What Jesus Demands from the World, Q&A

Desiring God 2010 Regional Conference

What Jesus Demands from the World

My instructions are, really, you can go anywhere you want with those questions. They don’t have to relate to what we’ve been talking about here, although everything does relate to what we’re talking about here. Don’t feel like, “Oh I got to tie it in with something here.” You don’t, as far as I’m concerned. If I don’t know an answer, I’ll just say so, and we’ll move on to another question. I’m not God. They’re going to hold onto the microphones, it looks like, so don’t grab it out of their hand.

John, you mentioned that we are supposed to feel love for our fellow man. I’m thinking I’m in a church there, and I’m trying to feel love, and I don’t feel it. Does that obligate me not to demonstrate love to my people in the church? Can I ignore them? Don’t I have to feign love even if I don’t feel it?

Very good question. You’re making an assumption, and it’s partly right. You’re assuming that my argument that the love for Christ must be a feeling carries over to our love for people. That’s partly true because 1 Peter says, “Love the brethren earnestly from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).. You’re pointing out, just like me, that I often don’t feel that way towards some of the brethren. But you’re absolutely right; that doesn’t get me off the hook from treating them with kindness, with respect, with patience.

In as much as it lies within me to do good things for someone, whether I like them or not, I should. Yes, you’re pointing out an absolutely right thing. However, let’s just go beyond that now. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, at least in the body of Christ? Let’s just start there, especially do good, especially to the household of God. There’s an especially to the family that we would love each other earnestly from the heart.

From the heart. Or like Jesus says, at the end of Matthew 18, when the fellow who refuses to forgive his friend. He was just forgiven ten million dollars. His friend owes him ten, he strangles him and Jesus says, “I’m going to send you to jail until you pay the last farthing. Unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

So, I want to be careful. I want to say yes, treat people better than you feel like treating them. Because we have bad days, really bad days. We don’t like anybody. We don’t like anybody today. We don’t like our wives, we don’t like our kids, we don’t like our neighbors. That doesn’t mean punch people because you’re acting authentically. It means get control and do the best you can and ask for forgiveness that your heart is so far off. It’s a good qualification and correction.

I just wonder, as a pastor — it’s kind of a personal question: How do you deal with pride after a sermon or something when you come down, and people ask for autographs and want a picture? How do you deal with not thinking, “Oh, it’s all about me, it’s all about me. Look at me, and people are flocking”? How do you control that pride?

Not very well. It’s a very appropriate question for, we call it the “celebrity factor” at Bethlehem, and it’s unbelievably dangerous. Number one, be aware of that. Have people like you stand up and ask questions like this is a good thing. Number two, believe in the doctrine of total depravity and know your own heart well. I know my own heart better than any of you do. Not better than God does. My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can know it?

God knows it. I don’t know it, but he lets me know enough that I know things about me that you don’t know. I was not joking. Was it here I said that? I’ve spoken to several places. I said, “I don’t like me very much.” There are a lot of things about me I don’t like. Some of them you don’t know anything about. Some you do. You see, I just kind of spill over here.

In fact, a little moment of confession here. A brother came up and exhorted me very gently and carefully that when I made that comment, which was probably snide last night about Westerners being so touchy-feely. “I need a counselor.” How you counselors feel about that? Geez, I’m always having to apologize for things I say. I believe in counseling with all my heart. We’ll get that corrected right here. I still think we’re thin-skinned and may be way too easily offended. But my goodness, my mouth trips me up again and again. So, being aware of my sin.

Number three, being aware of the absolute free nature of grace. Another brother — to give you the same story — he came up and he was talking to me about whether you have to preach the law at the front end of the gospel in order to make it an appropriate way of sharing the gospel. I said, “One time I spoke ugly to my wife on a spring morning and we froze up and I stomped out to take the garbage out to get some space and relief. I was carrying the garbage out to the curb where we park it and knew I was guilty.”

Now, God has two ways of getting you at that moment to convict you. One, he can smack you around and say, “You stupid idiot. Don’t talk like that.” Or, and here’s what he did, I walked out of the garage pulling the thing behind me and the sky was blue, the grass was green, flowers were coming up everywhere. A cool breeze touched my cheek and I just started bawling because he treated me that way. I’m thinking I should be in hell right now. He gives me a day like this. He’s just breathing on my cheek. He’s giving me warm sun on my skin. I just said, “I just talked to her that way.” He does things like that. That breaks you right in half with kindness.

