Recently someone reached out asking for a simple explanation of what it means to be “born again.”
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.
1 Peter 1:3 ESV
The idea of being “born again” is something that the Bible speaks about using a variety of terms, such as: Receiving a new heart, becoming a new creation, being made alive in Christ.
The exact phrase, “born again” is something which Jesus used when speaking to a man named Nicodemus: a moral, religious man who was well-respected in his community. Nicodemus came to Jesus asking for the essence of Jesus’ teaching, and Jesus told him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
What this means is that although we are born physically alive, every person’s default condition is that they are spiritually dead and disconnected from God.
God loves us, and yet: we are sinners, both by nature and by choice, and as a result there is a separation between us and God, and our default condition is that we are spiritually dead rather than alive.
There are a lot of people in the world who are like Nicodemus: moral and “good” people. And yet, Jesus told this moral man that he needed to be born again. And this is the message of Jesus to all of us as well: “YOU need to be born again!” Not just everyone else; not just the drunks and the immoral people, but YOU too!
YOU need to be born again by coming into a relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ: faith in the fact that he died in your place to reconcile you to God by imputing his righteousness to you, and imputing your sins to him; faith that he rose from the dead to give you the hope and promise of eternal life!
When you are born again you receive:
a NEW HEART: The very essence of who you are changes! You receive a new heart, with new desires.
a NEW IDENTITY: You change from being an enemy of God to being a child of God.
a NEW MIND: You begin to think differently.
NEW EMOTIONS: You feel differently; God pours out his love, joy, and peace into your heart.
A NEW COMMUNITY: You become part of the people of God, those who are being saved.
A NEW POWER: Power over sin; we are no longer slaves to our flesh, but we gain the power to be free when we are born again by putting our faith in Jesus and God places his Spirit inside of you to strengthen you in your weakness.
In Matthew 27:52-53 it says that when Jesus died, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
Why did this happen? And what happened to these “walking dead”: did they ascend into Heaven with Jesus, or did they die again at a later date? What was the meaning and significance of this?
I address this question in the latest episode of the Theology for the People Podcast – in which I tell a story of regret from my honeymoon and explain why this event can only be understood in light of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine.
In Matthew 27:52-53 it says that when Jesus died, "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."
Why did this happen? And what happened to these "walking dead": did they ascend into Heaven with Jesus, or did they die again at a later date? What was the meaning and significance of this?
You can find more articles and content, as well as a place to submit questions or suggest topics at the Theology for the People blog site.
This episode is sponsored by
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In the Bible, Satan is referred to as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31, 14:30) and even “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.
How then can Jesus say that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” has been given to him (Matthew 28:18)?
In this week’s Sermon Extra, Pastor Mike and I discuss the authority of Satan, and what the Bible has to say about it: Did Adam and Eve hand over “regency” of the Earth to Satan in the Garden of Eden? And how does this relate to the scroll that only Jesus can open in Revelation 5?
Furthermore, we discuss the claim of Richard Dawkins and others, who say that Jesus’ death on the cross was “divine child abuse,” since the innocent Son of God was sacrificed by the Father – and how the deity of Christ changes everything when it comes to understanding the meaning of the cross.
Hi, a question coming from your recent sermon on May 2 about belief and doubt. You were talking about how doubt is held in a sort of middle ground, not to be vilified or esteemed too highly. Today I came across these verses in Romans regarding eating by conscience:
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22-23 ESV)
That last sentence feels very strong in that ANYTHING not from faith is sin. How does this relate to the topic on Sunday?
Additionally, where do we draw a line to keep from absurd conclusions about this? When I go on a bike ride for health, I’m not doing it in faith – I just want to keep fit. What about choosing the right date for traveling on vacation? This verse could easily cause a person to stop making decisions due to fear of sin.
The sermon mentioned in this question is from the series The Risen Life, in which we looked at the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Gospels for the season of Eastertide. The sermon was from John 20:19-30 and was called “From Doubt to Belief.”
In John 20:24-29, in the story of "doubting Thomas," we see that moving from doubt to belief involves hearing testimony, seeing the evidence, and responding in faith.
