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Charles Stanley - What is the Meaning of Being Born Again?


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The title of this message is "What is the Meaning of Being Born Again"? Lots of people have different ideas and attitudes about it, but what does the Word of God say? What matters is God's attitude, what He means by that term, and its effect upon all of us. Because the truth is God wants all of us to be born again, to be prepared to go to heaven. So somebody makes, says, "Well, what difference does it make"? I'll tell you what difference it makes. The Bible says, "It's appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment". It makes a difference what you and I believe. And God has given us this awesome passage of Scripture in a conversation between Jesus and a very outstanding Jewish Pharisee.

So, I want us to read this passage of Scripture and then I want to be sure that when this message is over, you know what it means to be born again, how that can take place in your life, and the importance of it for your whole eternity. So, if you will, turn to the third chapter of John, and let's start with the first verse. The Scripture says, "Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews," he had a high office, "this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that You have unless God is with him,'" which says he'd been watching, he'd been listening.

In fact, in the seventh chapter, Nicodemus is found defending Jesus in a situation where his fellow rabbis and so forth were criticizing Him. And then, of course, he shows up at the Garden Tomb. And so, "Jesus said to him, immediately, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' And Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, "You must be born again".'"

Then He gives him an illustration, "'The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and you don't know where it is headed, so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.' Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can these things be?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I've told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? No one who has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: The Son of God.'"

Now, think about this Jewish leader slipping around in the evening, probably does not want to be seen, or maybe he was too busy, one of the two, and asking Jesus about what He was talking about. And so, the process of doing so, Nicodemus learned something. And he immediately says to Jesus, "I know that You're a man come from God". Now, he may have heard a few things Jesus said, but he said, "I know that You're a man come from God because nobody could do what I've seen You doing unless God is with Him". Now, you would have thought Jesus would have said, "Thank you very much," or something like that, but Jesus immediately answers and says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God". And so, naturally, Nicodemus responds by saying, "How can this be, how can you be born twice? How can you be born a second time from your mother's womb"? And so, He begins to answer him.

So, I want us to think about the fact of what Jesus said, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God". That if you intend to go to heaven, you'd better be born again. That's the only way you're going to get there. And so, Jesus sets forth this time with him to explain to him what it means. So, I want to give you a simple definition of being born again. Being born again is the act of God by which He imparts eternal life to those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. And when we accept Him as our Savior, that's when the change takes place. All of us need to be born again. When He talks about the kingdom of God, He's referring to the sovereign rule of our God over all of creation.

So, He answers some questions rather quickly. And when He says, "I'm telling you, unless you are born again, you'll never see the kingdom of God. You won't understand it and you won't see it". So immediately, He has Nicodemus' mind and heart. And if I were you, I would listen very carefully. Because what Jesus said to Nicodemus, He says to everyone who is willing and wise enough to listen. Because, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God". He will not understand it, nor will he enter into it. Very, very important to understand the truth of this message. And so, when He said, "Unless a man's born again he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven," the implication was that, "Nicodemus, with all of your education, all of your popularity, all of your power, you're not going to be there unless there's a change in your life," which had to be a humbling event for Nicodemus, for this itinerant preacher to tell him he wasn't going to heaven.

But think about it: except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. He'll not enter into heaven, which means that every single one of us need to understand what that means. If we intend to go to heaven, remember this, you will not get there by your good works. You will not get there by believing in some religious idea or believing in some religious person. Only through a new birth experience because you wouldn't be fit for heaven, living in sin and die and go to holy heaven, which God has prepared for His children. And I would say that to you. It doesn't make any difference what you've done, how many churches you've been to. You may even be a pastor. The only way you and I are going to heaven is by the same way Nicodemus was going to go, and that is to be born again.

We understand the first birth. But Jesus put it in a way that's unmistakably clear. He could have said, "Unless you do this, that, or the other". And so, we would have attempted to do this, that, or the other. But He said born again. There must be a transformation within your heart in your life that is so absolutely crystal clear that you will know without a shadow of a doubt that you've experienced this or not. And so, Jesus begins to explain it to him, and He tells him, He says, "All of your life, all that you've done, that has not equipped you to go to heaven".

So, what's the nature of this? What is the nature, what is the whole idea about being born again? What is this experience? We say, "Well, you can't be born physically twice". It is a spiritual experience. And so, Jesus begins to explain it. He says, "It's a spiritual experience. It's something the Spirit of God does in a person's life". Think about this. Many of you who were saved, have been saved, the Holy Spirit, first of all, convicted you of your sin. The Holy Spirit began to help you understand that God loved you in spite of your sin. The Holy Spirit began to help you understand that your good works, what you were trying to do, wasn't sufficient, wasn't adequate to make you fit for heaven. And finally, the Holy Spirit brought you to the place of showing you, helping you understand what it meant to confess your sin, to repent of your sin and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. And what He was saying is this: it is a definite experience.

