May 26 & June 2 Sunday services will be held at 2 Mile Landing Restaurant in Wildwood Crest.
Service will start at 9am (one hour earlier than the usual 10am)

2. Am I Truly Born Again?

May 29, 2016 Speaker: Pastor Bill Series: Church


Discipleship Group Primer


Am I truly born again?

A heavy, burdened, yet obedient heart

This will be a difficult sermon. The sermon is not difficult because the text is hard to understand or complicated in nature, but because the content grates against everything in our very being. The words of Christ - clearly proclaimed - are challenging. They eviscerate our excuses. They devastate our stubborn wills. Yet, at the same time, unless your eyes and ears have their spiritual shutters removed, you will hear nothing of what I have to say.

I speak with you today with a heavy heart because I know that some may leave here having misunderstood my words and you will accuse me of heresy, of being imbalanced, and of having finally cracked. I preach to you today with a heavy heart because I expect that some will deaden your hearts to the words of the scripture - refusing to believe what is abundantly clear. I proclaim with a heavy heart because there will be those who will side - not with the God of the scriptures, the God who commands us to forsake our all - but with a culture of churchianity that has infected our world like a bubonic plague. I come to you with a heavy heart because I fully anticipate that some of you will not return to Revolve next week. Or the next.

I come with a burdened heart. I am burdened because I believe to the very core of my being, bet my life on it, risk all that I have that the words I share with you today are the truth of God. I approach this topic with a burdened heart because I believe that there are those of you here today who think you are going to heaven, who think you will dine with the King of kings, who think you are believing in Jesus Christ unto salvation, but you are not. I am burdened for you. I am burdened for the eternal weight that is on your back - not of glory as is promised to those who are adopted and chosen by God - but of judgment and hell. A weight you cannot carry.

So I come to you with an obedient heart. I have counted the cost of preaching this sermon. I have evaluated what it may cost my reputation, our attendance, our offerings, and I have decided that no cost is too great. Some will call me judgmental, but indeed we will all be judged by the same standard - the cross, and I refuse to have your blood on my hands because of silence. So, I am determined to obediently tell you the truth.

Enter by the Narrow Gate

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

There are two gates and two roads to chose from, according to Jesus. There are not many. There are not multiple paths up the same mountain that culminate at an identical summit. There are not a plethora of options for how you get into the city - through a window, in a tunnel, the front gate, the back gate, and so on and so forth. There are two options.

The first option is wide. There is plenty of room to walk on this path. You don’t have to worry about feeling cramped or constrained by too many people. You can spread your wings and you can flail your arms as you walk and dance down this path. You don’t have to be concerned with whether your minivan is too overloaded with baggage and car-top carriers. You can throw a trailer on the back, line up side by side, and commence your journey. It’s an attractive option.

The first option is also easy. It has a smooth ride to it. You don’t have to worry about avoiding potholes, detours, black ice, flooded streets or the like. You simply drive. It’s a sports car enthusiast’s dream come true. You can go as fast as you want or as leisurely as you want. It’s a straight shot. Take your hands off the wheel and steer with your knees, use cruise control. You’ve never had an easier trip.

Those who choose this journey, those who head towards this gate are many. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s wide. It’s easy. You’d be a fool - in the eyes of the world - to not choose such a gate. You’d be an idiot to tramp through the brambles and drive through the ditches when a wide and easy path is right next to you and it requires nothing of you. What’s the alternative?

Well, the alternative is a road that is narrow. You can’t travel on it without some maneuvering. Maybe you’ve seen the images of these hiking trails in China - hundreds of feet above the ravine floor, a path nailed together with a handful of 2x4’s, suspended over thin air. One misstep and you’re plummeting to your death. That’s a narrow road. Narrow roads require carefully placed steps. You can’t simply close your eyes and walk. You can’t pop on the autopilot. No, it’s too dangerous. You can’t carry a lot with you. There’s no room. You have to forsake your possessions, forsake the things that you hold dear. You can’t carry someone with you - they have to walk the road themselves.

This road is also hard. Being narrow isn’t enough, it’s littered with difficulties and problems. It has potholes, bandits, and caltrops. You’ll want to turn back at every angle. It’s filled with trials and tribulation, but also persecution. Everyone on the wide road is looking at you like a fool. What person would willfully take such a path? Why would anyone opt for such a journey. The path is plenty wide! Why suffer - willingly, at great cost to your family, and yourself - by traveling down the narrow road so that you can enter through a narrow gate.

