Living in Reverse Part 6: Born Again.
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We’ve been moving through this series about Living in Reverse. We’ve learned to put what God says after the “but…” – to agree with Him, and to let our dominant reality be determined by God’s Word and God’s actions. We’ve learned to draw life from the Spirit, not from our outward circumstances – not even the good ones. We’ve learned that when we are in Christ, our old self has been crucified, and we are dead to sin to the law. We’ve begun to learn how to fight the ongoing temptations that would try remove us from all these truths we’ve been talking about.
Some of you may have been trying to put some of this into practice recently. Maybe you’ve been facing temptation and saying, “I’m dead to sin, I don’t want to do that anymore,” but it hasn’t always worked for you. Maybe you’ve been trying to believe desperately, who you really are in Christ, but you still have doubts. And because you don’t fully believe, your actions still don’t look like someone who is dead to sin. If sin is still a struggle, I want to preach the good news to you again today. We’ve discussed why and how it can be problem. We’ve talked about how to fight it. But remember, we are dead to it. I want to start now, talking about our new life. We died to sin, but what are we alive to?
. Maybe you don’t need this today. If not, save this sermon for some time in the future when you do need it.
There is one other thing I think we ought to consider before we jump into the scriptures I want to share. And that is, spiritually speaking, we are often terribly confused about the place of our actions. We understand that our actions are of no value in getting salvation for ourselves. Salvation is a free a gift of God, and it cannot be earned through good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is appropriated through faith. In other words, we get it when we believe that we need it, and that God has really done this for us.
But now, after we are in Christ, we think our actions determine everything. We think our actions determine who we are. If we act sinful, we think we are fundamentally sinners. If we act righteous, we feel good about ourselves and think we are, by our own efforts, incorporating the righteousness of Christ into our lives. It is to people acting like this that Paul writes:
I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? Did you suffer so much for nothing — if in fact it was for nothing? So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:2-5, HCSB)
You see, your actions do not determine who you are. Instead, your identity is determined by your birth. I was born in the United States of America. But when I was very young, my family went overseas to be missionaries. The majority of my childhood was spent in other countries.
By the time I was sixteen I did not sound like an American – I actually had an Australian accent. I didn’t really know American culture. My first few years in the US, I didn’t get most of the jokes and wise-cracks, because humor is one of the most culture-specific things there is. I didn’t dress in American fashion.
My memories were not of America. In fact my memories and experiences were in a place that was radically different in very fundamental ways from the United States. In short, America had very limited role in shaping my thoughts, actions, personality, memory or experience. I did not feel like an American at all.
For that reason, did I cease to be an American? Not at all. My citizenship was determined by the country I was born into – not by my feelings, not even by actions. The key was my birth.
Even though I didn’t feel American, I recognized that America offered me more opportunity than anywhere else in the world. I saw my citizenship here as a gift that I could use. I believed what my parents told me, that I was an American citizen. I believed my American passport was valid. So I came to America, in faith that my birth certificate and passport were valid. And now, because I believed that my birth determined my citizenship, I have received many benefits from being American.
Spiritually speaking we need to recognize that it our birth, not our actions, which determines our identity.
Remember, action follows belief. And Romans chapter ten tells us that the kind of belief we need for this comes from hearing the word of God. So I am going to dwell on some more truth from God’s Word today. If we have trusted in Jesus, the bible is very clear about our birth:
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1Pet 1:3, ESV)
Since you have been born again — not of perishable seed but of imperishable — through the living and enduring word of God. (1Pet 1:23, HCSB)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. (1John 5:1, HCSB)
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (Eph 2:18-19, ESV)
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Phil 3:20, ESV)
We have been crucified with Christ. The old has gone. The new you has been born into a new life. We have born citizens of heaven, members of God’s household. Regardless of what we know about heaven, regardless of how we sometimes act like we are from someplace else, Heaven is the place of our citizenship. Our birth certificate proclaims it, our passport affirms it. All of the resources of heaven are ours.
Now, one of the problems, is that sometimes we don’t know our own birth rights. We are like princes and princess who have born to inherit a kingdom. But we were kidnapped as babies, and raised in poverty. Now, our Father, the king has found us and brought us back to the palace. But we don’t even know the rights and privileges and tasks that are ours as royal children. We don’t know the vast resources we have now to fulfill those things. In the same way, so often Christians don’t even know everything that is ours, in Christ Jesus. So Paul writes to the Ephesians:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. (Eph 1:17-19, HCSB)
His prayer is that they (and all followers of Jesus) can know these things. He wants us to know our birthrights, now that we have been born again. So I am going to share with you, some of the riches that are yours and mine when we are in Christ. This is what it means to be born again as a citizen of heaven:
In Christ, we are holy, blameless, righteous and above reproach (Eph 5:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Col 3:12; 1 Cor 6;19).
He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:22-23)
The “if you continue” is clearly about continuing in faith and hope. It is not continue to “act righteous” but continue to hold fast to the faith that this is true, that Christ has done this for you. A wise pastor named Dan Stone wrote: “It is not your striving that releases Christ’s life through you. It is your trusting.” We are in Christ when we continue to trust Him and rest in Him day by day. And in Christ, we are holy and blameless.
In Christ, we are safe and free. I am free from condemnation. I am free from sin and death. I cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:1-2; also 8:31-39). God works for my good in all circumstances (Romans 8:28). I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). I can approach God with freedom, confidence and boldness (Eph 3;12; Hebrews 4:16). My real life is already hidden away with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-4). I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (1 John 5:18).
In Christ, we are significant and important. I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life (John 15:5). I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16). I am God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6). I am God’s workmanship; created by Him to do good works, which he has already prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).
These are just a few of many verses and concepts that describe who we are when we are born into Christ and into citizenship in Heaven. This is the real you, the you that is more real more powerful than what you see in the flesh or feel in the soul. If you continue in faith (that is, if you continue to believe, to trust Jesus and trust that this is all true in Him) then this you will last forever, and ultimately will be expressed through a transformed soul and a new, eternal body.
You may still act or think like a foreigner, from time to time. But if you trust Jesus, you have born again as a citizen of heaven. All this is truly yours, even though your actions may not yet reflect it perfectly.
All this is leading toward an ultimate purpose: so that Jesus Christ can express His Life through you. Let me put a different way: The purpose of it here on earth is so that Jesus Christ can live your life. That is what we will explore next week.