Discourse 85 - True and false rebirth.




Are adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals and swindlers really born again?/ Book, J.F. MacArthur, page 16 ff

This is is Old Testament promise of rebirth through water and the Spirit / Book, J.F. MacArthur, page 35 ff)

Rebirth

Re-engendering

Certainty of salvation

Predestination

Keeping faith

Words without deeds: the sin of empty words. / Book, J.F. MacArthur, page 187 ff

No child of this world has been able to decide whether it wanted to live or not. / Comment, B. Bollmeyer 00, 2006-09-10

Is rebirth an "election"? / Commentary TK 00, 2014-03-02

The eternal existence of every human being.



(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors)

(Are adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals and swindlers really born again? / Book, J.F. MacArthur, page 16 ff)

Wir sehen jetzt, wie die Kirche der Gegenwart von einer Serie abscheulichster We see now how the church of today is being shaken by a series of the most revolting scandals, in which the most pitiful depravities in the lives of certain world-famous television evangelists have been made a public spectacle. It is very sad and painful that most outsiders will see these people as typical Christian insiders, rather than as wolves and false shepherds who have infiltrated the flock (see Mt 7,15). Why should we believe that people who have not turned away from adultery, fornication, homosexuality, dishonesty and all possible forms of shameless dissolution are really born again?

But this is just the assumption that the Christians of today are being taught to make. They have been told that the only criterion for salvation is that a person should know and have faith in certain basic Christian concepts. Right from the beginning they hear that obedience is voluntary. It follows logically from this that when it comes to judging a person’s Christianity, the confession of faith that he has once made is worth more than the continuing testimony of his manner of living. Happenings in the visible church have revealed the repellent consequences of this theology. As a pastor, on the other hand, I have rebaptized countless people who had "come to a decision" in the past and so received baptism, but had not experienced any change in their lives. They experienced real conversion at a later stage, and then asked for baptism again as an expression of their true salvation.

(This extract has been taken from the book "Lampen ohne Öl" ["The Gospel According to Jesus"] by John F. MacArthur, published by Verlag CLV - Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e.V. [CLV Publishing House for the Dissemination of Christian Literature], Bielefeld).



The Foreword to this book by J. F. MacArthur is written by the Reverend Dr. James I. Packer, a theology professor (Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology) at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He is also Director of the ‘Regent College Anglican Studies Program’, co-editor of the journal ‘Christianity Today’ and an advocate of the doctrine of predestination - that is to say, the view that human beings are selected by God before the start of creation, some to eternal life and the rest to eternal damnation. This is a point that needs to be made, as it does not appear so clearly from the extracts taken from Mr. MacArthur’s book that he himself champions this erroneous doctrine.

(See also Discourse 69: “Is the sovereignty of God under threat? / Book, James I. Packer”)


J. F. MacArthur’s reference to the way in which “the most pitiful depravities in the lives of certain world-famous television evangelists have been made a public spectacle” concerns of course contemporary happenings in America. In Europe we may hope that such enormities do not happen. But however that may be - and in whatever area - there is a danger that what is going on in America will be happening here as well in just a few years from now. Earlier you could reckon with an interval of 10 years, now it is more like 2 to 3 years. We can see signs of this already in the European charismatic camp. But if we take a closer look at the evangelical scene in the USA, and compare it with that which is to be found in German-speaking regions of Europe for instance, we can see that with us there is still a fundamentally different approach to faith and Christian teaching.

(See also: “Report on the Charismatic Camp”)


Since this website, Immanuel.at, has been translated into English, I expected it to be accessed by many American visitors. The expected flood has however only been a trickle. Consequently I tried to do something to boost the popularity of the site in the USA by entering it in the “Top 1000 Christian Sites”. On that occasion I took a look at the website that is right at the top of this list of 1000. The ranking of these thousand sites is based on the number of visitors or hits, and thus gives an excellent picture of the main areas of spiritual interest among evangelical American Christians.

This number one website has between 5000 and 20,000 hits daily (Immanuel.at by contrast, though bilingual, only has between 100 and 500). And seeing that this American Christian site goes by the name of “Garden of Praise”, we might expect on entering the site to read words in praise of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our God. But in actual fact what we are presented with in “About Us” is a color photograph of the website author. Then, under “Family”, we get an account of the life of the author’s mother (!), with an invitation to visit her picture gallery. The next point is “Our Children”, again with a picture of course, and then there actually comes a page on “Gardening”. Following further autobiographies and family recipes (!), we finally get a page with a listing of all the credits and awards that the author of this Christian website has been given for his “fruitful” work. As we can see, it is not Our Lord who is praised and glorified on this website, but rather the author of the site and his family.

(See also:“Garden of Praise”.)


When we look at this kind of “evangelization” and its immense popularity, it is hardly surprising that preachers like Benny Hinn, Garry and Lilo Keller in the USA, as well as Walter Heidenreich and Christoph Häselbarth in our parts - to name just a few - should attract such vast audiences and lead them up the garden path with spectacular and impressive demonstrations.

(See also: “Theological information: deceiver & wolves” - Video “Toronto Blessing Unmasked” free of charge at Immanuel.at))


Now although even in German-speaking parts of the world some “Christian” websites of this self-advertising nature are to be found, with us the Bible has on the whole remained the main focus of interest, and discussion rather centers on the correct interpretation of Scripture. But when MacArthur refers in his book to the teaching we find in Christian congregations, and observes that people are being given the impression that “the only criterion for salvation is that a person should know and have faith in certain basic Christian concepts”, this is a completely accurate diagnosis of the situation prevailing in our congregations as well. And the next few lines of the passage - like the whole book, as a matter of fact - add up to an admirably realistic assessment of the state of many of our Christian gatherings today. On the one hand he points to the background reasons why faith in the congregations has become so lukewarm, and on the other he indicates what needs to be done if this false course is to be corrected.

It is becoming increasingly plain to serious Christians in the congregations that in many quarters evangelization efforts and Christian gatherings have substituted quantity for quality. So we find that a “lite” gospel is preached, and increasingly campaigns are instituted that are designed to bring as many people as possible to join a congregation without making clear to them the consequences that, according to Scripture, should be associated with such a step. So we then see members of Christian congregations whose behavior is in no way distinguishable from that of the unbelieving and worldly sectors of the population. And here, as a Christian whose faith is based on the Bible, one is inclined to ask with MacArthur whether all these people are really born again.

In the second chapter of his book, MacArthur then attempts to demonstrate the necessity of spiritual rebirth, in the light of Our Lord’s dialog with Nicodemus in Jn 3,1-12. To make this clear, the passage is reproduced below:

Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Jn 3,1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 3,2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." 3,3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 3,4 Nicodemus said to Him, "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?" 3,5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 3,6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 3,7 "Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 3,8 "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." 3,9 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?" 3,10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 3,11 "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 3,12 "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Jn 3, 1-12;


MacArthur now comments on this as follows:

(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)

(This is the Old Testament promise of rebirth through water and the Spirit / Book, J.F. MacArthur, page 35 ff)

The water of which Jesus spoke was only meant symbolically, as it was used in the Old Testament for purification purposes. Nicodemus would have been able to understand this reference to the Old Testament, because most ceremonies involved the water of purification being sprinkled on the altar and on the sacrifice. As a scribe he doubtless remembered the promise of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36,25: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you”. Two verses later the promise becomes “I will put My Spirit within you” (verse 27). These two statements associate the ideas of water and the spirit, and frame a further promise in verse 26: “Moreover I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This is the Old Testament promise of rebirth through water and the Spirit. The only baptism that is being spoken of here is baptism in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said: “He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 1,33). Spiritual baptism takes place on conversion, when the Lord makes the believer a part of the body of Christ through the action of the Spirit (1Cor 12,13) and purifies him through the water of the word (Eph 5,26; see also Jn 15,3). Paul calls this “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3,5), here using practically the same words as the Lord Jesus in John 3,5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” So what Jesus was telling Nicodemus was that he needed spiritual purification and spiritual rebirth. The point at issue was that the law and the rituals of religion - including baptism - are not able to confer eternal life. Because this message sounded so resoundingly in his ears, we can assume that he understood it.

(This extract has been taken from the book “Lampen ohne Öl” [“The Gospel According to Jesus”] by John F. MacArthur, published by Verlag CLV - Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e.V. [CLV Publishing House for the Dissemination of Christian Literature], Bielefeld).



Here we have to agree completely with MacArthur when he says that law and ritual - including baptism!! - cannot confer eternal life. At the same time, however, his otherwise very clear statements do unfortunately contain some admixture of inaccuracy. First of all, in referring to Eze 36,25-27 he gives the impression that this has to do with the “promise of the New Covenant” for the congregation, and the “Old Testament promise of rebirth.” As so often happens in biblical exegesis, here too certain verses have regrettably been wrested out of context, without reference to the entire passage in which they occur. So let us take a closer look at what precedes and follows the verses quoted.

You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers.

Ezk 36,22 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. 36,23 "I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. 36,24 "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.

36,25 "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 36,26 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 36,27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

36,28 "You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Eze 36,22-28;


And here it is plain to see that this word of God is addressed not to the congregation but to Israel. This is irrefutably proved by the formulation we find in verse 22:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel…”’

And again the special promises in verses 24 and 28 demonstrate that these words are addressed to Israel

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.”
You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”


These two sentences are completely typical prophecies of the salvation, gathering and return of the Israelites to their own land, to be effected by their God in the Last Days, after the Second Coming of Our Lord, their Messiah. And no one who is familiar with the Bible would take this to be a reference to the Christian congregation. The congregation is not being “gathered from all the lands”, and certainly is not going to dwell in a land that was “given to their forefathers”. So the promises quoted by MacArthur -

“»Then I will sprinkle clean water on you«. Two verses later the promise becomes »I will put My Spirit within you« (verse 27). These two statements associate the ideas of water and the spirit, and frame a further promise in verse 26: »Moreover I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.«

This is the Old Testament promise of rebirth through water and the Spirit.”


