For many of you, it may seem that my last blog post Religion - A Dead Man Walking distilled Christianity down too far. I did that in order to make a point. You should know by now that I love to push the antithesis to shock you into thinking.
BUT, I believe every word I posted. I believe we were meant to be a unified body with one goal: to be the body with Christ as the head, and to spread God’s love throughout the world. Therefore, drawing (not pushing, prodding, coercing, or manipulating) all men to Jesus by lifting him up in honor, respect and love.
But we have become a brawling set of siblings on the backside of the playground. We’ve lost enormous respect from those who are pre-believers. Why on earth would they want what we have and respect who we are when, from the outside looking in, all they see is discord and strife?
But, I digress. I want to discuss something else only slightly related to my last post, and that is what the church world refers to as sin. Yep, I said it - sin. You may also want to hang on to your hat for this one.
First, let me say that when we discuss sin in the church, we often do not dissect or differentiate between our sin nature and the acts of sin we do once we have become born again.
Adam and Eve sealed the deal on the sin nature part. Their act of disobedience put their generational lineage into a perpetual state of bearing a sin nature from birth to death if we do not personally say ‘halt’ and ask God to be born again.
Nicodemus marveled at that term. He searched Jesus out by night, eager and hungry to learn.
John 3:3-6 Jesus responded and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4)Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a person be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” 5) Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6)That which has been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit...
It is still a unique turn of phrase for our human ears. It is an act that God can only do divinely himself at our request once we realize we need to die internally, that the sin nature we were born with is corrupt, and we need for it to die so we can truly live.
Notice in the above passage that Jesus says a person cannot enter the kingdom of God if they are not born of the Spirit.
Let me ruffle some more feathers here (I seem to be so good at it). I take issue with the little ‘ask Jesus into your heart’ prayers we tack on to the end of our religious box sessions. That is not being born again. It is watered down and very vanilla instruction. The most minimal 'way out'. They aren't asking to be born again because they do not know they need to ask for that.
At best, it may allow those saying it to realize that there is a need in their life to allow Jesus to help them change and by saying that prayer sincerely they are acknowledging that something in their life needs to change and they give that to Jesus. Asking Jesus into our hearts seems to be a gentle way of attempting to confront a dire moment of truth.
And we, the body shout hallelujah and fast forward them to the head of the line as though now they are fully one of us. One of us who knew we needed to go from death to life internally and asked for death, burial, and resurrection. Something they probably don't know they need because it was just too much to load them down with.
I congratulate all those who have had the courage to say that prayer at the end of a service. You have a heart to follow Christ and were doing what you thought you should. But I believe we already in the body do those new believers a disservice by not going further to teach, and pray with them to complete the new birth process. We have attempted to get as many as possible into the body by making it benignly easy with little explanation. We fear our explanation may frighten and turn most away. But by not fully educating them, we are dooming them to fail.
Being born again is so much more than just a quick, brief prayer. We are talking about death, burial, and resurrection here. We have to understand that a death needs to occur. That is serious business. It is no wonder why thousands that have said the prayer have then walked away with absolutely no noticeable change in their lives.
They may want to do what is right. They may try to not ‘sin’. But unless a death has occurred inside where the old sinful nature ceases to exist, and a new God breathed and born again nature has been birthed and takes its place, there will be no genuine change.
The Bible is rich with countless layers of knowledge, passion, and instruction. Because of that, and the fact much of it was written in various languages and parts specifically for the people at the time who were alive to hear it, we get some things wrong. I know I have.
Digging deep into the actual Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and the literary styles the bible is written in can clarify much misconception.
A section of verses that we have often used to excuse our ‘sin’ is the passage by Paul in the last half of Romans 7 discusses the law and controversy surrounding it.
Romans 7:19-20 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20)But if I do the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me.
We have used the above specific verses many times to excuse away what we consider our inappropriate behavior. “Oh well, I want to do good, but I do the things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I do want to do.” After all, if it was the way Paul was, then it is okay for us to be that way too.
However, in reading most of Pauls’s other writings, it seems very contrary. After spending a large amount of time listening to various Hebrew and Greek scholars who pointed out that there is a shift in the original text that denotes that Paul is referring to the way he used to be before he was born again, it now makes perfect sense. In fact, several verses before and after the two above are in that same literary change.
Romans 7:24-25 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25)Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand, I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Romans 8:1-5 Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2)For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3)For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4)so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5)For those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are in accord with the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
We all know that chapter breaks were added much later when the bible was edited and compiled. I believe that by separating verses 7:25 from 8:1, we have done ourselves a big disservice because the point that Paul is trying to make here is that under the Law, because it had no power, he was powerless to change.
The things he wanted to do he could not do and the things he did not want to do, he could not do. BUT, because he has now become born again, and the Spirit lives in him, he can live a life the Law was trying to make him live. There is no condemnation now because he lives in and is being led by the Spirit.
Paul was a very religious man. He fully desired to serve God. He kept the Law. By the eyes of the Law he was a ‘good’ man. But he murdered Christians. He desired to murder Christians. I am sure he struggled with minute bits of the Law that were meaningless, unable to keep them.
It takes a heart change to see and fully know what is right and what is detrimental to our whole being. Once Paul was born again, which resulted in a heart change, he knew instinctively what was right and what was wrong, and he had the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in that right way of living.
A person must be born again to enter into the kingdom of God. This unseen dimensional kingdom needs an unseen spiritual death and rebirth. A person who has not been internally born again may want to live by the Law and be good, but they can never be what they want through personal self-control alone.
We must explain this to those considering entering a life with Christ. We must teach this and we must sit down with them and explain the necessity for a desire to be born again, AND to ask the Holy Spirit to baptist them in the Spirit of God. They must die, and be buried with Christ, and receive the Holy Spirit.
Water baptism is not just a cute little thing we do to publicly announce we are following Christ. At that moment we are going from the old man to a reborn new man. Many say the little prayer and wait years before anyone tells them they should, not need, to be baptised. And then they do not emphasize the actual importance of what they are doing in the spirit realm. We need to be baptised to be resurrected as a new man in Christ.
Without all three steps, it is hopeless to live a sinless life attempting to use self-control. It is not possible. True righteousness, right standing with God, can only come by a divine interior death and rebirth that only God can do. Our right-ness with Christ is positional not based on performance.
That is why so many who have said ‘the prayer’ fall away. They expressed a desire, but no one sat with them and explained the need for being born again and led them in the prayer that leads to rebirth.
They cannot and are not walking in the kingdom of God because they are not born again, baptised with water, and walking in the Spirit. They might believe they are a resident of the kingdom of God because of the desire to do right, but just having a desire to do right is not enough.
And this is the reason so many religious congregations feel the constant need to preach against sin, preach against… against… against… Those in the body who are in the kingdom of God are free from the Law of sin and death.
Now, does that mean we will never do something wrong? No, but there is no condemnation because it does not change who we are and what our status is. Instead of feeling condemnation, we feel conviction from the Holy Spirit because we are being led by the Holy Spirit. And that conviction will adjust our course.
The outward acts of a person do not necessarily reflect the born again status of the interior. We are a work in progress. The old habits and thought processes must be laid down and crucified along with our old sin nature daily.
And this is our mission. We are to teach others how to listen to the Holy Spirit, and live by his leading, which they cannot do if they are not born again. If we did, we would be interjecting life into the body of Christ.
We would fortify and strengthen the body. We would become unified because we would no longer be using guilt, shame, and condemnation to manipulate those poor souls who were never properly taught about being born again, what it means, and how to have it.
Why did I title this post Check Engine Light? Because when we see chronic sinful behavior in a person who has said they want to follow Christ, it is entirely possible that we need to make sure they understand the born again process. Chronic sinful behavior is a check engine light that something is amiss.
Don’t offer up criticism and condemnation of their behavior. Talk with them and make sure they have asked God to kill their internal old sin nature and to birth anew a God nature within them.
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Fear is paralyzing. You may not feel paralyzed right now, but that could be because you have developed a lifestyle that has settled you into the status quo where nothing in your life of any consequence ever changes.
It is safe there, it is consistent there, but let's face It is...