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How Does God Accomplish the New Birth?

November 18, 2012 Pastor: Don Green Series: Selected Scriptures

Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: 1 John 2:29

62-023

1 John, we're at the end of chapter 2, and this is going to be our last message from chapter 2. There's an odd sort of affection that a pastor develops as he preaches through a passage. When you come to an end of a particular chapter or a particular book, there's a sense of appreciation to the Lord for what he's written and the opportunity and the strength to go through it but when you come to the end of it, there's almost, for me, anyway, there's almost a little sense of melancholy. You want to stay even longer and enjoy the treasures that are there, but that is not how the Lord would have us to do it, of course, and there are more treasures ahead, just ahead, in chapter 3 if you can be here next week. I really encourage you to be here because the passage coming up is so exciting and encouraging. But for today, we have an equally exciting and encouraging passage in front of us in chapter 2, verse 29. Let me read that to you. It's been a foundational text for us—1 John 2:29, reading out of the New American Standard. I know some of you may have an ESV or other versions but we preach from the New American Standard here at Truth Community Fellowship.

Chapter 2 verse 29 says, "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him." And we've really focused on that last phrase to explain it over the past two weeks and now concluding it with this week—"born of Him, born of God." Jesus said if you want to see the Kingdom of God, you must be born again. This is a constant and consistent theme throughout Scripture—the importance of being born again. And we've looked at a couple of different aspects of this in the past two weeks. The first week, two weeks ago, we considered the question, "Why must you be born again?" And what we said—without reviewing all of the content of those messages—in essence we said that that it is absolutely necessary and essential for a man to be born again if he is going to enter into the kingdom of heaven because Scripture condemns all men in sin. It says that men are dead in their trespasses and sins, that they love the darkness rather than the light, and as a result of that, what we understand the Scriptures to teach is that there must be a work of God in the heart of a sinner before he is even willing to come to Christ for salvation. Because, as Romans 8 says, the natural man is at enmity with God. He does not seek for God, he does not want God, and so God has to do a work in the heart of a sinner so that he is even willing to come in the first instance. That's why you must be born again; that's why you need a word from God in your heart if you are not a Christian because you will not seek Christ on your own; because you are too much in love with your own sin, you actually love the darkness rather than the light, Jesus said, and that's why a man must be born again. There must be a gracious, merciful act of God on the heart of a sinner in order for them to come to Christ, or they will continue on in their darkness which leads them to an eternal destruction in hell. That's why you must be born again.

Now, last week, we considered the question, "How can you tell if you've been born again?" and we looked at several Scriptures throughout the book of 1 John, and what we said is this: If the new birth comes from God, and it does, then the character of God informs what the new life in the life of a believer is going to be. God takes someone and changes them. He gives them a new heart which is fashioned after the nature of his own character. That God gives birth to someone and reproduces his likeness in them so that you can tell a person who has been born again not by some past act that they may have done, or by some past prayer that they may have prayed—that's not what the Bible tells us to evaluate it by at all, you can recognize a true believer, you can recognize someone who has been born again by the fact that they start to manifest the character of God in their lives by way of righteousness, as we see here in verse 29 (look at it with me again), John says, the Bible says, if you know that God is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of him. Where does the nature of righteousness, godly righteousness, come from in the life of the believer? It comes from the God who gave birth to them. And in other places in 1 John, in 1 John 4, we see that we love other Christians because God himself is love and everyone who is born of God loves the children born of God; and we saw that God is truth and that true believers will—true people who have actually been born again, will love the truth of Scripture, will believe in Christ, will trust him alone for salvation, and that truth, that love, and that righteousness, all together, not individually, you get one and maybe not two others, you get all three in the package. There is a balanced, change in the life of a person who is born again so that they start to manifest these realities of the character of God in their lives. God's love, God's righteousness, and God's truth starts to spill out because Jesus has put a new fountain of life in their hearts and that fountain bubbles up and comes out of their life without question and without fail so that someone who has none of those marks in their lives or someone who is not a Christian has never been born again. Well, that's a little, brief summary of what we looked at over the past two weeks.

