A Homosexual You Will Love

If you didn’t read last month’s e-teaching titled I Love Homosexuals, and I’m Frustrated, you missed what has proven to be, based on the feedback, one of my most popular e-teachings ever. I was encouraged by the sheer volume of positive feedback, and I was blessed by how many Christians expressed genuine love for the homosexual community. (I only received one strongly critical response, predictably from a professing Christian.)

This month I want to share one particular email response that I received, in hopes that it might contribute to further understanding between homosexuals (and their advocates), and those who, like me, believe that God condemns homosexuality (along with a host of other sins of which just about everyone has been guilty) but that He also offers forgiveness and freedom through Jesus Christ.

I Love Homosexuals, and I’m Frustrated

As I’m writing this, the two-week suspension of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson by A&E over remarks he made that were offensive to homosexuals is making headlines. The incident has ignited a nationwide debate regarding homosexuality, and naturally, lots of people are taking sides and expressing their opinions.

With this article, I hope to make a small contribution to the understanding of folks on both sides of the issue, whom I will refer to, for simplicity’s sake, as homosexuals and their dissenters. (I realize, of course, that there is a variance of opinions on both sides, but I intend to stick with the fundamental differences.)

The Truth About the Johnsonburg Awakening

The Amish Papers - Chapter 11

The truth about the johnsonburg Amish awakening

Because of all the good things that were happening within the growing group of Amish-background believers in Johnsonburg, and because I knew that news travels quickly among Amish people across the country due to all the family connections, I decided to attempt to tell the true story of the Johnsonburg Awakening to every Amish person in North America. So I wrote the letter that follows, raised tens of thousands of dollars from friends to print and mail 63,000 copies, borrowed a mailing list of 32,000 mostly-Amish and Amish-background households from Mission to Amish People, and mailed the letter in June of 2022.

Over the months that followed, I received over 200 responses, with about half being positive and half being negative. The positive replies were often from born-again Amish people. The negative replies usually were focused on some cherished Amish cultural practice or tradition that I mentioned in my letter, and I later regretted not “keeping the main thing the main thing.” That is, I wish I had only focused on the gospel, and not mentioned what naturally happens to Amish people once they are born again and “the light bulb comes on” regarding all their traditions.

In any case, many of those who responded positively requested, through a response card that we included with the letter, that we send them an English New Testament, or more information about being born again, or to be contacted by someone with an Amish background who had been born again and was serving the Lord. We fulfilled all their requests. One young Amish couple in Johnsonburg who received the letter were born again as a result, and they became part of the Johnsonburg Amish-Background Church.

Within a few months, we began working on compiling a more thorough and up-to-date mailing list of North American Amish households, with the plan of sending a follow-up letter that would include some of the positive responses that we received to the June letter. That follow-up letter is the next chapter in this book.

News often travels very fast among Amish folks! So you’ve perhaps already heard about the “Johnsonburg Awakening” in Pennsylvania. I’ve been blessed to have witnessed it from the day it began, which was January 31st of this year. That was the day I met Jonas ——–, an Amish minister who had been born again a few weeks earlier, and Levi ——–, an Amish bishop who had been born again a few years earlier.

Both of those Amish men, of course, had been baptized when they were teenagers, and according to what many Amish people believe, that is when they were supposed to have been born again. But by the time I met them, they both had come to realize that they had not actually been born again when they were baptized as teenagers. When they were baptized then, they said and did what they were expected to say and do, but they did not possess a genuine heart-faith in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until years later that they truly believed in Jesus—as evidenced by their genuine repentance and subsequent heart-obedience to His commandments. That is when they were truly born again. When someone truly believes in Jesus, Jesus becomes their Lord, because that is who He is. Jesus is Lord! In fact, the Bible calls Him the King of kings and Lord of lords! If Jesus is not your Lord, you don’t actually believe in Him. You may think you do, but you don’t. As the apostle James wrote, faith without works is dead, useless, and cannot save anyone (see James 2:14-26). And as the apostle Paul wrote, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9).

