Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The biblical truth that saving faith is possible only because God causes unbelievers to be born again (1 John 5:1) may make us feel empowered and encouraged and bold and hopeful in our personal evangelism, or it may make us feel fatalistic, pointless, unmotivated, and paralyzed in our evangelism. If we feel fatalistic and pointless and unmotivated and paralyzed in our witness to unbelievers, our feelings are out of sync with the truth, and we should ask the Lord to change our feelings.
This is the way I live my life every day. My feelings are not God. God is God. My feelings do not define truth. God’s word defines truth. My feelings are echoes and responses to what my mind perceives. And sometimes—many times—my feelings are out of sync with the truth. When that happens—and it happens every day in some measure—I try not to bend the truth to justify my imperfect feelings, but rather, I plead with God: Purify my perceptions of his truth and transform my feelings so that they are in sync with the truth.
That’s the way I live my life every day. I hope you are with me in that battle.
Feelings That Match God’s Truth
So if I find myself feeling discouraged or pointless or unmotivated or paralyzed in my witness to unbelievers because of some biblical truth, like the fact that God’s work in the new birth precedes and enables saving faith, then I lift my hands and my heart to the Lord and say, “O God, this truth is manifest in your word; grant that, by your Spirit, I would see this truth in a way that sets me free, and empowers me, and encourages me, and makes me joyful and bold in my witness, and hopeful in my evangelism.”
I hope you are learning with me how to avail yourself of the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death feelings that are out of sync with the truth, and how to lay hold on God for the transformation of your feelings so that they match the truth of God’s word.
Tell the Good News
If the Lord wills, today and next week are the last two messages in this series on the new birth, which we began on November 17, last year. It has seemed good to me and, I believe, to the Holy Spirit, that we end the series by focusing on the implications of what we have seen for our own personal evangelism—especially the implications of God’s decisive role in causing the new birth for our essential role in the way God brings about the new birth. Or to put it simply, if these things are so—what we have seen in these nineteen messages—then what should we be doing to help unbelievers be born again?
The biblical answer is not obscure, and it’s not complicated. The answer is: Tell people the good news of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service. You get a little picture of that combination in 2 Corinthians 4:5: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Proclaiming Christ as Lord and offering ourselves as servants. Haughty, condescending proclamation of Christ, with no feeling of brokenness or servanthood, contradicts the gospel. And silent servanthood that never speaks the gospel contradicts love. “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as your servants.” That’s what we do to help people be born again. We tell people the good news of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service.
So let’s go again to 1 Peter 1:22 and following and see the connection between the new birth and our role in speaking the gospel of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service.
Born Again Through the Word of God
We have devoted three messages to this text. It is so important. But this time our question is different: What does the reality of the new birth imply for our witness to unbelievers? Here’s a very quick overview of what we have seen. If you want to see all the arguments for these conclusions, you’ll have to go back and look at those old messages.
Verse 22: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” The purification of your soul in verse 22 is what happens in the new birth. The obedience to the truth refers to faith in the gospel. The truth is the gospel of Christ, and obedience to the gospel is faith in Christ. For a sincere love of the brothers is the outcome and fruit of the new birth. Therefore, Peter says: Now that this has happened to you, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” In other words, since you are born again through faith in the gospel with a view to a transformed life of love, now live it out. Love each other.
Then in verse 23 he uses the very language of new birth: “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” This is probably the most important verse in the Bible concerning the relationship between the new birth and your role in how it comes about in other people. The key statement is: You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God.”
In other words, the seed that God uses to create new life in spiritually dead, unbelieving hearts is the seed of the word of God. “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, [that is,] through the living and abiding word of God.” There are not many verses in the Bible more important than that. If you see the implications of that, it will change your life profoundly.
The Word of God: The Gospel
But to see the implication, we need to make sure we see that the word of God is. There are different ways to understand the word of God. The world was created by the word of God (Hebrews 11:3). Jesus is called the Word of God (John 1:1, 14). The Ten Commandments are called the word of God (Mark 7:13). The promises to Israel are called the word of God (Romans 9:6).
But here Peter is very specific what he means in verse 23 by the word of God through which we were born again. First, he says it is living and abiding. “You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God.” The word is living because it has the divine power to give new life. And the word of God is abiding because once it creates life it sustains it forever.
Then Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8 in verses 24-25 to explain and support this claim about the word of God: “For ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” The word of God is not like grass and flowers. They flourish for a moment and give joy that lasts for a moment. Then they are gone, and the life they sustained is gone. But the word of God is not like that. The life it creates lasts forever because the life-creating and life-sustaining word lasts forever.
Then Peter tells us exactly what he is referring to with this phrase “the word of God.” He says in the last part of verse 25, “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” The good news preached to you—that’s the imperishable seed; that’s the living and abiding word of God through which you were born again. So the way God brings about the new birth in dead, unbelieving hearts is by the gospel, the good news.
The Greatest News in the World
And the news is this: Christ, the Son of God, died in our place—became our substitute—to pay the price for all our sins, and to accomplish perfect righteousness, and to endure and remove all of God’s wrath, and rise from the dead triumphant over death for our eternal life and joy in his presence—and all of this offered freely through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. That’s the good news. To this day, two thousand years later, it remains the greatest news in the world. And there are millions (near and far) who do not know this news.