Now today, we're going to consider one final aspect of this that I want to deal with, and it's an aspect that will help you if you're here as a regular—you intend to make this your church home. This is going to help you understand why we do what we do here at Truth Community Fellowship. Why is it that we give such a prominent, preeminent place to the teaching of God's word, as opposed to going with other things to entertain people, or drama, or other things like that? Why is it that we will take sixty minutes, sometimes sixty-two if I go over which I usually do, why is it that we give an hour to simply explaining what the Bible means by what it says? Why is that? Well, this is going to help you understand, this message is going to help you understand that. And we could title this message, "How is it," stated differently, "How does God accomplish the new birth? How is it that God imparts new life to a spiritually dead sinner?" That's the question that we're going to consider here because, before Christ, someone is dead in sin. How is it that they transition out of death into life? That's the question that we want to answer. How does God do this? How does he accomplish the new birth? And we have to emphasize the fact that sinners do not have the capacity to make themselves new. A leopard cannot change his spots; a leopard cannot change himself into a tiger; a leopard can't make himself into an elephant; it is outside his capacity to change into something different than what he is. So in the same way a sinner does not have the capacity to make himself into someone who is spiritually alive; he must be born from above; God must do a work in his heart. And the question is, How does God do that? We want to understand, if we're hearing, and we know that we're Christians, we have the new birth, we sense that we're new creations and that's verified by the work of the word in our hearts, well, God would have us understand just exactly how that happened. How was it that God did that work? And what you're going to see as we go through this here today is that the nature of the new birth is such that it excludes all human boasting. God, alone, gets all of the glory, and it puts his word in a preeminent place; it puts his word at the center of how that work is done. And as you remember that, it's going to help you understand why we do what we do at Truth Community.

So, how does God accomplish the new birth? That's our question. And our first point, I'm going to structure this around three points as I often do, just to help you as you take notes, the first point is this: God works mysteriously. God works mysteriously as he accomplishes the new birth and for this I want you to turn back to the Gospel of John, chapter 3. We won't spend a lot of time here. And in some ways, I could have put this point at the end of the message instead of the front, but I want to start here because of the spiritual impact that it has on us. In John chapter 3, the most famous passage where Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, a teacher of the Jews, Jesus said in John chapter 3, verse 3, he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Well, Nicodemus immediately struggled with that question and said to him in verse 4, "How can a man be born when he is old?" How can something old become new? is his question. "He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Nicodemus is just carrying on the metaphor; he's not actually thinking about re-entering his mother's womb, he's saying, "How can something new come out of something old?" And Jesus answered in verse 5, "I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The reference to water there is referring to the purification from sin, not water baptism. It's a reference back to Ezekiel 36. We don't have time to go into that, but here's what I want you to see in verse 7: Jesus says, "Do not be amazed that I said to you, you must be born again." "Don't be amazed that I say that something must happen that is beyond your understanding and capacity to fully grasp." Look at verse 8, Jesus says, "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it but do not know where it comes from and where it is going, so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." And what Jesus is saying here is, he's making an analogy to something that is familiar to help us understand something that is unfamiliar and it's very easily understood: he says, "Think about the wind. You experience the wind almost every day." And he says, "As a matter of reality, as a matter of your comprehension and your observation, you don't know where the wind comes from. You don't know where it's going. It is beyond your control, we can't control the wind." And so, in a very simple way, Jesus says, "You experience this daily aspect of meteorology, you experience this daily phenomenon of wind that affects your life and yet you don't understand the source of it, you don't know where it's going, you can't comprehend it." Ultimately, he says, the way the wind operates is beyond your final analysis; you only see the effects of it.

