“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
At times I am asked, as I was recently in an email, how we can live a holy life while living in this sinful world. This is a vital question for us to ask. So often people find themselves drifting through life, without really examining how they live. We push down those questions and moral struggles which we face because we are engaged in the struggle to just survive. There are times when we find ourselves facing that insistent inner discomfort which tells us that all is not right with our world. What are we to do in response?
In order to adequately deal with this question we need to first of all answer the number one question of life which is, are we a Christian? Have you been born again? As the Apostle John introduces his Gospel this is the first thing that he confronts us with. In fact it seems that this question of being born again is central to all that John writes in his Gospel. Have you been born again? What does John mean by this? Why is it so important to him?
John, in chapter three of his Gospel tells us that we must be born from above, or again. He confronts us with this as he reports on a conversation that Nicodemus had with the LORD Jesus Christ. In explaining His meaning Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be born again is to be born spiritually. It is a work of the Holy Spirit making us alive spiritually. Technically we will call this to be regenerated. Historically Christians like John Wesley called it the New Birth. John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that this is the work of God given to those who receive the LORD Jesus Christ by believing on His Name. This text leads us to that precious work of God where His only begotten Son came and dwelt among us revealing His glory in the cross of Calvary. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once stated that we cannot adequately deal with the issues we face in life until we answer the primary issue, are we a Christian? It is to this point that John brings us in his Gospel.
Behind what John is writing here is a rich vein of Old Testament Prophetic teaching which speaks to us about the necessity of God changing our nature so that we will live holy lives. We cannot live a holy life in our own flesh, no matter how hard we try to do so. Ezekiel 18:30-32 speaks about this to us.
“Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
Earlier Ezekiel tells us in chapter 11:19-20 that this work is in fact the work of God, graciously accomplished within us when he writes.
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people and I will be their God.”
Here Ezekiel points us to the Covenant which God has made with His people. Jeremiah, in chapter 31:31-34 echoes these thoughts telling us that God is going to give His people a New Covenant written by the Spirit on their hearts, and causing them to walk in His ways. I believe that this is what Jesus describes in John’s Gospel.
To be born of God is to be given this new heart which is responsive, and obedient to God’s purposes as revealed in His Word. We delight ourselves in His Word. It is a work of God in us. It is vital that we are born again if we are ever to live a holy life in this sinful world.
Once we are saved then we are called to actively live out our life of obedience to His Word by faith in His power to work in us. There are a number of scriptures we could appeal to here, (Romans 13:11-14, Philippians 2:12-13, 3:12-14). I will only quote one here in conclusion.
“And do this understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the LORD Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:11-14)