New birth is only the beginning
What happens after we give our lives to Jesus?
From the inside out
In 2001, 60 million people gathered at the River Ganges as part of the Maha Kumbh Mela festival. At the time, it was the biggest gathering of human beings ever. It’s not a physical washing (the River Ganges is in the top 5 most polluted rivers). Rather, people believe the river has mystical cleansing powers: take a dip and you cleanse your soul. That’s usually how humans think: the outward action makes an internal change.
But in the bible, it’s always the other way around: inward change inspires the external actions. God works in us from the inside out. He doesn’t just say ‘go do this’ or ‘don’t do that’. He gives us a new birth, a new life, a new heart: so that we start seeing how wise his way is, and wanting to do what he loves.
Have you been born again?
In 1 Peter 1:3-6, Peter praises God because “in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” This new birth is a gift. We get given a new heart, and a new life. This new birth happened when Jesus rose from the dead. When Christ died, I died to my old life of sin. When Christ rose to an immortal life, I rose too. That’s how it can be a gift: Jesus achieved it for me.
But the thing about birth is that life doesn’t stop at birth (imagine if being born was the only thing you ever did?) In the same way, new spiritual birth is only the beginning.
Some people sadly think that they can be a ‘born again’ Christian without ever actually changing the way that they behave to match this new life. I stumbled upon a very sad blog post the other day. It’s by someone who has a supposedly ‘born again’ sister who doesn’t behave very ‘born again’. “I am just baffled by the hypocrisy of it all” she writes. “I have seen her go out and get drunk, sleep with random men, and the next day be at church!”
Does this describe you? I hope not. 1 Peter is very clear: born again people will be inspired to love God and love each other. If you don’t show any signs of loving God or loving your neighbour, then I would be very concerned that maybe you haven’t actually been born again.
That being said...
Writing this stuff makes me really nervous, because I know that some of you will get the wrong idea. I’m not saying that you can or should try to earn your salvation by doing good works. That’s totally the wrong way around. That’s trying to make an internal change by doing external actions – just like washing in the River Ganges. All you’ll do is get wet. As a kid I once won tickets to visit Universal Studios in the USA. We did the tour of the backlots - going around all the movie sets in a little golf cart. I still remember seeing how they made all the trees look healthy: there was a little guy on a step ladder stapling the leaves on one by one. The trees were lifeless firewood tied together,but they have blossoms and green leaves and flowers all over them. Doing good works to earn your salvation is a little bit like stapling leaves on a tree. It doesn’t make the tree healthy, it just wastes staples. The external actions never make the internal change. But receiving a new heart and being born again will always lead to good works, and a heart that wants to please God. External actions are a sign that the internal change has happened. And so a lack of the external signs makes me really nervous.
New birth is only the beginning
Christians are a work in progress, as our new birth work outwards to new behaviours. We often fail to live up to who we really are: born again people. That why we keep saying ‘sorry’ to God, confident that he will forgive us because Jesus died for us, and sure that nothing can change where we stand with him. But have you been born again into a living hope? Yes? Then live in that hope!