Dan Swaningson, Hope Chapel, 4-3-16
‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:7,8
You can’t be born again and not be radically different, not see the world through the eyes of the Savior; experience life, the pain the joy and heartache and the passion, that comes from being a Spirit led, spiritually alive being in a dead and dying world. Unless of course you refuse to live by the Spirit and purposely ignore the wind.
Being born again isn’t a state of mind, it’s not a phrase to describe a set of beliefs or a particular brand of Christian. It’s not a club that you join or a conditioning to ascribe to through discipline, ritual or liturgy. Being born again is a state of being. It’s a state of being just as surely as being born of the flesh is. It is who you are, but you have to allow yourself to become who you are as a born again person. Too often we continue to live as though we are not born again, as though we are no different than we were when we were still dead.
Being born again from death to life is a radical transformation, it is literally an altered state. We don’t learn to be born again any more than a baby learns to alter his or her condition from being in the womb to being out in the world. But unlike the first birth where a baby doesn’t have a choice as to whether it’s born or not; In the case of being born again we do have a choice, we choose whether we will be born again, or not, when we choose whether or not to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and invite him into our hearts and are made alive by his Spirt, the Holy Spirit.
How can you not be different when you are suddenly the living temple of the very Spirit of God himself?
I have seen this transformation happen over and over again, I have had the privilege of inviting many, many, people over the years to accept Jesus and I don’t care if it is just quietly raising your hand in acknowledgement in a church service, boldly sprinting to the alter in front of everyone at a big event, bowing your head and saying the sinner’s prayer across the table in a cafe, falling prostrate in repentance and weeping for joy before a campfire in the mountains— if you have opened your heart to Jesus you are a new creation, and you are not the same person you used to be.
When it happens it is always a miracle, another rebirth, another cause for celebration in heaven. I’ve looked in a person’s eyes and seen the lights come on as there is suddenly someone home, the fear and hurt falls away and life begins— real life.
Even in this room I can look around and see people who are radically different-- more different then they even realize— then they were when I first met them. And in every one of those cases of rebirth it happened instantaneously- no theatrics, no sign ups, no special classes, just a genuine decision to trust Jesus, a realization of how much you are loved and a desire to want to be free.
And freedom follows. First we are set free from the things that caused us to get into the bondages of the flesh— the fear, the loneliness and hopelessness, the hurts of the past and the fear of the anxiety of what’s to come. And then we are given the power to overcome the addictions that came as we tried to mask the deadness that used to be inside of us. A deadness that no longer exists removing the need for the artificial life that comes from our addictions and obsessions.
I love watching as those who have found their life in Christ begin to discover their new passion for life and the life of others as they simply want to share what they have discovered, as they begin to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. They usually don’t even realize that that is what’s happening. Suddenly in their eyes the poor seem poorer, they feel the pain of the oppressed, experience the pain of the hurting and grieving, rejoice in the victories of those who find redemption and healing.
The born again no longer see their time, their money, their talents and skills as something to be used for themselves, as something to cling to and guard. It is now something to share, to use to lift others up. Their hearts cry for the needs of others and they find their greatest fulfillment in emptying themselves for the sake of those whom Christ died for.
A born again believer is a strange creature, one who does not worry so much about today because they know tomorrow has been purchased and planned out just for them by the God who holds all their tomorrows and offers them to them freely. And the greatest treasure they have, one they can never give away to the point where they run out, is grace. So it is, and so it should be— with those who have been born again. Jesus told us, freely you have received, freely you must give.
he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
If you have lost this, this notion, the freedom to live, be and give, the passion to share what you have, the life and the blessing, then your heart is becoming hard and you need to mount up once again on the winds of the Spirit who has brought you from death to life, sorrow to joy, apathy to zeal. To simply be… alive.
Main Point: To be born again is to be free, to be born again is to be real, to be born again is to be.
So it is. We looked at this last week in the words of Jesus who was giving Nicodemus a crash verse on what it meant to really be alive, to really know the Lord. Jesus told him he needed to be born again and he used the wind to illustrate this new reality.
I described it as being like the eagle who trusts in and finds his sustenance, his safety, his whole identity and purpose in the wind. Riding the wind becomes second nature to the Eagle even though he may not understand the wind, where it comes from or where it is going.
The apostle Peter— who was most likely there when Jesus visited with Nicodemus that night as he found him in their camp—sat there next to that campfire and listened as Jesus shared with the Pharisee what it meant to be born again, when he said; “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”. This conversation really stuck with Peter because he would devote the first chapter of his first letter to the church to what is means to be born again.
Find 1 Peter 1
So who are you as a born again believer? Jesus words; “So it is”, are just the beginning of the answer. Peter would find out what this truly meant when he found that redemption, that rebirth, into a life of grace after the devastating disgrace of his denial of his Lord on that awful night around another campfire— this one in the courtyard of the high priest. Peter was now a new man, no longer afraid and angry, now living out loud and loving with a passion that would cost him his very life and earn him a crown of victory.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,
5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Jump down to 22
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
To be born again means that we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. If you truly grasp that, it is an incredibly freeing concept. This life is but a short season, albeit an important season, as much that we do here effects our eternity, but a season that in the light of eternity and the treasure that awaits us, is like the grass and the wildflowers of the mountain meadows that seem so lush and vibrant but are quickly gone with the season.