- are exclusively related to the conversion and salvation of the people of Israel in the Last Days, and have nothing at all to do with the Christian congregation or rebirth.

But here we see one of the biggest mistakes in the interpretation of Scripture - namely, the abuse of the Bible for “quarrying” purposes. People ignore the context, pick up a verse here and a verse there, and so cobble together a personal structure of faith. In this connection it is a very popular approach to take all the statements that relate to Israel and refer them to the congregation. As happens here, this is most especially the case with the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament, which are reinterpreted free of charge to refer to the congregation as “the New Israel”.



Rebirth.

On the other hand, we are also confronted here with a misinterpretation of Our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus in Jn 3,1-6. According to MacArthur’s conclusion above - “Spiritual baptism (spiritual rebirth) takes place on conversion, when the Lord makes the believer a part of the body of Christ through the action of the Spirit” - “rebirth” is the believer’s act of conversion to the Christian faith. Only when he has accepted Jesus can a believer - according to this view -claim to be “reborn”. And MacArthur thinks to find confirmation of this in Our Lord’s statements to Nicodemus. So to see whether this assertion holds water, let us now take a closer look at the passage in question.

Jn 3,1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 3,2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jn 3, 1- 2;


This, now, is the introduction to the conversation, and presents Nicodemus to us as a scribe (Pharisee) and ruler of the Jews, who comes secretly to the Lord by night in order to question him.

Jn 3,3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 3,4 Nicodemus said to Him, "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?" 3,5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 3,6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Jn 3, 3- 6;


Here we have the first part of the statements that are relevant to our theme. In verse 3 the Lord says: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”, and from this MacArthur concludes as follows: “So what Jesus was telling Nicodemus was that he needed spiritual purification and spiritual rebirth.” But there is nothing here either about “purification” or about “spiritual rebirth.”

Nicodemus was familiar only with biological, physical birth, and so he asks the Lord whether we would have to go back into our mother’s womb in order to be born again. And the Lord explains to him that we need both: our biological birth - that which is of water (amniotic fluid) - and our rebirth, rebirth in the Spirit at the Resurrection that is, in order to enter the kingdom of God. One who has not been born biologically - of water - is not alive, and so cannot subsequently be reborn from the Spirit either.

And then Nicodemus asks, in complete astonishment, whether a person can enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time. So he had no idea what Our Lord was talking about, and referred his statements only to biological, physical birth. And the answer of the Lord was now both a response to the question of the scribe, and also a resumption of the theme touched on earlier, that of rebirth. He tells him: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This means that we need both: our biological, fleshly birth - that of water (amniotic fluid) - and our rebirth, namely of the Spirit, in order to enter the kingdom of God.

It follows that these words of Our Lord’s are not to be understood symbolically, as MacArthur supposes - “The water of which Jesus spoke was only meant symbolically, as it was used in the Old Testament for purification purposes” - what we have here is rather the literal explanation of a completely real process: nobody can in actual fact enter eternity who has not been both born physically and then spiritually reborn as well.

In much the same way as in the above Gospel passage, so John again in his first Epistle uses the expression “came by water” to indicate birth - in this case that of the Lord Jesus. He is concerned here to demonstrate that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born as a human being (in the flesh).

This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ.

1Jn 5,5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 5,6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 5,77 For there are three that testify: 1Jn 5, 5- 7;

Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God

1Jn 4,2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 4,3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 1Jn 4, 2- 3;


Here again birth “in the flesh” (1Jn 4,2) is explained in 1Jn 5,6 with the phrase “came by water”. And as the next sentence in this verse shows, it is also in both passages the Spirit who testifies that Jesus Christ was born as a human being. This is the key statement of these two chapters, that Jesus Christ, although he is the Son of God, nonetheless was born as a human being in the flesh.

And so this is the “’ referred to in 1Jn 5:8:

The water is birth in the flesh and the testimony that the Son of God became man.
The blood is death in the flesh (Jn 1:29) and testifies to the New Covenant (Lk 22:20).
And it is the Spirit who testifies to this. But not just to the birth and death of the Lord, but also to his resurrection as the first fruits (1Cor 15,20-21) of those who have been born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8).


Now some commentators think in both cases, both in the Gospel of John and in John’s First Epistle, that “water” - that is to say, the amniotic fluid from which every human infant has to be born and which is the proof of its earthly origin - must be understood as Christian baptism. Quite apart from the fact that Nicodemus is rather unlikely to have got to grips with Christian baptism, and so would not have understood the reference either, Our Lord’s statement in Jn 3,6 - “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” - gives clear confirmation of the view that it is biological, fleshly birth, from water, that is here being referred to. And in 1Jn 4,2 and 5,6 likewise, the expressions “come in the flesh” and “came by water” undoubtedly refer to birth and not baptism.


The “water”, then, in Our Lord’s phrase in Jn 3,5 - “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit” - refers to our biological, fleshly birth. Accordingly the “spirit” must refer to spiritual birth, or rebirth. At the same time, there is no explanation in these statements of Our Lord’s of how the two are connected, nor is there any indication of the time when this rebirth from the Spirit takes place. But there is another passage where we find a quite concrete indication given by Our Lord himself as to the nature of this event and where it is to be located in terms of time.

In the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne.

Mt 19, 28 And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Mt 19,28;

Mt 25,31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 25,32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; Mt 25,31-32;


Here the Lord Jesus is himself making statements about rebirth. At the same time - as we see from the indications in the context of the passage - this regeneration is a rebirth, which clearly has yet to take place. This is the time when the Lord will sit on his glorious throne to judge the world. The apostles too will then sit upon twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. This, then, is the time of the Last Judgment. And the event which immediately precedes the Last Judgment is the General Resurrection. All human beings of all races will rise from the dead to come before the judgment seat of God. And this resurrection, in which the dead are restored to life and reborn by the action of the Spirit, is what the Lord points to here as the actual rebirth.

They are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

Lk 20,34 And Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; 20,35 but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 29,36 for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. Lk 20,34-36;


(See also Table 13: “The judgment upon the risen nations”)


Seeing that the Pharisees, by contrast with the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection, we may suppose that Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, would have understood this reference. The following verses in this dialog then give further confirmation of this point of view:

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

Jn 3,7 "Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 3,8 "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." 3,9 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?" 3,10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 3,11 "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 3,12 "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Jn 3, 7-12;


The characterization of the person who has been spiritually reborn in the above passage (Jn 3,8) causes interpretative problems for those who advocate a spiritual “rebirth” on the part of the individual while he is alive, that is to say, at the time of his conversion. When we are told here that everyone who is born of the Spirit may be compared with the wind, which “blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going”, then these people should after all, as Christians who have been “reborn”, be able to apply these characteristics to themselves. They would then have to show those very same capabilities which Our Lord had when in his resurrection he was reborn from the dead, and so was able to pass through doors and walls and the disciples did not know where he came from or where he was going.

Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst.

Jn 20,26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." 20,27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." 20,28 Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jn 20,26-28;


This is now the unmistakable mark of someone who has been spiritually reborn, and it is unlikely that any will be found among “reborn” Christians who would claim to have such characteristics while they are still alive and so to be reborn in this sense. In actual fact there will not be reborn Christians like this until the Millennium, after the First Resurrection. Those who are then living on earth will be able to have such experiences together with the resurrected martyrs who at that time will rise from the dead as priests of God and Christ, and rule with the Lord on earth (Rev 20,4-6).

(See also Chapter 12: “The Ressurrection”)



Re-engendering

Now we find a number of references to a person’s being “born again” in other scriptural passages.

We are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

1Pet 1,3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1,4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 1,5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1Pet 1, 3- 5;


Peter as well speaks in this passage, 1Pet 1,3-5, of the fact that we are born again. He says that God has caused us to be born again - to be born again to a living hope. Hope of what? Hope of an imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance. And whereby? Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Our rebirth then, according to Peter, is a hope. This hope is based on the resurrection of the Lord. Because Our Lord has risen from the dead, we too have the hope that we will rise from the dead and be spiritually reborn. The goal of this resurrection, and so also of this hope, is an imperishable, that is to say immortal, eternal inheritance - in short, eternal life. This eternal life is now reserved for us in heaven, as Peter says.

Now Our Lord’s phrase in Jn 3,5, quoted earlier - “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit” - points to the necessity of these two births for the saved Christian, but then it also enables us to see the quite similar circumstances of these two events - our first, physical birth, that is, and our spiritual rebirth. The final goal in the first case is earthly life, in the case of rebirth it is eternal life. The time of “good hope” in a biological sense lasts nine months from procreation to birth, after which the child sees the light of the world. The hope of the believing Christian last until the resurrection of the dead and their rebirth in the Spirit. And they too will then see the light of a new and different world - namely, the light and the world of God and the Lamb. And they will then, after their rebirth, be “sons of the resurrection”, as the Lord says in the following passage.

They are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection

Lk 20,34 Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 20,35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 20,36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. Lk 20,34-36;


(See also Chapter 13: “The Last Judgment”)

But Peter also says in the above passage (1Pet 1,3) that God “according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” But this means that God has put us in a position where we are able to have this hope. It follows from this that in a temporal perspective we have been “reborn” at the start of this hope. So this cannot be referring to our rebirth at the end of the world, when all hope will already have been fulfilled. It is obvious, then, that this statement of Peter’s and the verb “to be born again” alike refer to the start of this hope, to the beginning of our life of faith on earth. By analogy with the biological process, therefore, the most appropriate term for it is “re-engendering”.

