The Necessity of the New Birth

Now we are prepared to consider the second large step in this exciting, journey from earth to heaven, and it is very closely tied to the faith transaction we have considered. That moment of acceptance not only brings an objective change of standing before God, but it also produces a fantastic subjective transformation in the heart and mind of the believer. Jesus referred to this dramatic experience as being "born of the Spirit." The necessity of it was revealed in the urgent words of the Master to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

There is no possible way to analyze or diagnose the miraculous, and often instantaneous, change that accompanies this act of faith. The apostle John seems to express it as simply as it can be communicated: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12). But even though we can't understand the mystery, we can observe the results of it very clearly. Paul described it in these words. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Like a gentle brush of the invisible wind, God's Holy Spirit enters the life to replace the surrendered fleshly things with the exact opposite. Although the inherent fallen nature is not removed by the new birth, the carnal mind is replaced with a spiritual mind that has the power to subdue all the desires and passions that might arise from that fallen nature. It is this progressive work of conquering self and constantly submitting the will to Christ which leads us to the third giant step on our heavenly pilgrimage. We call it sanctification.

Again when we reduce this long theological word to its elementary meaning, all confusion evaporates. It simply means loving obedience to all of God's revealed will. The word "loving" distinguishes those acts of obedience from the legalistic forced conformity of those who might be trying to earn salvation by mere law keeping. Some liberal-minded religionists equate obedience and legalism. They ignore the difference between heart service and head service. One is the very finest demonstration of true religion and the other shows forth the most dangerous counterfeit. Someone has suggested that millions will miss heaven by just eighteen inches-the distance from the head to the heart. Complying with God's law in order to fulfill a legal requirement for salvation is the head approach, but true heart obedience is the spontaneous outflow of a personal love relationship with Christ.

When we talk about sanctification here, we are referring solely to the heart approach.

There has been much debate over the way justification and sanctification relate to each other, so let's clarify it with a few simple observations. We need both of these experiences in order to be ready for heaven. Justification imputes the perfect victory of Jesus to cover our past sins, but sanctification imparts the victorious power of Jesus to preserve us from committing further sin. We can't have one without the other. Anyone who exercises true faith is justified. All who are truly justified are converted, or turned into a new creation; and all who have experienced the new birth will walk in obedience out of love. The cause-effect is instantaneous and inseparable. There is no justification without sanctification and no sanctification without justification. Nevertheless, it is very important to keep in mind that justification, as the very first approach to God, is freely bestowed and is not granted in reference to our good works. This biblical principle requires that the believer receive the gift of justification before sanctified obedience is possible. Then the conformity to the law is recognized as the result of the born-again connection with the Saviour.

As you have probably realized by now, there are many professed Christians who consider step number three to be optional in the salvation experience. But unless we ignore many plain statements of scripture, it is impossible for us to come to such a conclusion. The Bible says, "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). Obedience is truly one of the spiritual requirements for entrance into the kingdom. John declared that "there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth" (Revelation 21:27).

Sin, of course, is the only thing that defiles in God's sight, and it is specifically excluded from entering the gates of Paradise. Sin is defined in the Bible as transgression of the law. This means there will be no thieves, murderers, adulterers, etc., in heaven. Should it frighten us to learn that willful sin must be put away in order to be saved? Incidentally, we are not saying here that the good works of obedience are the grounds for our acceptance by Jesus, but they are the necessary accompaniment of a freely bestowed gift to all who believe.

None who have accepted that gift will be discouraged by the requirement to stop deliberately transgressing the revealed will of God. Converted hearts are eager to please the One they love supremely. They delight to walk in obedience because God's law has been written into their hearts and minds.

Why is it easier for most Christians to take the first two steps of the three we have dealt with so far? Is it because forgiveness and conversion are largely accomplished for us and in us by the power of God in response to our faith alone, while sanctification demands strong effort in addition to our faith? It is entirely possible. For that reason, I want to share, in the next few paragraphs, the greatest secret I ever learned about living the Christian life. How does one turn away from sins that are rooted in strong physical or psychological addiction? What about smoking, alcoholism, and drugs?

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