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Doubt and Faith in Romans 14:23
In Romans 14:23, Paul is talking about “gray areas” or “disputable matters” in the Christian life. At that time, some people said that it was acceptable for Christians to eat meat which had been sacrificed to idols, whereas others said that it was not acceptable. Each side had their reasons.
Similar discussions exist today: Is it acceptable for Christians to drink alcohol? To participate in Halloween festivities? To do yoga or martial arts?
In some of these cases, it may be that something may not be categorically wrong, but it may be wrong for a particular person because of their particular propensities. Furthermore, that person may have a strong conviction that they ought not to do something, even if it wouldn’t necessarily be a sin for anyone to do that thing.
Paul is saying that if you have a sincere conviction before God that you should not do something, then you should act on that conviction in faith, and do so as unto the Lord. This, Paul says, honors God. However, if you do something in contradiction to your conviction that you should not do it; i.e. if you have doubts about whether that thing is acceptable or permissible for you to do – then for you to do it anyway would be sin.
Thus, the way doubt and faith is used here is different than in the sense in which we talked about doubt and faith in the above mentioned sermon, where our focus was rather on doubting versus believing in God’s existence, God’s goodness, the validity of God’s Word, or the reliability of God’s promises.
Is Everything that Does Not Proceed from Faith Really Sin?
I believe the answer is: Yes. Let me explain, and I’ll explain how this applies to situations such riding your bike and choosing dates for vacation:
In Hebrews 11:6 we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” In Romans 4:20, faith is correlated with giving glory to God. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are told, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
The point therefore, is that acting in faith is all about giving glory to God in our actions. If you doubt whether a particular action brings glory to God, then for you to do it anyway would be a sin. It is in this way that anything that does not proceed from faith is sin.
The Question We Often Ask, & the Question We Ought to Ask
I find that too often, we tend to ask the question: “Is it permissible to _________” or “Am I allowed to _________.” What this passage (and others) teach us is that the question we ought to be asking instead is: “Will this action glorify God?” or “Will God be honored, pleased, and glorified through this action?”
If you can do that action in faith so that your motive is to glorify God, then good. If you have doubts about that, then to do it anyway would be sin – at least for you.
This is why Augustine argues that for those who act apart from faith in God, even their virtues can be sinful: because if you do something good – apart from faith in God – your motive in doing so is not to glorify God, but must be either to glorify yourself, or to justify yourself. Thus, even virtuous actions, apart from faith in God, can be sinful. Tim Keller often speaks, quoting the Puritans, of how it is important therefore that we repent not only of our evil actions, but of our good actions done for self-justifying or self-glorifying motives.
May we be those who endeavor to do everything for the glory of God!
What are they? How do we recognize them before it’s too late? And how do we avoid being carried away by them?
We give some examples of winds and waves in the recent past, as well as the desire to move beyond the basics of Christianity to the “deeper things.” We discuss what people often mean when they use that phrase, and how to discover and experience the deepest things in reality.
In this episode Nick and Mike discuss what it means in Ephesians 4:14 where the Apostle Paul talks about “winds and waves of doctrine.” What are they? How do we recognize them before it’s too late? And how do we avoid being carried away by them?
Along with some examples of winds and waves in the recent past, we discuss the “deeper things” of Christianity: what many people mean when they use that phrase and what the deepest things are in reality.
Also visit the Theology for the People blog.
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Why does God bring judgment upon some sinful people, yet others who do much worse things remain healthy, prosperous, and well? In some cases they even seem to be getting God’s approval or at least not His punishment for the same sins as those who receive judgment. Examples of this would be Michal (David’s wife) and Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6, and the story of the two prophets in 1 Kings 13.
This is a good question, and is related to a question that David asked in the Psalms about why God allows wicked people to prosper and righteous people to suffer. This question, from David, was not an abstract query, but one that was deeply person to his lived experience.
We can see this dynamic at work in the world today as well, where some people do evil things and seem to suffer no consequences, and in some cases succeed as a result, whereas many who endeavor to lead a godly life don’t succeed or even suffer.
I responded to this question with a podcast episode which is embedded and linked below. In this episode, I give three important considerations which help us to understand this dynamic.