Then the last thing I would say, and there are many more. I read a little article about this. You can find it if you type in “pride” in the search engine at DG, probably. If it troubles you that the devil is still alive and your sanctification is slow, join the club because you really should ask theologically why God doesn’t throw the devil in the lake of fire yesterday since he’s going to do it in the end and he could do it now without wronging the devil at all. He doesn’t.

He could snap his finger and sanctify you 100 percent right now without breaking any rules concerning your will because he’s going to do that when Jesus comes in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed and we’ll never sin again. He could snap his finger like that now.

Why doesn’t he do that for this sinner? Evidently, he leaves things in my life, demonic influences and indwelling sin precisely to answer your question. I am broken again and again by sins being pointed out to me, especially those close to me, like my wife. I just know too much about me and my wife says too much about me, that I could get too enamored with John Piper.

The last thing would be if the Lord uses me for any good at all, it will be grace. It will be absolute sovereign grace. I should take every thank you that people put in my hand with tears in their eyes and just deflect it immediately to God. If I don’t do that, that just compounds my sin. All I can say is pray for me because I’m a sinner and it feels good to be liked. I’ll take eight months starting in two weeks and I’ll swear off of this entirely. No books, no speaking, no blogging, no Twitter, no sermons, no reports, no public exposure, and see what happens. That’s what I’m going to do. Precisely because I’m scared of what you’re asking about and would like to know my heart better.

Thanks, Pastor John.

There’s the good brother who exhorted me.

My name’s Paulman. Actually, that was a really appropriate question to lead into this. My original plan was to come up to you at this conference and tell you, Dr. Piper, I’ve looked up to you for so long and I’ve listened to all your talks and sermons, everything I know about God’s glory and his passion for it. Everything I know about God, I learned from you and that’s why you are my idol. That’s what I tell all my friends, John Piper is my idol.

That’s very helpful.

Thanks for bringing up the point about counseling and expressing your belief in it. I know this because I’ve heard you speak on counseling before. I guess my new question then is, I think one thing I’ve seen from your ministry — your pastoral ministry — is that everyone is so different as Christians, like how God has created our personality, our character, our strengths, and weaknesses. That’s one of the things I appreciate so much about it, is that you’re so transparent, and I think that does come through and it helps us not to idolize you.

But I’m wondering, do you ever feel alone in the sense that no other child of God has exactly the same personality, strengths, and weaknesses as you? Even other pastors that you might look up to or work with have a different set of blind spots that you might be able to see, and vice versa. Do you ever feel alone, not understood, and not trusting your instincts?

Not often, but that did hit me one time about a year ago. That very thought landed on me, that because every human being is unique, which is amazing — physically unique, personality unique, unique. We process the world in a way that nobody else in the world totally identifies with. In that sense, a profound aloneness could grip you except for one thing; he was tested in every point like we are. That is, I have an empathetic high priest who is supernaturally capable of empathizing with me totally.

I don’t really know how that works. I just take it on faith that my Jesus can get inside my skin at the most discouraged moments, the most exciting moments, the most aesthetically moved moments, the flattest moments, the angriest moments. He can get inside my skin and not let me be alone. The answer is not often. That thought doesn’t break over me often. But in the moments when I feel like nobody gets it, nobody understands, he does. That makes a lot of difference.

Mr. Piper, yesterday you touched a bit on Jesus’s return and how the gospel must be preached to all the nations of the earth before that happens. I’m just wondering, Jesus also says that we are to be ready and watch because he can come at any moment. How do those two things tie together?

That’s a very, very good question. Let me restate it just so everybody gets it. I talk about Matthew 24:14 — this gospel will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come — which makes it sound like Jesus couldn’t come back before that happens. What do I do then with biblical teachings that we should be watchful and ready, you not the hour or the day? So, be vigilant and watch before he comes at an hour you know not.

Now, this is solved in different ways by different people, even in my church. I don’t know if I use technical phrases for you or not — go into the tribulation, pre-trip, post-trib, mid-trip, pre-mil, amil, post-mil. That whole thing. Maybe I could say methodologically for you on that spectrum of how we relate to whether we could be snatched away now or not. Whether certain things must happen before Christ comes.

Is he coming twice? Rapture away for seven years or not a rapture. Here land, new heavens, kingdom of God, millennium, new heavens and new earth. However you line up on the complicated issues, I’m not going to push you away. I have in my ranking of doctrine folded that in so that even on our eldership — we have a very detailed elder statement of faith, but I don’t make pre-mil, which I am. Post-trib, which I am.

