What Is Being Born Again and What Does the Bible Say About It?

One of the most important subjects in the entire Bible is ‘regeneration,’ otherwise known as ‘salvation’ or being ‘born again.’ In John chapter 3, Jesus used the strongest possible terms to inform us of the necessity of this happening in a person’s life. Twice, He said a person can’t go to heaven if they are not born again, and He finished by saying that a person must be born again. That’s some emphasis! Clearly, this is a matter that demands consideration by every human being. Not surprisingly, John 3 is not the only chapter in the Bible that addresses the new birth. In fact, when one looks broadly at scripture, a wealth of information appears, dealing not only with the new birth but also with the New Covenant, into which the new birth is the entry point. The benefits offered to a person through the new birth are numerous, and they are staggering in their magnitude and in their display of God’s love and generosity toward people who don’t deserve the least part of it.

Key Passages of Scripture

I. To begin our study of the new birth, let’s look at three foundational passages that clearly mention it. Let’s look first at the passage in which Jesus Himself coined the phrase ‘born again’:

John 3:3-8

3Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

What do we learn from this passage? First, Jesus makes it very clear that a person must be born again to go to heaven. Jesus placed incredibly strong emphasis on this fact by stating it three times (verses 3, 5, & 7). Second, we learn that the new birth is not physical but spiritual. Third, we learn that God’s Word (referred to as ‘water’ in verse 5), particularly the gospel, is the agent of the new birth. This fact is supported by these scriptures:

Romans 10:17

17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

James 1:18

18Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

1 Peter 1:23

23for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

This should make sense to any believer, since we understand that without the pure truth of God’s Word, how would anyone ever be born again? Since salvation comes by faith, we have to hear something in which to put our faith in order to be saved! Fourth, we learn that born again people are, in a sense, like the wind. You can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind. In the same way, a born again person still lives in the same body of flesh that they did before, but they are a completely different person. People can observe the ‘effects of the Spirit’ by looking at the fruit of God’s work in their life. Incidentally, the same Greek word is used for both ‘wind’ and ‘Spirit’ in these verses (pneuma), and it is the Holy Spirit who now lives within a born again person.

II. Let’s take a look at a second passage that explicitly speaks of being ‘born again’:

1 Peter 1:23

23for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

What do we learn from this passage? First, being born again places an ‘imperishable’ seed in a person. This means the seed is eternal, and that seed is the Word of God (again with emphasis on the gospel), which is also described as ‘enduring forever’ two verses later:

1 Peter 1:25

25BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.

Second, we learn that eternal life begins the moment a person is born again. When the imperishable seed of the Word sprouts its life forth in a person, it should be obvious that if the seed is eternal, then the life that comes from the seed is also eternal. God’s Word reveals truth to us. Drawing from the parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-8), the seed of God’s Word (truth) lands in a person’s life (even over the course of many years), is eventually received and held in the heart; and when God decides, it springs forth into eternal life, in time bringing forth abundant, mature (Luke 8:14) fruit.

III. Let’s look at one more passage that speaks very clearly about the new birth, particularly letting us know how it doesn’t happen.

John 1:12-13

12But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

What do we learn from this passage? First, no one decides to get born again. It does not occur as a result of ‘the will of man.’ So praying the ‘prayer of salvation’ does not automatically mean someone is born again. God may indeed regenerate someone while they pray The Prayer, but it is no guarantee of salvation. Furthermore, just because someone realizes some of the truth of the gospel and decides to ‘follow Jesus,’ this does not mean they have been born again or are saved. John 1:13 is extremely clear that children of God are not born because of ‘the will of man.’ Second, along the same lines, we learn that being born again is a supernatural work of God, not a personal decision. Third, we learn that becoming God’s child (by being born again) is not a matter of lineage or physical inheritance. The expression “God doesn’t have any grandchildren” is clear, succinct, and factual. God adopts human beings into His family by regenerating them (Romans 9:8).


