Born Again to a New Life of Faith
“Born Again to a New Life of Faith”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Second Sunday of Lent
March 12, 2017
Readings: Genesis 12:1-8, Psalm 33:12-22
Last Sunday we thought that what we were given was based on obedience, but today’s Scriptures show us that obedience isn’t enough. We are taught the necessity of faith – believing even if we don’t understand or don’t know what’s going to be. This is a challenge to us because we’re taught in schools and by the media in general that we need to know everything. In truth, the only way we can truly know God is for us to be born again. It is only then that He can reveal to us the truth. This is why many people see Christianity as just a myth; the truth has not been revealed to them by faith. Faith is vital, necessary and the only way to the Father.
We look back at Abraham in the early days of humanity when there was no bible, no church and ministers, yet God spoke to him and asked him to leave his family and go to a foreign country. How did he know about the Lord when there was no one to tell him about God and faith? Abraham trusted God; he had to have some awareness of the existence of God. He was 75 years old when God first spoke to him. At 75, he was asked to uproot himself from his home, family, friends and everything familiar to go to a foreign country. With all the uncertainties of how he would take care of his family in a place he knew nothing about, Abraham chose to believe God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. God told him that he will become a great nation. That promise didn’t come for another 25 years, yet Abraham kept his faith in God. This was before the nation of Israel came into existence, before the law and circumcision. Abraham received the righteousness of God but not because of anything he did. Obedience is necessary but what God gives is a gift which we receive by faith. Obedience is necessary but it is just paying an obligation, whereas faith is receiving what we don’t deserve and have not worked for. It’s a promise that comes from God, His gift to us. Abraham believed and he is called the father of faith. This is a challenge to us today because we always want to have our way; we reject what could possibly be good for us because we demand so much (for example, we reject a job offer because it doesn’t match our demand for salary, retirement benefits, etc). We don’t walk by faith; we don’t trust anybody. We live in a society where lies are the norm such that when faced with the truth, we still think it’s a lie.
God wants us to realize that Lent requires faith. God has promised us much and they will come to us by faith, not by earning them. Just because we go to church, it doesn’t mean that we’re forgiven and will get God’s blessings. We can’t earn these blessings but just accept them by faith. We must understand that this is God’s love for us. Scriptures tell us that we’re forgiven, but our minds tell us otherwise when we consider all our failures. Faith says Christ paid the price for our redemption, even if our mind tells us otherwise. We hold on to what God has done for us through Christ. He gave us new life in Christ, and it’s important that we don’t accept anything that’s contrary to this truth. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Our salvation is a gift from God; we didn’t earn nor deserve it. This gives us hope and assurance that God gave us this gift because of His love for us. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
This brings us to today’s Gospel and the question of Nicodemus: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” He was probably bigger than his mother, so how could he crawl back into his mother’s womb and not destroy her so he could be born again? Being born again has been misunderstood, but Jesus tells us that unless we’re born again, we can’t see the kingdom of God. Adam’s disobedience and failure brought death to all humanity. We were born of flesh, so then the failure of Adam brought death to our flesh. If we are to become what God wants us to be, we must change somehow to remove the condemnation that death brought to humanity by Adam. God sent Christ who became the father of humanity. He is not of the flesh as far as His work is concerned, but of the Spirit. So now we have to be born of the Spirit in order to become righteous. We can’t be born of Adam to gain the new life. The will of God for man is new life and this requires that we be born again. That new life comes through the Spirit.
