LOVE is the dominant characteristic of God, and love is outgoing. God's love reaches out to bestow its warmth upon the whole of His creation.
But love desires response, and God yearns for a willing return of His love from all His creatures. Sadly, He has not received that response from many of mankind for six thousand years, for our race has been in rebellion against its Creator.
During all that time God has been trying to bring humanity back into the warm circle of His love. But He has been able to do so for only a very few, relatively. Many have not been interested. And some who have been interested have never entered into the circle, because they were not willing to meet the conditions God had to require.
He has made His requirements as few and easy as possible. But requirements there must be. For to accept those who would not accept them would mean that sin, which must be excluded at all costs (Christ gave His all that sin might be excluded, and yet mankind be saved), would be preserved and contaminate heaven. That cannot be!
So God says to you and me, "I want, above anything else, to have you in My kingdom. I gave My Son that you might be there. But the very stability, the preservation, of My kingdom demands that I make certain minimum requirements. This is the way it has to be. Please meet those requirements! I want you to be with Me!"
The irreducible minimum that God must require is expressed in the words of Jesus to the Pharisee, Nicodemus: "Jesus ... said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
These words are as unequivocal, as straightforward, as it is possible for words to be. Uttered as they were in love, nevertheless they made it plain that there is no possibility of receiving eternal life, of having a part in the heavenly kingdom to come, except as one experiences what is termed the new birth.
The words of Jesus are so plain that there is but one major question one needs to ask in order that he may fully understand what they mean: What is this experience of the new birth without which no man shall see heaven?
The Bible makes it vividly clear that the new birth means a radical change in the life: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5: 17); "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh" (Eze. 36:26).
The fact that the newborn person is described as "a new creature," or creation, for which "all things have become new," who has "set ... [his] feet upon the new path of life" (Rom. 6:4, N.E.B.), clearly indicates a fundamental, basic change. It is not a grafting of new shoots into the old tree. It is a new and different kind of tree.
Not a Modified or Rearranged Life
It is not a modified life in which the sinner stops drinking and smoking, in which he tries a bit harder to control his temper, appetite, and entertainment habits. It is not merely an altered life, in which jewelry is left off, in which one day in seven is now spent differently from before, in which newly adopted beliefs cause him to change friends and the use of time. 6
It is not merely a rearranged life in which he shifts priorities; in which, for example, he moves sports or money, jobs or dress, entertainment or eating, and so on, from a high place of priority to a lower place. 7
The Christian's life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. -The Desire of Ages, p. 172.
It is an experience that all, without exception, must have who are to be recognized as members of the family of God. There are none who came into the world born again, who might be referred to as natural Christians and therefore not needing the experience.
A natural Christianl This deceptive idea has served many as a garment of self-righteousness, and has led many to a supposed hope in Christ, who had no experimental knowledge of Him, of His experience, His trials, His life of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 177, 178.
Your birth, your reputation, your wealth, your talents, your virtues, your piety, your philanthropy, or anything else in you or connected with you, will not form a bond of union between your soul and Christ.-Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 48, 49.
In the new-birth transformation, life meets a change so marked as to be represented by death. From living, active life, to deathl What a striking figure! None need be deceived here. If this transformation has not been experienced by you, rest not. Seek the Lord with all your hearts. Make this the all-important business of your lives. -Ibid., vol. 2, p. 179. 8
"Rest not" till you have received this transformed nature, Mrs. White exhorted. We may remember that God, in unsleeping love, is active to bring every person to Himself.
What are the signs by which we may know whether we are born again? The Bible supplies many. For example, the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12) relate to men and women who have had the experience. Galatians 5 contrasts the evil works and attitudes of the unregenerate (verses 19-21), with the fruit of the Spirit as seen in the regenerate (verses 22, 23).
Nine Signs of Regeneration
I suggest nine manifestations of the new-birth experience:
A sense of freedom: peace in the soul. The individual, especially the professed Christian who is not truly born again, who is still wrestling with unwanted sins and is haunted by guilt, cannot have peace. Beset by doubts, uncertain as to his status with God, he is often sad.
But with the new-birth experience, all that is changed. 'Therefore being justified by faith [and thus pardoned], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). Ellen White describes the experience beautifully by saying in The Ministry of Healing, page 58, "There is silence in the soul." All the tumult, all the strife is over because Jesus reigns completely, sin is expelled, and self no longer reigns. 9
He who is at peace with God and his fellow-men cannot be made miserable. Envy will not be in his heart; evil surmisings will find no room there; hatred cannot exist. The heart that is in harmony with God is a partaker of the peace of heaven, and will diffuse its blessed influence on all around. -Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 28. 10
An experience of love for others. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death" (I John 3: 14, N .A.S.B.). This Christian love is not sentimental feeling, or even necessarily that emotion found among members of a family. It is an attitude of regard, a reasoned concern for the interests of others, a deliberate decision to further others' welfare as needed.
This attitude is maintained for the unintelligent, the eccentric, the unlovable, the down-and-outer, for an enemy, as well as for a friend. It is a principle that prompts one, in attitude and action, to put the welfare of others before his own. 11
It is this love that we need to possess. Without it all other virtues and gifts are as nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13). It is of this love that John says, "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8) This love can come only from God; no man can generate such a broad spectrum of love of himself. It is not a deepening or refining of human love. It is a divine gift. It is greater even than the love of a mother for her child (see Messages to Young People, p. 115). "[Pure] love is a heavenly attribute. The natural heart cannot originate it. This heavenly plant only flourishes where Christ reigns supreme." -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on 1 John 4:7,8, p. 952.