Again, when Jesus becomes someone’s Lord, that is when they actually believe in Him, and that is when they are born again. That is the spiritual “regeneration” and “new birth” that are both mentioned in the 1632 Dordrecht Confession, an experience that was the centerpiece of all the original Anabaptists’ faith. Your Anabaptist ancestors hundreds of years ago were all born again, just like Levi and Jonas. If they could speak to you from heaven, they would tell you that what I’m writing to you is the truth.

When someone is born again, it is a spiritual rebirth that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3:1-16). Born-again people are “new creations in Christ” as Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 5:17). When people are born again, they start their lives over.  That is why, in the New Testament, the apostles only baptized people who first confessed a genuine faith in Jesus (Acts 8:36-37). The baptisms of those believers represented their death and their resurrection. The apostles immersed them under water and then lifted them out of the water, which symbolized their death, burial, and resurrection, as well as their cleansing from sin (see Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12). Being born again is like being raised from the dead! Anyone who has been truly born again knows what I’m talking about. Born-again people view their lives as divided into two sections: before they were born again, and after they were born again. It is that dramatic. Has that happened yet to you? If not, it can! It can happen today!

When I met Jonas and Levi and their wives, it was obvious to me that they were all born again. I was born again myself more than 45 years ago, and I’ve been in vocational ministry for more than 40 years as a pastor and an itinerant teacher. I’ve personally met thousands of people who have been born again, and all of them have told me of the changes—some very dramatic—that occurred in their lives when they truly believed in Jesus and made Him their Lord. Some were former drunkards, adulterers, liars, thieves, or homosexuals (just like in the Corinthian church; read it yourself in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). All were sinners to some degree. But when they were born again, their lives were dramatically changed. All of them became better people. Being born again always improves people…most of them, very significantly! The only exception is when someone is raised in a godly Christian home. In their case, being born again is not so dramatic on the outside. But it certainly is dramatic on the inside!

And we should not be surprised that most born-again people are dramatically different from what they were before they were born again. The Bible also teaches that those who are born again are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When someone truly believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, whom the Bible also refers to as God, comes to live on the inside of them (Acts 5:3-4 and 1 Corinthians 6:19). Think about that! God comes to live on the inside of those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! How could such a thing happen without it dramatically changing the lives of such people? Who would ever believe that God could come to live inside someone and it would not significantly affect that person and their behavior?

So that is what happened to bishop Levi ——–, his wife, minister Jonas ——–, and his wife. And just like the thousands of other born-again people whom I’ve met over the last four decades, those four felt so blessed, and they wanted all their family members and friends to enjoy the same blessing. So we talked on the evening of January 31st about what could be done to achieve that.

We agreed to start by having a weekly Tuesday evening Bible study that would alternate between Levi’s and Jonas’ houses. And Jonas and Levi decided that they would try to start additional evening Bible studies to which they would invite other Amish people, where they could tell them about being born again and becoming true believers and true followers of Jesus Christ.

Before long, there were a total of five weekly Bible studies, and those who attended were also being born again. Just like their Anabaptist forefathers who read a translation of the Bible that was written in the language they used every day (German), they started reading Bibles that were written in the language they use every day: English! They were often surprised at all they learned, and what they learned further changed their lives. Just as Jesus promised them, the Holy Spirit became their teacher, leading them into the truth (John 16:13).

When those who attended one of those Bible studies truly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and were born again, they of course wanted their families and friends to also be born again. So they told them what had happened to them, and soon the Bible studies increased in size as others were born again. Within two months there were about two dozen adults attending the Bible studies, plus their children, and there were already six spiritual generations of Amish people who had believed and led others to genuine faith in Jesus and the new birth. By the time you read this, there will probably be even more Johnsonburg Amish people who are born again, and there will be even more spiritual generations. The Johnsonburg Awakening is now influencing other Amish communities even in other states.