Now you know where I am if you know the language. But I don’t make either of those a criterion for serving on my staff. There are amillennialists on my staff. No post. But I have a friend who’s a post-millennial. One. Probably more and I don’t know it. Hello, Doug Wilson. My solution to that question is this. If you put a gun to my head and said, “Is Jesus coming back before the Great Commission is finished?” I’d say no. He could.

I could be wrong. But the way I handle these statements about “Watch!” is this. Luke describes a situation where a man thinks the Lord has postponed his coming and he begins to drink and beat his servants. The Lord comes at an hour he does not expect. In other words, if we are not vigilant and watchful in our spiritual and moral lives, we could begin to drift into a coolness towards the second coming that makes us so numb we would lose all ability to discern the times and he would catch us off guard.

Even though it may be true as I think it is, that God has more to do in this world in terms of anything, the Great Commission before the Son of God returns. So, I don’t expect him to come back before this meeting is over. If he did, I’ll tell you I would be the first one with joy to repent. Maybe I wouldn’t be first. But I would do it quick.

We used to argue at my church, me and some pre-trib guys. They’d say, “Well, when he comes, I’m going to be waving at you when I rise.” I would say, “It will be a horizontal wave.” Okay, I’m going. I’m going because I’m not trusting my eschatology to get me saved. I’m trusting Jesus to get me saved. I don’t know if that’s a helpful answer or not. That’s probably more than you wanted.

Hi, John. A lot of Christians and myself are trying to have Jesus our foundation for life and as the ultimate treasure in our life. How would we, or how would you, handle the doubt that the Bible is not true or that Jesus and the Gospels don’t exist? How do we handle that doubt when it creeps in?

How do we handle the doubt in our own hearts or when people make those kinds of criticism?

In our own hearts.

That’s harder. It’s real, urgent, and painful when your own heart brings up fears and doubts concerning the authority of the word, whether Jesus really said these things. Let me just give you layers of answers, just bullet them. Layer number one is to cry out to the Lord to open your eyes to the self-authenticating glories and beauties of Christ in the Bible. I start there because if I started at the academic level and told you some three good books to read defending the Bible, you know what that would do?

There’s a few of you who would run and get those books, and you’d be helped by them — sort of. Meaning, intellectual arguments I think are valuable and supplementary to spiritual sight. But the average run-of-the-mill human being — I mean, we’re an educated lot. But you go to part of the world where they don’t even go to third grade. Millions. Millions. How are they going to know that Christ is real? They can know. They can know.

How? Well, the same way you can know. Because historical arguments, philosophical arguments, apologetic reasonings can go so far, but they don’t settle these issues. They don’t settle the midnight crises of the soul. Because historical arguments are always dealing in probabilities. “Well, what if that document was forged? Or what if or what if.” The soul can always cough up a what-if. Now, what do you do? The arguments, you can’t do enough arguments to cover every what-if.

It’s analogous to trusting your wife. I have 110 percent trust in the faithfulness of my wife. I never lose a minute’s sleep over wondering if she’s faithful to me. Now what if you came to me and said, “She could be faithless”? Could all be a trick. “You’ve got your problems in marriage. It’s worse than you think it is. You travel a lot. You don’t have any idea what she’s doing. You may be so hardhearted getting her strokes from another guy and on and on and on.” Now what would I do with that intellectual possibility?

I would say, “I don’t think so.” I’d lay my head down in the Hilton and go right to sleep. Right to sleep. She’d know he didn’t even turn the TV on. “That’s how sharp he’s cutting his hand off for me. Gouging his eye out for me.” What’s your answer to why I can do that? Just an absolutely deep subjective sense of eyeball-to-eyeball trust. I know this woman. That’s the way we got to be with Jesus. What you do then is you pray, “Okay, I’m going to open my Bible. I’m not even sure this is God’s word, but I’m going to open my Bible and I’m going to pray. God, show me, show me Christ. Let there be self-authenticating light shine off this page into my heart so that I know!”

I think that’s the bottom line. I’m happy to recommend books on the authenticity of the Gospels and good evangelicals that are providing counter-arguments for the quest one, quest two, quest three, and the denials of this and that.

Yes, let’s keep the academic battle going so that there’s parody out there and evangelicals are answering the arguments and giving good counter-arguments. Yes, but in the end, in the church, on the ground, late at night, heart aching. “Is it all real?” They won’t carry the day. The Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit through the word of God will vindicate what’s here.

