Though the numbers are dwindling there are still millions of people world-wide who claim to be Christians. We saw that at the recent installation of another pope. They come in many shades from Catholics to Baptists to those who despise “organized religion” and have their own brand of Christianity.
Claims and reality are not always one and the same. Calling a bitter-weed a rose does not make it so any more than calling a sin a sickness makes it so. No one is a Christian merely because he claims he is (or because he joins a church, says a prayer or is baptized). In His Word God explained that a true Christian is someone who has been “born again” which is translated into English from the Greek verb gennao. The word literally means to procreate. It is noteworthy that when this word is used the emphasis is on the father. It is closely akin to the Bible word “regenerate” which also speaks of rebirth, recreating or making again. The idea is obvious. People who are saved have been made anew. They have been “born again,” regenerated, born from above. This process is not merely an intellectual belief that God is real and His Word is true. It is that, but it is far more. It is a conscious and deliberate embrace of God as one’s only eternal hope based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is a full surrender of self to Him in the heart. One gives up on who he is and embraces God through Christ. He surrenders his thinking to the thinking of God as set forth in His Word.
The Bible calls it “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Repentance is not what many think it is. It is not deep sorrow, although deep sorrow may accompany repentance. It is not naming all of your sins and turning from and quitting them. Repentance is a genuine change of mind. To be saved (born again) a person in his heart must turn from his thinking and ideas (and all other thinking and ideas) to the thinking of God. To be saved one must come God’s way. Until that happens one is still lost and with no hope beyond this mortal scene. He may say a prayer in which he names all of the sins he knows, be baptized, join a church and quit as many sins as he possibly can; but he is still not saved. The wrath of God still rests on him and at death he will face eternal damnation. He may say he’s saved and a Christian, but that doesn’t make it true. The reality of a regenerated heart made new by the saving power of God must be there.
When true “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” occur in the heart, a new birth takes place. The person is regenerated, made new, recreated. Things change. Inside! No longer is life about me; it’s about the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not about what I want; it’s about what He wants. I’ve given up on my thinking and ideas in favor of His thinking and ideas. When a man is truly regenerated his priorities change. Life is no longer about this world and its goods. His values become God, the Word of God, His church and others. His thinking changes about property and time. He realizes that he is not an owner, a proprietor; he’s a steward. It’s not my life, my time, my talent, my money, my property; all of these belong to God. It’s not up to me to decide what is moral or immoral, good or bad, right or wrong; God decides and I’m with Him. When one is truly born again, he knows he’s a servant, not the Master.
To the highly religious church-going people in Sardis, God said, “Thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1). Could God say that about you? It’s possible to be a member fully engaged in a church and still be lost. Yes, you can be baptized, join up, get deeply involved, become quite knowledgeable of church life and the Bible and still die and ultimately end up in the Lake of Fire. The Bible says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). A white-wash won’t do. An intellectual decision to be baptized, join a church, embrace the claims of the Bible and clean up your life won’t do. There must be a change of heart. Only God can make you a new person. Only He can regenerate your heart and He does that by His Spirit only when there is a true surrender in your heart. There must come a time when you give up on who you are, all you are and all your ideas and in your heart embrace God by faith in Christ. You accept His Son, His plan of salvation, His ways and His ideas. You accept Him as your Savior and Lord (Boss, Master). It’s a moment of catharsis, a rebirth, New Birth. It’s not something you do or put on outwardly; it’s something that happens by the power of God on the inside of you.
Has that happened to you? Have you ever been truly born again? Does your life show any evidence of a New Birth? Can the people around you see it? Are your priorities different? Who is in charge inside you; is God really in control or is it you? In your heart do you support His moral code, His ownership of property, His role as Master over you? Is there a true core difference in you? Do you know it? Deep down, when nobody’s looking and inside where nobody can see, do you really want what God wants and do things His way? Are you basically the same ole person you were before you supposedly got saved, regenerated, born again?
People who go to heaven do not merely get better at acting like a Christian; instead they get fundamentally changed by God. Has that change happened to you? It could and will when you truly come to God in your heart. It’s a matter of giving up on all you are and trusting Him in view of who He is.