How & When do we get Freedom from the (1) Guilt of sin (2) Power of sin (3) Presence of sin?

Justification,sanctification,glorification from Gospel Coalition

Seminary Professor AUGUSTUS NICODEMUS GOMES LOPES explains:

  1. The first step, justification, is an act of God whereby he considers us righteous on the merits of his Son. It’s a legal declaration made once for all, and it is the basis for all that follows.
  2. The second step, sanctification, is our deliverance from sin’s power. This process begins after justification and continues our entire life. Sanctification does not entail complete eradication of our fallen nature, but it does help to subdue and slay it. This is the stage of salvation in which all Christians presently live. The Lord provides us means of grace like biblical meditation, prayer, and fellowship with other believers to harness the Spirit’s sanctifying power. It’s also vital to pray specifically for the spiritual fruit of self-control. This fight is a fierce and seemingly endless struggle, but the fight itself is not sin. Temptation only becomes sin when we yield to it. Victory, however, comes when we say „no,” hour after hour, by the Spirit’s power.
  3. The final step, glorification, is our ultimate freedom from sin’s indwelling presence. It will occur when we die or when our King returns. There will be a resurrection of the dead and a transformation of believers still alive. All God’s children will become like God’s Son in immaculate, immortal, imperishable, glorified bodies.

Source: The Gospel Coalition

R. C. Sproul – Why don’t Christians care about sin?

from a Ligonier conference-  LigonierMinistries

Alistair Begg responds:

The believer does not understand the notion of Union with Christ.

If we don’t preach the Gospel to ourselves all day, every day, then we will fail in some arena. And one of the areas of failure is a fast lane into antinomianism. So peopele then,  under the disguise of a superabundance of the grace of God answer the question with which Romans 6 begins, and answer it wrongly. „Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” They answer, „Yes.” And off they go. You know- „Shall I take my body and join it to a prostitute?” What kind of question is that? That’s a question for a Christian. Because the Christian has ben united with Christ. The Christian is in union with Christ and  we don’t understand what it means to be united with Christ, then all we’ll be left with is either legalism on the one hand, or lawlessness on the other hand.

It is since then, you have been raised with Christ to seek those things that are above. It is about who you are in Christ, because your nature and your status have been changed, because you’ve been raised to the heavenly places that these things are not impossible, but are now incongruent. And, I think part of the problem is that people do not know who they are in Christ.

R.C. Sproul responds:

I think, also, there’s a hidden premise in the question that can be very distorting. The real question is: Why don’t Christians care about their continuing sin? It is absolutely impossible for a person to be regenerate of the Holy Spirit and not care at all about sin. In that sense, there’s no such thing as „the carnal Christian”, who can receive Christ and be regenerate, and have no repentance. That is impossible. That is as unbiblical as it gets.

But, why don’t we care to the degree we ought to care? We care, but we don’t care enough. And it’s because our hearts are still lust til fully sanctified. And, God the Holy Spirit, in His convicting power has not fully revealed to us the sinfulness of our sin. Exhibit A is David. After his ghastly act of adultery and proxy murder of Uriah was trying to cover it up. Was He was a believing man and he’s down in the dregs of evil, and yet he doesn’t really show a whole lot of concern until God sends that prophet to him and tells him the story. And when the light dawns, when Nathan says, „Thou art the man,” David sees the evil of his sin and writes Psalm 51. Psalm 51 could never have been written by a human being who didn’t care about his sin.

But, here’s the blessing, if God revealed to me right now, the full measure  of the continuing sin in my life, it would destroy me. God is gracious and gentle in correcting us gradually. That is one of the things that is nice about progressive sanctification. Because if He gave it all at one time, we’d be dead.

D A Carson at Liberty University Q + A February 2012

You can watch the 66 minute lecture preceding the Q & A here- Biblical Studies Symposium at Liberty University – One Focus of the Gospel: John 3.

The Biblical Studies Symposium hosted Dr. D.A. Carson on February 20th, 2012. Dr. D.A. Carson addressed students and faculty in the Towns Alumni Lecture Hall at 7:30pm with „One Focus of the Gospel: John 3.

