"Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God."
You probably know that in Great Britain, they have a queen, Queen Elizabeth II. She has been queen a long time. If you ask how she got that job, the answer is that she was born into it. There is no other way to get into that particular career.
Suppose someone else decided that they wanted to be England’s monarch. Suppose some American woman said, “That sounds like a pretty good gig to me. I will just go over there and apply for the job.”
She flies to London; she marches right up to Buckingham Palace, and she says to the guards there, “This is your lucky day. I am your new monarch.” Well, she is not going to get very far, is she? The guards will probably be polite to this stupid American tourist, but they will politely usher her back out on the street.
Suppose she says, “I will make some changes to be accepted as the new queen.” She says, "I will change my name.” Being an American, there is no telling what kind of name she might have, so she says, “I will adopt a royal name. I may have been just plain Smith or Jones, but now I will be Windsor or Stewart." Will that help? She comes to the palace gates again. She says, "I have taken a royal name." "But were you born a royal?" asks the guard. "Uh no." Then the guard says, “Move along please.”
This illustration applies to us, in a spiritual sense. We bear the name of being a Christian. We live in a nation with a great Christian heritage. But the name of a Christian is not the reality of a Christian. Being born in a Christian land and professing the Christian religion does not really help us when it comes to the things of God, unless we are also born into God’s family.
Back to our American that wants to be queen. She says, "I will dress like a queen. I will give up on jeans and t-shirts. I will wear royal robes and a crown.”
She comes to the palace gate, dressed like royalty; but the gates are still shut in her face, because to be a queen she must be born royal; and without that, whatever her dress might be, she cannot enter the palace.
So what about us? We take the Christian name. We attend the house of God. We take care that there is some form of religion observed in our family. Our children are not left without hearing the name of Jesus. So far so good. God forbid that I should say a word against any of that. However, if that is all there is, then that is not good at all. All that religious stuff does not help toward admitting us to the kingdom of heaven.
Back in 1857, C. H. Spurgeon wrote a sermon on this same topic (No. 130, May 3, 1857, by the at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens). I read his sermon several times this week, and used it as a model for my own sermon. Spurgeon's original sermon was about an hour long. Therefore, you will be glad to know that this is not his sermon, but it is my version of his sermon.
Spurgeon writes: “Dress yourselves never so grandly with the habiliments of godliness; put the chaplet of benevolence upon your brow, and gird your loins with integrity; put on your feet the shoes of perseverance, and walk through the earth an honest and upright man; yet, remember, unless you are born again, ‘that which is of the flesh is flesh,’ and you, not having the operations of the Spirit in you, still have heaven's gates shut against you, because you are not born again.”
Our American lady who would be queen might say, "I will not only adopt the dress, but I will learn the language of English royalty. I will put away my Southern accent, my y’alls and drawls, and adopt that famous English accent. I will speak as the present queen speaks and act as she acts. I will walk like her and talk like her. I will take care always to use correct grammar. Again, she goes to the palace guard; again, she says, “I have become thoroughly royal; may I not be queen?" "No," says the soldier with the bearskin hat. "No one can be queen except those born into the royal family.”
So it is with some of those who are called Christians. They talk like Christians. They know the cant. They can imitate a form of godliness, and do it so well that no one can detect the counterfeit. They have been told all their lives about how Christians act and talk, and so they put on a good show. They have those soft, melodious Christian accents, and they easily persuade other people that they are the real thing. When people see them passing by, they say, “There goes a Christian.”
They are a member of the church. They have been baptized. They take the Lord's Supper. Perhaps they are a deacon, or an elder. They are just all that a Christian can be, except that they are without a Christian heart and without a Christian soul, so it is all for nothing.
They are like a photograph. A photograph can come near to the expression of life. We say, “Oh that picture looks just like that baby, and it is so sweet,” yet the picture is not the baby. The photo is not alive. It is just a dead and motionless reproduction.
Some folks are like spiritual photographs. They are good reproductions of what a Christian is like, but their faith is not alive. Their Christianity is dead and motionless because they are not born again. They are not members of the royal family of Christ, and thus they are shut out of heaven, and all their busy pretensions of Christianity do not help them one iota.
