Billy Graham - Born Again
I want to turn tonight to the 2nd chapter of John's Gospel, beginning with the 23rd verse. The 2nd chapter of John's Gospel, beginning at the 23rd verse: "Now when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles that he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man". Now when you hear about Christ and all the great things that he did, you may believe in him. But Jesus knows your heart. And when he sees your heart, he will not commit himself to you.
Now the question I want to ask is: has Christ committed himself to you because your heart has been cleansed of sin? Then it goes on into the next chapter: "There was a man of the pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, 'verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven'".
Now in America a few years ago we had a president who announced that he was a born-again Christian. And so that word became identified, in some ways, in our country with politics. And then we had advertisements that advertised born-again automobiles, motorcars. Then we had cities that sprang up, and they said born-again cities. And then they had writings come along that said born-again books. And that brought confusion. But this literally, in its original language, means born from above. It's born anew. It's a new beginning. And I want to ask you: have you ever longed to start life over? Or like the Psalmist, have you ever said, "Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me". Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'd like to start it all over again"?
Now Nicodemus, who came to Jesus, had been in that crowd that Jesus would not commit himself to them. He knew their hearts, and he knew that they had never been born again. And Nicodemus was one of them, and he was a great religious leader. And he came to Jesus at night, and he wanted to ask some spiritual questions. Now he was not only a great religious leader, but he did many things that you and I don't do in his religion. And he wanted to have some more thought before commiting himself. Now, many of you have thought a long time about religion and Christianity, but you're not sure that you've been born again. A famous scientist said a long time ago, he said, "My home is a wreck. I'm a secret alcoholic. I've come to you for help. If I don't find help, I'm going to commit suicide. I've had it! The pressures are too great in my life". It was a desperate cry of a man that needed God. He needed to be born again.
We live in the mountains (in the southern part of the United States) of North Carolina. George Hamilton lives a short distance from us. And there was a mountain man near our home who got lost in the mountains. And he knew those mountains very well, but he was lost. And he stumbled on to a mountain cabin. An old man gave him some advice and said, "When you find yourself lost in the mountains, never go down: always go up. At the top of the ridge, you can get your bearings and find your way again".
Now we can become lost in the mountain of life. And we have two choices. Either go down and get caught in depression, emptiness, confusion, turn to drugs or alcohol, or whatever. Or we can keep heading up. We're going one way or the other. Now searching is important. Searching for purpose and meaning in your life, for psychological and philosophical questions. But it does no good unless you search in the right place. And the right place is to search in the Bible, the Word of God, and come to Jesus.
I heard about a ten-year-old boy that was writing a thesis. And he went to his grandmother, and he was writing on birth. And he said, "Grandmother, how were you born"? And she said, "A stork brought me". He went to his mother: and he said, "Mother, how were you born"? She said, "A stork brought me". Then he said, "Well, how was I born"? She said, "A stork brought you". And he started his thesis this way, "There hasn't been a natural birth in our family in three generations".
Now the scripture says we're to be born again. And how do you become born again? What does that mean? Nicodemus must have been stunned. If Jesus had said it to Zacchaeus, the crooked tax collector: or the woman at the well who had had five husbands, and the man she was living with was not her husband: or the thief on the cross that was certainly guilty: or the woman that was taken in immorality. But to say it to a religious leader! Nicodemus was a ruler. He was rich. He was religious. But he was searching for reality. Now he fasted two days a week. He spent two hours daily in prayer. He gave ten percent of all of his income to the temple. He was a professor of theology. He worked hard at religion. But Jesus said to him, "Nicodemus, that's not enough. You must be born again, if you're to even see the Kingdom of God".
Now why did Jesus say this? Why did he say, "You must be born again"? Because he knew what was in the hearts of people. What causes lying, cheating, hate, prejudice, greed, injustice, selfishness, cruelty, jealousy, perversion, ultimately war? What causes it? Jesus said, "Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart: and they defile a man". Now psychologists and sociologists and historians realize that something's wrong with the human race. What is it? What's wrong? The Bible tells us. The Bible says the thing that is wrong is that we have a disease. It affects the whole human race all over the world, and the disease is called sin.
Notice I said sin, singular. And from the singular, which is the disease, come all of the sins of jealousy, and hate, and lust, and greed, and all the rest, which ends up in war: war in a community, war in a family, war in your own heart, war in the world. Now where did this sin come from? This sin came from the fact that God created you in his image. You have a body, but living down inside your body is your spirit, your soul. And that's the part of you that can have fellowship with God, and did have fellowship with God. And God said that if you will obey me and serve me and live for me, we'll build this wonderful world together. But man broke God's law. Man rebelled against God. And his first child was named Cain, and Cain became jealous and killed his brother Abel. That was the beginning of all the wars of history. And that sin that was in Cain's heart that he inherited from his mother and father, Adam and Eve, has been passed from generation to generation to generation to generation, down to you and me.