So here’s the point—and it is immensely important if there is anyone you love (or any thousands you love) and want to see born again to a living hope: If anyone is to be born again, it will happen by hearing the word of God, centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will be “born again through the living and abiding word of God . . . the gospel.”
- God causes the new birth through the seed of the word, the gospel.
- God brings about the new birth through your telling people the gospel.
- God regenerates people through the news about who Christ is and what he has done on the cross and in the resurrection.
- God gives new life to dead hearts through your words when you speak the gospel.
The Saving Seed of the Gospel
So, going back to our original question: What should we be doing to help unbelievers be born again? Answer: Tell people the good news of Christ from a heart of love and from a life of service. We’ll say more about the heart of love and the life of service later. But focus for a few more minutes on this amazing fact: The seed that saves is the word of God—the gospel preached. The seed that creates new life is the gospel in the mouth of believers, spoken to unbelievers. The surgical instrument that opens the eyes of the blind is your words telling and explaining the gospel.
How can this become for us not just a conviction but a passion? I pray that God will use his own word in this message to waken this passion. So consider more of his word. James 1:18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.” There it is in the words of James, the Lord’s brother: “By the word of truth.” That was how he brought us forth. And this reference is to the new birth.
Proclaiming His Excellencies
In 1 Peter 2:9, just nine verses later than our text in 1:23-25 (“born again through the living and abiding word, the gospel”) Peter says, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
God brought you out of darkness and into his marvelous light by the word of God, the gospel (1:23, 25). And now in this marvelous light what are we to do? Why are we here? One utterly crucial reason while this age remains: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We are in the marvelous light of the love and power and wisdom of Christ so that our joy in that marvelous light might be filled up through proclaiming the excellencies of Christ.
Why? Because that’s how others will be born again—by hearing this good news. And when they are born again they move from darkness to marvelous light and see Christ for who he is and treasure him for who he is and therefore magnify him for who he is. And our joy is completed in their joy in him.
What Will It Take Today?
What will it take so that thousands of Christians at Bethlehem and the other churches of the Twin Cities are passionate about telling the gospel to unbelievers? One of the reasons we don’t do it as much as we should is that life in America is so entertaining that thoughts of desperate, eternal, spiritual need is hard for us to feel, let alone talk about. The world is just too interesting to make ourselves uncomfortable with thoughts about perishing people.
So perhaps what God will choose to do is what he did for the church in Jerusalem. They were not moving out to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world in evangelism the way Jesus told them to in Acts 1:8. So Stephen was raised up to bear such irresistible testimony (Acts 6:10) that the only way his adversaries could handle him was to kill him (Acts 7:60).
And when they did, the persecution spilled over onto all the Christians in Jerusalem. “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8.1). And what was the result? Acts 8:4: “Now those who were scattered went about gospelling the word (euangelizomenoi ton logon, Acts 8:4-5).
Is this not an amazing response to persecutions and pain and loss and exile and homelessness? O that we would so love the gospel and lost people that tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword and gun and terrorist realities would turn us not into fearful complainers, but bold heralds of good news. Precisely when they were persecuted, they went everywhere telling the good news of Christ. Maybe the Lord will do it that way. He certainly is in some places, and millions are being born again—through the loving, bold, clear telling of the gospel by persecuted Christians.
Longing for the Gospel
How can we move toward that kind of joyful courage? I will deal with some concrete examples and methods next week, Lord willing, but let me close by answering this way: We will move toward joyful, bold, gospel-telling when we follow Peter into 1 Peter 2:1-3. Here is his counsel to us:
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
This reference to “newborn infants” does not mean that all the saints in that region were immature. They weren’t. He is not describing the immature. He is describing what all born-again people desire, and he’s encouraging us to desire it the way babies desire milk. And he defines what we should desire as “pure and spiritual.” The word translated “spiritual” (logikon) probably means “spiritual” in the sense of “not literal” but “symbolic,” and specifically symbolic of the word of God. So the King James Version is right to translate it “sincere milk of the word.”
The point is this: He has just told us that we were born again by the living and abiding word of God, the gospel. Now he says: Desire this every day the way babies desire milk. Feel the need for this every day the way babies must have milk to grow into life, else they die. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Peter is saying: If you are going to be free from malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander—if you are going to tell the gospel from a heart of love and a life of service—then you must hunger and thirst for the word of God the way babies hunger and thirst for milk.
Have You Tasted?
And why would you want to do this? Verse 3: You will have this desire . . . “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” This is key to personal evangelism: Have you tasted in the word of God—especially the gospel—that the Lord in good? Have you tasted it? Not: Have you thought about it? Not: Have you decided to affirm it? But: Have you tasted it? Are there living, spiritual taste buds in your heart that taste Christ as more desirable than all else?
This is where we need to get serious. We will spread the seed of God’s mighty regenerating power if we have tasted that the Lord is good. The Lord is our delight. The Lord is our treasure. The Lord is our meat and milk and water and wine. May God loosen our tongues and make us bold gospel-tellers because we are drunk with the wine of the word of God and the goodness of the Lord.