You might say, “That does not sound fair. After all, if they go to all this trouble to walk like a Christian and talk like a Christian, God should give them credit and accept their good intentions.”
We might wish the Bible said that, but as far as I know the Bible does not say anything about giving us credit for good intentions. It says, "Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God." As believers in the Bible, we accept what the Bible says. This is the word of God. We accept it; we receive it.
There may be some who teach what we call the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, which is that the water of baptism actually saves the infant or the adult. Nonsense. In the book of Acts, Simon Magus was baptized on a profession of his faith; but he was so far from being regenerated by his baptism, that he tried to buy spiritual blessings with money, and when that did not work, he dropped out of the church altogether and started his own religion. His baptism obviously did not save him. Adolf Hitler was baptized as an infant. Do you expect to meet Hitler in heaven? I think not. Baptism in itself does not save or regenerate a person. It only symbolizes a salvation that is wrought by the Spirit of God in the mind and heart of a person.
Further, we should add, that we are not saved or regenerated by our own efforts. People can do a lot to help themselves, and that is well and good. We should do all that we can. We should throw out our vices and conquer our bad habits; but none of us can make ourselves to be born in God’s family. No matter how hard we struggle, that is just beyond our ability to accomplish.
Perhaps we need a definition of regeneration. Regeneration is a miracle of God whereby God produces a spiritual resurrection and a dead sinner becomes a living saint.
The Westminster Confession of Faith says that God calls his people “out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ” (10,1).
God the Holy Spirit works upon the heart of a sinner, changes that person, regenerates that person, so that they are born again, and born into the family of God. Without the spirit, they cannot be regenerated. God puts forth his power to make unwilling sinners into willing saints. Thus, those who rejected Christ are led to cast themselves at the foot of the cross.
This new birth is a miracle. The change is radical; it gives us a new nature, makes us love what we hated and hate what we loved. It sets us on a new road; makes our habits different, our thoughts different. It makes us different. Thus, we read in 2 Cor 5, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (17).
This “new creature” belongs to the family of God, with all the liberties and privileges of a child of God. This “new creature” has power in prayer, has communion with Christ, has fellowship with the Holy Spirit. He or she can now do works that are pleasing to God. As new creatures in Christ, we are citizens of heaven. The promise is that if we are born again, we will “see the kingdom of God."
On the other hand, the promise also works the other way. If we are not born again, we cannot know about heavenly things here and now, and we cannot enjoy heavenly blessings in eternity.
Actually, a person who is not born again would not want to see the kingdom of God. They would not enjoy heaven.
Think about what Heaven is like. You may remember the symbolic descriptions in the book of Revelation of streets of gold and gates of pearl, but really, heaven is a condition of the heart. Heaven is made here on this earth. It is made in the human heart by God's Spirit within us, and unless the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, we cannot enjoy the things of heaven.
Unregenerate sinners would not like heaven. There is nothing there for them. If by some chance an unsaved sinner got into heaven, he would be miserable.
Some people think that listening to sermons is pretty miserable. To them, singing the praises of God is dull stuff. Going to God’s house on a Sabbath is tedious. Many people say that, but think about this, if we do not want to have anything to do with praising God on a Sabbath morning, why would we want to go to a place where they praise God eternally? If a short twenty or twenty-five minute sermon tires you out, what will you think of the eternal conversation of the redeemed through all ages on the wonders of redeeming love? If the company of the righteous irritates you here and now, how do you feel about having that company forever?
Heaven is the presence of God. If we do not care for the presence of God now, why should we think that we will want to live in that presence for all eternity?
Those who are not born again, have a spiritual disability. I know that in our politically correct times we have trouble speaking directly about disabilities. For example, it is not correct to call people like me that have no musical talent, musically retarded. No, no, we are just “musically challenged.” But as Shakespeare might have said, a disability by any other name is still a disability.
Many people have a spiritual disability. Whatever would cause them to discern the things of the spirit got left out. This disability makes them indifferent to God. They do not care about God. The last thing they want is live forever with God.
However, you don’t feel that way, or you would not be in church today. The leading of the spirit brought you here today. The leading of the spirit prompts your heart to trust in God for salvation. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit. Trust in God, believe in Jesus, and you will be born into God’s family, and you will see the kingdom of heaven.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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