And people say, "Well, I think I'm saved. I think I'm okay". Well, what makes you think you are? "Well," and they tell me all the things they don't do. Or they'll tell me some of the things they do. And I like to think about it this way: when I think about when I was saved in a Pentecostal Holiness church on my knees at the altar at the age of twelve, weeping. Now, I'd been to going to church for years. But on this Sunday morning, the Spirit of God wouldn't let me sit in my pew any longer. I got out, I was scared to death. I went to the altar, fell on my knees and began to weep and ask God to save me. It's a definite experience. It is an experience at which we are convicted by the Holy Spirit. That's one of His primary jobs: convict us of our sin and show us that the Lord Jesus Christ's death at Calvary paid our sin debt in full, made it possible for us to ask for forgiveness, repent of our sin, turn away from it and be accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ.

You say, "Well, that's simple enough". Well, it is simple enough if you're willing. And he says, "Give us eternal life," which means we'll never perish. So, maybe you've been going to church for years, maybe all of your life. Maybe as you look at your life, you think, "Well, never have done anything really bad from your perspective". And so, you look at all the good things about your life. I don't question that. Nicodemus had a long list of good things he'd been doing. And Jesus said to him, "Except a man be born again," something radical has to take place in your life. If it doesn't take place in your life, you're not going to heaven.

You say, "Well, when you were twelve years old, was that radical"? It was radical for me. And what was radical was I suddenly realized I needed my sins forgiven. And if I died without Christ, I felt that I would be lost at twelve. Whatever the issue was, God spoke to my heart and showed me I needed to have a change in my life that would radically change me. That hasn't changed. There's only one way that'll make you fit for heaven. That is confession and repentance of sin and surrendering your life to the Lord Jesus Christ. And He says when we do that, we'll never perish.

So, when I look at Nicodemus and see what an awesome guy he was, and think about people today who could give you the same kind of look at their life, on the outside, everything looks right. God knows the inside, the truth is all of us have sinned against God over and over and over and over again. And so, what we do is we look at our sin and look at what we've done, and what we've done religiously about the Lord Jesus Christ. Then the Word of God comes along. And when we face ourselves against the Word of God, things change. The truth is, we all need forgiveness. We all need to repent. We all need to surrender our life to God and if you intend to go to heaven.

So, ask yourself the question today: just the way you are, do you think God would accept you into heaven just the way you are? You say, "Well, I'm not planning on going yet". Well, you may not plan on it, but something may happen you may have to. The question is this: would you, watch this carefully, would you be ready? On what basis do you believe that you're ready? I can read your mind. You started thinking about all the good things you've done, all the money you've given, all the people you may have helped, all the kind of life you've lived. And you've never been in jail. And you've never done all of these things, but that's not the basis of acceptance into heaven. It's not what we've done. It wasn't what Nicodemus had done.

He says, "Unless you're born again, unless there is a spiritual experience whereby you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior because He, the Holy Spirit, has convicted you of your sin and made you realize you're not ready to meet the Lord. We're either ready or not ready. The only thing that makes us ready is our relationship to Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about our good works. "Not by works of righteousness which we've done, but according to His mercy, He saves us". And so, He says to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he can never see the kingdom of God".

So, what are the results, for example, in a person's life when they say, "Yes, I'm asking You, Lord, I want to be born again. I'm trusting You as my Savior, I'm asking You to forgive me of my sin. I want this radical change in my life"? So first of all, that means there's a change in my relationship. Watch this. Your relationship to God before you're born again is you're an enemy of the faith, because you're living a different kind of life. You're not for God, either you got to be for Him or against Him. If you're living in sin, you're against the kingdom of God, against God. "Well, I will never be against God". By your thoughts, maybe, you think that, but the truth is if you're not on His side, whose side are you on? There is no neutral road. I'm either walking down His road, I'm down the road of the world.

And we look around today and see exactly what happens to a nation when so many people have turned away from Jesus, away from the Church, and what's happening? It's affecting everything about us. So, it's a definite relationship. Secondly, there's a change in our position. Before, we're separated from God, separated from Christ. But when you are born again, that separation's over. That is, you're a part of the kingdom of God. Your name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life, you're a child of God, not for a season of time, but forever. You don't lose your salvation. You may cloud it up with sin, but one thing for certain: you sin against God after you're saved, the Holy Spirit Living inside of you to convict us of sin, "Show us the truth, make us miserable in order to get us back, God".

So, there's a change in your position with Christ. Now you're in Christ. Somebody says, "What does that mean"? It means I've been saved, I've been born again, I've surrendered my life to Christ. Now Christ is living His life in and through me, through the Holy Spirit, and I am living each day for Him. I'm in Christ, the change of relationship, change of my position. Then, there's a change in attitude. You can't be saved and then have no change in attitude. Something happens when you are born again. Here's what happens, watch this: the Holy Spirit of God who convicted you of your sin, who showed you where you were, who showed you what needed to be done, and who gave you the wisdom to know how to pray and ask Him to save you. The Holy Spirit of God working in your life is doing what? Changing your attitude.

