart, and man surrenders his will to God, and cooperates with God, he works out in the life what God works in by the Holy Spirit, and there is harmony between the purpose of the heart and the practise of the life. Every sin must be renounced as the hateful thing that crucified the Lord of life and glory, and the believer must have a progressive experience by continually doing the works of Christ. It is by continual surrender of the will, by continual obedience, that the blessing of justification is retained.” [7]

Please notice that man’s work is to surrender his will. Christ’s life was one of continual surrender. We will speak more of this in a later chapter. Continual obedience is the result of the process of sanctification, which we will consider in the next chapters. It may seem to some that human nature has been pictured as totally insignificant. That is, indeed, the point.

“When the soul surrenders itself to Christ, a new power takes possession of the new heart. A change is wrought which man can never accomplish for himself. It is a supernatural work, bringing a supernatural element into human nature. The soul that is yielded to Christ becomes His own fortress, which He holds in a revolted world, and He intends that no authority shall be known in it but His own. A soul thus kept in possession by the heavenly agencies is impregnable to the assaults of Satan . . . The only defence against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness. Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist the unhallowed effects of self-love, self-indulgence, and temptation to sin. We may leave off many bad habits, for the time we may part company with Satan; but without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome.” [8]

“What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which is not in his power to do for himself. When men see their own nothingness, they are prepared to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ.” [9]

“Why is it so hard to lead a self-denying, humble life? Because professed Christians are not dead to the world. It is easy living after we are dead.” [10]

Remember that God’s ways are not our ways. His way may look like failure, but His way is the only way to true success. For when we are truly born again—

We live by dying.

Strength comes through weakness.

The battle is won by surrendering.

Then we can know that Christians are born and not made.

Notes 

[1] The Adventist Home, p. 128.

[2] Christ Our Righteousness, p. 90.

[3] The Desire of Ages, p. 172.

[4] The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7A, p. 650, The Signs of the Times, June 9, 1898.

[5] The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1075, Manuscript 148, 1897.

[6] Selected Messages, book 1, p. 366.

[7] Selected Messages, book 1, p. 397.

[8] The Desire of Ages, p. 324.

[9] Christ Our Righteousness, p. 104.

[10] Messages to Young People, p. 127