"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16).
To be a Christian one must satisfy the requirements set forth by God Himself, not man. The underlying meaning behind the terminology used by men is what's important. "Saved by faith/grace," "Born Again," "Charismatic," "Pentecostal," etc., can or cannot imply a person is right with God. It is the meaning behind the words which is important and what is in a person's heart.
Jesus certainly emphasized repentance, and He emphasized good works. However, He also taught us to pray (continually, not just once) "forgive us our sins," implying that no man ever reaches perfection. Therefore, it is the sincere desire to do what is right before God that is of utmost importance. Also, since God is a living, ever-present and all-powerful being, it makes sense not just to talk to Him, but to listen and depend on Him too. This is partly what the conversation with Nicodemus concerned (John 3). Only if God is also infinity good and merciful could we have such a relationship with Him.
A Christian should see the personal communication, guidance and power of God in his life. This is a miracle for it is a supernatural act of God, and it is the one miracle all Christians should see. A Christian is not to depend on natural reasoning and strength alone to please God. Rather, God is pleased by dependence and obedience to Him directly, as a living being. We are to be convicted of our sin and salvation, "pushed" in directions God wishes for our lives, and given supernatural knowledge to achieve God's purposes.
When Jesus referred to the Church, He meant all true believers. And a true believer is one who accepts Jesus' teaching and deity, is repentant before God (not perfect), and receives His presence, guidance, power, and mercy. As stated on the home page, God is kind and loving and will always accept us despite our failings as long as we truly desire to follow Him. Salvation is not accomplished by works, but through faith in Jesus Christ. However, God-guided works are important and strengthen one's faith.
Ultimately, God is the judge, and if we satisfy His requirements, He will convict us of our salvation: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). It is foolish to believe otherwise. "Not everyone who calls me 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into the Kingdom of heaven, . . ." (Luke 7:21). "I never knew you" (Luke 7:23). "The one who honors me is my Father -- the very one you say is your God. You have never known Him, but I know Him" (John 8:54-55). See below for a commentary from Science and Christianity and an article from JPL's Christian Newsletter.
The mission of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, upon the Earth was to reveal God to men and provide a way for us to receive eternal life. God is good, the creator, and infinite. He cares about all life everywhere. He is doing all that He can for us. However, He is being bitterly opposed by great supernatural powers, who He created and who turned from Him in the beginning in pride. That God chose to work in human history the way that He did is the most He could do. We must trust Him in this. It is true that many innocent people will never hear about Jesus, such as those who lived before Him (actually a small percentage given the population explosion) and those who live in remote parts of the world. But, again, God has done all He can do. If the innocent are lost, it is the fault of Satan, demons, and other men, but not God. Though He is infinite, God will not bind all evil until Judgment Day. He has granted the responsibility of life and free will, even if it is against His own will, and He must work within this framework.
We are not completely sure of what Jesus said. Yet the basic meaning of His words is consistent as He Himself speaks many times throughout the Gospels. Also the message is supported by all the other New Testament writers. Perhaps Jesus' clearest and most interesting explanation of man's relationship to God is found in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. Here a well-known and respected religious leader, Nicodemus, comes at night to visit Jesus. Nicodemus was profoundly impressed by the ministry of Jesus. Yet most other religious leaders of the day did not accept Jesus; this is why Nicodemus came in secret at night.
When Nicodemus confronts Jesus he says, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him" (John 3:2). Remember, as was discussed in chapter 3, Jesus had incredible powers over the physical and spiritual universe, including power over death itself. But just as today, most men, even in the face of these glaring realities, were unable or unwilling to face up to the implications of Jesus' life. Nicodemus was not one of them, for he came to learn about Jesus.
Now Jesus answers Nicodemus with a statement which is fundamental to man's relationship to God and also a problem in Nicodemus' life: "Jesus answered, 'I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again' " (John 3:3). Here Jesus sets the tone of the conversation, that is, salvation. Nicodemus knows that Jesus is, of course, not speaking literally. Yet he does not catch the true spiritual implications in Jesus' words. Nicodemus asks a question designed to set himself up as the judge of Jesus' teaching: " 'How can a grown man be born again?' Nicodemus asked. 'He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!' " (John 3:4).
" 'I am telling you the truth,' replied Jesus, 'that no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but he is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit' " (John 3:5-8).
Nicodemus can no longer hide his ignorance. He replies, "How can this be?" (John 3:9). While Nicodemus did not understand, we can be fairly certain today of what Jesus was saying. When He said, "born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5), the water referred to the baptism of John the Baptist. John's message was one of repentance. He urged the people to turn from their sins. At the same time, John acknowledged his role, mentioned in the scriptures, as the precursor to Jesus. About Jesus and His work John states, "I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He is much greater than I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals" (Matt. 3:11). "This is the one I was talking about when I said, 'A man is coming after me, but he is greater than I am, because he existed before I was born' " (John 1:30). This last statement points to Jesus' divinity, because John was actually born approximately a year before Jesus.
