Are You Really Born Again?
Conversion: The Objective Facts
Jesus must be at the center of our consideration of true conversion. He must be at the center because of who he is and what he did. The person and work of Jesus Christ are the objective aspects of conversion.
When I was converted I knew very little of Jesus; I would have failed the most elementary quiz. At that time, I was so naïve I might have believed any heretical doctrine. It is rare that an unbeliever can understand the complexities of the doctrine of salvation. Thank God, to be converted, a person does not have to be able to grasp every theological detail! If the comprehension of complicated theological concepts was required for salvation, then a doctrine would develop which emphasized salvation through knowledge (this would be an example of “Christian” Gnosticism). Merely knowing correct doctrine never converted anyone.
The exposition of the message of Jesus could fill entire libraries; yet it can be delivered succinctly in just a short sermon, a personal conversation or a letter. This chapter, however, will focus on the basics of who Jesus is and what Jesus did.
WHO JESUS IS
The image of the Messiah in the Old Testament
Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). Jesus is God “in the flesh.” To come to Jesus is the same as coming to G. Jesus is the Messiah, meaning “Anointed One,” the long-promised Deliverer. He is “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” (Isa. 9:6). Jesus is not the Father but has the same nature and will as the Father. These are clear points. However, these truths were not clear to the Jewish leaders in the first century A.D. They were expecting a Messiah who would be a military/political leader and who would miraculously deliver the Jews from the tyranny of Rome.
In the Old Testament, there are two conflicting images of the Messiah: Messiah, Son of David, and Messiah, Son of Joseph. Messiah, Son of David, suggests a great hero like King David who would rescue the people and establish a mighty and prosperous nation. Messiah, Son of Joseph, suggests the Suffering Servant of Isaiah who would , like Joseph of the many-colored coat, save people through his suffering. We find this description of the Messiah in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 where it is foretold that the Messiah would die and take the sin of the people upon himself. But this Messiah would (like David) also save his people from all their enemies. Messiah, Son of Joseph, has already come; we await Messiah, Son of David. To put it in another way, the first coming of Messiah was when the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem; the second will be when this same Jesus (Messiah, Son of David), now King of kings and Lords of lords, returns at the end of the age and establishes the everlasting kingdom of God.
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice and his blood must be shed to cleanse us from sin. This idea is clearly typified in the Jewish sacrificial system, which required the slaying of animals for the people’s sin. Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb. In Egypt it was the sight of the blood on and over the doors of the Israelites’ homes that saved the Israelites from death. Now, once and for all, the blood of Jesus saves men and women from death. John the Baptist, the last great prophet of Israel, said of Jesus, “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
The image of the Messiah in the New Testament
Jesus is the Word become flesh (John 1:14). Jesus was with God in the beginning; Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He is God, and he will always be God. Jesus did not begin his existence with his birth in Bethlehem. At birth, Jesus took on human flesh (this is known as the incarnation). Paul tells us that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). The Scripture says very little about how the Son of God became flesh.
Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). To see Jesus is to see God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance and nature. We encounter one God as the Father/Creator, Son and Holy Spirit. Certainly, we do not fully understand the doctrine of the trinity, even though it is in God’s revelation, the Bible. The trinity, the three-in-one or the one-in-three meets the criteria of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Here God is referred to in Hebrew as echad, translated by the English “one.” It means God is a unit, somewhat like a husband and wife are one unit or echad (Gen. 2:23). A husband, a wife, two people, but one unit. The trinity is three, but one unit.
Philip, one of the apostles, said to Jesus, “Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). Jesus is not the Father; the Father is not the Son. Philip wants to know God, to know who God is. Jesus tells him that to see and know him (Jesus) is the same as to see and know God, because Jesus is God—God in the flesh.
John writes: “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” (John 1:14). This revelation was God’s eternal plan, set in place prior to the creation of the universe. Peter wrote: “He [Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20).
At the right time in history, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. As Paul has written: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
The ministry of Jesus
Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies concerning the coming Messiah that are recorded in the Old Testament, including the nature, birth, ministry, like and death of the Messiah. His mother conceived him by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. The virgin Mary gave birth to him while she was in Bethlehem. He was both filly human and fully God, and he lived a sinless life, although he was tempted just like any other human. Jesus resisted the temptation to sin through his complete and utter dependence on God the Father.
Having fulfilled his family duties and having reached the aged when a rabbi would commence teaching (around thirty years old), Jesus began preaching about the imminence of the kingdom of God. He gathered just twelve disciples, though many other men and women were constantly with him, and he spent three years preparing these men for his departure and for their eventual ministry.
At the end of his earthly ministry, he was arrested, unfairly tried, beaten and disfigured, humiliated and scourged. He was executed by crucifixion (a Roman cross) to die under God’s curse (Deut. 21:23). All this was a perfect fulfillment of Scripture. Although he could have called on twelve legions of angels to set him free, Jesus submitted to his heavenly Father’s will and allowed Roman soldiers to nail him to a cross (Matt. 26:53).
WHAT JESUS DID
Understanding the person of Jesus is necessary for an adequate understanding of what he did—in his life, death, and resurrection. One way of considering the central elements of Jesus’ ministry is to examine some of the major theological terms that are commonly used to describe them.