Few are on this path. Few trudge towards the narrow gate. There’s no reason anyone would choose it. Unless, of course, they knew the destination of each path. For the wide road leads to destruction, but the narrow road leads to everlasting life.

Such is the essence of Christianity. Jesus always speaks with such divisive language because we consistently want to water down his words. When the crowds approached him for food, he told them to eat his flesh and drink his blood - forcing many of them to turn back. He told the man with a sickly father to let the dead bury the dead, but for him to get his priorities in order. He explained to his followers that no many starts building a tower unless he has evaluated whether or not he has the finances to finish such a work. Following Christ is no different. Jesus boldly proclaims in Luke 14:33, “...any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

The Unknown Worker of Lawlessness

Surely most of you - if not all of you - would stand up and proclaim enthusiastically, “I’m on the narrow path! I’m here, aren’t I? Aren’t I attending your church this morning, preacher? Aren’t I listening to this podcast? Don’t I come week after week? Don’t I volunteer my time? Don’t I give of my finances? Don’t I come to your potlucks? Aren’t I attending a Discipleship Group?”

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Not everyone - Jesus’ words not mine - who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not everyone who says that Jesus is their master, their lord, their boss, their king will enter the kingdom of heaven. In other words, not everyone who gives lip service to the Christ will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Yet, this is exactly the lie that so many in this country, in this church, and in this world have come to believe. We have come to believe that if we pray a prayer, if we raise our hand, if we check a box, if we walk an aisle then our salvation is guaranteed.

But here Jesus - not me - says that simply stating that he is your master doesn’t make him your master. If the Christ is your master then you will do the will of my Father who is in heaven. In other words, Jesus says that you cannot simply call him Lord, he needs to BE your lord - not in theory, but in practice. You cannot simply check “Christian” on a census, you need to be defined by him. You cannot say you are following him unless you are following him. Followers follow their leader. Apprentices become like the master.

Is it possible for you or me to profess to be a Christian and yet not know Christ? Well, yes. According to Jesus, it’s not only possible - it’s probable. Jesus says that many will come to him and say that they did great deeds - they prophesied (I’ve never done that), they cast out demons (I’ve never done that either), and they did mighty works in his name (again, I don’t think this applies to me), and he will say to them “Depart from me, I never knew you!” Not that he used to know them and they messed up. Not that he kind of knew them, but not really. He is not talking about a loss of salvation - a heresy the Bible clearly teaches against. He is saying that he never knew them - they were not his people. Instead, he calls them workers of lawlessness. Rather than doing the works of the one they called Lord, they did the work of the Lawless One - Satan.

This paragraph from Matthew tells us that as fallen human beings we are prone to spiritually deceive ourselves. Jesus is not talking about pagans or atheists. He is talking about good, religious people who are banking on the confession of their mouth to save them from their sins. Instead, Jesus says that it is he who does the will of God’s father who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

You will say to me, hold on now. Salvation is by faith alone and what you are saying sounds an awful lot like salvation by works. First of all, it’s not what I am saying at all, but it is what Jesus is saying. Second of all, you are correct. Salvation is absolutely by faith alone. The Bible makes this emphatically clear. The reformers of the faith even gave their lives for this fact. But those same reformers - the ones who were burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for believing in salvation by faith alone - also emphatically stated that faith that saves is never alone.

In other words, we are saved from the impossible standard of proving ourselves to God with our works. The laws of God only show us how inconceivable it is for us to achieve perfection and to stand before a holy, righteous God. Jesus had to be perfect on our behalf, but faith that places itself securely in Christ will manifest with works as an overflow.

What is Belief?

The problem is with our understanding of the word belief. We say that you need to believe in Jesus to be saved - which is true - but our vernacular, modern-day understanding of belief is vastly different from Jesus’ day or even of other languages around the world.

