May 30, 2010
“The Born Again Christian”
St. John 3, 5-8
Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." St. John 3, 5-8
The Christian calendar begins with the First Sunday in Advent. The first half of the Church year addresses the coming of Christ and his birth, his life, his miracles, his suffering, death, and resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The first half of the Church year focuses on Christ.
The second half of the Christian calendar begins on Trinity Sunday. It focuses on the Church. Christ and the Church cannot be separated, so as we talk about the life of the Church we will be talking about Christ. After all, Christ is the head of the Church and the Church is the body of Christ.
Baptism is the means of entrance into the Holy Christian Church. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Baptism is not just a ritual. It is not just a sign. Baptism is a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit. By means of Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit brings us into the kingdom of God. Baptism is how God joins us to himself and to his Church.
We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He is the only true God. All other gods are idols. They are human inventions. The Holy Trinity is the only God who exists. He says to us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” We are not to worship, acknowledge, or recognize any other god but the God in whose name we are baptized. All other gods are worthless idols.
The gods of the Hindus are idols. The god of Muhammad is an idol. The god of the Jews is an idol. The god of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is an idol. The god of the Mormons is an idol. The god of the Unitarians is an idol. The only god who exists is the Holy Trinity.
The Father created us. He sent the Son who was lifted up on the cross to die for us. The Son sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us all the treasures that the Son purchased for us: peace with God, forgiveness of sins, freedom from judgment and punishment, the right to pray, the power to believe and live as Christians, and the gift of everlasting life.
To be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is to be made wealthy beyond compare with riches greater than all the money in the world. It is better than owning things. It is having the full rights of children of God.
The Triune God is three distinct persons and one divine essence. He is three persons. He is not three gods. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is God. The One who created us is not an impersonal force of nature, but a loving Father who knew us before we were born. He formed us in love when we were inside our mother’s womb. He governs all things in this world for our benefit because he loves us as his dear children.
The Son is God. The One who was lifted up on the cross to suffer and die as the substitute for all sinners is the almighty, omniscient, and omnipresent God. He was begotten of his Father before all worlds. There never was a time when he did not exist. By him all things were made. He is very God of very God. He is our dear brother. In his suffering for the sin of the world he is revealed as our righteousness, our life, and our salvation.
The Holy Spirit is God. He is not merely a power that God uses to make this or do that. He is God himself. From eternity he proceeds from the Father – and not from the Father only – but from the Father and the Son. He is not the Spirit of the Father alone. He is the Spirit of the Son. He is God, revealing God, as only God can do.
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. There are not three gods, but one God. It is not merely that he is the only God we know or worship or trust. He is the only God. To worship or trust any other god than the Triune God is to worship and trust an idol.
You cannot work your way to God and you cannot reason your way to God. You must be born again.
You cannot work your way to God because your own doings are polluted by sin. Sin cannot lay claim to holiness. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Those who believe that they can find their way to God by doing good deeds are trusting in their own sin because even the best of our works are corrupted by sin. God doesn’t demand a mediocre love. He requires a pure and holy love. God doesn’t tell us to do our best. He tells us to be holy even as he is holy. Holy and sinless is how God made us. He requires us to be what he created us to be. You cannot work your way back to God. You must be born again.
You cannot reason your way back to God. You can figure out how things work in this life. You can get an education, learn a trade, and understand physical laws, economics, business, even art. You cannot figure out God. Should you try, you’ll do nothing but create for yourself an idol.
In the beginning God made man in his image. Ever since the fall man has attempted to remake God in man’s image. He tries to put God under the microscope of his intellect, as if God is some kind of an hypothesis to be developed into a theory. But God is not a problem to be figured out. He says, “I am who I am.” He will not be shoved into a box of human manufacture. He will deal with us as he sees fit. You cannot reason your way back to God. You must be born again.
God brings about the new birth. It is a new birth of water and the Spirit. The water of Holy Baptism is not just water. It is water joined to God’s Word. It is water used by Christ’s command. It is the water by which the Holy Spirit gives us the new birth. Baptism is God’s word and work. We see the minister, hear his voice, and feel the water pouring over our heads. But it is God talking. It is God baptizing. It is the Holy Spirit bringing us to faith.
Does baptism work irresistibly? Or may people reject the Holy Spirit who comes in Holy Baptism? God’s grace is not irresistible. People resist God every day. God draws them to himself by means of Holy Baptism and they shove God right out of their lives. They deny his grace and power. They toss aside his gifts. They prefer blindness over sight. They would rather be enslaved by sin than set free from it. So they cast aside God’s gifts given in Holy Baptism.
This isn’t God’s fault. It’s not baptism’s fault. The Holy Spirit most certainly works through Holy Baptism. The new birth is of water and the Spirit as Jesus says. It is also true that we cannot figure out why some believe and others don’t. The wind blows where it wishes. You hear it coming and going, but you cannot figure it out. Even expert meteorologists can’t figure it out. The most they can do is make educated guesses about what it might do.
If we cannot figure out earthly things like the wind and the weather, who are we to try to figure out God? The Holy Spirit works faith where and when it pleases God. Those who reject the truth in unbelief have only themselves to blame. Those who believe are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by their own reason or strength.
A Christian is born again. That’s how you become a Christian. You don’t make yourself into a Christian by making a decision. God makes you into a Christian. Here is how the prophet described what the Holy Spirit would do for us in Holy Baptism:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
We cannot climb up to God on our own goodness, virtue, or merits. We cannot fly up to God by our own brilliance. Left to our own devises we would create more and more idols, bow down to them, and enslave ourselves by our own lies.
But we are born again! The Holy Spirit has called us by the gospel, enlightened us with his gifts, and sanctified and kept us in the one true Christian faith. He has raised us up to heaven, joined us in fellowship with the Father who created us and the Son who by his blood has set us free. When we were dead in sin and unable to love God or listen to God or follow God, the Holy Spirit gave us a new birth to eternal life.
We are born again. We not only trust in the Triune God as our greatest good and the giver of every good gift, we also love him and follow him. It is true that sin clings to us like mud sticks to the soles of our shoes. But it cannot claim us or define us. We are children of God! We belong to God’s kingdom of grace. We live under grace. Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the desert so that everyone who looked up was saved from the poison of the deadly snakes, just so Jesus was lifted up for us. He has taken all our sin away and we have everlasting life. We have seen him. We have trusted in him as our Savior. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The mystery of the Trinity is not a problem for us to solve. Rather, it is the love of God embracing us right here and now. God has joined us. He has claimed us. He has given us his name. He calls us by our names. God has revealed to us the mystery of who and what he is. What do we see when we look at Jesus lifted up for us? We see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We see the love of the Father who gave us his Son. We see the forgiveness of sins purchased for us by the Son. We see the power of the Holy Spirit. He brings us to faith. He keeps us in the faith. He enables us to love God to love one another as true Christians. So we pray:
Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee;
While in essence only One,
Undivided God we claim Thee;
And adoring bend the knee,
While we own the mystery. Amen