Atonement refers to what Jesus did to bring sinners into union or right relationship with God. Our sin estranges us from the holy God, and Jesus became obedient to the Father’s will (John 6:38; Matt. 26:39) and took our death, sin, condemnation and hell upon himself. Jesus was able to do this because he “had no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) and was, therefore, an acceptable sacrifice to make this union possible.
Our sin is now covered, or atoned for, by the blood of J. It still covers us, daily, and it will cover us into the farthest future. Jesus is in heaven, at the place of power and authority, and his blood can cleanse from sin. As our great High Priest, Jesus atoned for our sin through his blood. Just as in the Old Testament the scapegoat was sent into the wilderness each year by the high priest of Israel to signify that the sins of the people were carried away (Lev. 16), so Jesus was sent to earth to carry our sin away by his death, once and for all. When he was buried, our sin was buried with him. When he rose from the dead, the great victory over sin and death was won!
The love God for men and women is the reason for the atonement. There are many biblical passages that speak of God’s love for his creation. Here are a few: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16): “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); “This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
There is no “why” for the love God has for us—it is unmerited and entirely because he chooses to love us. He loved us and he acted. His acting in Jesus was the fullest expression of his love, and the only possible expression of it. Nothing short of Jesus, the Son of God, dying in our place would satisfy the absolute demands of God’s holiness and righteousness. God would not save any other way, could not save any other way; indeed, no other way was sufficient.
Jesus’ death was a sacrificial offering to God, who is offended by sin. The Old Testament sacrificial system, especially the sin offering, is the backdrop for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Isaiah depicts the Messiah as taking the sin of the people upon himself, pouring out his life and becoming an offering for sin (Isa. 53:4-5, 10, 12). The whole of the Mosaic sacrificial system may be said to be a historical prophetic drama of what Jesus the Messiah would one day fulfill in his own sacrifice.
When Jesus died on the cross, he died in our place—he was our substitute. Since no sin may come before God, if we are to be in the presence of God we must have our sin removed. We are absolutely powerless to forgive ourselves or to do anything at all to remove sin. Jesus did what we can never do. He is the substitute. He died in our place. He died instead of us. He took our sin, our death and our everlasting punishment on himself.
Propitiation means that the death of Jesus, God the Son, satisfied the judgment of God the Father against sin and sinners. The absolute penalty against sin in death and eternal separation from in hell. The sinless Son of God, a sacrifice without blemish, met the just demands of God and his law when he died on the cross. His atoning sacrifice propitiated, or legally qualified, as payment for our sin (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).
Sin causes a separation between God and the sinner. God is holy and may not even “look” upon sin. There is a hell, because it is absolutely impossible for sin to come into the presence of God. Since we are all sinners, we are all alienated from God, completely shut off from him. In our unconverted state, we were “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). However, in Christ we are reconciled to God—his cleansing blood is powerful enough to remove the sin that separates us from God. Paul described the reconciling ministry of Jesus in this way:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-19).
Sin had built a wall, Jesus tore it down.
Sin brings bondage to the sinner—we are captives to sin and death. Just like a slave, we cannot free ourselves. Jesus redeemed us; he bought us back. The price paid, the ransom price, was his own life: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7). As our substitute Jesus shed his blood on the cross and died because of, and for, our sin, and redeemed us from the bondage to sin.
And God was completely satisfied with the price Jesus paid for the redemption of ll those who trust in him of their salvation. It was a perfect redemption!
Justification means to be declared righteous. Through Christ, we appear, in God’s eyes, as if we had never sinned not even once. The blood of Jesus washes away all our sin—the sin from the past, the present and even the future. This is freely done, without requiring any work on our part, nothing at all. The condemned, the walking dead, are set free. At one time we were awaiting the execution of our dreadful sentence for sin, but in Christ (as if granted a last-minute reprieve), we are declared righteous by the great Judge of the living and the dead. God actually sees us as perfect through his beloved Son, Jesus. This is amazing, unfathomable grace. This is love in all its purity.
Jesus is the mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). He is the one who effects reconciliation between God and man. He did this by taking away, through his death, that which caused separation between us and God, namely, our sin. We cannot come before God the Father in our sinful condition. We must first come to Jesus, the Mediator, for cleansing. God the Son stands between us and God the Father. We must be “in Christ” in order to come to the Father.
Jesus rose from the dead. On the third day after his burial, a Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead. He now lives forever, interceding for us, pleading our case before the throne of God. He is the Mediator whose blood is always sufficient to cleanse us from our sin. This is the witness of Scripture: this witness has continued unchanged by the confessional and universal church down through history, and this is the witness of the converted today.
We are saved by grace (God’s unmerited favor); it is God who saves us in Christ; salvation is not our own accomplishment—this we agree on. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and our need of the Savior. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us. When we are born again, it is the Holy Spirit who gives birth to us (we cannot give birth to ourselves). In preaching and witnessing, therefore, we emphasize the person and work of Jesus. As Paul wrote: “Faith come from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus has completed his work; it is truly finished.