Born Again – Of Incorruptible Seed

If I were selling seeds, and you purchased apple tree seeds from me, you would expect to assume the risk that those seeds may not properly germinate. Even if they did, the new seedlings would be vulnerable to any number of dangers to its fragile life. But if I could offer you an “incorruptible” seed, one that would be positively perfect, that would mature to bear perfect fruit, that would never grow old and die, and that furthermore couldn’t be killed, you would certainly consider that a “miracle” seed.

It is just such a claim that the Spirit of God makes in the Word of God, and the incorruptible seed is that very Word created in us as a new and perfect life, a divine nature, by the Spirit.¹  Divine life in the human soul truly is a miracle.  Within that quickened soul, where there was once only an old fleshly nature that rejected God’s testimony and a mind that loved darkness (as we discussed in the previous column), there is now also a new nature embodied in a new man, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV).

Evangelical Christian teachers make much of the act of believing, and of the fruit that follows faith, and it is well that they should.  However, many pay regrettably little attention to the new life in the soul that makes that faith and its fruit possible, even though the Bible has more to say on the matter than one may initially realize. New birth from above enables a soul once dead in sins to receive and believe on Jesus Christ: “As many as received Him . . . that believe on His name . . . who have been born . . . of God” (John 1:12-13 JND). Being born of water (a figure of the Word) and the Spirit brings spiritual eyesight to those who were once spiritually blind: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. When God implants divine life into a soul, then an apprehension of God’s spiritual kingdom or realm is possible by faith.  The initiative and the “seed” are both God’s: “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth” (James 1:18).

The old nature (the flesh) that once left us “children of wrath”² still remains within the believer, and sadly may be used as a tool by the enemy of our souls to our detriment and loss; but there is nothing that the world, the flesh, or the Devil can do to impair or destroy that new and perfect nature, until at last the believer is freed from the effect of evil when the Lord calls him home. How is it that we can make these claims as to the newly created life’s perfection and permanence?  Let’s look at a few more Scriptures.

In I John 3:9, we are told that the one who has been “begotten (caused to be born) of God does not practice sin, because His seed abides in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been begotten of God.”  The Apostle John often presents his case in the abstract and absolute, and so we learn from this verse that the saint as viewed by God (whose very seed, nature, and life are in the new man) cannot sin. That’s a remarkable statement that often goes unnoticed.

Not only is that new man morally perfect because it is like God, as we noticed above in Ephesians 4:24, but it is also permanent, immune from decay and death.  A seed always imparts its characteristics to the plant, and parents always impart their characteristics to their children. The nature of the seed by which we have been born of God is manifestly “incorruptible”, so that its progeny must be incorruptible as well. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:22-25).  What joy and assurance is in store for the believer who begins to appreciate the truth of all that comes with being born again!

 

¹ John 3:5,8; I Peter 1:22-25; II Peter 1:4; II Cor. 5:17; James 1:18    ²  Ephesians 2:3

The Truth About Being Born Again

The phrase “born-again Christian” is not an uncommon one in our day, and is often used to describe a person who is devout and committed to the tenets of the Christian faith, is very often on the conservative end of the religious (or political) spectrum, and claims to have had a spiritual conversion experience. But to discover what being born again really entails, and why it is necessary and beneficial, we must go to the Bible, the source of the term and the concept.

We ought to discuss first the necessity of “new birth”, a term that may be used interchangeably with the phrase “born again”. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 of the need of the people of Israel to be born again as a prerequisite for entering, or even to “see” (perceive by faith), the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was evidently about to inquire further about the Lord’s miracles and mission from God. Why then did Jesus change the subject in order to impress upon him an Old Testament teaching¹ that was seemingly unrelated? He did that because the Jews in general wanted a Messiah, a Teacher from God, on their own terms; that is, according to their nature as being “in the flesh”,² and Jesus was being faithful in speaking the truth of God concerning that fleshly nature.