Impregnated with seed which is imperishable

But let us also take an objective look at the second passage in this chapter where Peter uses the term “born again”.

You have been born again of seed which is imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

1Pet 1,23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

1,24 For, "all flesh is like grass, and all it glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 1,25 buit the Word of the Lord endures forever." And this is the word which was preached to you. 1Pet 1,23-25;


So the rebirth to which Peter refers here is the result of imperishable seed. As we can see, Peter himself likewise makes a comparison here with biological birth or at least with natural reproduction, by indicating that this - by contrast with spiritual rebirth - comes from perishable seed. But this also gives us an indication that Peter actually means procreation and impregnation. Impregnation, that is to say, with either perishable or imperishable seed - and not a birth already. And he also tells us how this spiritual impregnation, this re-engendering, comes about - through the living word of God. So it is Our Lord Jesus Christ, who himself is this living word of God (Jn 1,1; Rev 19,13), who has impregnated our spirit.

And if we now consider once more the view mentioned at the start of this discourse that “rebirth” takes place when the believer is still alive, at the time of his conversion, we can see that this term is incorrect. Just as a biological birth must be preceded by a biological act of procreation, so spiritual rebirth calls for an earlier spiritual act of procreation. Consequently we are not reborn at the time of our conversion, but rather we are first of all spiritually impregnated and so re-engendered.

What actually happens at our conversion, then, is that we are spiritually impregnated by the living word of God. This is a re-engendering, then, not yet rebirth. Our spirit is impregnated - in “the family way”, if you want to put it that way; we are “in good hope” of a rebirth. So whereas the Lord uses the Greek term “paliggenesia” for “rebirth” in Mt 19,28 the original Greek text of 1Pet 1,3.23 and Jn 1,13; 1Jn 2,29; 3,9; 4,7; 5,1.4.18 respectively contains the Greek participle anagegennemenoi for “born again” and gegennetai, the infinitive, respectively for “born”. Both verbs can be translated “(re)-engender / begotten again” as well as “(re)born / born again”. And as the translators did not know the profound background of this statement of the Lord in Jn 3,7-8 they translated with the customary “reborn” and “born” which should actually be translated as “re-engender” or “procreate” (see Nestle-Aland and Barnes New Testament Notes).

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be begotten again.

1Pet 1,3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be begotten again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pet 1, 3;

For you have been begotten again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable

1Pet 1,23 For you have been begotten again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 1Pet 1,23;


The Revelation of John also shows us how the real, the true rebirth is identical with the resurrection from the dead, when the Lord Jesus is described as the “firstborn of the dead” in connection with his resurrection.

Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead.

Rev 1,4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 1,5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood- 1,6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Rev 1, 4- 6;


Now one might be inclined to object that in the last resort it is not a matter of such importance whether at our conversion we are spiritually reborn or spiritually re-engendered. It is hardly worth making such a fuss, the main thing is that we have been converted. But here the well-known saying is applicable: “At the moment when we start thinking in different terms, we also think in different directions.” And when we come to grips with the background and detailed circumstances of the case, we can see that it is precisely this superficial attitude that has led to the situation which MacArthur rightly deplores in his book, and to which he gives concrete expression in his question:

“Why should we believe that people who have not turned away from adultery, fornication, homosexuality, dishonesty and all possible forms of shameless dissolution are really born again?”


The origins of this contradiction can be discerned from the common features to be found in both biological and spiritual development, from procreation through to birth. Our conversion is the spiritual impregnation, our re-engendering. Spiritual rebirth is the resurrection (First Resurrection or General Resurrection), and this corresponds to physical birth on the biological level. In both cases we emerge from the “darkness” and see the light of a new world. But the time from procreation to birth is not without danger, either in the one case or in the other. Everything that may hamper or even terminate the development of the child in the period between biological procreation and biological birth can also - in a metaphorical and spiritual sense - hinder the development of a Christian. A vivid allegorical account of these dangers, incidentally, will be found in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan.

And just as it is sadly the case that not all biologically engendered children come to be born, so not all Christians who have been spiritually re-engendered come to be reborn. Many finish up as spiritual “stillbirths”, and fall away from the faith. Anyone who seeks to claim that we are reborn at our conversion, and on top of that, that is is impossible for born-again Christians ever to be lost, is naturally going to find this hard to explain. And then we find the most far-fetched arguments advanced in an attempt at explanation. In this case, however, it is the basic idea that is simply wrong: with the exception of the Lord no one on earth has yet been reborn.

To come back, now, to the book by John F. MacArthur - from the above analysis it can be seen that just those problems in the congregations which MacArthur describes, and justifiably criticizes, are the evident consequence of the incorrect interpretation of this saying of Our Lord’s. Whereas “reborn” suggests a finished and completed state - which is the basis for the statement, in itself logical enough, that someone who has been “born again” cannot be lost - in actual fact we have only been re-engendered, and still have the whole spiritual “pregnancy” (our further life of faith until our death and resurrection, which is then the real rebirth), with all the problems and difficulties that may arise, ahead of us.

So if we know that we, as converted Christians, are not yet reborn but only re-engendered, it is clear that we cannot rest on our laurels in any way. We must examine our thoughts and our actions from day to day if we are to be able to recognize faults and correct them in good time. Then too, it becomes possible to understand the fact that we so often see brethren leaving the right path or falling away from the faith altogether. And we no longer find this a difficult fact to explain: it is sad, certainly, but not an inexplicable happening. And finally, those uncharitable insinuations also become superfluous, like the observation “If he behaves like that he cannot be a born-again Christian.” No! He is not! But neither are we! None of us has been reborn! We are only re-engendered, and so do not yet have a place reserved for us in heaven!

We find further confirmation of this conclusion if we look at other parables of Our Lord’s. As Peter says in the passage quoted earlier, 1Pet 1,23 (correctly translated), we have been “re-engendered of seed which is imperishable”. But this seed requires a good soil, must form roots and grow in us and withstand the various influences of a worldly environment. And just this is what the Lord shows us in the parable of the sower:

And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, he hears the word and understands it and bears fruit.

Mt 13,18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 13,19 "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.

13,20 "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 13,21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.

13,22 "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 13,23 "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." Mt 13,18-23;


In the above passage (Mt 13,18-23), in which the Lord explains the parable of the sower, the seed is the subject of discussion. This is the seed of wheat that the sower sows on the field. From the explanation above we recognize that this seed - just like the “imperishable seed” referred to earlier (1Pet 1,23) is the word of God.

We further recognize that all four “qualities” of soil mentioned here have seed sown upon them without distinction. This means - and it is very important to realize the fact - that the word of God has been preached to all four groups of people. And what is more, apart from the first group the seed has come up in all of them, so they have received the word of God and the Lord Jesus -in a positive sense: they have been spiritually impregnated, in other words re-engendered.

But what happens in the end? The heart of the first group is just as hard as the road on which the seed was sown. The seed, the word of God, finds no hold, cannot take root. This hardness of heart, it must be said, is something for which the person cannot disclaim responsibility. Like the road, on which hundreds of people have had to travel to make it as hard as it is, so too this person must have closed and hardened his heart hundreds of times in the past to become so hard that he finally can no longer receive the word of God. This is the only one who is not spiritually impregnated or re-engendered.

In the second group the situation is rather different. This is the type of person that demonstrates to us most evidently what a risk we run into with our uncritical and superficial perceptions. He has good soil, a good heart. But he is very shallow. Under a thin layer of good topsoil, he has hard rock in his heart. His conversion and his faith have never penetrated deeply. He was impregnated, and showed a certain interest, but then soon turned back to more cheerful things.

The consequence of this is that the seed finds good soil and takes root. As a result of the shallowness of the soil and the rocky substratum, which reflects the heat, the soil now warms up much more quickly than deep arable land does. The seed develops with great rapidity and shoots up with full force. So the word has been given an enthusiastic reception. It has been a true conversion. And all the brethren are full of joy and pride at this proof of the power of the word of God - as they suppose.

But soon - all too soon - the rocky substratum is reached. The grain of wheat wants to put down deeper roots, but the rock below the earth prevents it. In purely external terms, nothing has changed in this person at all. He is just as he was at the time of his conversion. And just as at that time he turned enthusiastically to the word of God, so now - with equal enthusiasm - he turns to some other goal. He found it a bit of an effort to live up to what people expected of him. And his friends too made fun of him. And besides, it was all getting to be a bit monotonous. He prefers variety.

With the third person we have every right to assert that he is a believer, one who has been re-engendered. He has received the word, and he also has enough deep “arable soil” in his heart for the word to take root there. At the same time, there are the “thorns”. Either he is poor and doesn’t know where he is going to find the money for his family’s next meal, or he is rich and doesn’t know how best to invest his money to save it from being lost as a result of economic crises, inflation and devaluation.

Both types have their worries - of a fundamentally different nature in either case, admittedly, but still they are both worries. And these worries blot out the light. Even in the best soil, the grain of wheat cannot grow if it has no light. And the most convinced person cannot remain a believer, in the long run, without the loving care and attention of his God. But this third person’s worries not only eat up his time, they also result in his having no room left in his heart for God. Just like the grain of wheat, so the faith of this person is stifled and dies away and yields no fruit. As with natural propagation, whether of plants or of animals, not every impregnation has successful consequences, so the three first types in this parable have been re-engendered by the Spirit of God but have killed off the seed - in what might be described as a spiritual “abortion”.

With the fourth and last of the series we find a different situation. Actually it is not just one type that is referred to here, but three. All three are subject to the same conditions - soft, deep soil, and no thorny thickets to shut out the light. Their faith grows, God blesses them, and all three of them bear fruit. The difference between them lies not in the quality but in the quantity of their fruitfulness. One brings forth a hundredfold, another sixtyfold and the last thirtyfold. We are not told the reason for these different levels of fruitfulness. But instead of asking why one yields less than another, we should rather be asking why the other brings forth more than the first.