Facts from the Metaphor

Jesus never used words idly. After all, every word He spoke was given to Him by the Father (John 12:49). So when Jesus chose to use expressions and metaphors, we would be wise to evaluate the meaning contained in the metaphor, without going beyond what is supported by the complete testimony of scripture. Using supporting scripture to evaluate the metaphor of experiencing a ‘second birth,’ we learn that before being born again, a person is spiritually dead:

Ephesians 2:1, 5

1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins … 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)

Colossians 2:13

13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions

We also learn the critically important fact that being born again is not a process; it is a moment in time, like physical birth. In one moment, there is a woman present with no child; but in the next moment, a new life is present. In the same way, in one moment, a person is spiritually dead; but in the next moment, they are spiritually alive. Life and death are, for the most part, easily discernible. A person is either dead or alive; they do not remain in some grey area of confusion. If they’re not dead, they are alive. If they’re not alive, they are dead. Jesus used the metaphor of birth to illustrate that while there is indeed a process of the Father drawing a person to Himself (John 6:44), akin to a pregnancy; when the moment of delivery arrives, new life is suddenly present for all to see.

Jesus also spoke of an event during which the Holy Spirit would take up residence inside a person. He was describing the new birth:

John 14:16-17

16I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

John 14:23

23Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.

Clearly, being born again brings a spiritually dead person to life. Since humans spend their entire lives spiritually dead until the moment God makes them alive, it makes sense that the event known as the new birth is sudden, powerful, and discernible. The handful of accounts in scripture of physical resurrection show that those events were sudden, powerful, and easily discernible. Does it make any sense for a change from spiritual death to eternal life to be any less sudden, powerful, and discernible? The new birth, due to the internal nature of the spirit (remember ‘the wind’ earlier), may not be easily discernible to observers, but it certainly is to the person who has come to life! And while such a person may not immediately understand all that has happened to them, over time they will, as they study the scriptures and learn from other brethren.


The Position of Being ‘in Christ’

The New Testament frequently uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ (or ‘in Him’) to describe a person’s position or state. This is speaking of the position of a person who has experienced the new birth. Though the number of scriptures on the subject might seem overwhelming, it is very important for us to apprehend everything God has accomplished and given to us by regenerating us. Notice the components of the new birth – what it includes – according to these scriptures:

  • Born again people have been united with Jesus in death and resurrection. Their old self has been done away with, and they are thus freed from both the penalty and power of sin.

Romans 6:4-7

4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin.

  • Born again people are new creatures.

2 Corinthians 5:17

17Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

  • Born again people receive the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21

21He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

  • Born again people have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3, below).
  • Born again people were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (v.4).
  • Born again people have had their sins forgiven (v.7).
  • Born again people have a promised inheritance (v.11).
  • Born again people have the Holy Spirit as a pledge for the eventual, complete redemption: body, soul, & spirit (v.13-14).

Ephesians 1:3-14

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

  • Born again people have been brought near to God.

Ephesians 2:13

13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

All of the scriptures above use the words ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ to describe the position which results from being born again. Since a born again person is united with Jesus (Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 6:17), it makes sense to use the expression ‘in Christ’ to describe this new relationship.


We’re Just Getting Started

Many other passages of scripture make sense only in the context of the new birth. One could argue that nearly the entire New Testament is about the new birth, because the New Testament fundamentally declares the gospel and its consequences; and the gospel declares the good news to mankind that God has made a way for people to be reconciled to God by having their sins forgiven through the perfect work of Jesus. As has already been stated, this occurs exclusively through the new birth. Let’s look at numerous other passages that offer up even more wonderful information about the new birth.

  • A born again person’s heart of stone has been removed, and a heart of flesh has been installed in its place.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

26Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

  • A born again person has received eternal righteousness through imputation.

Hebrews 10:10, 14

10By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … 14For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

  • A born again person will not experience God’s condemnation.

Romans 8:1

1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

  • A born again person is ruled by the Holy Spirit, which imparts life, rather than by sin and the flesh, which lead to death.

Romans 8:2

2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

  • A born again person has been adopted as God’s child.

Ephesians 1:5

5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will

  • A born again person is God’s child and a joint-heir with Christ.

Romans 8:16-17

16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

  • A born again person has been transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus, or from darkness into light.

Colossians 1:13

13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son

Ephesians 5:8

8for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light

  • A born again person receives true spiritual discernment and understanding.

1 Corinthians 2:13-14

13These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But 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.

  • A born again person knows God.

Hebrews 8:11

11And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

  • A born again person is united with God in spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:17

17But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

  • A born again person is justified, which means they are free from guilt.
  • A born again person is no longer an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) but has peace with God.

Romans 5:1

1Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

  • A person is born again by faith alone and by that faith enters into God’s grace.