Now, Jesus was speaking back in the first century to people who didn't have the benefit of our modern meteorology and so I happen to have a friend who is actually a certified meteorologist back in California and so I asked him about this. I wanted to kind of update, as it were, the analogy to see if it still held true what Jesus said. And this man, who is a certified meteorologist, said to me this, he said: "Meteorologists today can analyze the wind with a little bit more precision than the first-century people could. We have instruments and all of that, of course, that take place, but the wind is still mysterious to us today," that even today to meteorologists there is still mystery involved to it. He said there are observation stations that are windy for no apparent reason. Winds gust up and settle down and we can't predict when that's going to happen. He said, "It's still a mystery to us, the wind is still a mystery to us, even to those of us who have devoted our careers to studying meteorology." It's amazing! What Jesus said in the first century is affirmed by experts in the field today. They still can't explain the wind.

Now, remember that we're not here to discuss the weather. You can turn on the news and talk about weather if you want. We're here to understand how it is that God accomplishes the new birth. What Jesus is teaching us here, and you must understand this because the implications that are going to follow are so vast, what you have to understand about the work of regeneration, about God's work in salvation in an individual, particular heart is that it is something that goes beyond our ability to analyze and our ability to comprehend. God's work of regeneration cannot be explained in terms of how he actually does it. How is it, how is it that God takes a spiritually dead sinner and imparts life to them? How does he do that? By what power, by what mechanism? We don't know. We can't see it. It is outside the realm of our comprehension to be able to assess that. We cannot make regeneration happen in the life of any one particular person. It is beyond our power to make a sinner into a new creation. It is beyond the power of us as Christians, as parents, as pastors, we don't have the power to make that happen in the human heart. That is a prerogative and a power that belongs to God alone. We only see the effects of it after it's happened, just as it is with the wind. One hymn-writer, named Daniel Whittle, put it this way in a song that perhaps many of you have sung. He says:

"I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart,
Nor how believing in his word, wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in him.
But I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able,
To keep that which I've committed unto him until that day."

What he's saying is that there was a change that took place in my heart that I can't explain, but it is consistent with the testimony of Scripture, and I know who I now believe in and I am convinced that he can deliver me from judgment in the final day.

Now look, if we were going to take, if we took the time, if we had a three-day marathon and had everyone of you who is a true Christian recite your testimony, there would be common threads in it of hearing the Gospel, being convicted of sin, and putting your trust and faith in Christ, turning away, there would be that common thread. But there would be a distinction in every testimony that is as different as the features on your face. There are common elements to our humanity, just as there are common elements to our conversion. But every one of us is uniquely different in our physical capacities and so also our testimonies are also uniquely different and that is an expression of the reality that God does this in unique mysterious ways that are beyond our final comprehension.

In my own testimony, I don't spend much time talking about these things but it's worth saying, the mystery of this, on the day I was converted, which was twenty-nine years ago in two days, and I remember it like it was yesterday, that moment of one moment looking into the mirror, being proud of my sin, and the very next moment being under conviction and the fear of God and fleeing to Christ for salvation just like that which was the result of prior exposure to the Gospel that I had had in earlier times. But the Spirit of God moved on my heart in such a powerful way that it's obvious when I was converted. And how can you explain that? How can you explain a wretched sinner looking in the mirror and congratulating himself on his wickedness, and the very next moment feeling the weight of God on his heart, the fear of hell and damnation, how can you explain that? Humanly, you can't. We don't have language, words, to describe that. We just see the effects of it.

God's work is mysterious. God's work is beyond our ultimate comprehension and we can't make it happen by going through some mechanical ritual or mechanical act. You see, all we're saying here is that how God changes a heart is a mystery. We can't ultimately explain how faith is born where rebellion dwelt, but we can say this, what we can say about it is going to make us love the word of God. What we can say about it is going to shape the direction of the way we evangelize the lost and the way that we conduct ministry in the context of a local body. What we can say about it still gives all of the glory to God. What we can say about it leaves us with the clarity that says that we're not dealing with things that just utterly are inexplicable and that there aren't causes that we can point to, what we can say about it is this, and point number 2, is that: God works through his word. God works through his word. And this, beloved, is the key to everything. This is the key to why we do what we do on Sunday morning; this is the key to what we consider important; it's the key to the way that you share Christ; it is the key to the way you look back and understand your conversion. This is the key to everything: God works through his word, he works through the 66 books of the Bible, the closed and finished canon, that is where he has deposited his truth, that is where he has made himself known, that is where the power of regeneration comes from. We're going to look at a lot of passages to help see this. You see, while we can't understand the internal dynamic of how that happens or when it's going to happen or be able to predict it, we do know, on the multiplied testimony of Scripture, that God does it through his word. We can't predict time; we can predict the cause and the cause is always God's word. The Bible ties new life to the exposure to the word of God.

Now you're in 1 John. I want you to turn back. Actually, you're in John 3. Turn to the Book of 1 Peter. We're going to look at close to a half dozen passages here. I want you to see this and believe it, as you're turning there, to acknowledge that it's mysterious, that there is an element of mystery to it and to acknowledge that it is beyond our power to do—we can't make somebody be regenerated. Do you understand what that does to us, beloved? Do you understand what that does? It absolutely humbles us. It absolutely humbles us to say that the most important thing in the universe in my life, to be born again, is something that I ultimately can't completely understand and it's something that I don't have the power to accomplish by my own hands. We're here. This humbles us. This humbles humanity. This humbles believers to say that what God did in my heart was beyond my power to do and therefore I am an eternal debtor to grace and to the goodness and kindness of God which I did not have the power to prompt him to do and I certainly didn't have the merit to make him do. If I'm here and I'm born again, and praise God I am, it's because God in rich mercy and kindness and according to things known only to him did a work in my life and I humble myself before him and give him all of the praise and gratitude for it. That's true of every one of you that's ever been born again, that's ever in Christ, you give all the glory to God and you love his word because it was the instrument by which he brought you to saving faith. It's utterly humbling.

Now, what I want you to see is how often, how frequently, the Bible makes this point abundantly clear. 1 Peter chapter 1, in verse 23, says, "You have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is through the living and enduring word of God." The word of God came to you, God did a work in your heart, and the result of that is that you were born again. Verse 24, "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off but the word of the Lord endures forever and this is the word which was preached to you." It was the word of God that God used in your life in order to cause you to be born again.

Turn back a couple of pages to the left to the book of James, chapter 1. James 1:18, and I love to hear those Bible pages flipping, that's what I want you to do, I want you to see this with your own eyes. You don't have to take my word for it, this is plain on the pages of Scripture, James 1:17. "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above," well, salvation would be included in that, right? "coming down from the father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." Coming down from the Father of Lights. Now in verse 18, "In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." God's will, God's word, and the result is that you are born again, and now you are here as a believing Christian. Done by the work of God through the word of God.

Turn back a couple more pages, beyond the book of Hebrews, to 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 14, this is a slight variation on the theme, but you will see the point, the centrality of the Scripture, verse 14, "You, however, Timothy," in contrast to the evil men who are going from bad to worse, "you however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them," watch verse 15. If you have any question about where the center of gravity should be as we minister to lost people, here it is in verse 15. It's not complicated, people, beloved, it's not complicated. This is why we do what we do! This is why we give our lives to this book! Verse 15 "That from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." It is the sacred writings. It is the Bible. It is the word of God alone that carries the power and the instruction and the convicting power in order to turn a sinner's heart away from sin and toward faith in Christ. The word of God has that power. This Book has the power to change lives. And you and I are evidence of it, right? That's why we do what we do. That's why we don't flirt around with other things of entertainment. That's why I don't tell a lot of stories. That's why I don't tell a lot of jokes in the pulpit. It's an insult. It's an insult to the authority of Scripture and it is an insult to a holy God when people gather together in his name and it is treated with such triviality. That's why we do what we do, it's because we believe what the Bible says about itself. We believe that in the Bible is the power, is the seed which God uses to plant new life in hearts that are dead in sin. That's why we do it, and we realize that people consider that to be foolish, not in accord with the spirit of the age, but we're not the first ones to face that accusation and that criticism and that mocking.

Look over at the book of 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 18: "The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.'" Skip down to verse 21 for the sake of time. "Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God." Worldly methods can't produce the new birth; worldly wisdom can't produce the new birth. "God was well pleased," watch this, "through the foolishness of the message preached, to save those who believe." God uses the simplicity of preaching. He uses the power of preaching his word in order to save those who believe. It is the power of preaching, it is the power of the word that God uses to convert souls. That's why we do what we do.

Look at verse 22: "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom," verse 23, Paul says, "I know what the Jews want, they want these miraculous events to vindicate the preaching. I know what Gentiles want, they want famous oratory, they love the debate. You know what? I'm not going to give them what they want. I'm not seeker-friendly that way." Paul would say, if he was here today, "I'm not a seeker-friendly preacher. I know what they want, but I'm not giving it to them." What are you doing, then, Paul? Verse 23, "But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." He says, "Look, I know the Jews are going to stumble over this, but I preach Christ crucified anyway. I know that the Gentiles think that this is utter foolishness, but I'm going to preach Christ anyway. You know why I'm going to do that?" he says. "It's because I'm not after building a worldly kingdom populated by worldly thinking people who don't love Christ. That's not what I'm interested in at all! That's not why God laid his hand on me as an apostle! God laid his hand on me as an apostle," Paul says, "so that I would preach Christ crucified and be used as an instrument in the building of the kingdom of God." And nothing's changed in the intervening 2,000 years, beloved, except that we don't have apostles. It's still the same method, the same approach, the same truth, the same God who gives new birth. He does it through his word so that he gets the glory. And he does it through his word, because his word has the power of God in the way that worldly wisdom doesn't and he does it through his word, he does it through the proclamation of Christ crucified and resurrected on behalf of sinners and he works through that and laughs at those who mock the approach.

We're still not done. Turn back to the Gospel of John. Where is it that belief comes from? What does God use to accomplish the new birth? He uses his word. Look at the end of the Gospel of John, chapter 20. This is just so predominant through the Scriptures. The end of the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verse 30, actually the end of chapter 20, I guess. John has 21 chapters for those of you keeping score at home. John chapter 20, verse 30, summarizing up the prior twenty chapters, John says, "Therefore, many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." John says, "Here's why I wrote this Gospel: I wrote it, I wrote God's word, I recorded the life and works and ministry of Christ, I wrote it so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing, you may have life in his name." Trace it back, trace it back by the clear words that John said there. You have someone that is believing and has come to saving faith in Christ. It's because he received the testimony, he received the testimony through the written word of God. John says, "I wrote that in order to produce that final result." Under the inspiration and work of the Holy Spirit, that was the whole design. It was so that the word would be powerful and would produce this new life that God alone can accomplish. He uses his word to accomplish regeneration.

One more: turn back to John chapter 5, verse 24. Jesus said, "Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who hears My word…" Do you see it again? This is like a half-dozen times, and you don't know how much I cut out of my notes for the sake of time, a half-dozen times! Are you kidding me? How many times does God have to say it until we take it seriously? Speaking to the church at large, I thank God that you are here, the vast majority of you are here, because you do take it seriously, and I thank God for you. You take it seriously. I'm just helping you see why we do so you're strengthened in it. Jesus says, chapter 5, verse 24, "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life." You hear the word, God produces the result. God works through his word.

Now, I'm going to play one of my tangent cards. I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent here. I'm convinced that the way that the best thing that we can do as a body of believers is to preach the word consistently over time, week after week, and there is a cumulative impact of the word on the hearts of those who believe, and there's a cumulative impact also on those who don't believe. You remember what Jesus said, and what I am getting to is this, that it is a mistake of great consequence to look for immediate responses to the word. In the passage that we read earlier, and from Mark chapter 4, Jesus warned us against those who spring up immediately but have no root in themselves. The best thing that we can do for sinners is to preach the word consistently, week after week after week, and let God use the cumulative impact of that on their hearts. And as you are sharing Christ in evangelistic settings, and when they write the book about the world's greatest evangelist, there won't be a chapter about me, there won't be a footnote about me, but for those of you that are committed to evangelism and I thank God for you, what I want you to understand is that the most important thing you can do, is not press for an immediate decision. If God gives that, okay, fine. The most important thing that you can do when you are dealing with people who are unsaved is to point them to the Bible, to point them to the words of Scripture, to call on them to read the Bible for themselves because it's the Bible that God uses to bring about the new birth. You don't have to manipulate them into praying a prayer that they don't really care about and that they don't even understand. If nothing else, make it your goal to read the Scriptures for yourself and then, as you do that and as you point them there, if that's all the further your discussion gets, you've accomplished a lot because you have pointed them to the instrumentality that God uses to bring about the new birth. And if I can get somebody reading God's word, I'm content to have the discussion right there. That's what we do it. That's why we preach the word.