This third class may equally well include rich or poor individuals, just like the group “among thorns”. It is not our external circumstances that present an obstacle to our faith, but the importance that we attribute to these circumstances. It is up to us whether they become thorns that overshadow our lives completely, or just problems that have to be resolved from day to day - important problems certainly, but in no way life-threatening.

Our Lord’s parable of the sower thus gives us clearly to understand that the seed has been sown with many people, but not all give it the opportunity of growth. On the human level this is comparable both with the physical and also with the spiritual development of a person: the seed has been sown, that is to say the impregnation or re-engendering has taken place, then follows the period of growth, or pregnancy (the life of faith) and only at the end the harvest - birth, or rebirth (resurrection).

A seed does not immediately become an ear of corn on being sown in the ground: it is first of all just a seed, and still needs to grow and develop and withstand any adverse influences. And in just the same way, an ovum that has been impregnated naturally does not at once become a fully grown child either, but needs to grow and develop in the mother’s womb and may also be confronted with health problems or other difficulties during this period. So likewise a Christian, on being converted, is not yet reborn but only re-engendered, and must still prove himself in his life of faith, until after his death and resurrection - which is the true rebirth - he sees new life.

If we now consider the practice of many Christian congregations where the converted brethren are referred to as “born again” and relate it to Our Lord’s parable of the sower, we would have to picture the seed that has just been sown being dug up again at once, and sold on the market as wheat. And this is just as absurd as if an expectant mother were to want to suckle her impregnated ovum. The character that is attributed to recently converted brethren - not to speak of the responsibility!! - when they are referred to and regarded as born again can often lead, in their continuing life of faith, to major problems. Not least because these brethren instinctively recognize themselves that they actually cannot live up to these expectations in their present state of life.

Rather in the same way as the Catholic church, in a wholly unrealistic way, ordains celibacy for its priests - which has no basis in Scripture and has led to regrettable enormities like homosexuality and child abuse by Catholic priests worldwide - so too in evangelical congregations the predicate “reborn” is assigned to the brethren in a complete overestimation of their capacities and their actual state of faith, without reflecting on the consequences which this way of proceeding is likely to entail.



Certainty of salvation

Now a dear sister in the Lord and visitor to Immanuel.at, Ms. Brunhilde Bollmeyer, recently wrote to me in response to my arguments along the same lines in Discourse 69 (“Predestination and the elect”),

“In Ex 33,19 God says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” Paul quotes this verse in Rom 9,15. Then too, Jn 6,44.65, 15,16.19 and 17,2.6.9.24 seem to speak rather of activity on God’s part, or am I overlooking something? Your reference to the possibility of a person’s being blotted out of the book of life suggests to me questions as to how we can be certain that we are saved.”


Taking into account the promulgation in many congregations of the doctrine that converted brethren are already reborn, rather than just re-engendered - leading to claims about the “irreversibility of the eternal salvation of the born-again Christian” - this argument is of course completely correct, and is the logical consequence of such teachings. While the scriptural passages referred to by Ms. Bollmeyer above are all discussed in Discourse 69, I would like here to consider that scriptural passage which makes the strongest claims in connection with the “certainty of salvation” and which is also repeatedly referred to in this connection by the advocates of this view:

I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand

Jn 10,27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 10,28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 10,29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. Jn 10,27-30;


When this passage is quoted in the congregations, and preachers accordingly inform the brethren of their eternal certainty of salvation, it is hardly surprising if the great majority of them welcome the news and pass it on in their lives. And then they are rather shocked when they hear or read that this is not the whole truth, and that this kind of certainty of salvation is nowhere to be found in Scripture. This is all the more so if, as is the case in some Christian denominations, this view has been disseminated in such a way as to imply that a Christian cannot be lost because he has been chosen by God in the most personal way (predestination), and so while he is still on earth already has, as it were, a passport for eternity. So with a view to demonstrating the correctness of the point of view advanced here, let us just take a look at another of the Lord’s parables, again having to do with sheep:

So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

Mt 18,12 "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 18,13 "If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 18,14 "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. Mt 18,12-14;


When we look at the wider context of this passage, we see that the Lord is here referring to the children, and at first glance this passage too would appear to confirm the view that we have an assurance of salvation. But when we take a closer look at these statements, we can see the difference from the above parable. Whereas in the first case the Lord says that his sheep will never be lost for all eternity, here we are told that they can go astray. And the phrase “If it turns out that he finds it” makes it very clear to us that it is not certain whether it will actually be possible for the lost sheep to be found. And so let us now look at a few more scriptural statements where these matters - the straying of a sheep, i.e. the loss of faith by a Christian believer (one who has been “born again”) - are referred to:

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.

Hbr 3,12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 3,13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 3,14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. Heb 3,12-14;


Here the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews warns the brethren against falling away from the living God. If every believing Christian had an automatic certainty of salvation, if, that is to say, the “irreversibility of the eternal salvation of the born-again Christian” were actually biblical, this would presumably have been an unnecessary warning. And in verse 3,14 we are then told in concrete terms that we have only become partakers of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance - our faith on conversion, and our first love of God - until the end. That by no means all “born-again” brethren succeed in this is shown by the following passage:

For it is impossible to renew again to repentance those who have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit and then have fallen away.

Hbr 6,4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 6,5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6,6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. Heb 6, 4- 6;


The phrasing we find here, in Heb 6,4 - “who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” - must lead any serious biblical commentator to conclude that we have to do here with believers, which is to say, without a shadow of doubt, so-called “born-again” believers. No ingenious arguments are going to get around that. One who has tasted of the heavenly gift and has been made a partaker of the Holy Spirit cannot either be an unbeliever or a nominal Christian, beyond doubt he must be a “reborn” - or to put it more accurately, “re-engendered” - Christian. And such a person, we are told in Heb 6,6, has fallen away from the faith and been lost. Paul likewise confirms, in 1Cor 15,2, that a Christian can fall away from faith, in such a way that his faith has been in vain.

The Gospel, by which you are saved, if you hold fast, unless you believed in vain.

1Cor 15,1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 15,2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.1Cor 15, 1- 2;



Predestination

Especially for those who believe in Predestination (that is, the arbitrary preselection of human beings by God, some to eternal life and others to eternal damnation), as it is taught by the Anglicans for instance, who take the view that God has already divided all human beings into “good” and “bad” so that the first only have to wait for the resurrection to enter the kingdom of heaven, while the others can do whatever they like but still have not the least chance of salvation, Paul’s warning in his Epistle to the Romans is particularly deserving of note:

If you do not continue in the kindness of God you will also be cut off.

Rom 11,19 You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 11,20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 11,21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 11,22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. Rom 11,19-22;


It is completely astonishing, incidentally, that this false doctrine of Predestination - in the sense of an arbitrary selection of human beings by God - should have been able to establish a foothold in Christian congregations. And it proves the general ignorance prevailing of what Scripture tells us on the subject of God’s justice. God is justice in person, and has subordinated all his other properties to this criterion. So also the love of God, which is repeatedly referred to as “infinite”, while it may be very great, is nonetheless subject to limits. It ends at the point where God’s grace and mercy has exhausted and his justice begins. The omnipotence of God could not exist, if it were not directed by his absolute justice. And it was also this absolute justice of God which made it necessary that the Son of God should die on the cross to supply the redeeming sacrifice for the sins of the world and the salvation of humanity.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2Cor 5,21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2Cor 5,21;

Righteous are You, O LORD, And upright are Your judgments.

Ps 119,137 Righteous are You, O LORD, And upright are Your judgments. 119,138 You have commanded Your testimonies in righteousness And exceeding faithfulness. Ps 119,137-138;

Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness.

Ps 119,142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth. 119,143 Trouble and anguish have come upon me, Yet Your commandments are my delight. 110,144 Your testimonies are righteous forever; Give me understanding that I may live.. Ps 119,142-144;

The judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.

Rom 2,2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. Rom 2, 2;

For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own.

Rom 10, 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. Rom 10, 3;

Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!

Rev 15,3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Rev 15, 3;


And now, in spite of this, we find brethren who believe God will promote them as the “Elect”, without any action on their part, and reject others. This “sovereignty” of God - this is the shameless term that they give to this way of proceeding - is in truth the human mentality of corruption and nepotism, which principally focuses on one’s own advantage and not on the actions of an absolutely just God. And so Predestination too is to be attributed to an incorrect interpretation of Scripture, in that these people have failed to realize that at the beginning of the history of the world God, in his omniscience, recognized in advance all those human beings of all time who would decide for God in the course of their lives, and these are then the ones whom he selected and whose names he wrote in the “Book of Life” (1Pet 1,1-2; Rom 8,29). The first part of this story has been elided, so all that is left in the teaching is an elitist advance selection.

And on the basis of this doctrine people go on to postulate that human beings do not even any longer need to decide for God. Those who have been “elected” by God, without any action on their part, already have eternal life, and the rest have no hope of attaining to it. But this very thing would be in complete contradiction of God's justice. With God, absolute freedom prevails, and no one is compelled to believe. The actual state of affairs here is explained to us both by Peter and by Paul.

Peter, to those who reside as aliens, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

1Pet 1,1, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 1,2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. 1Pet 1, 1- 2;

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.

Rom 8,28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 8,29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; Rom 8,28-29;


The Father then, in his foreknowledge (omniscience) has previously recognized, and chosen or predestined, those who will decide for him in the course of their lives. God knows them all by name since the beginning of time, and as we read in Jn 10,29, has given them to his Son as a gift. These are the sheep who will listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd - not, however, as the result of an arbitrary preselection by God, but in view of their decision while they are alive to accept God as their Father and Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Since we human beings, on the other hand, are not possessed of omniscience, we do not have any such foreknowledge, but can only recognize whether a person is saved when he comes to believe, is re-engendered by the living word of God and stands firm in the faith to the end of his life. Anyone who thinks that he might be able to miss out on this development that has been prescribed by God - on the basis of Predestination, say, or a mistaken understanding of rebirth - is committing a fatal error.

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.

2Jn 1,8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 1,9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 1,10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 1,11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. 2Jn 1, 8-11


(See also Discourse 69: “Predestination and the chosen”)

And here we come back to the statements made by Our Lord in Jn 10,27-30, where we are told that his sheep hear his voice and that when he calls them by name they will follow him.

I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

Jn 10,27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 10,28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 10,29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 10,30 "I and the Father are one." Jn 10,27-30;


When advocates of Predestination refer this passage to themselves, thinking that God has “chosen” them out of all the human race by an arbitrary act of will and without any action on their part, the reference is actually to those people whom the Father has recognized in his omniscience at the start of creation as being the ones who would decide for God in the course of their lives. These are the ones of whom the Lord Jesus says, in Jn 10,29, that the Father has given them to him. He knows them all and calls them by name, and they follow him. And he gives them eternal life and they will never perish - not because they have been preordained by God on the basis of coincidence, but because they had free choice and themselves decided for this God and his Son Jesus Christ.



Keeping faith

But of course the above text, Rom 11,19-22, also bears an important relation to the theme with which we are concerned. We stand by faith alone - and not as the result of any kind of elitist and arbitrary preselection on the part of God. If we remain in the goodness of God, it will become our portion. If not, we will fall out of God’s goodness and fall away from faith. This is what we are told by all the scriptural passages quoted above, and indeed in principle by the entire New Testament. All statements promising eternal life invariably contain at least a condition, as does for example this statement of Our Lord’s in Jn 3,36:

He who believes in the Son has eternal life.

Jn 336 "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." Jn 3,36;


So if a person does not obey the Son, the wrath of God abides on him and he is lost. Here it is completely immaterial whether the person, in his disobedience, has never come to faith at all or whether he has become a believer and then fallen away from the faith. This very situation, in which it becomes necessary to exclude a believer from the congregation of believers for disobedience, is described to us by the Lord in Mt 18.15-17, after all:

If your brother sins, and refuses to listen, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Mt 18,15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 18,16 "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 18,17 "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Mt 18,15-17;


But how is it now that the Lord first promises to the faithful that “they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn 10,28), and then again in the above passage, Mt 18,17, orders the disobedient brother excluded from the congregation and treated like a Gentile and a tax collector? This very crux gives us a clue to the solution of the problem, and an explanation of the general misunderstanding of these matters.

As may be seen from the false doctrine of Predestination, we in the congregation are always exceedingly generous when it is a matter of attributing honor and importance to ourselves. This applies likewise to those denominations that like to see themselves as the “New Israel” and deny God’s people of Israel any expectation of salvation. All the prophecies that were made to Israel are thus recast to refer to the congregation instead - though only in a positive sense. All the judgments and punishments which await Israel too in the last days are neatly swept under the carpet by advocates of this doctrine.

And in the same way the 144,000 who are sealed in Rev 7, of whom Scripture states that there are 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel - so they must be Israelites - are reinterpreted and applied to the congregation free of charge, with the assertion that these are “the full number of all those who have come to believe”. The woman in heaven too (Rev 12), with the crown of twelve stars, who likewise stands for God’s people of Israel with its twelve tribes, is reinterpreted as “the congregation of all time”.

(See also Discourse 06: “The 144,000 who were sealed: Israelites, or the congregation of the Last Days?”)

(See also Excursus 10: “The woman in heaven.”)

And the same thing happens with a number of other scriptural statements that have no reference to the congregation - such as the 24 elders in Rev 4,10 ff, the bride of the Lamb in Rev 21 (see also, in this connection, God’s promise to Israel in Hosea 2,21-22) or the martyrs of the First Resurrection (Rev 20,4) of whom Scripture tells us that they have been beheaded - put to death - on account of their faith. But seeing that we are also told of these martyrs that they will reign as priests and kings with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom, this stirs ambitious thoughts in some denominations, so that they see themselves, Christian humility or not, as future “priests and kings” - although none of them has ever in his life had the least difficulty about practicing his faith, let alone been threatened with death for it. In the same way, too, people have been anxious to spare the congregation the afflictions of the Great Tribulation, and so - in spite of the quite plain statements of Scripture on this point - have predated the Rapture to a time before the Tribulation.

(See also Discourse 72: “Who are the twenty-four elders in the Revelation of John?”)

(See also Discourse 15: “Who is the bride of the Lamb”)

(See also Discourse 07: “The Rapture and the First Resurrection: a single event?”)

(See also Discourse 65: “Why the Rapture is to be placed after the Great Tribulation”)


And so when it comes to the rebirth of the Christian, people have judged here too in a spirit of generosity. A distinction between re-engendering and rebirth - is this not a hair-splitting matter? This would only confuse the brethren, and perhaps some of them would even think it indecent, in view of this talk of “engendering”. So let’s just call it rebirth. That sounds a lot better right away. And for the certainty of salvation, too, we need something we can hold onto. Ideally speaking, we want eternal life right away and on the spot. And of course nothing is better suited to this purpose than God’s supposed “preselection”. This makes matters immediately clear: you have the good on one side, and the bad on the other. And what is more, you yourself can still determine that you belong to the good.

What has been overlooked here, and continues to be overlooked, is the justice and omniscience of God. God does not relieve us human beings of responsibility by taking the decision out of our hands. Each human being, in the course of his life, must make the decision in person whether he accepts God’s offer of salvation through the redeeming sacrifice of his Son or refuses to accept it. And no matter how the decision now goes, it can still be reversed again - quite freely! No one else, in the sight of God, is entitled to change this decision of the individual - whether it is a matter of forcing a believer to fall away from the faith, or of compelling an unbeliever to become a Christian. Only the person in question has the freedom that is required - which includes the freedom to revise his own initial decision. When a converted Christian, however, later decides to renounce his God again, he has no possibility of return. Anyone who has been spiritually impregnated by the word of God, and so by the Holy Spirit, and who then digs up the seed again and throws it as feed to the birds, has deprived himself of eternal life. From this time on, his name is blotted out of the Book of Life.

That God in his omniscience knows, right from the beginning of creation, the final decision of every individual human being who has ever lived and who ever will live, is a biblical fact; but for us human beings it has no relevance at all. We see just what is in front of us, but what is going to happen in the next moment remains hidden from us. So we cannot judge the final course of another person’s faith either. We can and must only examine our own path before God, and correct our course in case of need. And we have to keep at it, in other words we must stand firm in faith in Our Lord.

So no one can snatch us out of the hand of the Lord, no one can separate us from Jesus Christ, the Son of God - apart from ourselves. We have taken the decision to believe in Jesus Christ ourselves, and in the same way we ourselves can revoke this decision. In his justice, God leaves us complete freedom. And just like the sheep that went astray in the parable, because it set off on another path and separated itself from the flock, so we Christians too are constantly at risk of letting go the hand of the Lord for one reason or another. And as the Lord shows in Mt 18,15-17, in that case he will certainly come in search of us - through conversations with the brethren or the whole congregation. But as we have been able to see from the scriptural passages quoted earlier, it repeatedly happens that we come upon brethren who just do not want to return to the faith - for the very reason that they, like all of us, have not yet been reborn but only re-engendered, and so have no guaranteed ticket for eternity.

(See also Discourse 83: “Is the omniscience of God a contradiction of human free will?”)


And this is just what preachers so often skirt over when quoting Jn 10,27-30 and similar passages. Not out of malice, but because they often just concentrate on what is going to “boost the numbers”, in other words on what their audience wants to hear. They teach what their hearers want to be told, but leave out the most telling point of all. And this is what gives rise to these mistaken doctrines - like Predestination, or rebirth in the Christian’s lifetime or the certainty of salvation for ever and for all time. One would be equally well justified in guaranteeing to a mother, just after she has conceived, that her child will be born in perfect health and without complications. Which would be quite nonsensical.

So according to Scripture there is no such a thing as rebirth while we are alive, nor is there any certainty of salvation, though these doctrines are often preached by the brethren. We are only certain of our salvation when we have died, and we are only reborn when we are resurrected from the dead.

But it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved

Mt 10,22 "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. Mt 10,22;

But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

Mt 24,12 "Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 23,13 "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. Mt 24,12-13;

If we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hbr 3,6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house-whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. Heb 3, 6;

He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.

Rev 2,11 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’ Rev 2,11;


And this also resolves the contradiction between many of the so-called born-again Christians and their behavior. They are not reborn, but only re-engendered, and will continue in this phase of spiritual development until the end of their lives. Consequently they may encounter problems with their faith in the course of their lives, even going so far as to fall away from it altogether. But because this doctrine of rebirth in a person’s lifetime has been accepted uncritically, so that the fact has not been recognized that we here have to do not with rebirth but with a re-engendering - along with all the associated hazards and deficiencies - such brethren are then frequently classified as hypocrites, superficial and nominal Christians and so on, and consequently ostracized, instead of getting into a serious talk with them and admonishing them, in a spirit of love, and urging them to return to the faith. If this does not yield any result, two or three brethren should repeat these admonitions, and finally the whole congregation should pass judgment on the matter. Only if all these efforts have proved unavailing should the person be excluded from the congregation.