Jesus answered Nicodemus: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). This is baptism. In the baptism of old, you were put under water to symbolize death and then brought back up to symbolize new life or being born again. In baptism, we died but also gained new life. The cross is marked on our forehead and the Spirit comes into our life to mark the new life – no longer of Adam, but now we belong to Christ. We’re given a new being; all things have passed away; all things are new. Having been baptized into Christ, we now have His life in us. We are now alive in Him. Baptism is more than just forgiveness of sin. It’s not a mental acceptance of Christ nor an agreement with His teachings. In salvation, we become one with God through Christ. We are given union with the Trinity. Because we’re now born of the Spirit, we become one with God and we have a relationship with the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit. We now have unity and oneness with the Trinity. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit and Christ resides in us. This is what brings us out of the old and into the new and gives us righteousness like Abraham’s. Even if we didn’t feel anything at baptism, we must accept this by faith. This can’t be explained by human reasoning or fleshly understanding but it requires that we receive this gift from God and be aware of this gift in order for us to receive its fullness in our lives. Relationship restores our full humanity; it brings us back to what God created us to be in the beginning. We don’t understand this fully yet because we have not yet moved into that relationship with God that will allow Him to unveil this to us. How powerful it is for us to understand that we’re no longer just flesh, but we’ve been born again and now the spiritual life belongs to us. We are one with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God will not leave us alone; He will not forsake nor fail us at any time if by faith we keep our confidence in Him. We are born again not in reality but in truth. Reality must be perceived by the senses. Truth goes beyond reality because you accept it by faith. This gives us the assurance that God will be with us always. Yes, we may see failure all around us, we may sense the pain, but by faith we know that something wonderful happened to us and these things can no longer control us because we’ve been born again. We’ve been given new life and we are now new creation!
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 1:16-20). We wonder why things happen to us. It’s because we don’t consent that God has given us new life; not because we’ve earned it but it’s a gift. He doesn’t want evil to take over, but He wants us to be like Him, changing from glory to glory.
From the beginning, God established relationship. He doesn’t want us to be alone, so He established this from the very beginning with the first man and first woman (“This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh….and they shall become one flesh.”) God established it as the standard for mankind. We look at this Scripture and we overlook what God is saying to us. So St. Paul had to write it again. Ephesians 5:22-32 is probably the most important teaching on relationship in this new life we’ve been given. “Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Feminism doesn’t like this; it’s totally contrary to God’s plan and will; it’s rebellion. But this Scripture doesn’t put down the wife. The husband is the “savior of the body”; this is redemption and it makes the husband a slave to the wife. His task is to redeem her, so why would women reject this? He is to give his whole being to redeem her, that he might sanctify her. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her….that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory….that she would be holy and blameless.” This talks about Christ and the church, but it also talks about the husband. “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies….for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
Christ takes on the position of the bridegroom to us; takes upon Himself the responsibility of presenting a spotless and blameless church; of providing all our needs. He’s like a husband to us and He is with us. He will not fail nor forsake us. Doesn’t matter what’s happening around us; God will provide for us. Two things I want to point out: (1) in a marriage, the wife takes on the name of her husband. When we become Christians, we take on Christ’s name. We become His people and our relationship with Him becomes like a marriage; it can’t be dissolved. (2) the wife shares the possessions of her husband. Christ gave us everything we would ever need. Marriage is a sacrament; it’s God’s help to us. His grace is given freely to us to ensure our security. We don’t have to fear. All that Christ went through in Lent was to restore to us what had been stolen from us in the garden; to restore our full humanity in Christ. This is the beauty of knowing Him. We stand secure in this – that He’ll provide strength, wisdom, eternal life and everything we’ll ever need. In Scriptures, our Husband is the Lord of the world, so how can we still worry about anything? The owner of all things is our Husband.
I’m reminded of John G. Lake. He could move around those afflicted by the Black Plague and was not infected by the disease. They put the bacteria on his hand and the bacteria died. The life in him destroyed death. This is who we are, who God created us to be. But we must walk by faith to achieve this. This is what Lent wants us to learn – what Christ has done for us. “I’ve got God!” Put this in your heart and all fear will go. There’s a song that speaks of God’s commitment to us. It’s called Faithful To The End.
“When I’m feeling afraid, full of uncertainty; when the plans that I’ve made all fall apart; when the future’s unclear and all I can do is wait, there’s a promise echoing in my heart, that He will be faithful to the end. He will provide time and time again, and will be so faithful, so faithful to me to the end. He will be there when all else fails. His love is stronger than my pain. He will be faithful to the end. There’s grace I cannot measure, mercy I don’t deserve. There’s forgiveness that’s endless for me. O what a blessed assurance to know how deeply I’m loved. I’m always reminded that He will be all I need.”
This is what Lent is trying to make us understand. He will be faithful to the end. He’ll be there when all else fails. His love is stronger than our pain. He did all of this for us. This is what the second Sunday of Lent teaches us – obedience and faith.