Now, thirdly, let's apply this. I've been applying it all along, but the third point here is: God's call to application. God's call to application, and I'm going to kind of repeat myself here, but that's okay. Here's the thing. It would be easy to distort and misunderstand the doctrine of regeneration, and I don't want you to do that and I don't want you to be subject to that, who criticized this biblical doctrine through, you know, whatever reasons they may have to do it. I want you to understand how we respond to this. Regeneration does not happen in a vacuum. God does not suddenly zap people who have had no prior exposure to the Gospel. It's not apart from the ministry of the word and so there are implications to that. God uses means to accomplish his ends. What does this mean for us as believers?

First of all, God's call to application first of all, we must preach the word. We must preach the word. I've already made this point. Let me just point you to one more passage here in this context. Turn to Romans chapter 10. Paul, who in chapter 9 had made a great point, gone to great lengths to talk about the sovereignty of God in salvation, draws it down and makes it personal. He extends the scriptural promise in verse 13—"Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved" and in verse 14 he says, he draws out the application of what the sovereign work of God means in that context, and he says in verse 14, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard, and how will they hear without a preacher?" Verse 17, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." You see, what he says, even in this verse, is he says, "Whoever will call upon the Lord will be saved," he says the faith that saves them comes from hearing the word of God. And so what that means to us as a body of believers is we look forward to the long distance future of our church, that we're just simply going to multiply the manner and the opportunities that we have to proclaim God's word and to disseminate it. That's what our church is about: teaching God's people God's word. As we do that, we teach God's word so that it will reach those who haven't heard of Christ so that they can believe in him. We must preach the word. It doesn't do us any good to have social activities without a focus on the fundamental preaching of the word of God. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Those of us that know Christ must preach the word. We must share the word; it must be the word that is the focus.

Now, as we do that, what happens? Well, we can't predict it, but when God saves someone—look over at Acts chapter 16—when we do that, somehow in his way, in his timing, according to his good pleasure, God opens a sinner's heart and causes them to respond to the things that we are teaching and preaching. Look at Acts chapter 16 and verse 13: "On the Sabbath day, we went outside the gate to a riverside where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled." Verse 14: "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God was listening," and notice, "and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." Paul was speaking, proclaiming the truth. As he did that, somehow, oh please listen to this, somehow in the exchange of human communication, as Paul spoke from his lips, as the words carried to her ears and settled into her understanding, somehow in that process of human communication, God used those human means and opened her heart so that she would respond in faith to the things that Paul was proclaiming. So, we preach the word because we understand that God uses the means of Bible-based human communication in order to accomplish his work of salvation in a human heart. That's why we do it.

Now, that puts us under obligation when we understand these things. And I would say this, too: it means that we rest our confidence in the word, not in philosophical arguments about the existence of God. We don't rest our confidence in evidential apologetics that try to pile up evidence and overwhelm people with facts in order to try to get them to come to saving faith in Christ, we rest our confidence in the word of God, and we trust and have confidence, and as we do that—and when I say "we," I mean "us" collectively—as you and your individual evangelism, and as we preach the word as a body of believers, we have confidence that God is going to honor our imperfect, feeble efforts to honor his word, take it beyond what we could accomplish on our own, and accomplish work of eternal significance because we preach the word, because we honored the authority of Scripture, that's what we rest our confidence in because we know that God brings about the new birth through his word.