Now because for re-engendered Christians the same standards cannot be applied as will hold good for people who have truly been reborn after their resurrection, we need a biblical basis for orienting ourselves so as to be able to examine our attitudes and the direction of our path in faith, and correct these if necessary. And here the observations we find in MacArthur’s book, even if he applies them to “reborn” Christians, are extremely helpful, and testify to a profound knowledge of the situation as it is in the congregations today, as we can see in the following extract.



(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)

(Words without deeds: the sin of empty words / Book, J.F. MacArthur, page 187 ff)

Self-examination is as important today as it ever has been. If statistics tell us that there are more than a billion Christians in the world, we have to ask who has established criteria for determining this. At all events these figures do not match what Jesus said about the broad way and the narrow way. If we figure in a statistical survey as a born-again Christian, that is not yet any kind of guarantee of our eternal destination.

In the congregation there are several different categories of persons who are led astray. Of course these include the hypocrites who only make a show of piety. Then there are the superficial, nominal Christians who only call themselves Christians because they went to Sunday school as children and made a “decision for Christ”, but have not taken any further interest in the difference that faith actually makes. Others again are heavily involved in church functions; they know the facts of the gospel, but do not obey the word of God. Perhaps they attend services because of the good feeling it gives them, or because they hope to receive a blessing and to experience healings, miracles and supernatural gifts. Perhaps they have committed to the denomination, the congregation or the organization, but not to the word of God. Some actually engage in the study of theology, but only out of academic interest. But whatever the reasons may be, many - as Mt 7,22 tells us - who have identified themselves with Christ and Christianity will be turned away at the Last Judgment.

Here we must take note of the fact that preaching, prophecy, miracles or the expulsion of evil spirits, even under the mantle of orthodoxy, is no proof of actual salvation. God can act through unconverted human beings, and in fact frequently does so. He made use of Balaam, who had not been born again (Num 23,5) - and even of Balaam’s ass! Caiaphas, the impure high priest, prophesied the death of Christ for the whole people (Jn 11,51.52). Through the power of Satan mighty deeds may be accomplished, either in actual fact or by illusion. The Egyptian magicians could actually imitate the miracles that Moses performed. The wicked sons of Sceva in Acts 19 really drove out evil spirits. Matthew 24,24 warns us of false Christs and false prophets who will arise with signs and wonders. Satan can do some quite astonishing things, and he will do all he can to get a person to believe that he is saved.

Miracles, prophecies and mighty deeds are not the same thing as a holy life; and without sanctification no one will see the Lord (Heb 12,14). God wants us to be a reflection of his essence: “… like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’” (1Pet 1,15.16). “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5,48). Because God is holy, those too in whom He acts will become holier all the time. Because God is perfect, those in whom He dwells will move more and more in the direction of his perfection. If we have come to a standstill or gone off at a tangent, then it is time to examine ourselves.


(This extract has been taken from the book “Lampen ohne Öl” [“The Gospel According to Jesus”] by John F. MacArthur, published by Verlag CLV - Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e.V. [CLV Publishing House for the Dissemination of Christian Literature], Bielefeld).



The above description of Christians led astray in the congregations is absolutely correct, and is a true picture of the situation which brethren who are true to the Bible have lamented repeatedly. One of the reasons for this situation is the lack of interest in the word of God. The older generation is often spiritually sluggish, and not really interested in the statements we find in Scripture. And so neither are they prepared to go into these matters in more detail and put their new insights into practice in their life of faith. They have made themselves comfortable and, as they think, secure with their current views, and do not want to have any call to revise them.

The younger generation on the other hand want, as is usually the case, to leave the well-worn paths of their elders, but their journey often goes in the wrong direction. Biblical study, prayer and new insights acquired on this basis are things they reject; they prefer song, celebration and entertainment, without too many demands being made on the thinking faculty. And so this kind of ‘easy listening’ event, like “Celebrate Jesus”, “Christival” and the “Jesus Marches”, has a large following. This inclination to ill-advised campaigning is then also used in some congregations to “liberate” urban districts, or even entire cities, from evil spirits. These people have still not realized that the real enemy is not outside and around us, but is at work within us, in our soul and our spirit - and he has plenty of latitude for action when we occupy ourselves with external matters.

But presumably this is how it has to be, for how could true Christianity - the body of Christ and the temple of God - suddenly become a mainstream mass movement, when Our Lord tells us after all:

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Mt 7,13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 7,14 "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Mt 7,13-14;

Strive to enter through the narrow door

Lk 13,24 "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Lk 13,24;


MacArthur’s indication of the fact that preaching, prophesying and the working of miracles are no proof of true salvation can readily be confirmed - not least on the evidence of the examples adduced. You will find all this in the congregations. But you will not find any reborn Christians. As the Lord tells us in Mt 19,28, rebirth takes place only when human beings are resurrected from the dead, and not during their lifetime.

And this now alters the entire picture. In the case of spiritual rebirth one presupposes from the moment of its occurrence - correctly - a complete change of personality in both a physical and a spiritual sense. The person who is born of the spirit is like the wind, he comes and goes as he wishes and we do not know where he comes from or where he is going to (Jn 3,8). But according to scriptural tradition, the only case of such behavior that we know of is that of Our Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection. Among the living brethren there has never yet been one who has been reborn, and so there are no Christians among them either whose behavior is completely without fault.

Quite to the contrary, every Christian, and that means absolutely every single one, has some kind of “shadow side”. Whether it has to do with money, with avarice and greed, with dishonesty, lying, cheating, gossip and backbiting, alcohol and other addictions such as drugs and smoking, sexual proclivities like homosexuality or even pedophilia, arrogance, overblown egotism, unbridled ambition, tendencies to spiritualism and idol-worship or whatever it may be. But all the same, we can present all such matters to the Lord in prayer, ask him to forgive us, to help us in turning away from evil and to preserve us from such temptations in future. In some cases perhaps the Lord will not free us from our tendencies altogether, so that we may be reminded that it was not in our own strength that we have overcome them. But he will give us the strength to withstand them and keep them within bounds.

We are re-engendered of imperishable seed, through the living word of God (1Pet 1,23). So one of the very first signs of a re-engendered Christian is that he nourishes himself from this imperishable seed, the word of God, on a daily basis, by studying and familiarizing himself with Scripture. Someone who only picks up the Bible on Sundays, like many Catholics, is actually on a spiritual hunger strike, which in the last resort will end with spiritual death, just as much as a conscious sin that has not been forgiven. Nor is it enough here to focus on externalities and learn a few consoling scriptural verses by heart. It is the content of the statements we find in Scripture that we must study and understand. And not just a few isolated verses, but the entire context, along with the parallel passages. Only this kind of overview can make it possible for us to understand the statements of Scripture connectedly, and so, step by step, arrive at a thorough grounding in biblical knowledge. So if we want a characteristic feature by which true Christians may be recognized, then it is knowledge and understanding of the Bible above all that is the sign of a re-engendered Christian. As a well-known proverb says, “Either this book keeps us away from the devil, or the devil keeps us away from this book.”

But just as in the case of biological procreation no guarantee can be given of the healthy development of the child, so too spiritual re-engendering offers no assurance of eternal salvation. In all scriptural passages where eternal life is promised, we find at least one precondition, either explicitly or implicitly: faith in the Lord Jesus. This means on the one hand faith in the divinity of Our Lord. But then too, faith that he was sent by the Father and that he and the Father are one. And it further includes faith in the vicarious sacrifice of Our Lord for our sins, in his resurrection and in his future Second Coming. All this and more is implied by this condition of faith in the Lord Jesus.

So an easy “Say Yes to Jesus” is not enough. We must put it all into practice in our lives in order to demonstrate that our faith is real. We will not always succeed, nor will we succeed from one day to the next, but we must keep on working at it continually. And just as an expecting mother who has any sense at all gives up smoking and alcohol, and adopts a diet that will give her unborn child the best possible conditions for its development, so we too, as re-engendered Christians, should avoid everything that could divert us onto the wrong path and have a negative effect on the development of our life of faith.

And when Our Lord says to us in Jn 10,28:

I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

Jn 10,27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 10,28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 10,29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 10,30 "I and the Father are one." Jn 10,27-30;


we are not to see this - for the reasons stated above - as an instant guarantee of eternal life. Before we have the right to make this promise our own, we need to undertake - here above all - a serious self-examination:

o  Do we really belong to the sheep of the Lord?
Have we accepted Jesus Christ as Our Lord and God?
Do we submit to him in our desires and our deeds?
Do we talk to him in prayer, with our gratitude and requests?

o  Do we hear (and listen to) his voice?
Do we study his word - the Bible - daily?
Do we let the Holy Spirit act in us, and do we listen to him?
Do we pass on our understanding of the faith to others, and proclaim the gospel?

o  Do we follow the Lord?
Do we aim to remain on the right path?
Do we examine our attitudes on an ongoing basis, and correct them when we detect faults?
Do we ask the Lord for forgiveness when we go astray?


And even if we find that we fulfill all these conditions, we must still be aware that this promise will only apply if we keep it all up right through to the end of our lives, and remain steadfast in the faith. It is the same as with a child: only when the pregnancy and the birth have gone through without complications can the mother rejoice at having given birth to a healthy newborn child.




Conclusion:

When a person has once been born, he may have all kinds of problems in the course of his life - up to and including his dying a premature death. But it makes no difference whether he dies as soon as he is born, or lives to the age of 90 or more, one thing no one can ever take away from him - the fact that he has been a human being.

And in some Christian congregations the line of thought seems to be somewhat the same. They think that when they have once been converted, and so been “born again”, no conceivable amount of sins can possibly cancel their status as the children of God, which they have acquired through being “reborn”. On this basis they then also think they have the “certainty of salvation”, which claims that one who has been born again cannot possibly be lost.

As the analysis of this Discourse has shown, this comparison-based conclusion would be correct if we were here considering true rebirth, following the resurrection of the dead. Then human beings will receive an immortal and resurrected body, which in actual fact will no longer sin and cannot die. But inasmuch as in this case the “rebirth” of a Christian is supposed to take place at the time of his conversion, while he is still alive, the basis on which the conclusion has been drawn is no longer valid. We Christians have not yet been reborn, but only re-engendered. And just as we cannot yet refer to a fetus that is growing in the mother’s womb as a newborn child (still less act accordingly!), neither can we yet say of a spiritually re-engendered Christian that he has been born again.

Yet as the contrary is the case in many quarters in the congregation, some brethren feel compelled to conform in an external way to the expectations that are placed in them, and so dissemble by assuming a mask of hypocritical holiness in the gathering of the faithful. And when it then happens, in one place or another, that circumstances nonetheless bring the truth to light, people make haste to ostracize these persons and to claim that they cannot have been reborn - failing to realize that none of us has been reborn and we are all exposed to continuing temptations. Some can resist temptation better than others, but many people’s delinquency quite simply stops in the gray zone and never comes to light.

So we should recognize that this compulsion to hypocritical piety results from the fact that we in the congregation have yet again laid claim to characteristics which Scripture does not expect of us, and which we cannot possibly live up to either. What we need, then, is not a judge who has a beam in his own eye, but brethren who stand firm in the faith and have also been through experiences of this kind in their own lives, and have overcome. These should talk to the persons concerned in a spirit of love, approaching them alone or perhaps better with another brother by way of support; they should give them all the advice and help that will enable them to win the victory. But they should avoid preening themselves on their zeal, and then praying for these “poor souls” in the assembled congregation. Prayer is good, but only - at this point, at least - in the quiet of your own room and without publicity. Only if several such attempts have failed to make any impression should these sinners, rather than being abused behind their backs for years on the grounds that they are “not really reborn”, be excluded in all openness from the congregation.

In the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne

Mt 19,28 And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Mt 19,28;


This is the true, the one and only spiritual rebirth: the resurrection from the dead.


The Christian only has the certainty of salvation at his death, and does not experience rebirth until the resurrection.







(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors)

(No child of this world has been able to decide whether it wanted to live or not. / Comment, B. Bollmeyer 00, 2006-09-10)

Then I read your latest Discourse with interest. I am always astonished by your far-ranging expositions. You repeatedly give me occasion to reconsider the various questions, to correct my views or sometimes to find confirmation of my own beliefs. With this Discourse, I too come to the conclusion that it would be more accurate if we were to speak of re-engendering rather than rebirth. But for me, speaking as a mother, this brings up some quite practical questions. None of our children (and no human being in the world) has contributed anything to its engendering or has been able to decide whether it wanted to live or not. We have none of us been able to care for ourselves in the prenatal state. Each of us was dependent on the care of his or her mother, or on external factors. Now my female logic again comes to bear, and no doubt you will smile at it, but I think that we are wholly and completely dependent on the mercy of God. Recently it has seemed that I keep hitting upon passages in the Bible where in the last resort it is God who plays the active role. We (or I) often overestimate our capacities and possibilities in relation to God. If he did not have mercy, I would not have a chance. Realizing this, I feel enormous gratitude. But I am firmly convinced that it is only the Lord who is responsible for my coming safely to the goal.

Brunhilde Bollmeyer brunhilde.bollmeyer@gmx.de



The last statement here - ‘But I am firmly convinced that it is only the Lord who is responsible for my coming safely to the goal’ - testifies to an admirable trust in God. Also the remark ‘If he did not have mercy, I would not have a chance’ is one that every Christian of sound belief would completely agree with. Unfortunately, however, in such statements and confessions of faith the background is often obscured. The questions only begin when we analyze the foundations for a conviction of this nature.

This is because from the point of view of ‘predestination’ (an arbitrary selection of people by God, to eternal life or eternal damnation) - a view which forms the basis of the above comments - the reason why God is responsible for some people’s ‘safely reaching the goal’ is the elitist position of these brethren as the ‘elect’ of God. They think that they have been chosen by God out of all human beings before the beginning of creation and predestined to eternal life, quite arbitrarily and without any action on their part, while the rest of humanity - and of the Christian community!! - has been condemned to eternal damnation, again for no reason whatever. They then also see this as God’s mercy to them..

(See also Discourse 69: “Predestination and the chosen”)


And so it also forms part of the convictions of the advocates of this doctrine of predestination that they do not have to contribute anything to their salvation themselves - because on the basis of God’s election they have already fulfilled all the conditions for eternal life. But even if the logic of this conclusion is in itself perfectly correct, the foundation on which it is based is in no way convincing..

So the advocates of this doctrine draw the further conclusion that the individual does not have to decide for Christ in his life, even that he is not able to decide at all, because God has already decided before he could. According to this view, on the one hand you have those people whom God has selected and who are preordained to eternal life, and then you have the rest of humanity, who have not been selected by God and so are marked down for eternal damnation. And neither group has any possibility left to it of doing anything in their lives to change this situation. ‘Wheat remains wheat, and tares remain tares’, as an advocate of this form of belief not long ago wrote at this discussion forum, with reference to Mt 13,29.

And this view that the individual does not have to decide for or against God in his lifetime, because God - before the beginning of creation, without any reason and without any action on the part of the individuals concerned - has decided for certain people, then naturally leads on to the conviction (correct as seen from this point of view) that is expressed here: ‘But I think that we are wholly and completely dependent on the mercy of God.’

This statement points, admittedly, to the perfectly correct fact that we are completely and utterly dependent on the mercy of our God; but it does not say why and how God has mercy on us. From the point of view of predestination, the view is that God has mercy on his ‘elect’ before the beginning of creation in an arbitrary act of will, preordaining them to eternal life as if they were puppets. But in actual fact the mercy of God was granted to us once and for all in the death of his Son for our sins on the cross, almost two thousand years ago. And we are able to avail ourselves of this in our prayers, and daily ask for mercy and God’s forgiveness of our sins. According to Scripture this mercy of God applies to all human beings who are prepared to decide for Christ and accept his redeeming sacrifice for their sins.

The view taken by advocates of predestination, which sees only certain selected people as saved and thinks the ‘elect’ do not have to do anything further to contribute to their salvation, because it is always God who plays the active role, is in blatant contradiction of what we find stated in the Bible. Scripture excludes not a single human person from the possibility of salvation, but leaves every individual the free decision whether to accept this offer of God’s or to refuse it.

God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1Tim 2,3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 2,4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2,5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 2,6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. 1Tim 2, 3- 6;

Even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Rom 5, 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. Rom 5,18;


And so then, too, the first part of the above reply from Brunhilde Bollmeyer boils down to the assertion that ‘None of our children (and no human being in the world) has contributed anything to its engendering or has been able to decide whether it wanted to live or not’, with an implicit glance at the postulate of predestination - that individuals are unable to decide either for or against God, seeing that it is only God’s selection that confers salvation. This argument with reference to the comparison that had been made in the above discourse between spiritual engendering and biological/physical engendering, is in itself thoroughly accurate and logically based: if there indeed is a certain parallelism here, then it would have to agree not just through to the end, but also right from the beginning.

And here I must conclude, to my chagrin, that it seems I did not go into this aspect with sufficient thoroughness, as my interpretation of this point evidently did not stick in the mind of the reader. But the concern that I might smile at this female logic is completely unfounded, particularly in connection with this theme. Quite the reverse - recently a female visitor to Immanuel.at wrote me, with reference to the present Discourse, that ‘Mistaken interpretations of Scripture like this one (‘birth’ from water = baptism rather than physical birth - FH) have only come about because in all these centuries only men have interpreted the Bible, and no man has ever yet given birth to a child’ (see above). But in order to make up for this neglect, I would like here to repeat my original statements and explain them in somewhat greater detail.

I took as my starting point the view that we are re-engendered (and not reborn) as a result of our conversion, and that our life of faith, up to the time of our death, is to be seen as a spiritual ‘pregnancy’, so concluding:

“ (…)- in actual fact we have only been re-engendered, and still have the whole spiritual ‘pregnancy’ (our further life of faith until our death and resurrection, which is then the real rebirth), with all the problems and difficulties that may arise, ahead of us.. ”


At his or her conversion - or spiritual impregnation by the Word of God - it follows, then, that the individual is comparable with a mother at the time of physical conception. Just as the mother, after her physical impregnation, carries the child in her womb, so the person who has been spiritually impregnated by the Word of God carries the spiritual ‘seed’ in his spirit.

And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit.

Mt 13,18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed is the word of God. 13,19 "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 13,20 "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 13,21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 13,22 "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 13,23 "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." Mt 13,18-23;


This spiritual seed is the germ of that spiritual body in which the human individual will be spiritually born in the resurrection - the true rebirth, that is to say. As noted earlier, for the whole of our life of faith we are thus in a condition of ‘spiritual pregnancy’, and are responsible for the safekeeping of the spiritual fruit we bear. This spiritual fruit in our spirit is that which was re-engendered at the time of our conversion. Coupled with this, and a sign of it, is the bringing forth of fruit, the spreading of the seed - the gospel - and the conversion of others to faith in Jesus Christ: thirtyfold, sixtyfold or a hundredfold.

It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

1Cor 15,42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 15,43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 15.44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.1Cor 15,42-44


But the decision to be impregnated is one that we - as physically existing human beings - have taken, just as a potential mother makes the decision to let herself be impregnated. People who were spiritually impregnated without their own consent - as postulated by predestination - would be comparable with mothers who were made pregnant without the consent of their will, or raped in other words. Although with human beings this is sadly a common and regrettable fact, we can assume that God does no violence whatsoever to human beings, but leaves them complete freedom to decide for themselves whether they will confess this God or not.



(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors)

(Is rebirth an "election"? / Commentary TK 00, 2014-03-02)

Your above article (Discourse 85, FH), which I have just read, gave me some moments of enlightenment. You confirm my previously held view of rebirth being preceded by an insemination through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and my skepticism of the increasing inflation and conceit of being born again (each of the recent American Presidents, for example, has claimed to be born again). The consistent follow-up to insemination would be the spiritual maturing of the fruit conceived in the inner spirit of the unconverted person, not your postponement of rebirth till after death.

(…)The error of the Calvinists, is in their view of rebirth (the criteria of which, just as with all others who lay claim to it for themselves, as far as I can see, do not conform to the NT), so that people think much too early on, and without any of the necessary conditions (battle of faith, etc.) that they have been reborn.

But even after having reached the Kingdom of God, according to the Apostles you need to have complete sanctification in order to be entitled to a part in the heavenly calling (raising from the dead / gathering in the skies). Only then could a person be counted among the elect, but this - to say it once more - means that per se and today, without the Apostles, no one can know of any one of our fellow human beings whether he or she is, any more than whether he or she is damned. So we must as far as possible leave it entirely to the decision and judgment of God! (…)


TK



Thank you for your visit to Immanuel.at and for your commentary.

Yes, your view is quite correct: one of the errors of the Calvinists has to do with their view of rebirth. But mainly it was Luther’s mistranslation of Rom 8,29, which was gratefully adopted by Calvin and which resulted in the doctrine of the "election" of human beings - some to eternal life and the rest to eternal damnation - by a purely arbitrary act of God, without any contribution from the individual person.

The correct translation of Rom 8,29 is as follows (NAS, Darby, King James):

Rom 8,29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; Rom 8,28-29;



But Luther translated it like this:

Rom 8,29 For those whom He chose, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; Rom 8,28-29;



The original text states that God in eternity "foreknew". So if God in eternity "foreknew" these people, in the sense of "recognizing them beforehand" he must have been looking for them. But in order to look for a person, it is absolutely essential to have a search criterion associated with the person in question. And this means that it could not be a purely arbitrary selection by God, but must have been based on the actions of every individual human being in the course of his or her life.

The simple answer is that God in his omniscience, already before the foundation of the world, has sought out and recognized those human beings who during their lifetime will decide for him and for his Son Jesus Christ. The names of these people have been written by God in the “Book of Life” (Rev 3:5.13:8.21:27), though according to Scripture they can be blotted out from it again (Ps 69:29).

(See also Discourse 100: “Johannes Calvin: True and False Predestination.”)


So much for Predestination as taught by Calvin. But when I now consider your view of rebirth, where you write, with reference to the brethren in the Christian congregations, that

“people think much too early on, and without any of the necessary conditions (battle of faith, etc.) that they have been reborn. But even after having reached the Kingdom of God, according to the Apostles you need to have complete sanctification in order to be entitled to a part in the heavenly calling (raising from the dead / gathering in the skies). Only then could a person be counted among the elect (…)”


- here I detect a different and opposed kind of incorrect interpretation, whereby rebirth is dogmatically stated to be a “performance” by the Christian believer, which has to be accomplished "first" if the latter is to be "elected".

But as the Bible tells us (see the table below), spiritual rebirth has nothing to do with a human being’s own performance - any more than does the first, biological birth. As our Lord tells us in Mt 19,28 below, rebirth (regeneration) is the resurrection of all human beings at the end of the world. So it is a system-immanent event in the eternal existence of the human being - of every human being. The assessment of what the individual life has achieved will only happen thereafter, at the Last Judgment, when the Lord will be seated on his throne of glory.


Biblical rebirth.

Jn 3,7 "Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 3,8 "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. " Jn 3,7-8;

The Greek word which is translated in most Bibles as "reborn" is anagegennemenoi (1Pet 1:3,23) or gegennetai (Jn 1:13, 1Jn 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1,4,18) for "born of God". But seeing that Ancient Greek makes no distinction between "born" and "begotten", the translation "rebegotten" or "begotten by God" is equally correct.

Consequently some Bibles do in fact translate it as "rebegotten" or "begotten by God" ("begotten" is found in the King James and Darby Bibles), or at least point to this reading in the notes (Elberfelder). And here we can already see that some translators were actually acquainted with the correct implications and the correct translation of the passage.

And indeed, we have concrete statements by the Lord to clarify the situation. In Mt 19:28 the Lord speaks of rebirth/regeneration, and indicates when this will occur – namely when he is seated on his glorious throne. And in Mt 25:31-32 he again refers to this event, and states specifically that this will be at the time of the judgment of all the nations.

So this judgment is the Last Judgment at the end of the world, and these nations are the human beings of all ages who have been raised from the dead. Thus it is this Resurrection, at the end of the world for the Last Judgment, which the Lord means when he refers to "rebirth/regeneration" in Mt 19,28.

The way in which this rebirth will take place in the resurrection is explained by the Lord to Nicodemus in Jn 3:3-6. In verse 5 he indicates that the human being goes through two births (and so also two deaths!): the first (fleshly) birth from water (the amniotic fluid), the second birth, from the Spirit, in the resurrection (1Pet 3:18-19).

It follows that rebirth – just like fleshly birth – is a system-immanent event in the eternal existence of the human being – every human being. As the Lord then says in verse 6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

So a "rebirth" in the lifetime of a human being (in the flesh), as taught by some preachers, is absolutely out of the question! We are inseminated by the Word (the Bible, or preaching) and as a result are spiritually rebegotten and so come to believe. But spiritual rebirth happens only in connection with the resurrection. This is further confirmed by our Lord’s description of what a reborn person is like in the following verses Jn 3:7-8.

And just as problems are unfortunately still capable of occurring between the biological conception and the birth of the child, so too a whole lot can happen between the spiritual begetting and the birth from the Spirit – even including the possibility of an "abortion " (Hebr 6:4-6).

(See also discourse 85: "True and false rebirth.")



Although I have tried in the Discourse above to explain these connections in detail and to demonstrate their truth in the light of the Bible, it appears that I have not succeeded in convincing some critics of the correctness of my interpretation. So I will try once again here to summarize these biblical facts - this time briefly and succinctly - and the conclusions that necessarily follow from them.

Of course it may well be that it is just the amount of reading they have to get through that deters many readers - and they then plead as an excuse that they "can’t get their heads around it". This is, of course, also the reason why so many people seem to be "unable" to understand the Bible: the simple truth is that they are too lazy to read the whole Bible attentively "with heart and mind”.


The eternal existence of every human being.


The eternal existence of every human being.

Every individual human being who leaves the amniotic sac of his or her mother alive in being physically born – who is "born of water" (amniotic fluid), that is to say (Jn 3:5) – receives a human spirit (1Cor 2:11) from God (Jn 4:24) with eternal existence (Mt 25:46). In the first, temporal and earthly part of their existence – in their life, human beings have the possibility of deciding, in complete freedom, without any compulsion and with the help of the spirit given them by God, whether or not they will give this God, the creator of all life, their complete trust and entire love.

After death, the human body returns to the dust from which it was made (Gen 2:7), but their spirit goes to the Kingdom of the Dead (Dan 12:2; 1Pet 3:18-19; 1Cor 15:23-24), where they pass the time until their resurrection in a state resembling sleep (1Thess 4:15-16).

In the Resurrection (Rom 6:4-5), the "rebirth from the spirit" (Mt 19:28; 1Pet 3:18; Jn 3:7), human beings are again given a body (Mt 22:30; Jn 3:8; Rom 8:10-11), similar to that of the Son of God after his resurrection (Jn 20:26-27).

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1Cor 15,42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 15,43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 15,44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 15,45 So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, became a living soul." (Gen 2,7) The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 15,46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 15,46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 15,47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 15,48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 15,49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 1Cor 15,42-49;

With this body the human being will then stand at the Last Judgment before the Son of God, who has been given the task by God (Jn 5:22, 26-27) of judging every human being on the basis of their earthly deeds and their decision for or against God while still alive (Rom 2:16).

Anyone who has decided for God and faith in his Son Jesus Christ in the course of his or her life (Jn 17:2-3) has the possibility of invoking before this court the expiatory death of the Son of God as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of all humanity, and so atoning for his or her own sins and derelictions against the law of God (Jn 3:16), and so will meet with the mercy of God (Jn 5:24). Those people who have not accepted this faith cannot have their sins forgiven them, and so they will be condemned (Jn 3:36).

After the Last Judgment these condemned persons will spend their eternal existence in the darkness (Mt 22:13) of the damnation of the eternal fire (Mt 18:8), with weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 13:49-50) over the fact that they refused to come to faith while they were alive and have now come to realize that they can never again make up for it, and so cannot ever expect any further change in their condition.

Those who have been forgiven, on the other hand, will spend their eternal life (Mt 25:46) in the New Creation in the light of God on a new earth (Rev 20:11) and under a new sky created by God (Rev 21:1-3,5).

In the light of this, the well known evangelist and preacher Wilhelm Busch said to his hearers, “You don’t need to accept the message I am giving you. You can choose not to convert to Jesus. But just be aware that this means you are choosing hell! You have complete freedom - it’s your choice!” (Discourse 55)

(See also discourse 22: “Is there such a thing as the immortality of the soul?”)


(See also Chapter 13: “The Last Judgment.”)


To finish, here is a little story on this theme. Two twins have been begotten and are growing in their mother’s womb. Says one twin to the other: I’m looking forward to our birth, then we will get to see the world. Says the other twin: You’ve got it completely wrong. We were born a long time ago, and what you see all around us, that is our world.