As you might imagine, the devil did not like what was happening in the Johnsonburg community. Satan does not want anyone to be born again because he wants everyone to go to hell to suffer what they deserve for their sins. Make no mistake about it: Jesus said that unless people are born again, they will never see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). That means, unless you are born again, you will go to hell when you die. Again, read it for yourself in John 3:3 and 5. Your eternal destiny hinges on whether or not you are born again. Only born-again people will enter heaven.

Satan knows, of course, that Jesus has made a way for everyone to have their sins forgiven through His sacrificial death, and he knows that when people truly believe in Jesus, all of their sins are forgiven and they are born again. As long as they continue in faith, they will not perish, but will inherit eternal life, as Jesus promised (John 3:16). And so the devil does all he can to keep people from knowing and believing what Jesus said about the necessity of being born again. And the devil has worked very hard in the Johnsonburg community to slander all the newly-born-again people who attend the Johnsonburg Bible studies. He knew that, unless he stopped what was happening in Johnsonburg, it would spread to other Amish communities, and potentially thousands of people who are now on their way to hell would be born again, forgiven, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit who will empower them to live truly holy and pure lives.

I’m happy to tell you that the devil has not succeeded. Although bishop Levi, minister Jonas, and all the newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish have been excommunicated from their community, the gospel has continued to spread, not only in Johnsonburg, but in other Amish communities across the nation. The word “gospel” means “good news.” That is what Jesus commanded His followers to proclaim to the whole world (Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16).

Tragically, all of those newly-born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg have been accused of “adopting a new faith.” The truth, however, is that they have not adopted a new faith at all. Rather, they have recovered the original faith of your forefathers (the 16th-century Anabaptists), the apostles, and Jesus. All of those people believed that being born again is essential, and they all believed that those who are not born again will never see or enter the kingdom of God, as Jesus promised (John 3:1-16). They all believed that being born again was not something that automatically happened at baptism, but is something that occurs when people truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent. They all believed that being born again is an inward transformation that results in external changes, including sacrificial love for fellow Christians and obedience to Christ’s commandments (1 John 2:3; 3:14).

If you doubt me, just read the New Testament in a language you understand, and also read the 1632 Dordrecht Confession in a language you understand. Thousands of Amish and formerly-Amish people across the country have done just that, and they have been born again and are now experiencing all the blessings that accompany being born again. They know their sins are forgiven (1 John 2:2). They know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). They know they are God’s spiritual children and that He is their heavenly Father (1 John 3:1). They know they are not destined for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9). And they want their Amish family members and friends to experience the same blessing. So they never stop praying for them, and if they are given the chance, they try to tell them about being born again through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Current Situation

So what is the real reason that the newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish have been excommunicated? It is because they believe what their Anabaptist forefathers gave their lives for, that is, for believing the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is repeatedly presented in the New Testament. And just as the unregenerate (non-born-again) Roman Catholics and Protestants once persecuted the early Anabaptists because those Anabaptists were truly born again, so now unregenerate (non-born-again) Amish people are persecuting Amish people who have been truly born again. And just like the early Anabaptists proved that they loved Christ above all others, so the newly-born-again Amish believers are willing to forsake their family members and friends if they must in order to follow Jesus Christ in whom they have believed (Matthew 10:37).

I do understand that none of the unregenerate Johnsonburg Amish desire in their hearts to excommunicate and shun their family members and friends who have recently been born again. They think, however, that they must do it, because they think it is what God expects them to do. They are not full of hatred like the Roman Catholics and Protestants of old who murdered the early Anabaptists. Rather, they are simply ignorant of what is plainly and repeatedly taught in the New Testament, and they have inherited old traditions that tragically stand against the gospel of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, they are afraid of what other Amish people will think of them, and so they are caving to the peer pressure so that they, too, won’t be excommunicated and shunned. But that is cowardice. (If you want to know what happens to cowards, read Revelation 21:8.)

Anyone who reads the New Testament in a language they understand will see clearly what all the newly born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg have seen. If you are uncertain, then read the New Testament for yourself. Trust no one, including me, regarding what God expects of you. Read the New Testament for yourself and pray that God will help you to understand the truth found there. He will!