Now, secondly, God's work of application for us here. Let me address sinners here, people who don't know Christ and also to help you understand how it is that we carry this as we proclaim the Gospel. Point number 2: sinners must repent and believe in Christ. Sinners must repent and believe in Christ. You see, we preach the Gospel with imperatives, with commands. Jesus said in Mark chapter 1, verse 15, "Repent, and believe in the gospel." He was commanding, and he was commanding his hearers to repent and to believe, to turn from sin and to believe in Christ and part of the way that we proclaim the Gospel is we proclaim and we tell sinners what they must do in response to the word that is being spoken. Sinners have the responsibility to repent and believe and what I want you to understand is that the doctrine of regeneration does not deny that responsibility. The commands are not directed to the Holy Spirit, it's directed to people who don't know Christ when he says, "Repent and believe in the gospel." And that's what sinners must do. Regeneration does not deny that responsibility. But for those of you that are inclined to the theology of this, understand what we're saying is that the initiating power of that response must come from God and not from the dead, unregenerate human heart. Apart from the regenerating power of God, the sinner will suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Romans 1, the sinner will refuse the Gospel for fear his evil deeds will be exposed, John chapter 3. But God has given us a Gospel to proclaim that commands the sinner to do something: to repent, to believe, to turn his heart to Christ.

Now let me speak to those of you that aren't saved here right now. There's a lot that we've gone over here. Let me reduce it to the simplicity for what you need to hear today. Sinner, sinner, sinner, God is compassionate. God is a pardoning, forgiving God. Even though you are there in your guilt and multiplied sins against him, even though you are guilty in sin and have no claim on this God and cannot save yourself with the works of your own hands, God is calling you to come to the Lord Jesus Christ and receive a full pardon for your sins and he will give you that pardon right now.

Turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 55. I want you to see a couple of passages so that you see this comes not from the preacher but from God himself. Isaiah 55. If you are here and you know that you are not a Christian; if you're hearing this on subsequent media after the fact, come to what the Lord says and the call that he makes to sinners. Isaiah 55, verse 6, this is what you as a sinner need to hear from the Lord this morning. It says, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while He is near." In other words, abandon any effort to save yourself. Utterly humble yourself before him and call upon the Lord of our salvation. Verse 7: "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts and let him return to the Lord and God will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." Sinner, God is calling you out of the wickedness of your sin, calling you away from your worldly life and worldly thinking and calling and saying, "You are condemned in your guilt, but I will pardon you. I will forgive you. I am compassionate. I want to bless you. Come to Christ and receive this gift of salvation that is freely offered to you and which you have no good excuse to refuse."

Go back to the Gospel of John, John chapter 6, verse 35. Sinner, take this as a direct invitation and promise from Christ to you, not something he said to the world at large, these are words directed to you. You know that you're here; you know that you're not a Christian; you feel the weight and guilt of sin on your heart; you know that you're condemned. The whole point of the Gospel is that God is a gracious and merciful God, and that Christ is the Savior of sinners. Look at verse 35. Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will not hunger and he who believes in Me will never thirst." Verse 40. "This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." Christ will give you eternal life if you come to him. So come to him. That is the only response that you can make. Sinner, you must consciously turn from sin, consciously come out of the world that you have embraced and completely, entirely and exclusively put your soul in the hands of Christ who died and rose again to save sinners. That is the only way you can be saved and that is the message of the Gospel to you today. You must repent and believe in Christ for salvation otherwise God will judge you in the end. These are weighty matters, not to be trivialized with.

Final thing, as we close, as we said by way of application, Christians, we must preach the word. By way of application we said, Sinners, you must repent and believe in Christ. Thirdly, we must depend on God's Spirit. This kind of brings us back around full circle. These eternal matters, these matters of eternal life and eternal death, these matters of heaven and hell, are matters that are totally outside of the power of our hands to do anything about. I can't save a sinner, and neither can you and so we have to depend on God's Spirit. Jesus said in John chapter 16, verse 8, the Holy Spirit "when He comes, will convict men of sin, righteousness and judgment." You can't force anyone to be saved, and beloved, understand this: for all of the ways that you might be passionate in evangelism, or that I might be passionate in my preaching, our passion can't save anyone. If the Spirit of God does not do a work that transcends our native human powers, if the Spirit of God does not do a work that takes our words and applies them with power to the human heart, it's all in vain. I could be animated up here for hours and nothing happen unless the Spirit of God was at work. So it is when you share Christ with someone who is not a believer. We have to be conscious of asking the Spirit of God to help us and to bless the preaching of our lips.

