Justification by Faith (II): Be Born Again
By: Deji Yesufu
The Protestant revolution of the sixteen century in Europe revolved around the doctrine of Justification by Faith. Martin Luther argued that if we are to be made right with God through grace and by faith, not by the many religious works suggested by the Roman Catholic Church, then genuine faith in Jesus Christ was to form the fulcrum on which the Protestant religion stood on. But as commendable as this teaching was, it gave liberty to some to reflect what was really in their hearts. The fact was that while Luther’s reforms revolved around a religious question, those who had political scores with Rome used it to their advantage.
One of such groups are those that Martin Luther will later label antinomians. Luther showed his followers that while genuine faith in Christ is all that is needed to find right standing with God, it is also important to note that people who were genuinely saved by Christ would have a commitment to keeping God’s holy laws. So on one hand, while religious duties saved no one; proof of genuine faith manifested in the works that men do. The Achilles’ heel of the antinomians was their rejection of the laws of God. It reminds one of Christ’s words: if you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).
Repentance is one of the marks of a converted individuals. Repentance means a turning away – a change of heart. It is usually marked by sorrow for sin and a subsequent commitment to love and obey God through Christ. It is the Holy Spirit of God that grants men repentance in the heart. The manner with which our Lord does this has a close relationship with the working of the mind of the individual. When the gospel is preached, a sinner comprehends the truths that are being explained. He sees himself in the light of God’s law as a rebel. There is contrition for sin and there is repentance of his sin. Then the Holy Spirit grants the sinner faith to lay hold on Christ as Savior. All of these are the things that we see humanly speaking and they all occur in different forms, through various lengths of time and experiences. What is common to all, though, is that there is always the elements of gospel preaching, sorrow for sin, repentance and faith.
Now, because genuine conversion is something that occurs in the realm of the human heart and it is only manifested through human works, it can be quite easy to fake. The down side of the community of God’s people throughout history, even in the days of God’s dealing with Israel, has always been the presence of false professors of the faith in the Church. When Israel left Egypt, there was the presence of a mixed multitude among them. Paul will talk about false brethren in the church. Even Jesus had a Judas among his disciples. There will always be men who will claim to have experienced the converted life in church and the duty of God’s people is never to find such people and root them out. Rather Christ commends us to continue in our service to God: the day of the Lord will separate the wheat from the tares.
Yet, we cannot change the true standards of God’s working in men’s life. Justification with God must come via faith, alone. We cannot make justification by Faith by the good works that men do; we cannot equate it with baptism; or church membership; or an association with some ecclesiastical privileges. Justification must be by faith alone. This is why the scripture tells us that as regarding who is converted: God alone knows those who are his. Yet, every man that names the name of the Lord must depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19).
In the third chapter of the gospel written by apostle John, a man came to Jesus by night and entered into dialogue with him. Christ told him straight away: you must be born again – if you will enter into the kingdom of God. As their conversation proceeded, Jesus showed this man a description of genuine conversion: he said a person who must be converted must be one who had come under the influence of the Spirit. He said the Spirit moves like the wind: you see it’s effect but you cannot see him. You cannot tell the working of the Spirit; you cannot dictate to the Spirit; the Holy Spirit works by the sovereign counsel of God. You cannot be born again by the will of man: you are only born again by the will of God.
The mighty truths of Protestantism, as exemplified by Justification by Faith, tells us that the conversion of a sinner is by the sovereign will of God. God chooses the sinner; he calls the sinner; he changes the mind of the sinner; he grants repentance; and God gives genuine saving faith to the sinner. Conversion is all the work of God and none of man. What we see in the comprehension of gospel truths, repentance and faith, are the outworking of a greater spiritual reality going on in the hearts and minds of men by the Holy Spirit.
What then does this mean? If salvation is all of God and none of men, shall we not just go, sit down, eat and drink, and wait for God to save the heathens? No, we do not.
While God decrees the salvation of sinners, he has also ordained the means to it. God has ordained that men will intercede for sinners. God has ordained that the gospel will be preached to the heathens. God had ordained the peculiar circumstances that will lead each sinner to Christ. Many of these are closely intertwined with the evangelical activities of the church. So Christians cannot cease to pray, and we must continue to preach until we see men comprehend the gospel and come to living faith in Christ.
There is a close relationship between the eternal decrees of God and human responsibilities. God has not shown us where the line is drawn in this life. We are simply grateful to God that he has saved us by grace and has ordained that we be the means by which others come to Christ. In the working of God to save sinners, the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of men in a mystical manner. No one knows for sure how the sinner is saved: just as no one knows how the baby is formed in the mother’s womb. What we see practically is a changed life and what the Holy Scriptures describes to us is that such a person is born again. The born again individual is the one whose sins have been forgiven. He is the one who stands in the court of God’s justice and who had found the penalty of his sin removed. Jesus Christ died and rose again to have the sinner’s sins forgiven and blotted out. The justified man stands before God blameless. He is such a man whose sins cannot damn him – in this life and in the life to come. He is saved eternally.
The trouble is never with what God has done in the hearts of men. When God moves on a rebel, such an individual cannot resist the grace of God. The Spirit that pursues a man catches up with him, always. The trouble is never with what God has done; the trouble is always with whether a true work of grace has been wroth in the individual’s life. Our duty is not to conjure up conversion in people. No one has asked anybody to give their lives to Christ; when Christ wants your life, he takes it. It is never a bargain. Our duty therefore is to pray and plead that God does a work of conversion. Then we are to faithfully preach and the live out the gospel. Lastly, we must have the patience to wait to see God do a work in the life of a sinner because we are confident that if it is a work that God does, it can never be undone. The justified sinner is the man who has truly been born again by the Holy Spirit.
Read the first part of this article here.