Monday, April 13, 2015

Born Again - 3 Ways of Grace

I had the privilege of preaching to a Spanish speaking congregation who meats in the chapel of my church.  Here is the message I preached through a translator on April 12, 2015.  They were very gracious host and I look forward to having their pastor preach at Pleasant Grove UMC on May 31st.

Copyright April 8, 2015 by Chris Mullis
John 3:1-8, 1 Peter 1:3-4

Introduction
          I believe we are all part of the   If you believe in Jesus Christ, if He is your Lord and Savior, you are my brother or sister.  I know this is true because Christians are born again.  So even though you and I have different parents on earth, our heavenly Father is the same.  I want to read the place in the Bible where Jesus first said the phrase “born again.”  Then I want to talk about being born again, and 3 main ways we experience God’s grace. 
same family, regardless of what church we go to or what language we speak.
t is such a privilege to speak to you today.  I love to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ any chance I get.  Thank you for welcoming me today. 

John 3:1-8 (NIV)
1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The key verse for us today is John 3:6 (NLT) – Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.

Prevenient Grace
            Humans can reproduce human life by having children.  I have three children.  My oldest is in the 11th grade.  Lord willing, he will graduate high school next year.  He will be an adult soon.  But I still remember when he was a baby.  I remember when he took his first steps.  I was not there, I was in my class at seminary, but my wife got it on video and I watched it that night when I got home. 
            Soon my son Gavin was learning to speak and then to read and to add and subtract.  He was also learning about Jesus.  We took Gavin to church from the time he was a baby.  It took some time for him to mature enough to be ready, but when he was 10-years-old, he was “born again” when he decided to follow Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  Now he is almost an adult and he continues to grow in strength and wisdom and faith.
            Praise God!  All of my children have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  My youngest daughter just turned 8-years-old.  She was born again last summer at Vacation Bible School.  She is still young, and doesn’t understand everything about being a Christian, but she understands enough and she is growing—both her body and her spirit.
            I love each of my children.  I loved them even before they knew it.  Even when they were babies and couldn’t understand anything, I took care of them.  I loved them.  This is like one of the ways God’s grace works for us.  He loves us even before we know it.  Long before we ever think about God, He is already thinking about us. 
You see it was nearly 2,000 years ago that Jesus came to earth and lived, died on the cross, and rose from the grave.  You weren’t even born yet, but God was already thinking about you.  He was thinking how you would struggle with sin.  He knew how you would feel ashamed for things you had done or things you left undone.  He knew how your sin would separate you from Him and He didn’t want that.  So He sent His son, Jesus, to die for you to pay the price for your sin and to rise to new life so you could also be “born again.”  He did all this before you ever had a single thought.  That’s how amazing God’s grace is.  It comes before anything we do and is already starting to make a way for us to be born again.  In my church, we call this Prevenient Grace.  It is the grace of God that draws us to God and prepares us for salvation.

Justifying Grace
            But at some point, we become aware of what God has done for us—just like my daughter last summer who finally was old enough to understand what Jesus did for her and wanted to be a Christian.  At some point, you start to understand that Jesus is alive and he can change your life and that he deserves your complete devotion.  And if you ask to be his disciple, he will let you and you will be “born again.” 
            This new birth is not a result of human effort.  It is a birth that comes from the Holy Spirit.  1 Peter 1:2 says “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”   And verse 3 says, It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.”
When you are born again, you become a new person.  2 Corinthians 5:17 – “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
When you are born again, all your past sins and mistakes are washed away in a flood of God’s grace.  1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”
When you are born again, you are adopted as God’s very own son or daughter.  1 John 5:1 – Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God.”
And along with these honors comes the inheritance of eternal life.    1 Peter 1:4 says, “We have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” And John 3:16, “...everyone who believes in [Jesus] will not perish but have eternal life.”
The moment you say “yes” to Jesus, you are “born again” by God’s grace.  In my church, we call this Justifying Grace.  It is the undeserved grace of God that justifies us—or makes us righteous in God’s sight.