Paul said in Romans chapter 10, turn there, this will be the last Scripture that we look to, Romans chapter 10. The great apostle, of all people, the Apostle Paul, the uniquely commissioned apostle to the gentiles, commissioned to preach the word by Christ himself, the resurrected Christ himself, what does he say about his fellow countrymen, the Jews, for whom he was so concerned? Chapter 10, verse 1, he said "Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation." He says, "It's beyond my power to do on my own. I pray to God that he would do a work in their hearts and bring salvation to them because if he doesn't, it's not going to happen." He's saying we must depend on God's Spirit.

And so as we preach the word in this context, as you preach the word in your lives, we must be conscious of depending on God's Spirit, consciously going to him again and again, "God, if you don't work, no one's going to get saved. It belongs, the power belongs to you alone, God. If we do this on our own, it's all in vain. Why even waste our time? Oh God, please, I ask you, do a work as we share your word." If you want to pray for your pastor, pray that. I don't want anything else. You don't have to pray for anything else for me. Pray that God would use this pulpit to save sinners and to sanctify the saints. We all share in that. This is a collective work of an entire body of believers. We have to humble ourselves under the authority of God's word and say, "Lord, we don't have the power to do this on our own. All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down. All is vain, unless, God, you do a powerful work in hearts that come under the sound of your word." That's what we want; that's all we care about. We want to see the saints sanctified, built up in Christ; we want to see sinners saved and brought into the kingdom. Whatever else happens in the world is incidental and of no consequence, because God has saved us for this purpose to proclaim the glories of Christ to the honor of his name, to the growth of the saints, to the salvation of the lost whom we cannot save in our own power. That's why we're here, that's why we do what we do.

Let's pray.

Father, as the musicians come, give us a moment just to quiet our hearts before you. Those of us who are saved, Father, we take a moment to give you thanks for how you worked in our hearts and we thank you for those instruments of your word, those who came to us, humble young girl handing a tract to a drugstore clerk, saying, "I'd like you to read this." Perhaps someone sitting over a coffee table, saying, "I'm concerned for your soul." Perhaps a pastor who shared the word with us. Father, all in their humble ways being used by you to put the word into our previously dead lives, and then your Spirit took your word, planted it in our hearts, and one day called us to Christ, so that we stand here forgiven, set apart for Christ, and on a road that leads to heaven. Father, of all things this week, we give you thanks for that. We pray, Father, that as we seek to grow in grace now as believers, and in this body, we pray that you would help us grow in our trust in your word, in our trust in the power of your Spirit. Father, we can't do any of this on our own; we are utterly helpless unless your Spirit attends our efforts. We, as it were, Father, fall on our knees and on our faces before you and ask you to use your word for the purposes for which you've appointed and to use us in the process.

And, Father, as we think of those here today that are outside of Christ, as we think of those family members that some of us will interact with who perhaps are hostile to the Gospel or just utterly indifferent, we pray for them, Father, that just as you breathed life into us through your word, so also you would breathe life into them through your word as well and use us, Father, to that end, we pray. We hand all of this body over to you, Father; it's been a glorious year since November 18th, 2011. It's been a wonderful year. But Father, we're not satisfied at all—we're not satisfied until you start to gather in previously unsaved people under the sound of your word and bring them to salvation in Christ. Without that, Father, why would we continue on? And so we humbly, dependently look to you and pray that you would accomplish salvation in the lives of those with whom you bring us into contact, so that you alone could receive the glory, and that those currently unsaved people would experience the joy and blessings of abundant pardon from a compassionate God. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

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