"All have sinned", the Bible says. Everybody has sinned. Billy Graham is a sinner. You are a sinner and sin is very serious in the sight of God because the result of sin, the penalty of sin, is death. Physical death we all know about. But it's spiritual death. You can be alive right now physically, but your soul is dead. Your spirit is dead. And you keep searching for something, and you can't find it. You don't know what it is. You can't find it in money. You can't find it in drugs. You can't find it in sex. You can't find it in all of these other substitutes. You'll never find what you're looking for in life, 'til you come to the cross of Christ and are born again.
Now there are many words used in the New Testament to describe sin. It means a breaking of God's law. It means coming short of God's requirements. "All unrighteousness is sin". Even the most perfect of us, like Nicodemus, a great religious leader, we're all sinners. You see, the Bible says that we are born with this tendency to sin. Then we come to the age of accountability, and we choose to sin. And then we become sinners by practice. And then our hearts get harder and harder and harder, the older we get. That's the reason when God speaks to you, when you have an opportunity like this where thousands of people have prayed and worked, and you are here, you better make your commitment to Christ tonight. You may never have another hour like this as long as you live.
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned". So what is needed? A radical change is needed in every person, to find true or real fulfillment in this life, to be acceptable to God, to enter God's kingdom. Nicodemus wanted to go to the Kingdom of God: but in order to get there, Jesus said you're going to have to be born again, born from above. Something supernatural is going to have to happen in your heart. So what is this business of the new birth? Nicodemus asked that question. He said, "How can a person be born when he is old"?
He wanted to understand it intellectually. The Bible says that the preaching of the cross is foolishness: foolishness, idiotic. There's no way that our little finite minds can understand all there is to know about the great God who is "From everlasting to everlasting". And there's no way that we can understand all that happened at the cross when Jesus Christ died and said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me"? The Bible tells us that God at that moment was laying on him all of our sins, all of our hell, all of our judgment. He took it on the cross. So how do we find it? We cannot come intellectually alone.
Now there are a lot of things that I don't understand. I was watching some cows graze today out in the country. And I don't understand how a black cow can eat green grass, and produce white milk and yellow butter. But they do. I don't understand color television and satellites way off yonder in space. I don't understand how Neil Armstrong put his foot on that moon. I know Neil Armstrong and have talked to him and asked him how he felt, and he's told me. I don't think he understands it either. Or the satellites, or the computers. I have a computer. A man this past January gave me a computer, a very fine computer.
So I was taking some lessons and trying to learn how to work that computer, and just about to lose my mind. And so I decided I would write a letter. When I learned to write a letter, I wrote a love letter to my wife. And I lost it in the computer, and I couldn't find it. And I was afraid that somebody else may find that letter. I didn't even want my secretary to find that letter. It's still lost, and the computer is locked up at home.
Nicodemus could see only the physical and the material, and Jesus was speaking about something spiritual. He had already been born physically, but he had not been born spiritually. You have to be born twice: physically and spiritually. Now you can't inherit it. And it's not by works. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us". You can reform yourself, but that's not it. You can take a pig, put him in your living room, and put a ribbon around him, give him a good bath, put some chanel №5 on him. Open the door, and find out what happens. The pig goes back to the mud hole. His nature hasn't been changed. Or you cannot imitate Christ.
People say, "Oh, I try to imitate Christ. I live by the Sermon on the Mount and the golden rule. Isn't that good enough"? No, that's not good enough. Ezekiel says, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you". The Apostle Paul speaks of being "Alive from the dead". In 2 Corinthians he calls it a new creation: old things pass away, and everything becomes new. In Peter, Peter says being "Partakers of the divine nature". John calls it passing "From death unto life". The new birth brings about a change of heart, a change of spirit, that influences our way of thinking, our way of living, our attitudes as well as our actions. It determines our destiny.
How is it accomplished? Jesus said it's a mystery. He said it's like the wind. You can see the evidences of the wind. The wind is blowing. But you can't see the wind itself. And there's the analogy of natural birth. You see, there's the moment of gestation... pardon me, of conception. Then there's the months of gestation. Then there's actual birth. And with many of you, you might have had conception, or you may be in some stage of gestation, but you haven't been born yet. And you need to be born. How does that happen? The Bible tells us, first of all, there must be the reception to the Word of God. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever". The Bible says, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God". And the Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching".
Now doesn't it sound strange and foolish to you that a man can stand up here and talk about Jesus Christ, and your life can be changed by that message? Isn't that foolish? Well, that's what the Bible says about it. It's foolish. That's the reason you come by simple, childlike faith, as we heard a moment ago, like a little child. Jesus said unless you come as a little child and be converted, you cannot see the kingdom of heaven. And then it's the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us. "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment", the Bible says. You cannot come to Christ unless you're made uncomfortable by the Holy Spirit and he shows you that you've sinned. You cannot come to Christ unless he draws you to the cross. And he may use a mother's prayers. He may use a tragic experience. He may use the sermon of a clergyman. Or he may use the example of some wonderful person that you know. Or maybe he'll use a little tract of some sort that somebody gives out.
I remember meeting the surgeon general of Portugal. And he told me that he was walking down the street one day, and he picked up a piece of paper on his shoe. And when he got to his house, he took the piece of paper off: and it was a little tract on how to find Christ. And he said he had never read anything like that in his life. And he read it, and he studied it: and he read it, and he studied it. And got him a Bible and studied some of those verses. And he was born again, and he became a Bible teacher. He became a wonderful proclaimer of the Gospel, just through reading the Word of God. It gives new life.
The Bible says that we're dead in sin. "And you hath he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and in sin". Man needs new life. He needs to be born from above. And the moment you give your life to Christ, he indwells. "And I will put my spirit within you". The scripture says, "He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you". When you leave here tonight after you've received Christ into your heart, you don't leave alone. We sang that song. When we come in the shankly gates every night, there's that little inscription that says, "You'll never be alone", "You'll never walk alone". Christ goes with you. The Spirit of God goes with you to help you to live the Christian life.
There's nobody here, including me, that can live the Christian life. I cannot live it. It's too much for me. But Christ can live it through me, and he can give me the strength to produce (by the Holy Spirit) love, and joy, and peace, and longsuffering, and all the Fruit of the Spirit. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you"? The Bible says. He gives you a new power in your life. "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you". Power to love, power to resist the temptations in life.
In Wakefield, England, some time ago I read about a woman who tried her driver's test for the 38th time, and failed. And perhaps you've tried nearly that many times for a license spiritually, to sit in the driver's seat of your own life. I'm asking you to move over and trust the Holy Spirit to drive and control your life. Do you know Christ? Are you sure? God can give you a whole new life, a transformation that you never dreamed existed, if you'll let him.
You see, when Christ died on the cross, he died for you. And God says, "I'll forgive your sins. I'll give you eternal life". You can start life all over again, even if you're seventy years of age, or a hundred years old. But come while you're young. If you're a young person, you ought to run to Christ. Because, you see, the Bible says, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth". The Bible calls young people especially to come to him. What will he do for you? He'll forgive every sin you've ever committed. He'll give you eternal life. You're born into his kingdom. That means that if you died at this moment, you'd go to heaven.
Then what do have to do? Christ died, gave his life for you. What do you do? You respond by, first, repentance. What does repentance mean? The word "Repentance" means to change: to change your way, to change your mind, to change your way of living, to let Christ come and help you become a new person. And the second thing you must do is come by faith. Remember, I said you cannot understand it all intellectually? You come by simple, child-like faith, like a little child trusts its father or mother. And then, thirdly, you must be willing to live for Christ and follow him and serve him.
And I don't want to fool anybody here, I don't want to mislead anybody. It's not easy to be a real, born again Christian in 1984. It's hard. And I don't want you to come under any illusions. If you come to Christ, you mean it, and say, "I'm willing to let him come in and change me and make me a new person", because he said, if you're not willing to deny self, take up a cross, you cannot be my follower. And that's the reason he didn't commit himself to that crowd of people. They said, "We want to believe, we want you, Jesus". He said, "No, I know your heart. You're not willing to surrender your heart to me. You're not ready to surrender your mind and your emotions and your whole being to me, your body. Your business, your vocation. You're not willing to surrender the bitterness in your life. You're not ready to surrender that unforgiving spirit. You're not ready to surrender those things that are wrong".
I'm going to ask those of you tonight, hundreds of you: we've seen over 3,000 every night come, I'm going to ask you to get up out of your seat, and come and stand on this matting. We don't want to touch the grass because we have promised that we will not touch this beautiful grass. Come and stand on the matting, and you're coming to stand there symbolically saying inwardly that you're opening your heart to Christ. You want a new life. You want to be a new person, like you've heard here tonight.
Why do I ask you to come? Because every person that Jesus ever called, he called publicly. He said, "If you're not willing to acknowledge Me before men, I'll not acknowledge you before my Father, which is in heaven". He hung on the cross openly in front of a howling mob of people for you. Now you come and stand in this beautiful Anfield stadium to declare yourself for Him. From all over the stadium, just get up and come and stand here and say tonight, "I want Christ in my heart. I want Him in my life, and I'm willing to surrender my life to Him". Quickly, hundreds of you, get up and come.