Theme Test #5b
SBGR = Spiritual Birth, Growth, and Renewal
Spiritual Birth: The new birth is one of the most exciting doctrines of Christianity, but exactly what does it mean, how does a person get it, and what happens after they receive it?
We hear Jesus' teaching on the new birth when he was visited by Nicodemus, a leader of the ruling council of ancient Israel. Afraid of being seen, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, seeking the truth. What Jesus told him applies to us as well:
"In reply Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.'" (John 3:3, NIV)
Despite his great learning, Nicodemus was confused. Jesus explained that he was not talking about a physical new birth, but a spiritual rebirth:
"Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.'" (John 3:5-6, NIV)
Before we are born again, we are walking corpses, spiritually dead. We are alive physically, and from outward appearances, nothing seems wrong with us. But inside we are creatures of sin, dominated and controlled by it. Just as we can't give physical birth to ourselves, we can't accomplish this spiritual birth by ourselves, either. God gives it, but through faith in Christ we can request it:
"In his great mercy he (God the Father) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you ..." (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)
Because God gives us this new birth, we know exactly where we stand. That's what is so exciting about Christianity. We don't have to struggle for our salvation, wondering whether we have said enough prayers or done enough good deeds. Christ did it for us, and it is complete.
Spiritual Growth: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
That's a shocking change. Again, we look the same on the outside, but inside our sinful nature has been fully replaced with a new person, a being who stands righteous in the eyes of God the Father, because of the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. With our new nature comes an intense desire for Christ and the things of God. For the first time, we can fully appreciate Jesus' statement:
"'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6, NIV)
We know, with all our being, that Jesus is the truth we have been seeking all along. The more we get of him, the more we want. Our desire for him feels right. It feels natural. As we pursue an intimate relationship with Christ, we experience a love unlike any other.
As Christians, we still sin, but it becomes shameful to us because we now realize how much it offends God. With our new life, we develop new priorities. We want to please God out of love, not fear.
When we become a new person in Christ, we also leave behind that suffocating burden of trying to earn our own salvation. We finally grasp that Jesus has done that for us: "'Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8:32, NIV)
Spiritual Renewal: A born again person was already prepared by God to live a life of grace. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10)
The believer has (1) a new nature, (2) the life of God in him, (3) a vital relationship to God and to other believers through the Holy Spirit, and (4) the presence of God in his body and consciousness. This sets the stage for an effective expression of a life on high moral standards in keeping with the character of God. In this new relationship, a young believer only recently entering into salvation in Christ can transform his relationships, thoughts, opinions, attitudes, and habits. He can experience and know the will of God and achieve a high moral standard. Even though immature, a young believer can have a dramatic change in his life. Spiritual maturity, however, is achieved only as the new believer grows in experience. Spiritual maturity takes time, whereas spiritual birth occurs immediately upon conversion.
Spiritual renewal takes place when a person yields his spirit to the will of God. This takes place practically when a person yields to the authority of God through his Word, the Bible. Many issues which face the Christian, however, are not taught explicitly in the Bible. Hence, there must be yieldedness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to the individual to provide guidance in these matters. That is, God's will can be known through prayer and applying the general principles of the Bible to the particular issue which is facing the individual.
(Acknowledgement of Jack Zavada for his explanation of the foundational Christian doctrines of Spiritual Birth and Growth, http://christianity.about.com/od/christiandoctrines/a/newbirth.htm, and John F. Walvoord for Spiritual Renewal,http://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-3-spirit-work-life-holiness)