Topics addresses: Repentance, being Born Again, Sin, consumerism, built in hedonism is bound up in pleasant places, tolerance, exclusive truth claims, modern day invitational methods, abundant life (i.e. prosperity gospel), the role of law and Gospel, cheap grace, Wesley view of law & grace, Tim Keller & idolatry, regeneration, works based salvation, Scott McKnight,


1) Please address the use of repentance when presenting the Gospel. What does the unbeliever understand by that word?

Carson: Nowadays, not much, but it depends a bit on who the unbeliever is. If you are preaching the Gospel in sort of churchified settings, south of the Mason-Dixon line, then people have some sort of notion of what repentance is. But if you use that word in secularized New England or the Pacific Northwest it’s just not a word in every day use.

What you have to see is that very often its not the use of a particular word that is crucial, but by whatever words you choose getting across certain non negotiables that are bound up with what is involved  in conversion and one of the things that’s involved  in conversion is turning away from the direction in which I have been going and turning to Christ and that will have many, many different shapes. If you are a Buddhist in Thailand it will mean turning away from conceptuality of what the spiritual world consists in; it might not even involve belief in a personal God and turning to an entirely different worldview in which trysting Christ is part of the Bible storyline. It means turning away, not only from a lifestyle but from a frame of reference; a looking at something that is just plain wrong to something that puts Christ and His work right at the center of everything. So, it is not so much the word that is critical, but the reality of it.

In some context of the New Testament belief includes repentance. If it is genuine belief it is not just „belief that„; it is belief that is somehow so bound up with how Christ is that it necessarily means turning away from all that He isn’t, which is where you have been in the past.

 2) Specifically about the text in John 3, could you speak as to why the phrase „born again” is not rendered „born from above”?

Carson: The Greek word of course is αναγεγεννημενοι (anothen) and in terms of etymology (that is the parts of the word that go into making the word up) ano-above and then-from there, then anothen looks as if it means from there, from above and so some people want this to be born from above, and if I had time to do a decent exposition before a Greek class I would point that out. But word meanings are not always constrained by the parts that make them up. For example: In the English, in the spring we look for butterflies. Believe it or not, butterflies are not made up of butter and flies and so you have to start asking yourself: How is the word used? Not just the ingredients that have gone into the words, etymology; and you can show that in the broader Greek literature, sometimes anothen really does mean again. So, in this instance you are torn in choosing between born again or born from above. I suspect,  but I can’t prove, is that John meant both. What I tend to do is stick with the translation that I’m using, in which case is born again, but stress the from aboveness thing by pointing out that Christ came from above, and this is by revelation and He was sent from the Father and thus in fact you’ve got this dimension built into the explanation, whether you get the word anothen, to unpack it for you or the entire storyline.

 3) What is, in your opinion, the greatest threat within Christianity to a proper understanding of the Gospel and how do we respond?

Carson: I could give a general answer. SIN. The trouble is that sin has many faces and when you say the greatest threat it depends on what part of the world you are in. In some parts of the world there is spectacularly disastrous poverty and in that context it’s not consumerism that is the biggest threat. But, in this country consumerism is one of them. Not the only one, but it’s one of them. I have a daughter who lives in California and a son who lives in Hawaii, suffering for Jesus in those two places and one of the things I observe when I go to visit either of them is, in both cases, how much built in hedonism is bound up with life in pleasant places. As a friend of mine puts it in Hawaii, „What do you need heaven for? We’re already there!”  A pastor friend of mine in Santa Barbara says the most spectacularly difficult problem he’s got is finding young men who will submit to the training to become elders. They’re too busy wanting to surf. You start living in a culture, where the only reason you work is in order to play, and you will undercut the Gospel without a single doctrinal deviation. Now having said that, for other people it’s not that at all.