Here would be the way it happens for me. This is my own personal testimony. I would say that I have spent enough decades with the letters of Paul. I know him and I trust him. I know him. He’s not stupid. He’s not a jerk. He’s not insane. He’s not a maniac. He has not lost his marbles. When Paul writes Romans, Paul is solid. Paul saw the risen Christ on the Damascus road. He did not hallucinate.

If you say, “How do you know?” I’d say, “I know Paul. It’s like I know my wife.” Or the second way it works is, I read the Gospels and I read them over and over and over, and I let Christ talk to me out of all these different situations, from all these different angles that the gospel writers give him.

I say, “I know him. This is not a fabrication. People could not have made this up this way, and he is not a lunatic and he’s not a liar. Therefore, he’s Lord.” You know that one? That’s right. That’s valid. That’s the way it ends for me. I’m not saying I don’t have those late-night experiences where it usually takes the form not of historically is it false, but are you false? Are you doing this for the praise of man? Are you energized really by all this people coming to conferences?

This is really a game for you. That’s the kind of thought that breaks over my mind. Horrible, horrible thoughts that I could be so deceived that I would actually do religion like this on a total ego trip and not be a genuine Christian at all. I think that’s a demonic thought. I think straight out of hell. I don’t resist it by saying “It couldn’t be!” I resist it by renouncing pride and trying to bring my life into more conformity to what’s here to let the life itself be the denial of the accusation that came from the evil one.

Dr. Piper, this question is leftover, I guess, from the ReFocus Conference. We were talking about the eternal nature of salvation and the fact that in Christ, we have access to God before the foundation of the world. We see God doing that in Christ, and this is God in Christ doing this.

Then we also see in the Scriptures that God in Christ prays and says, “Can you take this cup from me?” There’s God, and he’s on his knees now, and he’s asking for this cup that he planned from eternity to be given to him, and he wants it taken away. I look at that and I say, “What’s going on here? It’s got to be connected to Christ’s humanity.” But somehow that feels weak, like a weak argument. Can you put some weight into that? Where’s the weight of Christ’s humanity and the eternal nature of salvation, and everything coming together there?

It sounds to me like you are as far along as I am because I don’t think I could come up with any categories or arguments that I don’t hear implicit in what you just said. I’ll just say them. “Father, if it’s possible, take this cup from me” (Matthew 26:39). When all along he said, “I’m going up to be killed.” He’s just said it over and over again. Remember I said Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:33? “We are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be rejected by the scribes and Pharisees; he will be killed. On the third day, he’ll rise again.”

This is fixed and set. He knows it’s going to happen. Here he is in the garden sweating blood, and he says, “Father, if it’s possible, take this cup from me.” What I heard implicit in your suggestion was, here we have a real God and a real man. No human being wants to be crucified. No human being wants nails driven through his hand, thorns pushed into his skull, and whipping and mockery and naked shame on a horrid cross for who knows how many hours it would take.

No human being wants that. Real humanity shrinks back from it without sinning. Those words seem to me to be an expression of that. That’s the best I can do is to say real humanity was saying this is going to be horrible. I don’t want it in my humanity. That’s the meaning of pain. I don’t want it. “Father, you hear me, if there were any way, and then nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” I don’t think that means that the Father and the Son had a conflict. It means in my humanity I don’t want to be killed, I don’t want to be hurt, I don’t want to be tortured. “But my deep heart is union with you, Father. I yield to you.” I don’t think I can help you any better than you’ve already helped me by suggesting the mystery lies in his true humanity.

Question about missions: Calvinist and Reformed missionaries and ministers have a different approach when on the field and preaching the gospel. I guess we’re less inclined to accommodate to people, meet felt needs, and contextualize, and employ cultural anthropology, psychology, and strategy. Whereas missiologists will say that this is required, and it’s an essential element of the task. Are Calvinist missionaries not doing our best to use means in our evangelism?

Well, whoever responded to you or to the Reformed or to the missionaries, by saying contextualization and accommodation are required, is right. The question is just the extent, right?. Learn the language; that’s a start. You can’t go to Pakistan and work among the Baloch and speak English. Nobody will understand you. You’ve got to accommodate. There’s a start. Then it just goes out from there. Contextualization and accommodation are necessary.

Jesus did it by becoming a human being. I do it here, I suppose, by not wearing kilts. I don’t think too much about whether you like what I’m wearing, but I could give you reasons why I wear a black shirt. But you wouldn’t want to know anyway. Scratch that. Really, what can I say about guidelines? I’m very concerned. I’m joining you. I think I hear you saying you’re concerned. I’m very concerned about the way Muslim missions are going today.