Loved your teaching about 2 Corinthians 12 and the context why Paul wrote this. Can you direct me to the verses that show the criticism he took for always having trouble and not having visions so he was not spiritual enough so Paul writes chapter 12. Thanks
I’m guessing you probably heard this message on our radio program: Be Set Free. We recently started podcasting the radio program, which means that you can subscribe to the podcast and never miss a broadcast; each day’s message will be delivered directly to your phone. And as of just recently, that podcast is available on Apple Podcasts as well – check it out here: Be Set Free Radio on Apple Podcasts
Here is a good summary of the issue with links to many of the relevant verses:
In addition to calling into question Paul’s motives in organizing a collection for believers in Judea (8:20–21; cf. 2:17; 12:14–18) and questioning his personal courage (10:10–11; 11:21), Paul’s opponents had argued that Paul suffered too much to be a Spirit-filled apostle of the risen Christ. Paul argues that his weakness as an apostle is the very means by which believers are comforted (1:3–11) and God in Christ is made known in the world (2:14–17; 4:7–12; 6:3–10; 11:23b–33). Paul’s sufferings embody the cross of Christ, while his endurance amid adversity, with thanksgiving and contentment, manifests the resurrection power of the Spirit (12:7–10). Paul’s suffering as an apostle is thus the very means God uses to reveal his glory (1:3–4, 11, 20; 4:15; 9:11–15; 10:17–18).
ESV Study Bible, Introduction to 2 Corinthians
What this summary doesn’t give is the verses which talk about the criticisms Paul was receiving. Those criticisms are addressed in 2 Corinthians chapters 10-12, in which Paul defends his ministry.
In these chapters it is very clear that Paul feels uncomfortable defending himself, but he does so because he feels that it is necessary to counter the narrative being spread by the “super apostles”: a term Paul uses sarcastically to describe certain people who had come around or rose up within the Corinthian church and were promoting themselves as spiritual authorities, which included trying to tear down Paul as an authority figure in the minds of the Corinthian Christians. This is particularly sad in light of the fact that Paul was the one who founded the church in Corinth.
Based on the ways in which Paul defends himself and his ministry, we become aware of what their criticisms must have been. It becomes clear that they taught some form of the “prosperity gospel” which states that the proof of spiritual maturity is triumphalism: i.e. that a person will not suffer physical, psychological, or financial difficulties. If someone does suffer such difficulties, it is assumed that there must be something wrong with them. This is the same accusation that was leveled against Job in the Book of Job.
Apparently the “super apostles”, whom Paul identifies as false apostles in Chapter 11, accused Paul of being weak, and said that his sufferings were proof that he was not as spiritual or did not have the authority or blessing of God upon his ministry, like they did. Paul instead chooses to boast in his weaknesses, because through them God receives glory through his life, rather than him. The triumphalist “super apostles” – in other words, sought to bring glory and attention to themselves rather than to God.
In chapter 12, Paul reluctantly shares about a vision he had of Heaven. The reason Paul shares this vision, which until now he had kept to himself, was to prove to the Corinthians that he did have spiritual visions and experiences. The only impetus for this must have been that the “super apostles” claimed that Paul didn’t have supernatural visions, which they apparently claimed was proof of their superior spirituality. Paul responds by saying, “No, what they’re saying about me is not true, and here’s an example – but I don’t go around boasting about these things, rather the only thing I want to boast in is Christ; I want to bring attention and glory to Him rather than to myself.”
Thanks for the question! 2 Corinthians is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and I look forward to teaching through it at some point in the future at White Fields.
I was reading in John, and during Jesus’s discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus makes a statement that gave me pause, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13)
Immediately I thought, “Wait, what about Elijah, or potentially Enoch?” They may not have descended in the same way as Jesus, or had a special nature as he did, but they ascended physically and yet seem to be ignored in this exclusive statement.
Great observation! Here are some important things to consider, which can bring clarity to this statement from Jesus:
Which Heaven is Jesus Referring To?
In ancient thinking, the word “heaven” was used in three ways (and it often used in these same three ways in our modern vernacular as well).
The “first” heaven = the sky, or the atmosphere, i.e. the place where birds and planes fly.
The “second” heaven = outer space, or the stratosphere: the place beyond Earth’s atmosphere, where stars and other planets are located.