It’s various kinds of doctrinal deviations; one of them is the widespread view today that tolerance means you can’t say anybody is wrong. That is in fact a new definition of tolerance. An older definition of tolerance said, „I might detest everything that you’re saying and tell you that you’re wrong, but I still insist that you have the right to say it. That was the older view of tolerance. Nowadays to say that somebody is wrong is already intolerant. But that means that you are not allowed to say that anybody is wrong, which means you cannot have discussions, which means you can’t reflect what the Bible says: There is no salvation given to man, by which we can be saved, except in the Name of Jesus and no one comes to the Father except my Me. Those are very intolerant statements by the new definition of intolerance, but they’re not intolerant by the old definition.  You can preach Islam, you can preach radical secular humanism, Hinduism, in this country you can preach a lot of things and tell me I’m wrong as long as I can tell you you’re wrong. That’s still a very tolerant view and the older tolerance. But in the new tolerance, you see, then the new tolerance itself is a terrible threat towards the claims in Scripture of the exclusive  sufficiency of Jesus Christ and I guarantee in this crowd (Carson is speaking at Liberty University) there are many, many, many of you who have bought into the new tolerance without even knowing it and as a result you are made uncomfortable when you hear exclusive truth claims, or that people who don’t trust Jesus as their Savior and Lord are doomed to eternal destruction; you’re just made uncomfortable by that because it sounds intolerant and in our culture that’s one of the biggest things you can do: Be intolerant. We don’t realize how much we’ve absorbed the cultural milieu.

When people say, „What is the biggest threat?” it really depends on where you are in the culture, what age you are, where in the country and then it looks a little different in China, and in China it depends on where you are in China, whether you are in one of the free economic zones where there’s a surprising amount of liberty these days, where one of the biggest dangers is consumerism vs. when you are up country somewhere, where there is still a lot of persecution. What the danger is to us, looks very different than what the danger is in the Middle East. Here, it is widely accepted, in the western world, that if you’re tolerant, you don’t say anybody’s wrong. In Muslim countries, which after all take up about a billion people, nobody thinks that’s the case. Everybody thinks there’s only one way. The argument is which one? That’s a very different frame of reference, a different context in which to do evangelism, than in our context.

At the end of the day (the biggest threat) it’s sin, spiritual blindness. But if you come to specifics, you’ve got to recognize the shape of such unbelief and sin is really quite different form culture to culture.

 4) Do you find modern day invitational methods and decision seeking to be a major hindrance to the Gospel?

Carson: That is another one of those generalized questions that depends so much on what a person means. D.L.Moody when he was criticized for his methods turned to his questioner and said, „What methods do you advocate yourself?” The questioner said, „I don’t really do evangelism, I don’t have methods.”  Moody replied, „I prefer to use the methods I do use and you don’t like, than the methods you do like that yo don’t have.”  So you still want to say, when people start criticizing methods of one sort or another, „I’d rather have people making lots of mistakes in their presentation of the Gospel, pushing people to repent, than not doing it.Moreover, it’s often not just methods per se; it’s the context in which a method occurs. For example: If you have a really shoddy presentation of the Gospel- it doesn’t explain much of what the cross is about, doesn’t explain much about the nature of sin, doesn’t explain what substitution is about, doesn’t explain the wrath of God, it doesn’t explain any of those things; it just uses a whole lot of religious cliches, but it doesn’t explain any of those things and then you start pressing people to come forward and have eternal life, come forward and have the abundant life and maybe you’re dealing with a congregation that is semi literate in any case, biblically speaking, well in that context it really is dangerous to push people that way because, to use the language of the prophets, „They’re in danger of healing My people slightly”; that is, they make some sort of profession of faith, of turning in some way to God without understanding what the real issues are.