You’ve got C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6. Can we call Allah the true God? Can we say the Quran is a holy book? Can we say that Muhammad is a prophet? When contextualization starts meaning affirming truths in other religions, it gets really hairy. Frankly, I do get concerned that as you move beyond C4, if you know these things, you’re in trouble. I would say affirm contextualization and accommodation in principle, and then make sure that the truths of the Bible govern how much you accommodate.

That’s the general way to say it — if something is essential here. If you say, “We could just drop that out; let’s just not say Jesus is the Son of God because Muslims stumble over that. Let’s just not talk about that.” Or, “Since they want to say the mosque is a place of faithful prayer, let’s just say that it’s fine, and we’ll do all of our ministry there.” I don’t have the specifics for you, but I share your concern that we should be very, very careful not to sacrifice essential things here.

It’s actually a question from a friend. A God-fearing, Scripture-loving Jewish man might be very surprised to observe Jesus’s response when presented with the woman caught in adultery in John 8. How would you deal with the objection that, in modern-day, some God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians may be too rigidly applying the New Testament today?

I’m going to need help. Can you paraphrase that for me, Scott? Because I think I missed something at the beginning.

In John 8, the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, but the Scripture did say that she ought to be stoned. Some Christians today accept the New Testament teaching on certain subjects but are warned against making a stand on these. Even those who truly loved God would have been surprised when face-to-face with Christ.

At that time, for a Jewish man who is God-fearing and loves the Scripture, he would know that the law saves the woman to be stoned. However, Jesus’s response was the opposite.

It’s a question why she shouldn’t have been stoned?

The question is — to modern-day Christians, when we’re holding to the New Testament — to the Bible. When, say, Jesus comes again — when we’re facing Jesus — would he have a surprising response?

Would he have a surprising response to the way we’ve used the New Testament on an analogy? The way they were using the old? I suspect there’ll be lots of surprises. I do. I suspect I will have some surprises. That is, I think my effort — my fallible effort — to apply the New Testament the way they were applying the Old, ready to stone her, Jesus may come and say, “You missed it, you blew it. You shouldn’t have applied it that way.” I think that’s my easiest answer to say yes, I expect that I will have misapplied some things.

Now, let me go ahead and say what you didn’t ask many. Why didn’t Jesus just simply follow the law and let her be stoned? I think the reason is because he was bringing a new regime, a new way of handling law, and a new way of thinking about the relationship of law to civil government.

A whole change in the order of how faith works in public life was being established by him when he said, “The kingdom is being taken away from you, Israel, where you did those kinds of things appropriately. Now, we don’t do them anymore because now the kingdom is being given to a people who bear the fruits of it, namely, there’ll be no ethnic, political dimension to this thing at all. It’ll be multi-ethnic and multi-political. Therefore, the rules governing who gets killed and who doesn’t get killed in judicial processes are going to change dramatically.”

That’s why I think Jesus was wholly justified in not doing what they thought he should do. Now, I don’t think we are in for a change. Between today and tomorrow, there’s no change like that that’s going to happen. But when Jesus comes, there will be. Because he’s bringing an order. I say, for example, there is absolutely no warrant in the New Testament for advancing the kingdom violently. Christianity should not spread with a sword, but it will when he comes back.

In other words, until Jesus shows up in person, Christians don’t kill to spread the gospel; they die to spread the gospel. But that’s not probably what you’re asking. Will there be a surprise change in history at that point, but rather in the way we are now applying the New Testament? Would we be surprised by what Jesus might say to us like they were surprised? The answer to that is probably. Just because I’m fallible.

Thank you, especially earlier when you were talking about the gutter versus the holiday at the sea. That whole metaphor, or whatever you want to call it, I want to write a song about. It’s awesome. I have a problem, though, because God’s writing the story of history, and so he’s written the gutter into the history, and people will choose the gutter and will die and go to hell. Why did those people exist? That’s my question.

That is one of the hardest questions that you could ask, but it’s not unaddressed in the Bible. Once you believe in a sovereign God, which I do, that’s a relevant question. If you think God is not sovereign and that his hands are either, by his own choice or some other way, tied and he can’t lift people out of the gutter because they have free will and they can stay in the gutter against his will, then you don’t have a problem of that kind.