Sanctifying Grace
            What happens after a person is born again?  Well, what happens to a child after it is born?  A child begins to grow.  Soon they are crawling, then walking, then talking, then running, then playing soccer.  Then they become teenagers and make their parents crazy.  Then maybe they go to college or start working, get married, have children of their own.
            The same is true of Christians that are born again.  We start to grow in our Christian faith.  We do not stay the same as we were when we were “born again.”  “Instead,” as Ephesians 4:15 says, “we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”
            If you are the same today as you were when you first became a Christian, something is wrong.  If you saw a baby who still looked like an infant, but was 5 years old, wouldn’t you think something is wrong?  You would think, “What has happened to this poor child that has kept it from growing up?”  Sometimes, I look at some Christians and I think, “What is wrong with this poor Christian?  They were born again (maybe 5 years ago), but they have grown very little in their faith.  They haven’t learned anything about what the Bible says.  They haven’t put their faith into practice.  They haven’t changed the way they live—they still live like the people outside the Church who aren’t Christians.  They haven’t been a witness for Jesus—telling people what he has done for them.  Even worse, they don’t love people the way Christ teaches us to love.”
            It’s OK to be a baby Christian right after you are born again; everything is still new.  But we shouldn’t stay like babies for long.  But how do you change?  It is the grace of God that helps us to grow—to become more and more like Christ.  In my church, we call this Sanctifying Grace.  It is the grace of God that perfects us—that helps us grow more and more like Christ.
You see, you can’t make yourself grow.  You can’t work harder and make yourself perfect.  Only God’s Holy Spirit can change you.  Can you imagine a little child who wants so badly to grow up?  He says, “I don’t want to be a little kid anymore!  I want to be like my big brother (or big sister)!”  And so this little child closes his eyes and grits his teeth and stiffens all his muscles and tries to make himself grow up.  It won’t work—no matter how hard he tries.  Who makes him grow?  Isn’t it God who makes the child grow?  The child can do some things to help the process.  He can eat good food to make his muscles stronger.  He can go to school and learn.  He can make sure to get enough sleep at night.  These are all things that help, but only God can make him grow.
It is God who makes your spirit grow too.  It is His Spirit that helps you to change.  Maybe you were born as a very selfish person, but with God’s help you can grow out of it and become more like Christ—caring more about others than yourself.  Maybe you are too shy to tell people about Jesus, but God can help you grow into a great evangelist.  Maybe you don’t know much about the Bible, but God can help you learn and grow into a Bible teacher or a pastor.  It is God that makes you grow.  He can make you grow into whoever He wants you to be.  But you have to let Him.  You have to cooperate with Him.  You have to follow the steps He gives you.  You have to listen to your pastor who was put here to guide you.  You have to study your Bible, which is God’s Holy Word.  You have to worship God and listen to His voice.  These are all things that help.  If you cooperate with God, He will make you grow.

Conclusion
            I do not know you very well.  I don’t know where you are in your Christian journey.  Maybe you are not a Christian yet.  But God’s grace has brought you here.  God was already thinking about you before you ever thought about Him.  He has been working many things out to bring you here today.  Maybe He has been protecting you from danger or illness or trouble, so that you could come here today and hear the Gospel.  Maybe—because God loves you so much—He has allowed some bad things to happen to you in order to turn your heart to God. 
If you are not a Christian, why don’t you become one today?  You can be born again!  You can become a new person!  All your sins can be forgiven!  You can put your past behind you and start all over—with a new beginning, and a life full of possibilities!  Don’t put it off.  No one knows how much time they have left in this world.  You must be born again in order to see God in heaven and avoid His punishment.
Maybe you are already a Christian.  You were “born again.”  God’s grace has washed away your sins through the blood of Christ.  Just as he died and rose again, you have died to your sins and risen to a new life—a Christian life.  You are born again.  I am so happy for you!  You are my brother or sister in Christ!  But have you been growing?  Are you doing things that help you grow?  Are you cooperating with God’s Spirit?  Are you letting Him make you more like Christ?  Are you letting Him change you?  Or are you’re the same today as you have always been—still just a baby in Christ?
It’s time for you to make a choice.  You need to say, “I don’t want to be a baby Christian anymore.  I want to grow up.  I want to be more like Christ.  Lord, help me to be more like Christ.”  Maybe it’s time for you to start studying your Bible more.  Maybe it’s time to be more regular in your church attendance.  Maybe it’s time for you to ask your pastor how you can serve your church.  Maybe it’s time to be a witness for Jesus at your school or where you work or with your family and friends.  Doing things like this will help God change you into the person He wants you to be—to be more like Christ.  Ask God to help you grow.  Let Him help you change.
Where ever you are in your journey with Christ, I hope you will take at least one step forward today.  If God has spoken to you today, I urge you to talk to your pastor, Isabel.  She loves you very much and wants you to know Jesus and to grow.  She is the person God has chosen to be your shepherd.  She can help you know what to do next.