For example: Many,many of the evangelistic approaches that are used today, turn on having the abundant life. Would you like to have an abundant life;  step 1. Well, what idiot is going to say no? On the other hand, where does the abundant life language come from in the Bible? It comes from one verse, in John 10: „I have come that they might have life and they might have it more abundantly,”  and this in a context of an extended metaphor on sheep. So, the sheep are supposed to have a more abundant life. What does that mean? It probably means a whole lot more grass. When I first started doing university evangelism 35 years ago, when I was dealing with an atheist on a campus, he or she was a Christian atheist. That is to say that the God they disbelieved in was the Christian God, which is another way of saying that the arguments were still on my turf, my categories. I can’t even assume that today. The people I evangelize in university missions today don’t know the Bible as two Testaments. They’ve never heard of Abraham. If they’ve heard of Moses they confuse him either with Charlton Heston or the more recent cartoon character. They have no idea how the Bible’s put together and all of their religious vocabulary, as slight as it is- faith, God, Jesus, in every case they mean something different than what I mean. So, I come to these people and say, „Would you like to have abundant life?” What do they hear?  „Oh yeah, you bet I’d like. More sex, umm. Better job. Sense of fulfillment. Can you give me that?” So, they’re not hearing at all what the first century hearers heard, when Jesus spoke those words in John 10. So, we’re at a time of life when, if we’re evangelizing to people outside of the churchified, outside of the category of the people who already have a religious vocabulary, if you’re evangelizing in that sort of context, you’ve got a rebuilding job to do: to explain what the categories are, what the Bible stories are, how the Gospel works. That’s part of explaining the Gospel faithfully. If you don’t do that and instead apply immediately to ask people for a decision or to come forward or pray a prayer, where they don’t understand any of the categories, then you’re asking them to leap into an experience without any of the context of the constructs of the Gospel that make believing in the Gospel coherent. In that sense, it is very foolish to push those things. It’s not just whether you are pushing someone to bow to Christ, it’s the context in which you are doing it; how well the Gospel has been genuinely explained. It’s not method in some cheap, narrow sense that is at issue. The much bigger issue is how faithful a presentation is there, of the Gospel itself.

 5) Discuss the role of law and Gospel in your preaching.

Carson: In one sense, the role of law should be pretty substantial. In my view it shouldn’t take top priority and I need to explain both of those. You cannot get agreement on what the Good News is until you get agreement on what the problem is. The reverse is also true. The solution to the problem stand together. So if you think that the biggest human problem is economic injustice, what you need is a new social order. What you need is new economics. That is what you need to fix things.  If you think that the biggest human need is loneliness or social misidentity, not finding yourself; then you need a decent psychologist. So you need to have some awareness as to what the Bible presents as the fundamental need, the need behind every other need, and biblically speaking that is alienation from God. It is in a word, sin. It is transgression. It is degod-ing God.  It is idolatry. It is dishonoring God. Until people can see that that is what the problem is and to present Christ as the One who comes along and delivers us from the death that ensues from our sin, then the Gospel doesn’t make any sense. It’s not coherent. You need to present law – the demand of God, so that people can see what the effect of the law is. We don’t live up to God’s standards. He says we’re supposed to love God with heart, soul and mind and strength. And we don’t. He says we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. And we don’t. He says we’re not supposed to lust. And we do. He says we’re not supposed to hate and we manage that too, and on and on and on and on… All of these things in the Bible are presented as fundamental offenses against God HImself, against the living God and He stands over us not only as our Creator and our gracious providential provider but He also stands over us as judge, and He has very right to be angry with us. Six hundred times the Bible portrays God, in the Old Testament alone, as a wrathful God against us. Not that He has lost His temper, but His wrath is a determined, holy response to human sin. 

Anything that we do in preaching the law of God, so as to set up the stage for showing how wonderful the grace of God is, is surely got to be a good thing. If you talk about the grace of God before people recognize there’s any sort of problem, it’s almost inevitably going to turn out a bit of cheap grace. Wesley, in one of his letters, 137 or something like that, was asked, „How do you preach the Gospel in any place?” That is: He gets on his horse, goes to the next town, starts preaching; what does he do first? He says, „I begin with a general declaration of the love of God and the Gospel, and then I preach law. I preach law that men may know that they are lost. Then I preach more law and when I see a few people come under conviction of sin, knowing they are lost, maybe a few tears, I preach more law. When substantial numbers are clearly under conviction of  sin, then I admix a little grace. ” Wesley says that when the entire congregation is under the deep conviction of God, and crying out like those in Acts- „What shall we do?” Then, he says, ” I preach grace freely, and fully and richly, so that they see how glorious is the Gospel of God and then quickly do I admix law, lest men shall presume.” That was actually the Puritan view of things. Much of Wesley’s theology was actually puritan.