But even the wildflowers seem to rejoice, to glory in the knowledge that they will be back, given a new life in the next season as the sun warms the earth and sends the life giving rains. They are free to flourish today, knowing that they will return tomorrow.
To be born again is to be free So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. Are you free to flourish? Have you grasped the concept that this is not all there is, this short season of growth is just the beginning? You have an eternal inheritance, a life everlasting and a life that had already begun, rejoice in your today. You are free.
So it is that you no longer need to fall back on the things that distract us from the life of despair and anxiety. The problem with us humans, even if we are born again, is that we still are in the flesh so we have this constant tension between the flesh and the Spirit going on and we too often forget that we are indeed Spirit, we are no longer subject to the futility, the condemnation and bondages of the flesh.
But we often forget. We need constant reminders, and we need to be continually teaching our selves what it means to be free, what it means to be a follower of Christ, led by and carried by the wind of the Holy Spirit. The flesh is woefully deceptive and prone to believe the lies of the enemy who does not want us living in the joy of our salvation.
And that’s why scripture, like the section we just read, reminds us over and over again who we are and whose we are.
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Pet 1:8,9
It’s a passion. When we are born again we are filled with a passion for the Lord, for the things of the Lord— his word, his worship, his people— all people who don’t know him— “You need to meet my Jesus! Why doesn’t everyone know him? Surely they would want to if I just told them what he did for me!” We have a passion but we start getting discouraged, our joy starts to wane as we realize that people just think we’ve lost it— even some other Christians think we’re weird.
So we stuff down the joy, hide the exuberance so we don’t stand out. We start looking at the world that is still going on all around us just as it always has, except now we can see just how messed up it is and how everyone is hurting each other and themselves and we get discouraged, we lose our joy, we lose our passion. “Lord, just come and rapture me out of here, forget this place, forget these people.” —That’s not a good attitude either. It is certainly not the Lord’s attitude as he is holding back from coming until all have heard.
So it should be with us. We can keep our joy; we can keep our passion. The difference between us and the people of the world who don’t know our Jesus, is that we are free from the having to allow this world to shape us, to affect how we feel. The only power the world, the only power the enemy, has over how we feel− whether we are happy or sad, whether we care or not− is what we give it.
We have available to us an inexpressible and glorious joy. We need to keep releasing that and reminding ourselves of that. That’s a big part of the reason we gather together to worship, when we focus on the Lord, when we lift our voices, our hands and our hearts to God we are also raising ourselves above the cares of this world, it reminds us who is on the throne, of not just the universe, but our lives, and it frees us from despair and anger.
Politics Boy, that’s important to remember especially in the political climate we have found ourselves in as our government gets farther and farther away from the Godly principles we were founded on and our presidential election becomes a full-fledged circus, actually that’s offensive to the circus, Barnum and Bailey and the Ringling brothers had much more class and the performers admitted that they were in it for the fame and the money.
It would be very easy to get discouraged and despair. How many people do you know that are downright depressed, or out and out angry over the presidential candidates that we the people have selected? Do you suppose that being so emotionally influenced by our national game of thrones has a positive influence or a negative influence on your state of mind, or on those around you who are witness to your despair? We are supposed to be filled with an inexpressible joy, not a loudly expressed anger.
Nothing good comes out of our despair or our anger. It only pushes people away and farther into the darkness making it less and less likely that they will ever see the light, that they will come to know our Jesus and be set free, or that our nation will truly be free again.
An election is not going to change this nation and bring it back to God— I don’t care who we elect— if our hearts are not free, if we are bound up by bitterness. If we are living like those who are dead, none of it will matter. A free people without the guidance of a sovereign God will not be free for long. A nation led by people who are living for the flesh, a nation where God is taken out of the public discourse and worships a plurality of Gods, or lives in the arrogance of godlessness, is not going to stand whether we have a Trump, a Cruz, a Sanders or another Clinton sitting in the oval office.
This nation will remain Godless unless we, the church, born again believers rediscover our passion, the passion that comes from the joy of our salvation, that comes from knowing a freedom that no government can neither grant nor take away, a joy that says; everyone needs to know about my Jesus— let me tell you what Jesus did for me! Hallelujah God is good! Even if it gets us branded a weirdo, or worse, just branded.
Being angry and telling people they or their candidates of choice are ignoramuses is not going to achieve anything good. I’m not saying you can’t have, or express, an opinion. What I am saying is be careful how you say it. You are never going to change a person’s mind by deriding or maligning them. We are not going to change this country by arguing our point of view with an attitude of condemnation. The eyes that have been blinded by the enemy will never be opened until the lights behind them come on, when they are born again.
So it is that the only way things are going to change is if we change hearts, and we can only change hearts by the power of the gospel and people are only going to hear the gospel if we are presenting it, living it, being it, with the passion that comes from the joy of knowing that we are saved, that we are free and we are His— no matter what happens in Washington or next door.