Romans 5:2

2through [our Lord Jesus Christ] also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

  • A born again person’s conscience has been cleansed.

Hebrews 10:22

22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

It’s awesome, isn’t it? And there are actually people out there who expect us to believe that they are born again, without manifesting the kind of pervasive change the Bible describes! Through the new birth, God gives us new hearts with new desires, causing people to suddenly love the things He loves and to hate the things He hates. Is there anything that could more cause someone to stick out in this world that is filled with endeavors and entertainment, all imagined by the flesh and for the flesh? This explains why a person who has truly been born again is often deemed a “radical,” a “nut,” a “Jesus freak.” Names like these should be considered badges of honor for the person who has found the ‘pearl of great price’ (Matthew 13:45-46), whose residence has been permanently altered. Their home is now heaven, and they are merely passing through this perishing world.


Placed under a New Covenant

A final point that should not be overlooked concerning the new birth is the fact that through the work of Jesus Christ, God has inaugurated a New Covenant with mankind. The way a person enters into that New Covenant is by being born again. The Bible informs us that the Old Covenant was a system of laws and regulations, apparently intended to make people right with God. However, from the full counsel of scripture, we learn (from Galatians 3:24 and the books of Romans and Hebrews in particular) that the Law couldn’t make anyone righteous and that its intention was actually to show us our need for a Savior and lead us to Jesus Christ.

People who have been born again are under the New Covenant. This means that God’s commandments have been written on their hearts; those regulations are no longer external:

Hebrews 8:10

10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This is extremely significant for the following reasons:

  • Born again people have been freed from the Old Covenant (aka ‘the Law’).

Romans 7:6

6But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

  • The New Covenant contains better promises than the Old.

Hebrews 8:6

6But now [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

  • Under the Old Covenant, sins were covered (referenced by the word ‘atonement’), but under the New Covenant, they are taken away or removed (referenced by the word ‘propitiation’).

Leviticus 5:6

6He shall also bring his guilt offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement (kâphar) on his behalf for his sin.

kâphar (Brown-Driver-Briggs definition):

To cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation

Hebrews 10:11

11Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins

  • Only covering sins does not remove them. God can only be appeased if sins are taken away.

1 John 2:2

2and He Himself is the propitiation (hilasmos) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

hilasmos (Thayer Definition):

An appeasing, propitiating

John 1:29

29The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

1 John 3:5

5You know that He appeared in order to take away sins

The difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is the difference between life and death (2 Corinthians 3:6), between condemnation and righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:9); and the entrance into the New Covenant is the new birth. There is no other way to be saved. In John 10:9, when Jesus spoke of ‘entering through Him,’ He was speaking of the new birth:

John 10:9

9“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

As stated earlier, a person is not saved by keeping commands or performing works. Jesus said a person is saved by ‘entering through Me.’ This is the same thing that Romans 6:5 and John 14:23 talk about – a mystical spiritual union with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As scripture has made abundantly clear, this experience is known as being born again. In an age of great apostasy and confusion, may we treasure the words of Jesus Himself and proclaim the reality, the glory, and the necessity of the new birth as the only entrance to salvation and eternal life.


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Sin is not to rule over the Christian

Law only arouses sinful lusts (Romans 7:8), so when you’re under Law (i.e. not born again or living in bondage as a born again person because of incomplete revelation of all that Jesus has given us), sin rules over you, and it produces death in your life – ultimately spiritual death in the unbeliever but temporal death in the life of the believer in the form of bondage to sin (Romans 6:16) and reaping the fruit of fleshly living (Galatians 6:8).

Living under grace is the marvelous alternative. If you believe the gospel – part of which includes that you died with Christ and are thus dead to sin (Romans 6:6-7) and that His perfect, unchangeable righteousness has been imputed to you (Hebrews 10:14) – then sin not only will not, it cannot rule over you!

Law can only condemn sinful human beings; grace liberates. Law aggravates sinful desires; grace grants a person the forgiveness they need as they grow into full acceptance, by faith, of a reality that existed from the moment they were regenerated: they died with Jesus to sin and rose with Him to new life, and they are perfectly righteous (justified) before God. God’s great love and grace toward His children, bringing forth a love of their own in return (1 John 4:19), are the highest motivators to resist temptation (James 1:12), flee from sin (2 Timothy 2:19-22), and cast away transgression (Ezekiel 18:30-31).

