Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 9:42 p.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Unless You Are Born Again.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 26 (Select vv. NIV).
Background (Summary Acts 25:1-26:11)
Paul stood trial before Festus, but he ended up appealing to Caesar when Festus wanted to send him back to Jerusalem to stand trial. Then, Festus was visited by King Agrippa, who wished to hear Paul’s case, so Paul appeared before the king, and he was given permission to speak for himself.
In Paul’s defense, he shared with the king his testimony. He told him how he had formerly lived according to the strictest sect of the Jewish faith, as a Pharisee. And, how he was now on trial because of his hope in what God had promised the Jews, with regard to the coming of their Messiah (Christ). As well, he communicated to him how he had formerly been a fierce opponent and persecutor of followers of Jesus Christ, and how he had put many of them in prison, and had even voted in favor of them being put to death.
So, Paul was a Pharisee. So, what is a Pharisee? In Bible times, a Pharisee was a person of a Jewish sect who was deeply religious, who believed the scriptures, but who also followed many man-made traditions, to which they gave equal authority as they did scripture with regard to obedience. They were represented on the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, and a number of them were also priests. The Pharisees were some of Jesus’ fiercest opponents, who were party to his being put to death on a cross.
Jesus often had words with them about their hypocrisy and how they worked hard at looking good on the outside, but how inside they were full of wickedness. They were self-righteous and egotistical, who judged others hypocritically. Jesus said that they honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him, and that that they worshiped God in vain, because their teachings were man-made rules (See: Matt. 15:1-9). Today the term “Pharisee” is use to describe “a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person” (dictionary.com). But, Jesus met one of these Pharisees on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, and he transformed his life. Amen!
A Divine Appointment (vv. 12-18)
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
This passage of scripture, and testimony of Paul’s, not only describes the assignment (commission) given to Paul by God/Jesus, but it also explains what Jesus did in Paul’s life, as well as it defines the essence of the gospel of our salvation. Paul had his blinded eyes opened, not just physically, but spiritually. He was turned away from his former way of life – from his wickedness and the control Satan had over his life – and he was turned to follow the Lord Jesus in obedience to his will for his life. Thus, he received forgiveness of his sins, and he became a follower of Christ, and a member of his body, and God purified his heart and made him a new man.
And, God can do this in the lives of many “Pharisees” today who appear righteous on the outside, but who, inside, are full of wickedness and given over to evil deeds. Yet, they lie to themselves, and convince themselves that they are ok, when their hearts are far from God. They fool themselves, and they fool others, but they can’t fool God. They are good at going through the motions and appearing as though they are followers of God, when truly they are driven by self, and their hearts are given over to fulfilling the desires of their sinful flesh. They will even use God and their religion as a cover-up for evil, when it suits their purposes. They are always performing for the crowd, but God sees what is truly in their hearts. Yet, as God transformed the heart of Paul (formerly Saul), he can change the heart of any “Pharisee.” Amen!
Repent and Turn to God (vv. 19-23)
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
Paul fulfilled the commission given to him on the road to Damascus. He became a preacher of the Word, and one who taught people that they must forsake their former lives of living for sin and self (repent), and they must turn to God/Jesus in obedience to his will for their lives, thus proving their repentance by their deeds. He not only taught it, but he lived it!
Yet, we are not saved by works. We can do nothing to earn or to deserve our own salvation. Our good deeds will never outweigh our bad deeds, no matter how hard we try. We can’t work our way into heaven on our own terms. Yet, faith in Jesus Christ is not absent of works, yet not works of the flesh, but works of the Spirit. In other words, if we say we have been saved from our sins by God’s grace, and yet we continue to conduct our lives in the darkness (in wickedness), the Bible says we are liars (1 Jn. 1:6). Paul said that if we conduct our lives according to our flesh, we will die in our sins, but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live (with Christ for eternity) (See: Ro. 8:1-14).
In other words, when we believe in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of our lives, if our faith is genuine, a spiritual transformation of the Spirit of God takes place in our hearts. We are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24; cf. Ro. 6:1-23). This is what it means to be “born again” or “born from above.” Jesus didn’t die just to forgive us our sins, but to deliver us out of slavery to sin, and to make us into servants of his righteousness. Yet, we must cooperate with this work of the Spirit in our lives. When we believe in Jesus we don’t become puppets on a string. We have to yield control of our lives over to God, and willingly submit our lives over to doing what he has commanded us to do.
True and Reasonable (vv. 24-29)
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
When we, like Paul, share our testimonies of faith in Jesus Christ, and how God transformed our lives away from sin and to walking in obedience to his commands, and we share, too, that this is what God’s Word teaches we must do, we may, as well, be called ‘crazy’ or out of touch with reality. And, yet, the gospel of Jesus Christ is completely rational and reasonable. If Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24), which is what he did, then it seems reasonable that faith in Him would mean we die to sin and live to righteousness. And, yet, many preachers today are telling people they don’t have to repent of their sins, and they don’t have to obey God, but they can still have their ticket into heaven, and that God requires absolutely nothing of them at all. Oh, how wrong!
And, yet, we should not give up hope that many people will believe in Jesus Christ in the way scripture teaches we must believe. We have to hold out hope that blinded eyes will be opened, and that many will be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified (made holy) by faith in Jesus Christ. And, we have to believe that God can change anyone, even our persecutors, and even those who live like Pharisees in pretending they are followers of God, when they are not. He can save even the worst of sinners, because he saved us. Amen!
So, if you have someone in your life for whom you have been praying for salvation and deliverance from sin, don’t give up hope. Keep believing that they, too, will be born again of the Spirit of God, and that they will be transformed from living a life of sin to living a life yielded to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Unless You Are Born Again
An Original Work / November 3, 2013
Based off John 3:1-21
Nicodemus came to Jesus.
He acknowledged God was with Him.
Jesus said, “You can’t see heaven
Unless you are born again.”
“How can a man be born when he’s old?
Can he enter into his mother’s womb?”
Jesus answered, “Flesh is flesh,
So of the Spirit, you must be.”
Jesus said to Nicodemus,
“You’re a teacher, and yet you don’t
Understand of what I tell you,
Because you will not believe.
“For God so loved the world that He gave
His one and His only Son for your sin.
So, whoever believes in Him
Has eternal life in heav’n.
“Light has come into the world,
But human beings love the darkness,
Because their deeds are so evil,
So in truth, they stand condemned.
“Everyone who practices evil
Fears that the Light will expose his sin.
Yet, whoever lives his life by the Light
Does so through his God.”