Your heart is free, keep it so. As Peter would go on to write in his chapter about what it means to be born again:
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Pet 2:1-3
God is good, every day.
To be born again is to be real We can be real. I think we start getting into trouble after we are born again when we start trying to blend in, to be like the rest of the world so as not to offend or seem weird. When we realize that just because we have a new life from the Lord and have been set free, doesn’t mean everyone else wants to—that’s really a rude awakening.
The world goes on just as messed up as always, only now it seems even more hostile to us. So it is for the Jesus freak.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Pet 1:6,7
I remember when I got delivered from despair and hopelessness by the Spiritual renewal that happened in my heart when I decided to trust the Lord with my life, setting aside the drugs and alcohol, at the same time. I thought everyone would want to know the joy and freedom I suddenly was experiencing. “If I just say the right thing, get in the right digs at the right time, throw a scripture at them, have a clever Jesus bumper sticker on my car, it will be irresistible.” It didn’t work out so well.
All my carefully worded and planned speeches fell flat, my bumper sticker just got me flipped off and my scripture quoting just got me ostracized. I’ll never forget sitting in the break room at the welding shop I used to work in with four other guys. It was Good Friday, my first since being delivered from my addictions. I had a five minute Easter lesson all planned out that would surely make these guys appreciated what Jesus had done for them.
The only part I remember right now is the opening line: With the great anxiety that only comes from a contrived and forced witness I said: “I’ll bet you guys have always wondered why Jesus let them crucify him?” Without missing a beat, one of the guys, Flint was his name, said; “No. actually I haven’t.” Even though that effectively shot a hole in my whole premise I went on with my speech anyway. To a very unreceptive audience as you can imagine.
After getting shot down several times, to where I got gun shy, I finally learned to do more praying and less planning. To be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in me. This last week I was riding up to Miles City with one of our Estimators and we got to talking about kids, he wanted to know if they were saved. I assured them that they were covered by grace until they could decide to accept or reject Christ on their own.
He then said: What do you know about marriage? I laughed and said, how much time do you have? For most of the two hour trip he quizzed me and earnestly listened to my answers on how to have a blessed and strong marriage. I suggested he read the book Love and Respect. Two days later he told me he had downloaded and listened to the entire book on his drive to Sydney and back where he was checking on another job.
I didn’t plan to help him with his marriage issues. But God did, and because I was prayed up and ready to give an answer, I had the opportunity. “Lord, don’t help me strategize, just give me opportunities!” You see the difference here?
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 1 Pet 1:22,23
He felt safe to ask because he sensed a sincerity and a love, a sincerity and a love that does not come from me, but a love that comes from the Spirit within me, one that I have learned to get out of the way of— and just be.
To be born again is to be. I racked my brains to think of some story or illustration about what it means to be born again, to be free, to be real, to just be, and it just wasn’t happening. There’s the old usual illustrations of the Butterflies and the Bull frogs being born again, from a caterpillar and a tadpole but really, that doesn’t work, we are not worms or bugs or amphibians so it’s hard to relate.
But I kept thinking about little Ally, Mat and Sabrina’s baby girl. I remember the first time they walked in here with her, Sabrina was all aglow just like a mother showing off her new baby and Matt the proud father. But this baby had not been born to them. Ally had been born into a nightmare. At just a few weeks old she showed up here with two broken legs, a broken collar bone and sternum and a cigarette burn on her toe for good measure. All inflicted on her by her birth mother, her flesh and blood mother.
But Ally was born again into a new family, given another chance, a new life. She was now in the arms of a mother who would never hurt her, who loves her and has brought her to a place of healing, peace and safety.
The Lord had told Matt and Sabrina that Ally was coming. The Lord knew that there was a baby girl who would need a chance to be reborn into a new family, weeks before she was even born. Matt and Sabrina had been struggling, they wanted a big family but had been unable to get pregnant, and they asked me to pray for them. I did and in the midst of the prayer I saw a picture of a baby girl still in the womb and I heard the name Ally.
I told them that they were going to have a little girl. I then asked them if they had thought about any names; “No, not really.” I hesitated because I didn’t want to influence them but I said, “Well I heard the name Ally, I think it’s short for something but I don’t know what.” So when she walked in that day with a baby girl and said; “Guess what her name is”, I said; “No, it can’t be.” It was- Ally. The little girl they were promised.
So it is, that our God is good— all the time. Is that a great picture of being born again or what? Ally, who was born into chaos and pain, has a new life a new family, a new hope for a good future. She came in here bruised and broken, knocked out with pain meds screaming in pain whenever she woke up, it was heartbreaking. But she has been allowed to heal and now her eyes have a light and she smiles when she is awake. Her past just a distant, fading memory.
Someday Ally will have the choice to make, “Am I the victim, leaving in defeat and bitterness, using my past as an excuse and a reason to destroy my future, or am I going to live as a victor, one who has been given another chance to live a life of joy and purpose, using the opportunity and love I have been given to move forward into a hopeful and optimistic tomorrow?”
We all have that choice to make.
So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.