Now, watch this: when you're saved, the person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, He's on the inside of you living out the life of Christ, convicting you of sin, assuring you, encouraging you, helping you in every way possible. The Bible says He sealed you. There's a definite attitude when you are born again. Then one other thing I think is necessary, there's a change in your destination.

Listen, the closer you get to your destination, the more sure you better be. Because listen to what He says in the fifth chapter and the twenty-fourth verse of John. He says, for example, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word," like you're hearing this morning, "believes Him who sent Me," that is, believes God, "has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, that has passed from death unto life". Think about this: when you know that you're born again, one thing you don't have to worry about, you don't have to worry about getting lost. And people can tell you, "Well, if you this, or if you do that, you're going to be lost". No, remember this. If this is why it's so important for you to mark verses, mark verses. "You've been sealed by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of promise". Sealed as a child of God.

That is, think about how wonderful God is. Not only has He saved you, not only have you been born again, but God says, "Now I want you to be sure all the rest of your life. I'm a going to seal you with the third Person of the Trinity". God has sealed you with His presence within you so that you don't ever have to wonder about if you can be saved and be lost. If you're living in sin and no conviction, more than likely you've never been saved. I'll tell you why. He's the Holy Spirit, He is indwelling you, he sealed you as a child of God, therefore when you sin against God, He, the Holy Spirit living within you, is going to convict you.

You may live a long time with sin in your life and keep hearing this voice, this little quietness, but what about this, what about that? What about this in your life? And after a while, you may dull it down to a point, but you'll never dull Him down out, because He sealed you as a child of God, you're forever a child of God, and the one thing you don't want to happen is to live your life and sin against Him, sin against Him, sin against Him, and feel less and less and less conviction about it because you're becoming hardened in your heart. The Spirit of God was placed in your heart to seal you, to assure you, and to give you wisdom and guidance and direction how to live the Christian life. That's what it's all about.

If you know that you've never been born again, if you just think you have and not sure, whatever it might be, settle that issue today, right now. It's nobody else's business, it's you and God. Nobody else matters at this moment. You and your eternal relationship with God is the only thing that matters, and you're the only one who can determine what that'll be. You've heard the truth. It's a matter of praying. "I yield myself to You in a new, fresh way, Lord, today". And you want to be sure. Because watch this, if you don't have the assurance that you've been born again, you have no assurance about anything in life, nothing.

So let's pray. Father, we love Your Word, thank You for making it simple and plain to us. Now we ask that Your Holy Spirit, who always works in times of confession and repentance and being born again, I pray right now, that the Holy Spirit would convict every single person here who has never been born again. Convict them, not of a bunch of sins, but of that most important decision, to ask You to not only forgive them of their sin, but to change their eternal destiny. To give them the gift of eternal life. I pray that the prayer would be simple, and that it would be sincere. So sincere and so simple that it would never be forgotten. And Lord, I pray for somebody here who's not sure, as well as those who know for certain they've never been born again. But as they pray to believe in their heart, that You will do exactly what You promised to do, and that they can walk out of here with absolute certainty. Not because of what they've done, but because of what they believe, that You have brought about a new life. So I pray, Father, give them the grace to pray this prayer in whatever way they choose to do so. Heavenly Father, today I want to be sure about my relationship to You. Some of you may pray, "I know that I have never been born again". Today, I'm asking You in the confession of my sin, in my repentant heart, I'm asking You to bring about that new birth in my life. To save me, to give me the gift of a new birth. I'm receiving the work of the Holy Spirit right now in my life. Sealing me as a child of God and enabling me to live the life that You've called me to live. And I will trust You, Lord, daily to give me the strength, to walk the path of righteousness, to live a godly life. And I know that when I falter and fail, You'll forgive me, but You'll never cast me aside, never throw me out, for I'm eternally secure in You. And I pray this prayer in Jesus's name. Now, for somebody, you know in your heart that you have been born again, but you've really blown it, you've messed it up, you've sinned against God. You keep on confessing the same old sin. Would you be willing to pray this prayer? Father, forgive me for my slothfulness, spiritually. Forgive me for lying to You, trying to impress You that I'm doing good, and I know in my heart that I'm living a sinful life. Today, I want to make a change in my life. I'm asking the same Holy Spirit that saved me to enable me, and I want to make a full surrender of my life afresh and anew today that I can live a godly life, a holy life, one that's pleasing and honorable to You. And one that'll bring You joy, and one that'll enable me to share this awesome message with others. And I pray this in Jesus's name, amen.
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