There is something right about all of that. I think there is also something wrong about it too, but there is something deeply right about it.  It really reflects the fact that you can’t get the Gospel right until you see what the problem is. One way or the other, they have to get that across. But, Tim Keller, a Presbyterian Minister in New York City who has about 6,000 members , average age of 31, mostly converts and biblically illiterate; he has learned not to begin with law, but with idolatry; because today, with a post modern world, in  a world with new ideas about tolerance when you preach law, what people hear you to be saying is that there’s some arbitrary being up there that just wants to step off and tell me what to do all the time. None of his business. Says who? But when you begin with idolatry, then you’re portraying something of the same thing, but in a relational dimension. The heart of idolatry is, you rebel against your maker. That’s a form of betrayal. This generation understands betrayal better than it understands trespasses. And, as Keller likes to point out, Paul himself in Romans 5 said: Before the law came that is with Moses and the giving of the law covenant, there was still idolatry and because of  it death reigned from Adam to Moses. Before the giving of the law there was still massive idolatry. So there is a sense that all of idolatry is a sense of transgressing against God. All of acting against the law is also idolatrous.

Now at what point do you start introducing the grace of God in the Gospel? That still has to be out there. It has to be the goal towards which we press. I don’t care how you mix it in. But somewhere along the line that if you run to grace and the Gospel before people have any idea of what the offense is then we ultimately end up with a diminished Gospel.

6) You’ve talked about the transforming power of the Gospel. If you are saying that after you are saved, there’s a certain way you have to live, how is that not works based salvation?

Carson: In works based salvation it is the works that finally commend you to God, not Christ. But, in the New Testament we are finally acceptable before God exclusively on the grounds of Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf. Yet, the inevitable result  of genuine salvation in the New Testament and regeneration is change in their life. That’s why Jesus can say things like: „By their fruits ye shall know them”, and, „many shall say to Me in those days: Lord, Lord haven’t we done this and haven’t we done that, then I shall say to them, Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you”. This does not say that Christians are sinlessly perfect, it does not say they all grow at the same rate, it does not say there is no possibility of slipping and siding on occasion, having to be restored to God. The experience of most Christians is that as you become closer to God you become more aware of the sin in your life. But having said all of those things and putting all of those caveats in place, when you are converted you want to do what you didn’t want to do before and you don’t want to do what you wanted to do before. There’s a change in the heart. A cleaning, an orientation and holiness becomes attractive instead of something that you have to put up with instead of trying to see what you can get away with. As long as young people are asking, „Can I get away with this, or can I get away with that. I wonder if they’re regenerate. If they’re asking instead, „How can I grow in holiness, then I suspect they’ve begun to understand.

7) What do you make of Scott McKnight’s call for a Gospel that is first Christology, and second soteriology in his recent booklThe King Jesus Gospel?

Carson: Scott’s an old friend. He’s a creative writer and thinker. He couldn’t write a boring sentence if he tried. He’s an excellent communicator. He is also temperamentally a guy who likes to take on almost anything that’s going and push it in a whole other direction. He is the universal corrector. One of the things that bothers me about some of Scott’s writings is that often he is right in what he affirms but wrong in what he denies. How can you have a genuinely biblical Christology without the soteriology entailed? Hw can you have genuine soteriology without knowing something about Christology?  Why do you want to pit them against each other? So, I know the error he is trying to correct, but I think it is rarely the path of wisdom to correct an error by advocating a pendulum swing. The path of wisdom when there’s an error is try to find the center of biblical faithfulness again rather than a pendulum swing. It’s not as if biblical truth is several pearls on a string and which pearl you put in what order makes a difference. It’s more like a symphony and all the instruments need to be playing together.

8) Are the issues of dispensationalism and covenant theology worth breaking fellowship over and should this affect the Gospel movement? 

Carson: In the context of a local church which has a strong statement of faith on either one side or the other, then transparently to be faithful to that heritage you do break fellowship. But there might be some context where a church that is a moderate dispensational church and a church that is a moderate covenant church in the same town might share platforms together, might do some  evangelism together without consigning each other to Dante’s inferno. Behind the question, I see another question. It is bound up with this new view of tolerance. There are many, many people saying today: Anything that doesn’t directly affect your Salvation is not an important doctrine. They are saying in effect: Provided someone believes that it doesn’t matter a twig. I think that’s hugely mistaken. What that’s looking for is the lowest common denominator theology. It’s constantly asking the question: What is the least I can believe in Bible and get away with it?  Whereas there’s so many biblical texts that say that the righteous person loves the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. To this man I will look, he who is of a humble spirit, who is contrite and who trembles at my word. So it seems to me that the right approach to scripture is how I can understand and believe more accurately  so I can think God’s thoughts, after Him. Not asking purely pragmatic questions: What’s the least I can believe in and get away with it? If God didn’t think it was important, why did He give it?

9) How do we preach the full magnitude of the Gospel in a culture of such busyness and non commitment?

Carson:  If it wasn’t a culture of such busyness and non commitment then sin would manifest itself in some other way. Every Gospel apart of the grace of God and the Gospel is already alienated from God. In the first century they had polytheism to contend with and paganism and blood sacrifices. Every society has things that stand over and against the Gospel and what you do in a culture like that is still to preach the whole counsel of God. You learn to do it winsomely. You learn where the tender spots are so you can negotiate them tenderly and not cause unnecessary offense. But, if there’s an offense in the Gospel itself, then you bear the offense. That’s just the way it is. If people think that you’re intolerant because you say there is no other name under heaven by which you must be saved; then you try hard to think through how you might defend yourself in that regard and thus defend Christ, but you don’t duck it because it’s still the truth. And without that truth there’s gonna be all kinds of people who think that they’re saved when they’re not.

People make their own busyness. They’re not busy in the same sense that people during the industrial revolution were busy, who worked 5 1/2 or 6 days a week, 12 + hours a day. Many of them died at the age of 40 or 45, all worn out. There were no holidays, there were no unions. The beginning of unions, was in fact under John Wesley.The first 3 trade union leaders were exported to Australia as prisoners because of the rapaciousness of all the power being on one side. So, in every culture there are problems to face and in our culture there are these problems. So when people get converted in our culture, I wanna start saying things like this: When you get up in the morning, is the first thing you do turn on the iPhone? Check your email list from the night before or read your Bible? That’s a choice. That’s not the imposition of a culture, that’s a choice. You never, ever pray in any culture unless you make plans to pray. You never drift into self discipline. It’s a choice. Choose your priorities. Stop making excuses about how busy you are. You think you’re busy here? It’s nothing compared to what will come later. So you start challenging anyone who uses that as an excuse. God has given you all the time there is: 24 hours a day. Question is not how busy you are. It’s what you do with it. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.

You Must Be Born Again: Why This Series and Where Are We Going?

You Must Be Born Again: Why This Series and Where Are We Going?.

You Must Be Born Again Why This Series and Where Are We Going? by John Piper
– Watch more Videos at Vodpod.
John 3:1-18

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

If you go to the Barna Group online—it’s an organization that specializes in religious research and statistics—you’ll read things like this: “Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians.” The same kind of statistics are given by Ron Sider in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? and by Mark Regnerus in his book Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.

American Church Not Unlike the World

What I am picking up on here is precisely the term “born again.” The Barna Group in particular uses it in reporting their research. So that report is titled “Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians.” Sider uses the word “evangelicals” but points out the same kind of thing: “Only 9 percent of evangelicals tithe. Of 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage, 80% had sex outside marriage in the next 7 years. Twenty-six percent of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong. White evangelicals are more likely than Catholics and mainline Protestants to object to having black neighbors.”

In other words, the evangelical church as a whole in America is apparently not very unlike the world. It goes to church on Sunday and has a veneer of religion, but its religion is basically an add-on to the same way of life the world lives, not a radically transforming power.

A Profound Mistake

Now I want to say loud and clear that when the Barna Group uses term “born again” to describe American church-goers whose lives are indistinguishable from the world, and who sin as much as the world, and sacrifice for others as little as the world, and embrace injustice as readily as the world, and covet things as greedily as the world, and enjoy God-ignoring entertainment as enthusiastically as the world—when the term “born again” is used to describe these professing Christians, the Barna Group is making a profound mistake. It is using the biblical term “born again” in a way that would make it unrecognizable by Jesus and the biblical writers.

Here is the way the researchers defined “born again” in their research:

“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.” Being classified as “born again” is not dependent upon church or denominational affiliation or involvement.

In other words, in this research the term “born again” refers to people who say things. They say, “I have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s important to me.” They say, “I believe that I will go to heaven when I die. I have confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.” Then the Barna Group takes them at their word, ascribes to them the infinitely important reality of the new birth, and then blasphemes that precious biblical reality by saying that regenerate hearts have no more victory over sin than unregenerate hearts.

The New Testament Moves the Opposite Direction

I’m not saying their research is wrong. It appears to be appallingly right. I am not saying that the church is not as worldly as they say it is. I am saying that the writers of the New Testament think in exactly the opposite direction about being born again. Instead of moving from a profession of faith, to the label “born again,” to the worldliness of these so-called born again people, to the conclusion that the new birth does not radically change people, the New Testament moves the other direction. It moves from the absolute certainty that the new birth radically changes people, to the observation that many professing Christians are indeed (as the Barna Group says) not radically changed, to the conclusion that they are not born again. The New Testament, unlike the Barna Group, does not defile the new birth with the worldliness of unregenerate, professing American Christians.

For example, one of the main points of the first epistle of John is to drive home this very truth:

  • 1 John 2:29: “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”
  • 1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”
  • 1 John 4:7: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
  • 1 John 5:4: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
  • 1 John 5:18: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

We will come back to texts like these in the weeks to come as this series develops. There are many questions to answer and we will distance ourselves plainly from perfectionism and deal realistically with the failures of genuine Christians. But for now, is it not true that these statements appear to be written with the very claims of the Barna Group in mind, namely, that born again people are morally indistinguishable from the world? The Bible is profoundly aware of such people in the church. That is one reason why 1 John was written. But instead of following the Barna Group, the Bible says that the research is not finding that born again people are permeated with worldliness; the research is finding that the church is permeated by people who are not born again.


Today we begin a series of messages about the new birth. What does the Bible teach about being born again? Another word for the event of being born again is “regeneration.” It is helpful to use that word from time to time. Would you be willing to add it to your vocabulary? Children would you help your parents with this? They have probably never used the word “regeneration” in talking to you. So they may not know what it is. Would you tell them when you get home, “Mommy and Daddy, did you know that ‘regeneration’ means being born again? And did you know that the word ‘regenerate’ is how you describe somebody who is born again? You say, ‘That person is regenerate.’ That means he’s born again”? If you could coach your parents with this, it will help me very much. Then we can all use words in the same way and not get confused.

1) The Desecration of the Term “Born Again”

Today’s message will be an introductory overview of where we are going and why. You can already see one of the reasons I want to focus on this issue. The term “born again” is desecrated when it is used the way the Barna Group uses it. And, of course, that kind of misuse of the biblical term is not the only kind. The term in our day simply means that someone or something got a new lease on life. So the internet says that Cisco Systems, the communications company, has been born again, and the Green Movement has been born again, the Davie Shipyard in Montreal has been born again, the west end in Boston has been born again, Kosher foods for Orthodox Jews have been born again, and so on. So it’s not surprising that we have to be careful when we read that 45% of Americans say they have been religiously “born again.”

This term “born again” is very precious and very crucial in the Bible. So I hope to make sure that we know what God intends when the Bible uses this language. What does being born again mean?