Imagine for a moment that you are an ISIS fighter - a muslim extremist. One day you hear about a man called Jesus. Jesus clearly taught that you will not get to enter paradise by killing the infidel, but by believing in his name and following him. Your decision to follow this Jesus would come at a great price. It might even cost you your very life. There would be no way to continue in your life as an ISIS fighter. Your friends would kill you. Your family would disown you. You would have no way of getting a job. You would have to flee - or pray to God for a miracle. Belief, for this hypothetical version of yourself, is very different from the way we say that we believe in our country today.

In our own country, we tell people that they need to believe in Jesus, but that their lives don’t matter. We tell them that they come to Christ for forgiveness, but don’t need to care about their friends going to hell. We tell people that they come to love Christ, lift hands in worship, but that Jesus doesn’t care if they are living debaucherous lives every other night of the week. We tell people that they can love Jesus fully and completely while disdaining his authority and His Word. Friends, I tell you that this is not belief at all and it is definitely not saving faith. Jesus said that those who do the will of his Father will enter the kingdom.

We have diminished belief to be the equivalent of a “mental agreement with the facts about Jesus.” Most churches will tell you that if you agree with the fact that Jesus existed, if you agree with the fact that Jesus was God, if you agree with the fact that he was crucified to pay for sins, if you agree with the fact that Jesus rose from the grave - you are saved. Brothers and sisters, this couldn’t be farther from the truth and it is an anathema to proclaim such a heresy! Even the demons agree with the facts that surround Jesus Christ and they will not be enjoying his presence for all eternity!

On the contrary, we are called to believe in him, which should more aptly be translated as submit, surrender, trust-wholeheartedly, or follow. This is not some sort of fairytale belief or spooky superstition. This is a belief that throws oneself recklessly onto the object that is being believed in. This is about abandoning yourself and following him at any cost - embracing the hard and narrow road because you KNOW, not you think, but you believe without hesitation, enough to trust in it, enough to bank on it, enough to submit to its difficulties because the narrow road leads to life. And the wide road leads to destruction. When that becomes real to you, when that finally is apparently clear because your eyes have been opened from their spiritual blindness, the difficulty of the road, the strictness of the path isn’t a burden, but a delight!

The Call to Die

So what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means to die. The Apostle Paul knew this. He stood by as Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death in Acts 7. He chased Christians zealously, locking them up in prison and, most likely, leading them to their own execution. When the Lord came to him in a vision, Paul knew the cost of following Jesus. He had been the cost of following Jesus. He knew the weight of it.

The other Apostles knew this as well. James was beheaded with a sword by King Herod. Tradition teaches that Peter was crucified upside because he felt that he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, Jesus Christ. Matthew was killed by a sword wound in Ethiopia. John faced martyrdom when he was boiled alive in a vat of oil, yet lived. James, the brother of Jesus - though not officially an Apostle - was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple when he refused to deny the Christ. When he survived the fall, his enemies beat him to death with clubs.

Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He was flayed to death by a whip. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers, they tied his body to the cross with cords, rather than nails, to prolong his agony. His followers reported that when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it saying, “I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.” He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he died - the irony of their prolonging his agony turned into an opportunity for ministry. The apostle Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India. Matthias was stoned and then beheaded. Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero in Rome in A.D. 67.

Now Christ may not call you to die like these men, but he does call you to die. In Matthew 10, Jesus told his followers that they would be “as sheep in the midst of wolves…[delivered] over to courts and [to be flogged]… dragged before governors and kings for [Jesus’] sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles… Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

In Matthew 16, right after Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Lord rebukes him because he wanted a Christ without a cross. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

David Platt rightly points out in his book, Follow Me, that “shortly before Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples, ‘You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.’ In each of these passages in Matthew, the call to die is clear. The road that leads to heaven is risky, lonely, and costly in this world, and few are willing to pay the price. Following Jesus involves losing your life - and finding new life in him.”

You are called to die to your desires, to die to your wants, to die to your plans, to die to your physical lusts and yearnings, to die to the approval of the world, to die to the praises of man, to die to the control of sin in your life, and more. You cannot follow Christ without dying. You must be crucified with him, buried with him, and resurrected with him or you have no eternal life (Galatians 2). To everyone else in the world this seems ludicrous. To the true believer, however, to those who are actually believing according to what the word belief actually means - these are the words of life - to abandon yourself to the will of God and to put your trust in the character of God? There is no greater calling. Following Jesus is costly, but once you have seen his glory it is the only thing that makes sense.