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Adam Clarke on Genesis 17:1

Feed on Clarke’s faith-filled words and believe in God’s glorious purpose for His saints in this life!

And when Abram was ninety nine years old, Jehovah appeared to Abram and said to him, I am the Almighty God! Walk before me and be perfect; (Genesis 17:1)

Walk before me – התהלך לפני  hithhallech lephanai, set thyself to walk – be firmly purposed, thoroughly determined to obey, before me; for my eye is ever on thee, therefore ever consider that God seeth thee. Who can imagine a stronger incitement to conscientious, persevering obedience?

Be thou perfect – והיה תמים  vehyeh thamim, and thou shalt be perfections, i.e., a together perfect. Be just such as the holy God would have thee to be, as the almighty God can make thee and live as the all-sufficient God shall support thee; for he alone who makes the soul holy can preserve it in holiness. Our blessed Lord appears to have had these words pointedly in view, Mat_5:48 : Εσεσθε ὑμεις τελειοι, ὡσπερ ὁ Πατηρ ὑμων ὁ εν τοις ουρανοις τελειος εστι· Ye Shall Be perfect, as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. But what does this imply? Why, to be saved from all the power, the guilt, and the contamination of sin. This is only the negative part of salvation, but it has also a positive part; to be made perfect – to be perfect as our Father who is in heaven is perfect, to be filled with the fullness of God, to have Christ dwelling continually in the heart by faith, and to be rooted and grounded in love. This is the state in which man was created, for he was made in the image and likeness of God. This is the state from which man fell, for he broke the command of God. And this is the state into which every human soul must be raised, who would dwell with God in glory; for Christ was incarnated and died to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. What a glorious privilege! And who can doubt the possibility of its attainment, who believes in the omnipotent love of God, the infinite merit of the blood of atonement, and the all-pervading and all-purifying energy of the Holy Spirit? How many miserable souls employ that time to dispute and cavil against the possibility of being saved from their sins, which they should devote to praying and believing that they might be saved out of the hands of their enemies! But some may say, “You overstrain the meaning of the term; it signifies only, be sincere; for as perfect obedience is impossible, God accepts of sincere obedience.” If by sincerity the objection means good desires, and generally good purposes, with an impure heart and spotted life, then I assert that no such thing is implied in the text, nor in the original word; but if the word sincerity be taken in its proper and literal sense, I have no objection to it. Sincere is compounded of sine cera, “without wax;” and, applied to moral subjects, is a metaphor taken from clarified honey, from which every atom of the comb or wax is separated. Then let it be proclaimed from heaven, Walk before me, and be Sincere! purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump unto God; and thus ye shall be perfect, as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. This is sincerity. Reader, remember that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. Ten thousand quibbles on insulated texts can never lessen, much less destroy, the merit and efficacy of the great Atonement.

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Even More Quotes from G.H. Pember

Oh that those who are thus blinded by Satan would consider while there is yet time; would earnestly and prayerfully meditate upon the words of the Lord Jesus, and interpret them by His most holy life! Then would they see the inconsistency of their position, and keenly feel that they have been fulfilling to the letter the prophecy of the last times, that men should have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof (2 Tim. iii. 5). For the world will allow the mere statement of any doctrine, provided no attempt be made to put it into practice. It is only when faith begins to produce works that the Christian is confronted with bitter antagonism when he feels that he must redeem the time because the days are evil; when, being conscious of a dispensation committed to him, he is impelled to preach the Word in season and out of season, to speak as a dying man to dying men; when he can no longer take part in frivolous gaieties or time-killing pleasures, knowing that such things are but as a painted curtain used by the foul fiend to hide from men the brink of death on which they are walking, until the time comes to tear it away and thrust them over the precipice. If any be thus earnestly minded, they will have no difficulty in regard to the line of separation: they will quickly find the cross they have to bear: they will feel that, like their Master, they are not of this world, and will indeed have tribulation in it. But let them be of good cheer: for He is at hand, and great will be their joy at His coming.  (p. 144)

[Speaking of the training of “adepts” – or those who communicate with spirits, or as we know, demons:] And two initial rules, laid down as indispensable to the discipline, are – abstinence from flesh and alcohol, and absolute chastity. In other words, he who would be an adept must conform to the teaching of those demons, predicted leaders of the last apostasy, who forbid to marry and command to abstain from meats. [1 Tim. 4:3]  (p. 155)

Let our heart but be estranged from God, and there is no sin so great, so outrageous, as to be impossible to us. The close of Saul’s history is a mournful proof of this, and shows how easy a prey man becomes to the Powers of Evil when the multitude of his provocations has at length caused the Spirit of the Most High to depart from him, and he stands alone amid the ruins of his broken purposes, while the gathering of his fears portends a pitiless storm upon his unsheltered head.  (p. 166)

The influence of Isis afterwards spread to Rome, where, in the depraved times of the early emperors, the goddess became the favorite deity. But the abominable impurity which characterized her worship provoked several attempts to abolish it, and caused repeated destructions of her temples: indeed, upon one occasion, Tiberius went so far as to crucify the priests and throw the statues of the goddess into the river. All, however, was in vain: Isis retained her power in the great city until, as time went on, it was deemed advisable to change her name and worship her, with some modifications, under the title of the Virgin Mary.  (p. 178)

And since Spiritualism is merely a revival of the influence which first produced Paganism, while Popery is nothing but Paganism under a changed name, and covered with a gauzy veil of Christianity, it seems likely that these two systems will presently find no serious obstacle to their amalgamation.  (p. 226)

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More G.H. Pember Quotes

I continue to be impressed by the godly wisdom given to this man who lived 150 years ago.

[T]he theology of the first murderer (Cain) is that of a large and perpetually increasing school of our times. He neither denied the existence of God nor refused to worship Him. Nay, he recognized Him as the giver of all good things, and brought an offering of the fruits of the ground as an acknowledgement of His bounty. But he went no further than this; and, therefore, though he may have passed among those with whom he dwelt as a good and religious man, he failed to satisfy God. For being yet in his sins he presumed to approach the Holy One without the shedding of blood: he was willing to take the place of a dependent creature, but would not confess himself a sinner guilty of death, who could be saved only by the sacrifice of a Substitute. He is a type of the many in these times who will descant (discourse) upon the benevolence and love of the Creator, and are ever ready to laud Him for those attributes, and claim the benefit of them, without any reference to their own unworthiness and sinful condition, without a thought of that perfect holiness and justice which are as much elements of the mind of God as love itself. (p. 118)

When Moses asks what answer he shall return to the Israelites if they inquire the name of the God Who sent him, the Lord replies: “I AM THAT I AM” : “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exod. iii. 14). Now in the Hebrew not the present but the future of the verb “to be” is used; and from the future the name of Jehovah is derived. But the Hebrew future has a peculiar signification: it is often used to express a permanent state, that which exists and always will exist. Hence the words rendered “I AM THAT I AM” might be more intelligently translated “I EVER SHALL BE THAT WHICH I AM.” And thus Jehovah signifies the immutable God, the Same yesterday, today, and forever, Whose purposes no circumstance can affect, Whose promises can in no wise fail. (p. 122-123)

It is the natural result of the first error, the denial of our position as sinners before God, as doomed to destruction unless a ransom be found. Let the Church surrender that truth, and what hinders her from living in perfect accord with the World? If the practical teaching of religion be that God is fairly satisfied with our conduct, troubles but little about our sins, highly appreciates our works of virtue, even though pride be their mainspring, and looks with pleasure upon bold deeds and intellectual displays, why should such a theology clash with the cravings of fallen men? How could they hate a deity so like to themselves? (p. 143)

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Pember on Eve’s Temptation

I’m still slowly making my way through another read of G.H. Pember’s book, Earth’s Earliest Ages. While I’m finding occasional things I disagree with, I continue to be amazed by the man’s skill with words and the wisdom that God granted him on various subjects. I’m going to continue to post quotes from the book periodically.

Today, I’m posting three quotes pertaining to Satan’s temptation of Eve. Enjoy.

(1) And so by his brief, but most skillful, interrogation [Satan] begins to envelop [Eve] in the mists of error from at least five outspringing suggestions.  First, he throws her off her guard by his assumed ignorance.  Secondly, he stirs up vanity from the depths of her self-consciousness by giving her an opportunity to correct and instruct him.  Thirdly, he uses the term Elohim, and not the covenant name Jehovah, to represent the Creator as far distant, and as having but little concern with His creatures.  Fourthly, he puts in a doubt as to whether God had uttered the prohibition, and hints at the possibility of a mistake.  And lastly, he insinuates the blasphemous thought that harshness and caprice on God’s part are not inconceivable, but may sometimes be expected.  (G.H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1982, p. 89)

(2) Solemn is the warning which the analysis of [Eve’s] thoughts affords to her descendants, to the offspring by whom her own sad path is ceaselessly trodden.  For how often, when we are perfectly aware of some direct command of God which we do not wish to obey, are we seduced into an exaggeration of its magnitude and its inconvenience, till at length, by the continual play of evil imaginings, we almost arrive at its impossibility.  At the same time we strive to diminish its importance, and the penalty which its neglect is likely to involve, not perceiving that, while we are thus working out our own will in defiance of the will of God, His Holy Spirit is gradually withdrawing from us, and that our God-consciousness – or, as it would ordinarily be termed, religious feeling – is becoming weaker and weaker.  Not so, however, the sin within us, which is proportionally growing and acquiring strength; till at last, when our eyes are again opened, we find it like some horrible tumor, which, loathsome and painful as it is to bear, has been so long neglected that it will scarce leave life in us if it be removed.  (p. 90)

(3) Does not the readiness with which [Eve] received the daring [deception of Satan] show the necessity of our present state of weakness?  Does it not sufficiently explain the fact that a broken and a contrite heart is the first indispensable condition of entering into the Kingdom of the Heavens?  (p. 91)

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A quote from G.H. Pember, first published in 1876

“We may profess worship of the Supreme God, we may be very sedulous [diligent] in the outward part of it; but if at the same time we are obeying the law of Satan, his subjects we are reckoned to be, and to him our prayers and praises ascend. And the law of Satan is this: – That we seek all our pleasures in, and fix all our heartfelt hopes upon, this present age over which he presides; and that we use our best endeavors – by means of various sensuous and intellectual occupations and delights, and countless ways of killing time which he has provided – to keep our thoughts from ever wandering into that age to come, which will see him a fettered captive instead of a prince and a god.”

G.H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1982), p. 38

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Judging Rightly

Back when I went to a “mainstream church” and the Lord began to open my eyes to the truth in His Word and to the far-reaching compromise and lukewarmness among the people there, I began to have conversations with a number of people about God’s call to obedience and separation from worldliness. As you might expect, it wasn’t long before I heard statements like, “You can’t judge! After all, Jesus Himself said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ So you can’t say these things and judge me.” Are they wrong? Are they right? They’ve certainly quoted Jesus accurately (Matthew 7:1), but are we really not to judge, even among the Body of Christ? Did Jesus give us more guidelines for judging, or did He leave us with only this seeming blanket prohibition? What about judging people’s actions? Thankfully, as with most any subject, God has provided answers for us in His Word.

When we preach the gospel to a lost person, we need to help them see that they are a sinner, that they regularly break God’s commands and that this is their natural course of life. We don’t even have to dig deeply into their life to make any judgments about the person in order to make these points, because unless a person is born again, the “man on the street” is a practicing sinner 100% of the time. However, when we do the exact same thing with a professing believer, we often meet resistance, with the defense, “You’re judging me; only God can judge me; you don’t know my heart;” and so on. These people claim to know the Lord, but their lifestyles contradict their profession. The true believer is left with one option: judge the person based upon their behavior.

This is exactly what Paul advocates:

11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

Paul is pointing out that with professing believers, we are to look at their lives in light of God’s commands and see whether their profession is genuine. He does this for two reasons. First, God wants to keep His church pure and shut out evil influence, compromise, and sin as much as possible. Second, God wants to see those who are holding to a false profession broken toward repentance and true conversion. Putting them out of the church as a result of judging their actions is intended to open the eyes of the blind, by helping them see that their lifestyle does not conform to Christ’s call.

Even though they may protest, it’s important for professing believers to understand that we can always judge patterns of behavior, and it’s really quite straightforward. Jesus said:

45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)

18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. (Matthew 15:18-19)

Jesus never separates the heart from actions. Professing Christians may claim that their heart is toward God, that they love Him, and that He knows these things; but if they live a life in which they continually violate His commands, and they don’t appear overly concerned about it; then the true, unregenerate state of their heart becomes clear. How then can such people expect true Christians to believe that they either love God’s Word or are born again?

Jesus talked a lot about fruit (or works), and so did his disciples, James and John. Professing believers need to understand that their “confession of faith” to God (or man) is meaningless. What God looks at is a person’s life. As a fallen man with limited wisdom, I can evaluate someone’s life by simply making a chart of (a) how they divide their time among various activities and (b) how they spend their money. I can figure out really quickly what’s important to them. How much more can God see not just through their use of time and money but right through their thoughts and into their heart? What kind of fruit are they bearing?

17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (This certainly implies judging.)  21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ (the cheap confession I referred to – after all, only professing Christians call Jesus “Lord”) will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (This sure sounds like professing Christians to me.) 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:17-23, emphasis mine)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims (cheap talk again) to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17, emphasis mine)

We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. 4 The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: 6 Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6, emphasis mine)

After looking at God’s description of how to discern those who are truly His, I ask, would you do it any differently if you were God? Would you want followers who gave you cheap talk but who were halfhearted and lukewarm at best and held no true devotion to you? Of course not. Neither does God, and Jesus talked about this fact quite a bit:

11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 12“A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 24 Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ 26 I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 27 But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:11-27, emphasis mine)

Notice the points Jesus is making about His kingdom in this parable. First, there will be an accounting of what we do for Him with our life. He will commends and reward those servants who use what He gives them to increase His kingdom, to build “assets” that matter to Him, not to us. Second, there will be dire consequences for those who reject His way and hate His rightful rule over their lives. They will be killed; and of course, we know from all Jesus’ other teachings that this is not just physical death but also spiritual death, which has eternal consequences. This is a sober message that people need to hear, but you’ll rarely hear it in churches. Yes, they might preach it in terms of why we need to “invest our minas” and give our time to their church and their programs, but that’s not the same thing as personally hearing from God (which His sheep do – John 10:1-18), doing what He says to do, and working as God directs you to work. That’s a firmly biblical concept, well familiar to true followers of Christ but foreign to most churches today.

Nearly all of those I have spoken with don’t like the fact that I am judging them. What professing believers need to understand is that we don’t take it lightly when we judge their lives. We need to share how judging is to be rightly done, and we need to show that the Word of God is the authority that establishes these truths. We also need to make clear that our ultimate motive is love. Like our loving Father, we don’t want to see anyone perish in their sin. So what principles does the Bible give us for judging? I’ll sum them up in eight quick points:

(1) We are to be clean and humble before God and not hypocritical in our judgment – Matthew 7:1-5.

(2) We need the Holy Spirit (discernment) to make a right judgment, so as not to judge by mere appearances (in the wisdom of man) – John 7:23-24.

(3) On matters that are disputable (non-salvation issues, such as food, sacred days, etc.), we are not to judge our brethren – Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

(4) Along the lines of (1) above, we are to maintain humility and leave the ultimate  revealing of those with false motives to the Lord – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.

(5) Paul passed judgment on an unrepentant sinner in the church, and he affirms that we are to judge those inside, not outside, the church. This is a judgment with consequences – 1 Corinthians 5:3, 11-13.

(6) Paul instructed Timothy in how to go about all the judgments he had to make in ministry in the right manner. He was to show no partiality or favoritism – 1 Timothy 5:21.

(7) James tells us not to slander someone in our judgment. “Slander” means to make a malicious statement, with evil intent. He also tells us we cannot condemn someone – i.e. sit in judgment of the Law, or make ourselves judge instead of God – James 4:11-12.

(8) Paul also wrote against making hypocritical, condemning judgments – Romans 2:1-4.

When we follow these principles in speaking with someone about their life, we are also to heed this counsel from God’s Word:

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth (2 Timothy 2:25, emphasis mine)

We are to diligently attempt to share truth with them, so that they may be saved and/or walk according to God’s commands in His Word, which is the exact same thing we should be trying to do in our own lives. So we’re not exhorting someone else to do something that we’re not wholeheartedly striving to do ourselves. We need to be patient and willing to spend many hours discussing the truth in God’s Word, with the knowledge that a true believer loves the Word and will conform his or her life to it.

The unfortunate reality with the vast majority of people is that, after many hours of discussion, it becomes quite clear where they draw the line with God – how far they will and won’t go with what the Bible clearly says. When you line up anyone against the perfect plumb line of God’s Word, imperfections become clear. And when someone sees these things, the appropriate response for the born again child of God is, “I repent. I’m wrong. I humble myself and commit to align my life with God’s Word.” Unfortunately, what you often see from professing Christians is this response: “I don’t feel like God would do that.” Or “I think I’m going to do it this (i.e. my) way instead.” Or “I see that the Bible is saying that, but I just don’t feel right about it, so I disagree.” Or “In spite of what the Bible says about me that clearly shows that I’m not born again, I believe I am anyway.”

If people are honest with themselves, they can easily see that these statements are flawed and that some are ridiculous – simply attempts to justify a person’s preference to rule their own life. The reality is that it’s really not difficult to use the Word of God to judge someone’s life as to whether or not they are following Christ. What makes it difficult and confusing for the multitude of professing Christians out there is the fact that so many claim to be following Christ whose lives bear no fruit. Couple this with how few actually do follow Christ and bear fruit for Him, and you end up with all the confusion we see today. Tack on to this the cost of following Christ and His guarantee of suffering and persecution (Matthew 13:21; 2 Timothy 3:12), and you get an unpalatable religion in the eyes of those who lack the faith to see its eternal rewards.

May all of us who bear the name of Christ watch our own lives closely, and may we employ the same zeal for God’s Bride that Paul did when he rightly judged.

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Run at the Cry

I was studying Hebrews 4 and was blessed by Adam Clarke’s commentary on verse 16:

Hebrews 4:16  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The word βονθεια is properly rendered assistance, help, or support; but it is an assistance in consequence of the earnest cry of the person in distress, for the word signifies to run at the cry, θειν εις βοην, or επι βοην θειν. So, even at the throne of grace, or great propitiatory, no help can be expected where there is no cry, and where there is no cry there is no felt necessity; for he that feels he is perishing will cry aloud for help, and to such a cry the compassionate High Priest will run; and the time of need is the time in which God will show mercy; nor will he ever delay it when it is necessary. We are not to cry to-day to be helped to-morrow, or at some indefinite time, or at the hour of death. We are to call for mercy and grace when we need them; and we are to expect to receive them when we call. This is a part of our liberty or boldness; we come up to the throne, and we call aloud for mercy, and God hears and dispenses the blessing we need. (underlining mine)

Faith is a frequent theme in Hebrews, and it’s no different in this passage, except for the fact that it’s not explicitly mentioned. No one is going to run to God’s throne and cry out for help, expecting to receive it, unless they have living faith. I definitely needed to read and understand this, to see where my own faith is and to exhort me to always believe.

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Great Devotional from Gary Wilkerson

by Gary Wilkerson

There was a young Scottish pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne who died at 29. Before his passing he brought a great awakening to his church. This week I read a quote from this man of God, he said, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.”

We have a plethora of eloquent preachers, an over abundance of charismatic personalities, more than sufficient number of high profile leaders. What we are in want of are holy men of God. People need to see more than ministry skill from their leaders; they need to see a godly heart.

A pastor cannot take his congregation into the depths of Christ any further than he has gone first himself.

What’s the outcome of a church that has astonishing programs, brilliant leadership, edge of the seat presentations and state of the art building but has no vision at its core to be a holy people? What good can come from engaging speakers conducting entertaining events if that leader is not a man desiring to bow in brokenness and humbly recognize how estranged he and his congregation are from a holy and awesome God?

Our churches are often full of frivolity and we know it but it is not changed because leaders tolerate it rather than grieve over it. The situation in the church is simply a reflection of the reality that is within the pastor’s heart. The light pouring from a single broken vessel far outshines the productions of a thousand religious entertainers. Paul said you have many tutors but few fathers. Today he might have said you have many church experts but few holy men.

R.M. McCheyne’s word is more necessary today than when he first spoke this to a compromised, liberal, nominalist church in Scotland. But not just his words but his example, the power of his pulpit and the effect of his ministry empowered his words. His word contained power behind a life that contained purity.

Are you hungry to be a holy man or woman of God? There is only one way to see this happen. It is to lay down both human efforts to strive at your own righteousness and be fully cloaked with the garments of Christ and to simply receive the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

This holiness is far more than self-willed negating of sin; it is an absolute surrender to Christ who releases a great and glorious passion for holiness. I don’t want to spend my life trying to wrestle with my old man. I want to see Christ form in me the fullness of the new man he has created.

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