Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
June 4, 2023
Jesus cannot get any clearer, if you are to be saved and enter the Kingdom of God, you must be born again? Your first birth does you no good. You must die and come to life again. You must become a new person, if you are to be saved.
But what does this mean to be born again? Three things happen to you when you are born again. First, you have faith in the one true God. Jesus says, “That which is born of flesh is flesh.” Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). According to your natural birth, you are a sinner. Even worse, according to your natural birth, you are incapable of pleasing God or believing in Him. A person born of the flesh cannot fear, love, and trust in God. This is how St. Paul describes those born of the flesh in Ephesians chapter 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” This is why the Apostle states in Romans 8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
So, unless you are born again, you cannot fear, love, or trust in God. You cannot accept Jesus as your Savior. You cannot have saving faith. Yet, one who is born again does have faith. The Evangelist John describes it this way, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who 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) To be born again is a work of God. God grants you faith as a gift. God rescues you when you are dead in sin and otherwise would only resist Him. To be born again means that God has granted you faith in Christ as a gift.
Second, to be born again means that your sins are forgiven and that you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. This is why we can say that in God’s eyes, you will never be more holy than you are when you are Baptized. A Christian does not fluctuate in righteousness before God, because he does not claim his own righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ through faith (Philippians 3:9). This is why St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” When God looks at you through your new birth, He does not see your sins, but He sees Christ’s righteousness. The Prophet Isaiah describes this righteousness given in rebirth in Isaiah chapter 61, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” All who have been born again have faith in Christ Jesus, are forgiven of all their sins, and stand righteous before God.
Third, to be born again means that you fight against sin every day and strive to do what is right. If your old self, born of the flesh, always resists the Holy Spirit and desires to satisfy its own desires, then your new self, born of the Spirit, always desires to work with the Holy Spirit and do what is right. This is why St. Paul writes to the Colossians in chapter 3, “seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” While through faith in Christ, you always bear the righteousness of Christ, you still bear in your body your old sinful Adam. And so, you must fight your sinful impulses each day, so that they daily grow weaker and your new self grows stronger, as St. Paul writes in Galatians 5, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
Here, we must make a distinction between sins of weakness and ruling sins, otherwise known as venial and mortal sins. Many Lutherans think that we do not make a distinction between venial and mortal sins, but that is not true. Rather, we define them differently than the Roman Catholics do. The Roman Church teaches that venial sins are sins that in and of themselves are not damning. Lutherans hold that all sins damn. The distinction between venial and mortal sins is the distinction between sins of weakness and ruling sins. Scripture is clear that no one is without sin, even Christians (1 John 1:8). And St. Paul laments that he does not do the good he wants, but the evil he does not want is what he keeps on doing (Romans 7:19). Here he describes sins of weakness, or venial sins. Venial means pardonable. Christians still sin, but they fight against these sins every day and attempt to resist temptation. But no Christian gets through life without sinning. That is why Jesus teaches us to pray daily, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And he promises to forgive us.
The sins a Christian commits remain venial, that is, forgivable, through faith in Christ, when a sinner repents and believes that God forgives him for Christ’s sake. Yet, when a person persists in sin without repenting, then those sins are no longer venial, but mortal and damning. This is what happened to King David when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. David fell out of grace, because his sins ruled him. He would have gone to hell had he died then, but God sent Nathan to bring David to repentance (2 Samuel 11-12). This is why St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” If you persist in your sins without repenting, you are throwing away your rebirth and letting sin rule you. However, if you repent of your sin, even if it is a mortal sin such as adultery, homosexuality, or murder, then you are forgiven. Even your mortal sin becomes venial through faith in Christ.
So, we have learned that those born again are granted faith by God as a gift, receive the forgiveness of sins and are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and they continue to drown and kill the old Adam in them through daily contrition and repentance, so that the new self rises to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). But, how is a person born again? Jesus is clear. Through Baptism.
Jesus says, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Baptism is the rebirth of water and the Spirit. Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. It is not the water that causes the rebirth, grants faith, forgives sins, and grants the Holy Spirit, but it is the Word of God in and with the water, which does this along with the faith, which trusts the word of God in the water (Titus 3:5-8).
Now, there are many who argue that Baptism cannot cause a person to be born again, because Baptism is an earthly thing. Yet, these people should consider that it is not we who ascend to heaven to be born again, but God who descends from heaven to us to grant us new birth. Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” It is Christ, who took on our human flesh and shed His blood to take away our sins. If Christ can join Himself to flesh and blood so to make atonement for our sins, so too can the Holy Spirit join Himself to the waters of Baptism and grant us new birth! Scripture is clear that God grants such precious benefits through Baptism. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” Jesus says (Mark 16:16). St. Paul tells us that Christ sanctifies His Church, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:26). We should not let nay-sayers, who place restrictions on God, which He does not place on Himself, belittle Baptism and say that God can’t grant rebirth through Baptism. Scripture makes clear that Baptism grants new birth.
Still, the nay-sayers will object and say that there are those who were not baptized, yet were born again, such as those in the Old Testament or the thief on the cross. For sure, God can cause a person to be born again without Baptism. But what does Jesus say? “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” We are not to question what God can or cannot do. God can do everything. We are to listen to the words of our Lord Jesus and believe them. Jesus promises that Baptism grants a new birth from above. We should trust in this promise and not put God to the test.
God can save a person without Baptism, but a person can also get in a house through the window. In extraordinary circumstances going through the window might be necessary. But ordinarily, going through the window is inappropriate. Baptism is the door, because Jesus has joined Himself so closely to Baptism, that all who are baptized should believe that they are clothed in Christ. This is why we should baptize babies. Babies are born according to the flesh, so they can have no fear or love of God until they are born again of the Spirit. Adults are not more capable of faith than babies. Faith is a gift granted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism to grant this gift.
Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is in the name of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, yet three persons. The Holy Trinity is the only God, who saves. The Holy Spirit grants us new birth, so that we can have faith in Jesus Christ and be forgiven. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who was sent from the Father to suffer and die for our sins. Baptism joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection. The Father sent His Son to save us and the Holy Spirit to grant us new birth. When we are born again, we are united with the Holy Trinity, who lives and reigns forever.
The Holy Spirit does not cause you to be born again apart from the Father and the Son. It is the Holy Trinity that grants you faith, forgives your sins, and clothes you in Christ’s righteousness. And it is the Holy Trinity, who will sustain you in the saving faith, daily forgiving your sins, until you inherit eternal life. When you are born again, you are born to live for eternity with the Holy Trinity. And so, as Baptized Christians, we devote our lives to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.