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Repentance and the New Birth
By David A. DePra
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…..Marvel not that I said unto thee, You must be born again. (John 3:3, 7)
Nicodemus was astounded when Jesus told him, "You must be born again to see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus understood fully that Jesus was talking about a new birth. He replied to Jesus, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? "(John 3:4) There was no confusion about whether Jesus was talking about a NEW BIRTH.
But of course, Nicodemus completely missed the spiritual nature of this new birth. That is why Jesus had to say to him, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:5-6)
The phrase, "born of water," points to baptism by water, which, in the NT, firstly represents DEATH to the old man – through the Cross of Jesus Christ. What we see here is that to be BORN AGAIN you must FIRST relinquish the old man in Adam. You must come to the Cross and take your place in the death of Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, can you be born of the Spirit – then you can be given new life.
Jesus is describing to Nicodemus exactly what is necessary to be born again – you must first die, pictured by water baptism, and then you can be raised. And if you are, you are not the old creation fixed up, repaired, or patched. No. You are a NEW CREATION in Christ Jesus.
Of course, much teaching today really DENIES this Truth. Not directly, mind you, but any message that offers new life in Christ without the necessity of FIRST coming to the Cross through repentance nevertheless does deny it. Also, any teaching that does suggest that new life in Christ is nothing more than the your old life fixed up, blessed, made pretty, or affirmed – is denying the necessary of death and resurrection.
For example, we have the best seller, "Your Best Life Now," by Joel Osteen. The title says it all. His follow up book, "Become a Better You," speaks volumes. More and more, Christian teaching is being transformed into SELF-HELP techniques. So much of it is about God taking your life and making YOU better and more successful. Joel Osteen has as his theme, "Discover the Champion in You." Mark Chironna, TBN regular, said not long ago on that network, and I quote exactly, "Jesus Christ died to release your greatness." Paul White has a new book, and a women’s conference, titled, "You’re All That!" And I could go on. Most of these works never mention the need for repentance and for the Cross of Jesus Christ. Most of them really don’t even talk about the need to be born again. Rather, they focus on God making YOU a better YOU. This is NOT the Truth. It is, in fact, the gospel of Satan – God glorifying man in his flesh, fallen condition – all in a nice, neat, holy and religious package.
Compare some of those messages to the following words of Jesus:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:24-26)
Can we see that Jesus is here, once again, talking about the need to be BORN AGAIN? Sure. You have to LOSE YOUR LIFE if you want to FIND HIS IN YOU. This is a fact as to general salvation, and really a fact as to every day life. Thus, we find that God is not interested in dressing up the old man in Adam in attractive religious clothes, or interested in affirming him in any way. Rather, God is out to strip him naked, show him his need, and lead him to the Cross. Not to condemn him. But to deliver him and give him a brand new birth.
Funny how the first thing Adam tried to do after his sin was cover his nakedness and dress himself up with nice looking fig leaves. This is all we can do without the new birth, and unfortunately, it is exactly what people are being TAUGHT God wants to HELP them do in many of these self-help, self-esteem messages.
At the end of the day, what Jesus said comes back into view, front and center, as the only solution to what is wrong with man: YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN. Anything short of that is not only futile, by HERESY.
RepentanceToday, the need for repentance from sin is heard less and less. Joel Osteen practically brags about the fact the he never preaches it – he gives himself credit for not wanting to, "beat on people," "run them down," and offend them. That is apparently what he thinks of a gospel that demands that we repent. I guess this also tells us his response to the convictions of the Holy Spirit – that it is condemnation and not illumination unto freedom.
Always note what people say about repentance and sin. Even note if they never talk about repentance and sin – their silence and omission speaks volumes. This will tell you plenty about their personal knowledge of God. Compare it over and against what the Bible says, and how the Bible makes the issue of repentance from sin central to the message of the gospel. Indeed, the Bible even makes the sin issue central in the lives of saved people – as far as our on-going need to come into the light and live holy lives.