Jesus invites us to follow him, but his path is brutal. The path, as Jesus explains in Matthew 7 is narrow, it is difficult, and few will travel on it. Who will travel such a road? Only those who believe in him. Those who do not believe in him will look at the cost, look at the commands, and - like the rich young ruler - walk away.

The Philippian Jailer saw the worth of Christ. In Acts 16:25-33 we read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.”

The jailer knew the risk - he was guarding men accused of following this Jesus. He knew that it might cost him his life. He knew that his failure would at the bare minimum cost him his job. But none of this mattered. Why? Becaused he believed in Jesus. His belief was so real, it was worth death. His belief wasn’t like believing in the tooth fairy or adding Jesus to his buffet of gods and world religions. Believing in Jesus, for the jailer, meant throwing himself wholeheartedly upon the mercy and grace of God - at any cost. After all, can you place a value on eternal life?

How Can I Know That I Am Saved?

Are you really saved? The first question to ask yourself is, “Do I believe?" Do you affirm the Scripture's record of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Do you believe that He is God manifest in the flesh? Do you believe that God saves sinners solely through the merits of Jesus Christ's obedient life and substitutionary death on the cross? Have you trusted in that alone to save you from your sins?

The second question to ask yourself is this: "Is my faith real?" The apostle John's purpose in writing the epistle of 1 John was to give true believers assurance of their salvation by describing the fruit of the Spirit that should be evident in the life of every believer.

True believers confess their sin (1:8-2:1) Confess here doesn't mean to recite every wrong that we have ever done. Rather, it means to agree with God about our sin. That means that true believers hate their sin; they don't love it. They acknowledge they are sinful, and yet they know they are forgiven.

True believers keep His commandments (2:3-4; 5:2-3). This doesn’t mean that they are perfect, but that they desire to obey the truths God deems precious. Do you have any desire to obey the Word of God?

True believers love other followers of Jesus (2:9-11; 3:10, 14-15; 5:2). Ask yourself the question, "Do I love God's people and desire to be around them?"

True believers affirm sound doctrine (2:20-23; 4:2,6). John here teaches that no true believer will fall into any serious, Christ-denying error or heresy.

True believers follow after holiness (2:29; 3:3-4, 6-9). This doesn’t mean sinless perfection, or even the frequency or duration of sin. This refers to those who willfully embrace, without conviction or remorse, an immoral, ungodly, unrighteous life as a matter of continual practice.

True believers love Christ. True believers find him the most precious thing in the world and with each passing year he is increasingly precious - more precious than their family, than their job, than their very lives. True believers are filled with the presence of God. They are changed.

How Can I Be Saved?

For those who fail the test. For those who claim to have the presence of God living within them - the very presence that drove the high priests from the temple when it was inaugurated; the very presence that caused Ananias and Sapphira to drop over dead after lying to Peter; the very presence that rose Jesus Christ from the dead… To those who claim to have the presence of God, yet have no desire to obey Jesus, no desire to read his Word, no conviction over sin… Friend, I tell you that you do not know him. But you can.

The first word out of Jesus’ mouth when he begins his public ministry is this: Repent. Repentance involves a change of mind and a change of direction. In order to follow Christ, you need to change your mind about him. In order to follow Christ, you need to see him as precious and worthy of being followed. In order to follow Christ, you need to turn and stare at him, and then walk.

To see him walk past, acknowledge that he is there, and then simply state, “Yep, that’s Jesus Christ who claims to be God,” as he walks on by is not following him. It is not repentance.

To feel guilty about your sin because you got caught is not repentance. True repentance - not worldly shame - is about acknowledging your total depravity before an infinitely holy and sovereign God. It is about realizing that you are wicked to the core - an object of wrath - regardless of if anyone knows your sins or not.

True repentance is about acknowledging who you are, acknowledging who Christ is, and following him. If you aren’t following him, you aren’t acknowledging him.

You can be saved. You can follow Christ, but I will not invite you to raise your hand. I will not invite you to pray a prayer. I will not invite you to check a box. If your repentance is real, you will make it real without me dragging you out of your seat. Fall down on your face before an infinitely holy God and cast yourself on his mercy and die to yourself that you might live, for “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99)


Resources cited in this sermon: