“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
How is a person “born of the Spirit” – that is, born again? What does it mean to be a child of God? What are the privileges of being born again? We shall explain the marks of the new birth in the plainest of terms, just as they are found in Scripture.
Faith is the foundation for all the other marks of the new birth. Paul says, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Agreeing with this John writes, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
This faith is not a mental assent to the teaching that “Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 5:1), such a faith, at its best, would be dead. True Christian faith is more than mental assent to Scriptural truth; it is a disposition which God has wrought in the heart. It is a sure confidence that, through Christ, we are forgiven and are reconciled to God. We do not have “confidence in the flesh” with its works of righteousness and religion (Philippians 3:3), but accept that Christ alone brought salvation.
A fruit of faith is victory over all outward sin. Sin should not have dominion over our faith in God, for “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9, see Romans 6:14). It was for this very reason that Christ came to this world, “He was manifested to take away our sins” (1 John 3:5). Surely we are not born again if we continue in sin … “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7).
Another fruit of living faith is peace with God … “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). This is the peace that “passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).Such peace does not come by giving mere mental assent to Christ, instead only those who have a heart-faith in God know anything about it, for it is a peace the world cannot give, and the world cannot take away. It is the peace of Christ Himself, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Ours is not a dead and futile hope contained in ‘maybe’ and ‘perhaps,’ for such is false hope and is the enemy of God and man. Biblical hope implies that the witness of our own spirit (conscience) is in agreement with the witness of the Holy Spirit, that we “are the children of God” (Romans 8:16 and 2 Corinthians 1:12). This is because we have “received the Spirit of adoption” and can call God “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). No matter what might happen to us in this life, we remain the children of God for eternity (Romans 8:33-39). The Comforter was given that we might have the fruit of Christian hope in this life – that is, joy, everlasting joy for all of life’s situations (see Galatians 5:22). Therefore we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). This living hope produces “joy unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:5).
At the new birth “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (Romans 5:5). Love is the greatest mark of all because it displays our feelings toward God … “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). It is to Him we continuously pray … “And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:15). He is our delight and desire … “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:5). We love the Lord Jesus Christ since He alone paid the price for our salvation … “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Songs of Solomon 2:16). True love for God is found in those that “keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). Should we not obey Him whom we claim to love? Should we not be zealous, and hunger and thirst to please Him in every possible way?
A necessary fruit of this love for God is the love for our neighbour, not excepting even our enemies. We are to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbour as ourselves” (Luke 10:27). The nature of this love is sacrificial … “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). We know that we know God because of it, for “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,” which means that whoever “loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14). It is certain that mental assent cannot attain to such love as this.
God Himself describes the marks of the new birth with the plainest of language in the Scriptures. There is a question that remains to be asked though, “Who are we to deserve the privilege of being born of God? We know that it is not ours because we were baptised in water or through some religious duty. Many hypocrites, drunkards and gluttons have been baptised and remain as they were. Are they God’s children? No, instead they are the offspring of Satan. Those who remain “dead in trespasses and sins” are not, by any stretch of the imagination, born again (Ephesians 2:1). A person must be born again before he can enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). This blessing comes from God through Jesus Christ the moment we receive Him as Lord and Saviour … “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). Only they can rightly call God “Father,” and have the confidence to declare themselves as children of God.
Preached by John Wesley 5 a.m. Friday 3 April 1741 at Epworth.