Such omissions and denials of the need for repentance betray a terrifying ignorance. And I’m being kind. It betrays an ignorance of the true gospel. You cannot be saved – you cannot be born again – unless you first repent. Furthermore, the message of the gospel – "Repent and believe," may offend some people. But it is a message of DELIVERANCE FROM SIN, and DEIVERANCE from the old creation. Thus, to avoid the subject of repentance is to hide from people the deliverance God has for them. And it probably proves I have never repented myself, or come to see my real need for deliverance from my own sin. I can guarantee you that any preacher who has come to terms with his own sin, and repented before God, and received new life in Christ – I can guarantee that any preacher who himself has been born again would NEVER preach anything but the Truth on this subject.
But let’s ask the question: What is repentance? Is it merely being sorry for my sins because I’m afraid I might go to hell? Is repentance a listing out of all of my violations of God’s law, and a matter of me confessing them one by one? What if I miss a few, or don’t remember them? Is repentance a life-long state of depression wherein I lament over what a rotten person I am, in order to prove to God I am truly sorry for my sin? Or is repentance a complete avoidance of confessing sin because all I need to do to be saved is, "accept Jesus into my heart?" The answer to each of these questions is NO. Either partially or fully. Repentance is none of the above.
In order to see what repentance is, it certainly requires an understanding of what SIN IS, because we are to repent OF sin. But we are not to repent of sin as merely a THING – we are not to merely be sorry that we did a wrong THING. No. We have to come to terms with the fact that we have sinned against God Himself. All of our violations of God’s law, and the wrong THINGS we have done, in the end, come down to violating God Himself as God.
The fact is, I do wrong THINGS because I am not rightly related to God. This is so from birth -- I am born spiritually dead. In other words, if I am born of the flesh – and we all are born of the flesh into this world – I am born severed from God. Thus, I am going to live like it. I will live like a spiritually dead person lives – and a spiritually dead person sins against God.
What we see here is that the problem with human beings is that we are spiritually dead. Or, if you will, we don’t have LIFE. We don’t have God. The fact that we don’t have life has filtered all through our nature. Thus, we do many wrong THINGS. But the reason is that we do wrong things is that we are a WRONG CREATURE. We are void of the life of God, and by nature, contrary to Him.
There is nothing we can do about this. We can’t fix it by getting religion, or by doing good works. The only solution for spiritual death is spiritual LIFE – we need life. We need deliverance FROM death into LIFE through Jesus Christ.
Now, when I say we can do nothing about our condition in Adam, we must be clear about two things. First, you are NOT to blame for being born in Adam. You didn’t choose to be born spiritually dead, as a wrong creature. No. Rather, you inherited all of that through natural birth. But secondly, once you see the way OUT of the old creation through the NEW birth in Jesus Christ, you ARE responsible. Sure. For at that point, LIGHT IS COME.
Note closely: Once light comes, you are not yet saved. No. You simply have light. The Holy Spirit, Jesus said, will convict the WORLD – the unsaved – of sin, righteousness, and judgment. You don’t have to be saved to believe, as Calvinism demands. No. The Holy Spirit is able to penetrate the darkness and nature that binds us – enough to convict us of our condition, and of our need for Christ. Once He does, LIGHT IS COME. We then have a choice as to whether to come to the Light – whether to come to Jesus.
Jesus said, "No one can come to Me except the Father who sent Me draw Him." Note the TWO phases in this statement. First, God must initiate by drawing a person to Christ. This is what we have been talking about – God must initiate and bring LIGHT. Sure. Jesus makes COMING TO HIM contingent upon the fact that God must first draw. But Jesus also says, "No man CAN come…." – He then speaks of an enabling – an enabling that is given by this drawing of God. Once God gives light, a person CAN come. Jesus is saying this. He is saying, "No man can come to Me except the Father first draw" – or to put it all in the positive – Jesus is saying, "Every one whom the Father draws to Me CAN come to Me."
You will note that once light is given to a person that yes, they CAN come. But will notice that they can also refuse to come. Sure. It couldn’t work any other way – according to scripture. In fact, we see this very clearly from the words of John:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)
It is stated directly in this passage that the basis for condemnation is that LIGHT IS COME to a person, but that person, "loved darkness rather than light." But loving darkness RATHER than light would be impossible unless light were given, and then refused. Thus, we see that God does bring light to the unsaved, while they are still unsaved, and it is at that point, once a person sees the way out of sin and back to God through Christ, that they must choose either darkness or LIGHT.
You will also note – and this is important to our understanding of repentance – that the choice of a person whether to choose darkness or light rests entirely upon whether they will allow their sin to be exposed by the light. Read again John 3:19-21 and you will see that the reason people won’t come into the light, and thus are condemned eternally, is because they refuse to have their sins exposed for what they are. In other words, they refuse the conviction of the Holy Spirit OF SIN – they refuse TO REPENT.
Now, once we read these passages, how could we possibly think that we can be saved without repenting of sin? How could we possibly view conviction of sin and repentance as negatives to be avoided? How could we think that all we need to do to be saved is bypass the whole sin and repentance issue, and just, "invite Jesus into our hearts?" No.
The Sin of Unbelief
The only way to invite Jesus into our hearts is by repenting of sin. Why? Because THE SIN of which we must repent is the sin of REFUSING HIM entry into our hearts. Unbelief.
We saw earlier that what is wrong with man is that he is a WRONG CREATURE. We are spiritually dead. We also saw that we are not to blame for being born in this condition. But we are responsible for affirming it by NOT turning to God. We are responsible for our unbelief, once we have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The nature of sin is that of self-rule. All other SINS stem from that core. By birth, we are in bondage to self-rule. There is no escape except through Christ. But once we see the way out of this condition, and neglect it, or refuse it, can we see that the problem is no longer that we have been born in Adam? No. Now the problem is that we have refused the way OUT through Christ. Thus, once the gospel is introduced, the human race boils down to unbelief. Our sin is no longer merely that we are born spiritually dead. Rather, it is that we have refused LIFE.
This is why I said that you must repent of neglecting Christ in order to receive Christ. In other words, once you hear the Truth, you must repent of self-rule in order to accept Jesus as Lord. Or, if you will, you must repent of UNBELIEF in order to BELIEVE.
We see this is the very word that God uses for repentance. The word means, "a change of moral mind." But repentance is always towards GOD -- repentance is a change of moral mind towards GOD HIMSELF. Thus, at the core, repentance means that I confess and renounce the fact that I have been living independent from God. It results in my coming to Christ for redemption, and therefore, I start living dependent upon God. In short, in order to receive Christ, I have to repent of having neglected Him. I have to repent of unbelief if I am to believe.
The gospel that Jesus preached was, "Repent and believe." These always go together. Really, you cannot repent without believing, or believe without repenting. Why? Because THE SIN of self-rule is UNBELIEF. Thus, if you repent of it, you are repenting of UNBELIEF. But if you repent of unbelief, then you ARE BELIEVING. Conversely, if you believe, then you are doing so only because you repented of NOT believing – you repented of unbelief. Indeed, we might rightly say that we repent BY believing, and we believe by repenting. The two are not the same, of course, but they do always go together – if they are real.
So repentance is a matter of being convicted of, and renouncing UNBELIEF, and then I will believe – I will put my faith in Christ. Thus, we pass from independence FROM God over to dependence UPON Him. We pass from our old life – based in self-rule – through death and resurrection into newness of life in Christ, which is based upon Jesus as Lord.
Can we see that it would be absolutely impossible for us to be BORN AGAIN if we continued with our old moral attitude towards God? If we have never repented of sin towards God – of living life on our own terms; of NOT living for Him – then we have never had the change of mind towards God that is the VERY ESSENCE of the new birth. You cannot be born again unless you repent!
The issue between man and God is that of who is BOSS. I have to repent of being my own boss – of affirming the sin nature of self-rule – of neglecting to come to Christ for deliverance. If I do repent of this UNBELIEF, then by definition, I must BELIEVE – I must surrender my life to Christ. Then I am dependent upon God, and no longer living independent of Him.
But what about all of our SINS – our violations of God’s law? Don’t we have to repent of them to be saved? Well, I’m sure we will repent of many of those as God brings them to our remembrance and attention. But how do you know your own heart? The worst sins are heart sins. Furthermore, how can you be sure that you have repented of every act of sin you have ever committed? No. The pivot point for salvation is that we repent of unbelief – that we repent of THE SIN of self-rule, and our affirmation of it – and come to Christ. If we do that we are saved, and IN THE LIGHT. And once in the light, the light will expose what needs to be exposed about us as we walk in the light with Christ.
In this we see why Christians can repent and still sin. You are repenting of THE SIN. Once you do, you are in Christ, and your other SINS are going to be progressively exposed so that you can get free of them. This must be so, or otherwise you must FIRST set yourself free from all sin before you can come to Christ. This could never be.
Anyone who has gone on with Christ will tell you that they have come to deeper and deeper levels of realization as to their need for Christ. But this cannot happen UNTIL we fall into His hands. Thus, we need to repent of THE SIN of neglecting to fall into His hands, i.e., unbelief. Then we will be IN His hands. We will have repented of the core of sin and through the Holy Spirit be given a new nature.
Thus, we see that repentance is MORAL. There is no moral contradiction possible if we repent, and no sidestepping of the issue of accountability to God. You cannot come to Christ for LIFE unless you renounce death. You cannot give your life to Christ unless you relinquish your OLD life, and repent of running it. You cannot be born again – through death and resurrection – unless you first come to the Cross.
Jesus said, "You MUST be born again." You cannot enter the kingdom of God – you cannot even so much as SEE the kingdom of God – unless you relinquish your old life and are born again from above. Religion won’t do it. Making people feel good about themselves won’t do it. Good works won’t do it. And merely teaching THAT you must be born again won’t do it. You must BE born again – through death and resurrection. Otherwise, that which is born of flesh will continue to be flesh. There can be NO new life.
A New Creation
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)
The new creation in Christ is not merely a legal classification. We are legally justified by faith – God IMPUTES to us the righteousness of Christ. But this is only the legal parallel to the living reality. Along side of the legal imputation, God IMPARTS to us Christ Himself. Eternal life is not a THING. It is a PERSON.
The fact that God IMPARTS to us Christ Himself is seen in the words, "born again from above." The new birth is the result of receiving from above a life that you cannot receive from below. That which is born of flesh IS flesh – it is from below, and OF this world. But that which is born of the Spirit IS Spirit – it is from above, and born INTO this world from above.
Read these statements and you will see that this is true:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23)
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. (John 3:27)
Know ye not your own selves, how that except Jesus Christ is in you, you are reprobates? (2 Cor 13:5)
He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. (John 3:31)
But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you. (Acts 1:8)
It is absolutely impossible for you and I to so much as even SEE the kingdom of God unless we receive FROM ABOVE a new life – Christ in us through the Holy Spirit – a life that we did not have through our natural birth. And it is just as impossible to become a new creation through His life in us as long as we cling to our old life in Adam. One must be forfeited – either our life in Adam, or our life in Christ: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
Someone who is born again from above has passed from death to life. Again – this is not merely theological jargon or a legal classification. To be born again means that you have a different KIND of life – His life. The reason is the you have been made one with Life Himself by the Holy Spirit.
The results of being born again are many. First of all, you will begin, over the course of time, to SEE the kingdom of God. You will begin to KNOW Jesus – not simply through Biblical teaching, but through a revelation of Him. This will obviously always agree with the Bible, but we are here talking about something more. Paul explained it this way:
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood. (Gal. 1:15-16)
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. (Gal. 4:19)
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Eph 1:16-18)
What Paul is talking about here is not possible by getting religion, going to church, or even by studying real hard. No. You MUST be born again – born all over again from above. That and that alone is the only reason these things are possible. And it is impossible to be born again unless we REPENT and BELIEVE. Would that the Body of Christ return to the true message of the gospel.
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