You got other problems, but that’s not one of them. I don’t think that’s the way to solve that issue. I do think God causes people to be born again before they will to be born again. That’s why they will to believe in Jesus. God is prevenient. He is coming before their decision and opening the eyes of their heart to see the beauty of Christ and want to get out of the gutter. That’s why they get out of the gutter. Your question is why does he not get everybody out of the gutter or why does he leave some in the gutter?

The first thing we have to say before we entangle ourselves in biblical contradictions is that everybody who is in the gutter and left in the gutter deserves to be in the gutter. If you don’t settle that, if you say, “Well, if God could get them out of the gutter and he doesn’t get them out of the gutter, he’s treating them unfairly.” If you’re there then you’re not going to get anywhere with this. There has to be just this deep conviction.

Human beings are rebels. They’re shaking their fist, whether they say it or not, in God’s face. They are offending him and dishonoring him every day by preferring the gutter. They don’t deserve God’s help at all to get out of the gutter. Me or them, we don’t deserve it. You start there so that if everybody’s left in the gutter and they all go to hell, God has done nobody any wrong at all. None.

If all of you perished this very moment. Meteorite hit this building and we all died and many went to hell, God would’ve done me no wrong in dying and you no wrong in dying. Those who perished, he had done them no wrong. I just settled that. That’s what the Bible teaches. God can do us no wrong by treating us hurtfully. Why would he leave some? I’ll read you the biblical answer.

This is Romans 9:22: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” Here’s the purpose. “In order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). Sin and hell and lostness — all totally deserved and just provide a dark backdrop against which the glory of grace for the vessels of mercy will shine the more brightly. God’s purpose is to make grace shine brightly. That’s my answer.

*Thank you, John. I have a question related to being born again. I thank you, and you have preached in quality. Also, in John 1:13, it says I’m born of blood and I’m born of the will of man. Not born of the will of flesh but of God. I just have a question as we know, last Christians, they’re not born when we believe. When they believe, are they like being born again later? I was thinking, what do you see as those vital elements for them, for those people who will walk on the Christian life to prepare? Or is there any preparation for being born again?

Any preparation for being born again? Any vital elements that would be evidences that one is being prepared to be born again?

That’s a really tough question. That’s a really, really good question. I’ll tell you why it’s a hard question, and then I’ll see if I can give an answer. The new birth is supernatural, and it is wholly the work of God. You have a dead person, and dead is dead. There aren’t degrees of deadness. Nobody is harder to regenerate than anybody else for God. That’s why this question of preparation looks like, oh well, there’s no such thing.

Just lay that foundation first. Dead is dead, and regeneration is a sovereign, omnipotent miracle of God by which he says, “Lazarus, come out.” He could have been dead four days, ten days, twenty days, five minutes — it didn’t make any difference. Jesus spoke, and Lazarus lives. That’s the way all of us got saved. Now the question is: Are there preparatory things leading up to that that you might be able to spot or do? I would say even though those things don’t make the event of regeneration easier, God, in his ordinary work, does precede regeneration with things.

He does it according to 1 Peter 1:23. It might be a good text to end on. End with the Bible; that’s a good idea. Just so helpful because I know I left you with the command, “Be born again,” feeling kind of helpless. Is there anything we can do by way of means to help people be born again? Here’s the way Peter talks about it. This is 1 Peter 1:22:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding 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.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22–25)

Let me say it again. You were born through the living and abiding word. That’s verse 1 Peter 1:23. Drop to 1 Peter 1:25: “This is the good news that was preached to you.” The way you become an instrument in the hand of a sovereign God to bring other people to life is to speak the gospel.

If I saw a person hearing the gospel, just objectively sitting there in a Billy Graham crusade or in front of a television or in a church service or over a lunch counter, hearing the gospel, I would say there’s hope here. God designs to do it this way. There’s hope here.

Then I would pray, “Oh God, open their hearts like you did Lydia. The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was spoken by the apostle Paul.” If you saw prayers being made, prayers being made for the gospel being spoken, hope would start to rise. The miracle might happen here; new birth might happen here. If you saw a person attending and listening and a little bit of trembling concern for their souls, you’d probably say, “Oh God, oh God, is this a birth in the making here?”

Yes, is the answer to the question. I think if I understood this, I want you to leave here empowered to be instruments in a sovereign God’s hand to bring other people to this miracle called the new birth. We are not left with nothing to do, neither on the side of the receivers — I can read my Bible — nor on the side of the speakers — I can speak the Bible, I can pray down mercy. I can model Christ and display him in my love for him in all those ways.