2) I Want You to Know What Happened to You

Another reason I am eager to focus on the new birth is to help you know what really happened to you when you were born again. It is far more glorious than you think it is. It is also more glorious than I think it is. It is wonderful beyond all human comprehension. But that mystery is not because there is little about it in the Bible. There is much about it in the Bible. It’s because when all is comprehended there is still more. So I hope that you will know more and know better what happened to you when you were born again.

3) I Want to Help People Be Born Again

Another reason for this series is that there are others that I want to help be born again. I want to show them what must happen to them. And I, with your prayers, would like to be a means of many being born again in these weeks. The new birth, we will see, is not a work of man. You don’t make the new birth happen, and I don’t make the new birth happen. God makes it happen. It happens to us, not by us.

Being Born Again Happens Through the Gospel

But it always happens through the word of God. Listen to1 Peter 1:23 and 25: “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” So even though God is the one who begets his children, the seed by which he does it is the word of God, the gospel that we preach. So pray with me that one of the great effects of this series will be that miracle. And bring your friends and family who need to hear about the necessity of the new birth. I will try to explain it clearly and show it from the Bible so people can see it for themselves.

And the reason I want you to know what happened to you in your new birth and others to know what must yet happen to them is threefold. 1) When you are truly born again and grow in the grace and knowledge of what the Lord has done for you, your fellowship with God will be sweet, and your assurance that he is your Father will be deep. I want that for you. 2) If God would be pleased to bring this kind of awakening to his church, then the world will get the real deal of radical love and sacrifice and courage from the church and not all these fake Christians that live just like the world. 3) If you know what really happened to you in your new birth, you will treasure God and his Spirit and his Son and his word more highly than you ever have. And he will be glorified. So those are some of the reasons why we are focusing on the new birth.

Crucial Questions About Being Born Again

There are several crucial questions we will be asking. One is: What is the new birth? That is, what actually happens? What is it like? What changes? What comes into being that wasn’t there before?

Another question is: How does it relate to other things that the Bible says God does to bring us to himself and save us? For example, how does being born again relate to

  • God’s effectual calling (“Those whom he called he justified” Romans 8:30),
  • The new creation (“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” 2 Corinthians 5:17),
  • God’s drawing us to Christ (“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” John 6:44),
  • God’s giving people to his Son (“All that the Father gives me will come to me,” John 6:37),
  • God’s opening our hearts (“The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul,” Acts 16:14),
  • God’s illumining our hearts (“God . . . has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2 Corinthians 4:6),
  • God’s taking the heart of stone out and giving us a heart of flesh (“I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” Ezekiel 36:26),
  • God’s making us alive (“even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ,” Ephesians 2:5),
  • God’s adopting us into his family (“You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Romans 8:15).

How does God’s act of regeneration relate to all these wonderful ways of describing what happened to us when God saved us?

Another question we will ask is: Why is the new birth necessary? Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:7, “You must be born again.” Not, “I suggest it,” or, “Your life would improve if you added this experience.” Why is it that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3)? This is one of the great reasons for dealing with this. Until we realize that we must be born again, and why we must be born again, we probably will not realize what our condition really is without salvation. Most people do not know what is really wrong with them. One way to help them make a true and terrible and hopeful diagnosis is to show them the kind of remedy God has provided, namely, the new birth. If you have a sore on your ankle and after the doctor does his test, he comes in and says, “I have hard news: We have to take your leg off just below the knee,” that remedy would tell you more about the sore than many fancy words. So it is with the remedy “you must be born again.”

Another question we will tackle is how the new birth happens. If it is the work of God, which it is, how do I experience it? Is there anything I can do to make it happen?

And a final question we must deal with is: What are the effects of being born again? What changes? What is it like to live as a born-again person?

Millions in Church Not Born Again

Which brings us back to where we started, namely, the claim that “born again” Christians have lifestyles of worldliness and sin that are indistinguishable from the unregenerate. I don’t think so. First John 5:4: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” But my conviction is not rosy news for the church. It implies that there are millions of church attenders who are not born again.

Would those of you who are born again, and have the Holy Spirit in you, and love God and care about lost people, pray with me that the effect of these messages will be to awaken the spiritually dead—both the ones who never go to church, and those who have been there all their lives?

© Desiring God

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