John referred to a baptism by Jesus, of the Spirit, and this is of course what Jesus Himself is also referring to. The Spirit is the Spirit of God, and Jesus likens Him to the wind in the physical world. We clearly see the effects of the wind in the physical world. Yet it is invisible and we do not understand its origin or destination completely. The fact that wind exists cannot be questioned. In the same way, those "born again" are able to perceive the effects of the Spirit of God. His (The Spirit's) effects are clearly seen in the world and the lives of men. Yet He is invisible and we do not understand His origin or destiny completely. The fact that the Spirit exists cannot be questioned.
The whole implication here concerning the believer's baptism by the Spirit is his (the believer's) personal awareness of God. To the true believer God is not some far off entity in the sky who we read about in books and try to please in our own human wisdom. Rather, the existence, presence, and actions of God are directly perceived by the believer. This implies a personal union, friendship, and dependance by the believer on God. Indeed there are other scriptures which indicate that the true believer is to be in direct communion with not only the Spirit but also the Father and Son (for example see John 14:23 and John 17:21).
Getting back to the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus seems to react with indignation at Nicodemus' question: "How can this be?" (John 3:9). Jesus says, "You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don't know this?" (John 3:10). Here we see a great problem with the world. We have a man, Nicodemus, who is a priest, highly educated, a leader of the people, and even sincere. Yet he does not even understand the basics of man's relationship to God! However, this is not really surprising, considering what we now know about the universe and man's place in it.
Jesus now proceeds to throw more light on the issue: "I am telling you the truth: we speak of what we know and report what we have seen, yet none of you is willing to accept our message. You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world [note Jesus again uses "this" instead of "the"]; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven? And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven" (John 3:11-13).
"As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Here Jesus refers to an incident which befell the Jewish people, while they were wandering in the desert. Because of their disobedience, God sent poisonous snakes which bit the people. However, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Any Israelite who would turn from his or her sin and as a sign of repentance look at the bronze snake would be spared from the snakes. Jesus uses this as an analogy to His mission upon the Earth. We are all bound, to some degree, by sin and disobedience to God as a natural consequence of living under the present conditions (remember, in John 14:30, Jesus called the Devil "the ruler of this world"). This causes separation from God. However, we are largely innocent victims of the great spiritual war which is raging across the universe. God has provided a way for us to be right with Him by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die on the cross and pay the penalty for our sin. Anyone who will turn from his sin looking to and believing in Jesus will be saved. True repentance will bring with it a personal relationship and friendship with God, who will give the believer the understanding and strength to begin to overcome sin in his life. The believer will never obtain perfection in this life, but he will always be saved as long as he is "born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5).
Jesus continues, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Whoever believes in the Son is not judged; but whoever does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in God's only Son. This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because they do evil things. Anyone who does evil things hates the light and will not come to the light, because he does not want his evil deeds to be shown up. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, in order that the light may show that he did his works in obedience to God" (John 3:16-21).
This then is the solution to man's existence. Despite all the ironies and paradoxes of this life, true belief in Jesus brings eternal life. We may not understand it all; in fact we probably understand only a little. We know a little about the universe, man, and the great complexity involved with both. We know that the universe is much more vast and profound than we ever imagined, and we are caught, as it were, in a great spiritual conflict. However, we can be even more sure that Jesus is a historical figure and divine. He alone gives life everlasting and certain meaning. He alone was God incarnate and His words have changed the course of history. As He said, "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Mark 13:31).
The term "born again" is often used by Christians to describe a right relationship with God. The term has been used quite extensively over the past several years, and it's meaning has been somewhat clouded. Many people believe they are Christians without being born again.
Actually, the words or terms used to describe a state of being right with God are not as important as the state itself (obviously!). Although most of us understand the basic principles involved and are sure of our salvation (another term), as we should be, it is still beneficial to study the issue for the following reasons: it will increase our faith and help us to say the right thing to the unsaved.
First of all, the term "born again" is an excellent one, because it comes from Jesus' own lips: "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). Jesus was talking with Nicodemus, a sincere yet ignorant religious leader. I wonder if we would have had the wisdom to understand and counsel Nicodemus the way Jesus did.
Nicodemus says, "How can a grown man be born again? He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!" Jesus replies, "No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but he is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
There are two key points in Jesus' statement. The first is that a man must be "born of water." This refers to the baptism of John the Baptist. The symbol of the water baptism was the confirmation of the act of repentance. John urged the people to repent, or turn, from their sins, and believe in God. Once this act is accomplished, then comes the rebirth of the person by the Spirit of God: "he is born spiritually of the Spirit." The presence of the Holy Spirit is the true mark of a Christian. It shows a dependance on God and willingness to allow Him to direct one's life.
Consider the parallel ideas expressed by John himself: "I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt. 3:11).
Repentance and belief in God involves as its foundation belief in Jesus, who is God's only Son and Himself divine. He is our saviour. Therefore Jesus goes on to say, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life" (John 3:16).