The answer hasn’t changed. Although it often doesn’t appear so, there’s never been a day when hope wasn’t readily available to every person on earth. One glance at any news source will lead many to believe that if God exists at all He’s busy somewhere else in the universe and we’re on our own. Not true. He’s never abandoned us. Frederick Buechner wrote, “God keeps re-entering the world. He keeps offering himself to the world by grace, keeps somehow blessing the world, making possible a kind of life which we all, in our deepest being, hunger for.” Yet even those of us who’ve surrendered to Christ and listen intently to the Holy Spirit within us, trying to glorify God in all we do can’t help but shake our head in disappointment over the worsening state of civilization. The 20th century’s “wars to end all wars” didn’t and mankind learned little from them. As a matter of fact, we stupidly dragged all our bile and biases with us into the third millennium. If the definition of insanity is doing the same things repeatedly while expecting a different result each time then we’re collectively as bonkers as Wile E. Coyote. One need only review this half year alone to discover undeniable evidence. Religious lunatics brutally torturing and beheading people to please the bloodthirsty God they worship. Disillusioned teens committing suicide at an alarming rate. Malevolent rioters taking advantage of controversial incidents to loot and burn down the businesses that serve the community they live in. The Supreme Court deeming marriage to be something any two folks who get a hankering to say “I do” can legally enter into. Middle East tensions continue to boil. You get the picture.
Small wonder frustration reigns. Most people think something radical needs to be done but the relentlessness of malicious evil is overwhelming. We see technology improving by leaps and bounds while human kindness digresses. We can send a spacecraft on a decade-long journey that successfully takes intricate pictures of tiny Pluto but we don’t feel comfortable letting our kids out of our sight for a second. We have reams of information about everything imaginable available on our smartphones but millions of high school graduates can’t read, write or speak coherently. Popular music is less about love and harmony and more about entitlement, gratification and materialism. The Beatles sang long ago, “It’s all too much,” and nothing’s rendered their complaint irrelevant. The hope my generation bragged about fostering in the 60s went up in smoke and we soon realized ours wasn’t any nobler than those that came before. Nothing we tried to instigate, no matter how altruistic, perceptibly slowed avarice down. Advanced studies in anthropology, psychology and sociology only reinforced what we knew already – something’s wrong with us. Scientists opine we’re all shaped and greatly influenced by our inherited DNA. Thus if we can figure out a way to manipulate our genes we can cure the ills of the world. In other words, it’s not our fault we’re so screwed up, it’s either God’s or Mother Nature’s doing. But Christians know better. At least they should. Sin is the culprit.
In Matthew West’s tune, “Do Something,” he sings of being disgusted by all the hate and injustice he sees. He asks God to act. God answers, “I already did – I created you.” Followers of Jesus are supposed to be an indefatigable army of righteous souls who lift up the downtrodden, the broken, the underprivileged, the weak, the sick and the poor in spirit. Yet, unlike conventional armies, we’re never to employ force or coercion because the peace they produce doesn’t last. As our Lord made clear, this world can only be changed by a complete transformation of the human heart. It’s up to the body of Christ to show unbelievers the love, patience and understanding it takes to overcome the constant temptation to handle things man’s way instead of God’s. One of our ways is to ingest chemicals. Feelin’ blue? Need a boost? Overweight? Take a pill. But if drugs were the answer we’d all be happy as clams by now. Scratch that. Scientists now say head transplants are almost feasible and might help some. But wouldn’t that just be putting someone’s sinful nature atop a different torso? Scratch that. Communism doesn’t work. Fascism doesn’t work. Even Democracy isn’t a cure-all because even the freest of men and women can’t fix the mess we’re in if God’s left out of the solution. Billy Graham wrote, “When God is ignored, the problem-solvers themselves participate in the problems.” We must acknowledge the formidable legions we’re up against. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” That last part informs us the devil and his demons aren’t “down below” somewhere but next to, in front of, behind and above us. Thus the only hope we have to defeat evil is Jesus Christ.
Jesus didn’t say we could escape Satan’s clutches or avoid paying the penalty for our sins by being super nice guys. In John 3:7 He said, “You must all be born again.” It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a command. It’s worth noting He announced this to a devout religious leader, Nicodemus, who probably thought he knew everything there was to know about God. After all, he fasted two days a week, spent hours every day praying at the temple and tithed faithfully. He was a respected professor of theology at the local seminary. Most likely he was a decent, trustworthy, moral chap well-liked by his peers and neighbors. You couldn’t ask for more. Yet Jesus told him all his piety and goodness wasn’t nearly enough to get him inside heaven’s gates. Christ looked him in the eye and said he had to be “born again.” It’s obvious Nicodemus saw something in Jesus or heard something in His teachings that piqued his interest or he wouldn’t have bothered to track Him down. To him Christ represented a potential ray of light at a time when it was scarce in Israel and he wanted to know more about what He was offering. Still, I’m sure he was shocked by what Jesus said. He certainly didn’t expect to be told unless one is born again they won’t catch even a passing glance of God’s glorious kingdom in the hereafter. Jesus was trying to get across to Nicodemus that he didn’t have to be a more upstanding citizen or earn more doctorate degrees. What he needed was to receive a new quality of life – eternal life – that begins in this world and carries us into the one that follows.
As expected, Nicodemus, using logic, thought being “born again” would have to be something very difficult to do – if not downright impossible. The Jewish religion required one to partake in painstakingly detailed, rigorous rites in order to atone for one’s sins and thereby qualify to enjoy a pleasant afterlife. He couldn’t imagine salvation being something as simple as believing Jesus was the Son of God and that He had the authority to forgive sins on the spot. But God is so compassionate and kind He chose to reveal Himself to us through childlike faith rather than the intellect. Therefore redemption is available to preschoolers as well as the mentally-challenged and those who’ve suffered brain damage. No one can claim Christ made it hard to get saved. It’s the same for the illiterate as it is for the genius. “…The disciples came to Jesus saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, had him stand among them, and said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4). John Hunter wrote, “The gospel message doesn’t have to be understood by the seeking soul, only to be received in simple faith. It isn’t fully understanding the gospel that gives me the blessing, but simply believing and receiving it.” Sometimes I’m guilty of trying to explain too much when I’m witnessing to a non-believer about Jesus when I need only tell them what He’s done in my own life. The proof’s in the pudding, as they say. Lynn Anderson wisely quipped, “Christianity isn’t true because it works; it works because it’s true.”
Shamefully, many people who regularly attend church services have never heard the term “born again.” Too often gospel ministers emphasize charitable works, social programs, political correctness or government legislation while neglecting to preach the one thing the world needs to hear most – only Christ can fix what’s wrong with us. Jefferson Bethke correctly said the modern church has cultivated a “religion of moralism dressed in Christian clothes.” That situation won’t get the job done. Graham wrote, “Man’s basic problem is first spiritual, then social. He needs a complete change from inside out.” The change he refers to is the same one Jesus told Nicodemus about. We must be born again. This transformation is mentioned frequently in the Bible. God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, said, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). In Acts Peter said it was the result of repenting and being converted. In Romans 6:13 Paul described believers as “…those who are alive from the dead…” and in Colossians 3:9-10 as those who’ve “put off the old man with its practices and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.” In Titus 3:5 he called it “…the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit…” In 2 Peter 1:4 it’s referred to as our becoming “…partakers of the divine nature…” I ask you, how can that not be the best news you’ve ever heard? There’s absolutely no downside to surrendering one’s life to Christ and being born again. Folks should be lined up around the block to get in on it. But they’re not. Why’s that?
Well, there are those who don’t want the responsibility faith brings with it. Others believe they’re so corrupt God can’t possibly forgive what they’ve done. But I suspect the vast majority basically don’t want to give up their vices, their self-centered lifestyle or whatever it is they idolize more than God. The entire book of 3 John stresses the new birth as something God does for us when we’re willing to yield to Him. It’s underscored we’re all dead in our sins and that the seed of the new life we need must be planted by God Himself. Far too many “quasi-Christians” don’t know this. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Our part as workers for God is to open men’s eyes that they may turn themselves from darkness to light; but that’s not salvation, that’s conversion – the effort of a roused human being. I do not think it too sweeping to say the majority of nominal Christians are of this order; their eyes are opened, but they’ve received nothing… When a man is born again, he knows it’s because he’s received something as a gift from Almighty God and not because of his own decision.” In the Celebrate Recovery ministry we talk a lot about “turning” because it’s a recurring theme of the Bible. God won’t do much to help us with our hurts, hang-ups and habits if we don’t focus our eyes and our attention solely on Him. In Ezekiel 14:6 the Lord tells Israel, “Turn from your idols, and turn your faces away from your abominations.” In Isaiah 45:22 He says, “Turn to me so you can be delivered…”
When you become born again God doesn’t just slap a fresh coat of paint on you and say “done.” Rather, He demands you die to yourself and tear the old place down so He can build a new creation from the ground up; a new creation totally committed to serving Him and doing His perfect will. Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.” The Lord wants all of you. And the change you’ll experience will be amazing. Your lust will turn to holiness. Your darkness to light. Your death to resurrection. You’ll no longer be a stranger to the kingdom of God but one of its permanent citizens. Your will, your affections, your aspirations, your disposition and your purpose for living will all change. God will be driving your bus and no matter how pitiful this world gets, you’ll know your future’s so bright you’ll need sunglasses to cut down the glare.
God uses His children as proof of His unlimited ability to reach down and pull anyone out of the misery, suffering or malaise this world can inflict upon their soul. We’re walking, talking testimonies of His glory and nothing’s more effective in convincing an unbeliever of His power. It’s nothing new. The New Testament’s filled with stories of lives changed after encountering Jesus Christ. For example, consider the Samaritan prostitute, an outcast in the area where she lived and worked. To avoid the verbal abuse she no doubt got from the locals the woman would go to the town’s well during the hottest part of the afternoon. One day a man was there who saw and treated her as a person who’d made some terrible career decisions, not a pariah. That man was Jesus. Her short conversation with Him changed her forever. In fact, she became an instant missionary, telling anyone within earshot her sins had been forgiven by none other than the promised Messiah. John 4:39 reads, “Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the report of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’” The Apostle Andrew was just a regular Joe but when Jesus asked him to follow Him he didn’t hesitate. Somewhat of a shy introvert most of his life, Andrew came alive in His Master’s presence and became one of the most enthusiastic of the twelve disciples. Some scholars think it was he who recruited his brother, the skeptical Simon Peter. Andrew was later instrumental in spreading the good news of the gospel to the regions of the Ukraine, Russia and Romania.
If you think the Samaritan woman of ill repute was shunned, imagine what the villagers thought of Zacchaeus. He callously collected the ridiculously high taxes imposed by the Romans and was as dishonest and crooked as they come, to boot. But after meeting Jesus he did a 180-degree turnaround. He repented and wanted to make amends for all the harm he’d caused. In Luke 19:8 he announced, “…Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!” However, nobody’s life got changed more drastically than the Apostle Paul’s. When he was still Saul of Tarsus, the vicious hunter of Christians, he met Christ face-to-face and was never the same again. He never wearied of telling about his dramatic conversion. To this day we speak of having a “Damascus Road experience” because of what happened to him. On the day of Pentecost 3,000 people were born again en masse. Each one of them started the day lost, searching for a reason to carry on. Many in attendance were dejected because Jesus, a glimmer of hope in their otherwise mundane lives, had been killed and some feared retribution for even being associated with Him. But by the end of the day all their worries had evaporated. They’d all become new creations with a clean slate and no baggage to lug. Jesus said in John 5:24, “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.”
No Jesus – no chance. Reinhold Niebuhr said without Christ, “…the human existence remains a problem to itself, being unable to escape by any effort of its own from the contradictions of a sinful existence.” What the world needs now is Jesus, sweet Jesus. Nothing will get better until every knee bows and every heart accepts Him as Lord. If you haven’t done that yet then you’re part of the problem. Surrender to Christ. Don’t wait. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “…Now is the acceptable time …Now is the day of salvation!”