A turning of mind and heart from the world. The unregenerate person is naturally of the world. His main interests are normally centered there, and cannot be expected to be otherwise. He is job-centered, or money-centered, entertainment-centered, 12 position-centered, or clothes-centered, may be even work-for-the-Lord centered. 13
The born-again person will not remain in embarrassed silence when the conversation is about Jesus and His love, yet talk enthusiastically about sports, clothes, travel, or cars. 14
Those who give themselves to Christ "are not of this world" (John 17: l4). 15
Real conversion is a decided change of feelings and motives; it is a virtual taking leave of worldly connections, a hastening from their spiritual atmosphere, a withdrawing from the controlling power of their thoughts, opinions, and influences. -Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 82, 83.
Victory where before was defeat. The person seeking to overcome in his own strength, or mainly in his own strength, cannot be victorious. The reason is that it is a case of self trying to cast out self, which is impossible.
The person who does not have Jesus dwelling within cannot be victorious. Thus, only the born-again person can have sustained victories over his sins. Only the person who can apply to himself Paul's words, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," can overcome sin. He can then say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." 16
This does not by any means suggest that there will not be terrible struggles in the Christian's life sometimes. The mortification of self is a daily, even momentary, work. But because the mind is now changed, and the desires, inclinations, motives, and will of the born-again person is Christ-directed, he can gain the victory.
If you are "willing to be made willing," God will accomplish the work for you, even "casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." Then you will work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. "For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure." -Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 142, I48.
A frequent, instinctive inclination to pray. This desire comes as a deep-down yearning to commune with the Saviour, as the lover has a strong desire to be with the person who is the object of his affections. This urge is poetically expressed by the psalmist: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Ps. 42: 1, 2).
An interest in and turning to God's Word. 'Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart," wrote Jeremiah (Jer. 15: 16). 17 To the born-again person-
the word of God, which was dull and uninteresting, is now chosen as his study, the man of his counsel. It is as a letter written to him from God, bearing the inscription of the Eternal. His thoughts, his words, and his deeds are brought to this rule and tested. He trembles at the commands and threatenings which it contains, while he firmly grasps its promises and strengthens his soul by appropriating them to himself. -The Faith I Live By, p. 139.
A growing sensitivity to sin. "While we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he [God] brought us to life with Christ" (Eph. 2:5, T.E.V.). 18 In commenting on Paul's words here, Ellen White, writing of the new birth, says:
New thoughts, new feelings, new motives, are implanted. A new standard of character is set up-the life of Christ. The mind is changed; the faculties are roused to action in new lines .... The conscience is awakened. -Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 98, 99.
When the heart yields to the influence of the Spirit of God, the conscience ,will be quickened. -Steps to Christ, p. 24.
As many can testify, the question "What's wrong with it?" is often solved for the questioner when the Holy Spirit is able to awaken the slumbering conscience and help us see what is indeed wrong with it.19
It is like a beam of sunlight shining through a tiny hole in a closed blind into a darkened room. In the beam are seen hundreds of dust motes floating in the air that were not seen before. So it is that when the Sun of Righteousness shines in our lives we see sins we were not aware of before.
An attitude of willing obedience to God. The exclamation "I delight to do thy will, O my God" (Ps. 40:8) can be the words of the born-again person only (cf. Jer. 31: 33). The unregenerate heart "is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7).
In the new birth the heart is brought into harmony with God, as it is brought into accord with His law. When this mighty change has taken place in the sinner, he has passed from death unto life, from sin unto holiness, from transgression and rebellion to obedience and loyalty. The old life of alienation from God has ended; the new life of reconciliation, of faith and love, has begun. -The Great Controversy, p. 468.
Whenever one renounces sin, which is the transgression of the law. his life will be brought into conformity to the law, into perfect obedience. This is the work of the Holy Spirit .... Love is manifested in obedience. The line of demarcation will be plain and distinct between those who love God and keep His commandments, and those who love Him not and disregard His precepts. -Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 92.
This attitude of obedience will be not only toward those requirements that are easy and convenient but also toward those that demand self-denial and self-sacrifice. 20
An impulse to witness to others. Jesus' final words to His disciples was the promise of the Holy Spirit. When He should be received, then, said Jesus, "you shall be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8, R.S.V.). David, in beseeching God for forgiveness and restoration to His favor-to the "joy of thy salvation"-continued, "Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee" (Ps. 51:12,13, R.S.V.).
If we are Christians, this work [witnessing] will be our delight. No sooner is one converted than there is born within him a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus. The saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. -The Desire of Ages, p. 141.
Just as soon as a person is really converted to the truth there springs up in his heart an earnest desire to go and tell some friends or neighbor of the precious light shining forth from the sacred pages. In his unselfish labor to save others he is a living epistle, known and read of all men. His life shows that he has been converted to Christ and has become a colaborer with Him. -Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 386.
In his deeply spiritual book, God's Way of Holiness, Horatius Bonar begins one chapter thus:
Before I can live a Christian life, I must be a Christian man. Am I such? I ought to know this. Do I know it, and, in knowing it, know whose I am, and whom I serve? Or is my title to the name still questionable, still a matter of anxious debate and search?
If I am to live as a son of God, I must be a son, and I must know it; otherwise my life will be an artificial imitation, a piece of barren mechanism, performing certain excellent movements, but destitute of vital heat and force. Here many fail. They try to live like sons, in order to make themselves sons, forgetting God's simple plan for attaining sonship at once, "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God" (John l:l2).-Page 57.
Sons and daughters have certain characteristics of their fathers. Do I have the characteristics of my heavenly Father?