The “third” heaven = the abstract use of the word, which designates not a geographical location, but the spiritual plane in which God and other invisible spirits dwell.
Paul the Apostle speaks of being caught up to the third heaven, in what was either a vision or perhaps even a near-death experience, in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Paul also speaks of the “heavenly places” in Ephesians as the place where Jesus is seated with the Father.
And yet, we know can surmise from different passages in the Bible, such as Luke 16 and others, that those who died in faith prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus did not go to “heaven” in the sense of the immediate presence of God, rather they went to Sheol, the dwelling place of the dead, where they awaited either the completion of their redemption or the final judgment of God.
In this case, it would seem that when 2 Kings 2:11 says “And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven,” it means that his body was caught up into the sky, not that his soul was taken to the immediate presence of God.
This would make sense in light of the rest of the text in 2 Kings, in which the “sons of the prophets” who witnessed this take place insist that they go and recover the body of Elijah that was picked up in this whirlwind. With Elijah and Enoch, though their souls were taken from this Earth, they would have gone to “Abraham’s bosom” (the part of Sheol reserved for those who died in faith – see article linked above).
Jesus’ point in John 3:13 is that Nicodemus should listen to what he has to say about Heaven since no human person has ever gone to heaven, yet he (Jesus) is the only person who has come from Heaven to Earth, and is therefore uniquely qualified to give accurate insight and explanation into Heavenly realities.
“Ascended” versus “Taken Up”
Another possible explanation is that when Jesus says that he is the first who will “ascend” into Heaven, he is correct in the sense that he will ascend by his own power and volition, whereas Enoch and Elijah were “taken up” by God, not by their own power or will.
Hopefully these explanations helped. If you see anything I missed, please leave a comment – and keep on studying God’s Word and asking questions as you go!
There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received the following questions:
Question 1: Does God forgive our repetitive or habitual sins?
In Romans 8:1-4, Pauls says that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Does this mean that there is no judgment, conviction, or guilty verdict for past sins, or does it also include sins committed after the believer comes to Christ, as long as he asks for forgiveness? What about our repetitive and “pet” sins?
The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has taken the judgment for our sins, the condemnation that we deserved. Therefore, if someone is in Christ – which means to trust in, cling to Jesus and what he accomplished in his sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection, they will not face condemnation for their sins because Jesus has already faced it for them on their behalf.
When it comes to habitual or repetitive sins, one of the places in the New Testament that deals with this question directly is the Epistle of 1 John.
In 1 John, John is writing to believers, and yet he says:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1 John 1:8-10, 2:1
John also says things like, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:9) Think about it like this: you “practice” things that you want to get better at; you practice your golf swing, you practice the guitar, because you want to improve. John is describing two types of people: one who desires to sin and delights in it, and another who stumbles into sin on occasion but hates it and mourns over it.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The idea is that you become a “whole new animal,” if you will; you go from being a pig to being a sheep. Whereas a sheep might sometimes fall in the mud, the pig’s entire goal in life is to find some mud and roll in it; it’s the pig’s every dream and goal in life. The person who is in Christ has gone from being a pig to being a sheep.
The existence of habitual or persistent sin in a believer’s life is indeed cause for concern. However, it is of even greater concern if it doesn’t bother you. The promise of the Lord to us, is that in Christ and in the power of His strength we can overcome any temptation:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
Question 2: Will believers be judged?
Yes and no. Believers will not be judged for condemnation for their sins, but they will be judged for reward for the good things they have done.
Think about it like this: there are judges over criminal courts, who condemn criminals for their crimes, and there are also judges in the olympics who hand out bronze, silver, and gold medals for performances.
We who are in Christ through believing will not be judged for our sins, since Jesus already took that judgment – but we will be judged for our good works unto reward.
This reward seat is sometimes called the Béma seat of judgment. Paul describes this judgment for reward in 1 Corinthians 3:
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
Question 3: Are we still to be submitted to the authorities even if the authorities are against God’s Word?
If authorities demand that we do something which is in contradiction to what God has commanded in His Word, we are to obey God rather than human authorities.
Romans 13 and 1 Peter both instruct believers to obey the authorities that God has placed over us in His providence. Keep in mind that the authorities in these cases were pagan, ungodly, and even cruel and terrible dictators, yet by honoring them, we are honoring God.
However, there are limits to our submission to authorities. Passages like Acts 4 are examples of times when believers disobeyed the authorities when they commanded them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, which was something they could not do because they had been commanded by Jesus to preach the gospel and make disciples.
Question 4: What has been your way of memorizing scripture?
I have never spent much time trying to memorize Scripture, but I have succeeded in memorizing much of it. Here are some things I do which have helped me to do it:
Read Scripture regularly
Choose one translation of the Bible and stick to it.
Quote Scripture often, and speak it aloud.
When quoting Scripture, avoid paraphrasing. Try instead to quote it precisely, until you succeed in memorizing it through use.
Thanks for the questions, and I hope those answers help!
In Genesis 31:22-32, who did Jacob wrestle with: the Angel of the Lord? Archangel Phanuel? Or ???
In Genesis 31, we read that Jacob was about to meet with his brother Esau and he was greatly afraid, assuming that Esau wanted to kill him. The night before their meeting, Jacob ventures off alone into the wilderness, and there encounters a man with whom he ends up wrestling until daybreak. The man touches Jacob’s hip, dislocating it, but Jacob refuses to release his grasp on the man unless the man agrees to bless him.
The man consents to blessing Jacob, and changes his name from Jacob (conniving) to Israel (wrestles with God).
Jacob then calls this place Peniel, which means ‘the face of God,’ and says: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.’
So, let’s take stock: Jacob wrestled with a man, but then he claimed that the man he wrestled with was God, and that he had seen God face to face, yet he had not died.
Who did Jacob wrestle with? He wrestled with a man, who is also God… There is only one such man: the Divine Son, the second person of the Trinity: Jesus.
This story in Genesis 31 is one of many Christophanies in the Old Testament: appearances of Jesus before he was born as a baby in Bethlehem.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus has existed since eternity past, that he is God, and that he is distinct from the Father, who is also God. We are told that no one has ever seen God the Father, but the Divine Son has made him known. We are told in Colossians that Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God.’
In other words: when we see God in human form, we are seeing an appearance of God the Son, i.e. Jesus before he came as a baby in Bethlehem.
As for the ‘Archangel Phanuel’: Phanuel is a form of transliteration of Peniel, which means ‘the face of God.’ The ‘Archangel Peniel’ is only mentioned in an apocryphal book called the Book of Enoch, which has never been considered Holy Scripture, neither by the Jews nor the Christians. We have no substantial reason to believe in the existence of any archangel by that name, as the inspired authority of the Book of Enoch is dubious and suspect. The reason Jacob called the place Peniel is because he understood that he had come face to face with God.
Bible Commentary Recommendations
Which Bible commentary is the closest to the word of God: Life Application Bible Commentary or the Bible Knowledge Commentary. Would you have a recommendation?
I’m not very familiar with the Life Application Bible Commentary, but I do know the Bible Knowledge Commentary, and I think it is quite good. My top recommendation for a commentary series would be the New International Commentary of the Old and New Testaments. The Word Biblical Commentary is also quite good.
Will We See the Trinity in Heaven?
When we get to haven will we see God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, with Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. Please explain.
I believe the answer to this question is: Yes, we will see the three persons of the Godhead as separate persons. For example, in Revelation, John sees Jesus as separate from the Father several times. What is not clear is if we will ‘see’ the Holy Spirit, since I can’t think of any instance in the Bible when the Holy Spirit is seen.
The best, most concise summary of what Christians believe about the Trinity, the triune God revealed to us in the Bible, is found in the Athanasian Creed:
This is the [universal Christian] faith:
That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is immeasurable, the Son is immeasurable, the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal.
And yet there are not three eternal beings; there is but one eternal being. So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings; there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.
Similarly, the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Spirit is almighty. Yet there are not three almighty beings; there is but one almighty being.
Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three gods; there is but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord. Yet there are not three lords; there is but one Lord.
The creed goes on and it worth reading, but the point is that the three persons of the Godhead are not only functionally distinct, but are ontologically distinct. This means that just as they have been distinct from eternity past, they will be distinct from eternity future, although they are persons of the one God.