The truth is that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh”. At first glance, that might seem to be a simplistic statement, but it is full of meaning as to how fallen human nature has been passed down to us. Now God has never found anything good in the flesh, not even an inclination toward Him. “There is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:11), and “in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). A baby does not begin life with a “clean slate”, but with a fallen nature, and time and maturity have manifested literally billions of times over that our fleshly nature is at enmity with God, no matter how many times and ways He has or will yet test it. God tested our first parents (yet unfallen) in the garden of Eden, He tested men for a few thousand years under the influence of their consciences until the flood, and then under human government and under God’s perfect Law. In every case, and even given the most favorable circumstances, He got the same results, because the flesh can never improve, and certainly cannot attain to the level of “spirit”, for only “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Here is a parallel to consider: When the Lord Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the Devil for forty days, the tempter could find nothing in Jesus³ that answered to his temptations, for the Lord’s holy human nature was “of the Spirit”, and He came forth as pure gold from that temptation. He had a nature that “cannot sin” (I John 3:9). Conversely, the natural man is born with a fleshly nature that will not obey nor seek God, no matter how much he is courted, no matter how much benefit or blessing is promised him if only he would obey. A work of the Spirit of God must take place in a person’s soul before there will be any response to the drawing of God (Romans 8:5-8).

Before you rise up in disbelief at the gloomy picture that the Scriptures paint of the depravity of our common fleshly nature, think about the tendencies of your own heart, and let’s look at ourselves (at least our former selves) in light of the testimony of the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus: “Men loved (past tense) darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”. This is universal, just as Jeremiah’s description of the human heart is universal in Jeremiah 17:9:  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” We surely cannot “know” or tell the depths to which our own hearts could or would go if left to themselves apart from new life created in our souls when the Spirit of God initiates our new birth.

Next time in this column I hope to address the more hopeful and positive aspect of this subject: God’s work in human souls for their eternal blessing and for His ultimate glory.

 

¹ Ezekiel 36:25-27     ² Romans 7:5     ³ Matthew 4:1-11; John 14:30.

Islam: Religion Without Life

I will begin with the disclaimer that I am not an expert on the religion of Islam. However, all who are to any degree knowledgeable on the world’s religions will have an understanding of some of the basics of this great religious system. We can likely agree that Muslims reject the gospel of Jesus Christ and deny His eternal deity, His equality with God. Islam teaches that “Allah is one”, believing that tenet excludes the possibility of a God revealed in trinity, or as three in one. It also seems evident that Islam’s deity is not known for the attributes of grace and mercy, but for his exacting justice, particularly in judging infidels and rewarding his servants.

But how might a person who is irreligious determine which religion or “faith” is true?  A gospel preacher might inform such a seeker that the Christian gospel of the grace of God must be accepted by faith, and there is no more truthful a statement than that. However, would not an Islamic mullah also instruct the seeker in the need to believe the teachings of the Koran?  For it is accepted in Islam as Allah’s words to his prophet Muhammed through the angel Gabriel.  In either case, the seeker would be asked to place his trust in persons and principles that he can neither see nor hear nor touch with his natural faculties. So how can the truth be known positively, and not remain simply a matter of religious preference, heritage, or cultural inertia?

If you are a Christian who is trying to follow my line of reasoning, I assure you that there can be no real comparison made between the Biblical gospel of peace and the teachings of the Koran, regardless of how some defend Islam as a “religion of peace”. To emulate Muhammed is to be the very contradiction of peaceable, and God forbid that we should bring the Lord Jesus, that holy peacemaker, down to the level of comparison with so fleshly a character.

But what one thing fundamentally differentiates a true believer in the “living and true God” from a servant of Allah?  It is this: the one possesses a new life, a spiritual life, and the other has but the natural life that he or she was born with, nothing more.  In my admittedly modest amount of research, I have not found any teaching in Islam on the necessity of new life, or being born again. As with all worldly religion, the whole belief system of Islam appeals to, regulates, seeks to improve, and finally promises rewards to the natural man. In any case, why would its prophet set forth the need for a new life when he was satisfied in his natural life, “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind”?

Man in his natural state is “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). God bestows new life by grace upon the objects of His eternal counsels (Ephesians 1:3-11; 2:5), causing them to be “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5; James 1:18), water being figurative of the Word of God. Jesus is the living Word in whom is life eternal, and receiving Him for the dignity of a place in God’s family flows from a soul’s new birth (John 1:1-13). A believer on Jesus, the Son of God, has “the witness in himself” – the Spirit witnessing to the effect of the water (a new, incorruptible spiritual life) and the blood of redemption (I John 5:8-12). The religion of Islam has nothing like this internal, conscious blessedness to offer the searching soul.