Regarding the Rumors

Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor that bishop Levi and minister Jonas will no longer practice shunning. That is entirely untrue. They will continue to practice shunning as it is outlined in the New Testament, particularly as it is described in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-12. Levi and Jonas will not, however, be practicing any shunning for reasons other than those found in the Bible. Once you are truly born again and the Holy Spirit is living in you, your primary desire is to obey God and His commandments. For that reason, when you have to choose between following God’s Word or following human traditions that conflict what God has revealed in the Bible, you follow the Bible, not the traditions.

Another rumor you may have heard is that an English man named David (that would be me) has introduced a different Bible that teaches it is OK to drive cars.

It is certainly true that in our weekly Bible studies, all of us have been using various English translations of the Bible. We have not been using the German translation of the Bible for the same reason we have not been using the Spanish, French, or Chinese translation of the Bible—because none of us can read Spanish, French, or Chinese. And none of us can read German (which is not true of all Amish people).

The Bible has been translated into hundreds of different languages, and for one simple reason, so that people who speak and read those languages can understand the Bible. That is why Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. He wanted the German people who didn’t understand Latin to be able to read a Bible in their own language.

I’m sure you know that the Bible was not originally written in German. Neither Moses, any of the Prophets, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, John, James or Jude ever spoke or wrote in German. Rather, the Bible was originally written in the languages of the people who were alive when it was written, which included Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. And that is why we use English translations of the Bible at our Bible studies. We want to understand the Bible so we can understand the gospel and obey Jesus. It is just that simple.

If you are concerned that we are not using the German Bible, you should not be. What makes anyone think that the German translation of the Bible is the only accurate translation among hundreds of translations that exist in hundreds of languages? The fact is, the groups of modern linguistic scholars who have translated many English versions of the Bible have many more ancient biblical manuscripts from which they can translate that were not available to translators like Martin Luther 500 hundred years ago. That is because so many ancient biblical manuscripts have been discovered since then. Modern translations are more accurate to the original texts than translations from several hundred years ago.

Regarding the rumor that the Bible we are using teaches it is OK to drive cars, there is no translation of the Bible, including the German translation, that teaches it is wrong to drive cars. The Bible was completed 1,800 years before cars were invented, so of course the Bible has nothing to say about cars.

Regarding driving cars, I suspect that all of the Johnsonburg Amish who have recently been born again will sooner or later be driving cars, for several reasons. First, because no version or translation of the Bible forbids driving cars, as I have already stated. The newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish follow only the Bible and obey Jesus’ commandments, just as did all true Christians for the first 1,600 years of Christianity’s existence. No true Christians for the first 1,600 years of church history had any Ordnung other than Christ’s commandments.

Second, there is no moral principle that forbids driving cars. Every Amish person already knows that, because all of them pay others to drive them in cars. How could any Amish person honestly claim it is a sin to drive a car when all Amish people pay others to drive them in cars? If it is a sin to drive a car, then Amish people are paying others to sin on their behalf.

Imagine if I wanted to murder an enemy but I felt that murdering him would be a sin. If I paid someone else to murder my enemy, would I be guiltless? What would you think of me if I said to you, “I would never murder anyone!” when I had, in fact, just paid someone to murder my enemy?

By the same reasoning, every Amish person who has paid someone to drive him in a car is morally no different than an Amish person who has driven a car himself. Any Amish person who has paid to be driven in a car and has also condemned another Amish person for driving a car is being hypocritical.

The third reason I suspect that all of the Johnsonburg Amish who have recently been born again will eventually be driving cars is because they have been delivered from the bondage of the fear of others (which is what keeps Amish people from doing many other things that are not morally wrong) and they have replaced it with the fear of God. We read in John 12:42-43: “Many even of the rulers believed in Him [Jesus], but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

The newly-born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg are not afraid of what others may think of them or what others may do to them. In fact, they count themselves blessed if they are persecuted for their faith, because Jesus promised His persecuted followers that they will enjoy great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12). Because they know that there is nothing in the Bible that forbids driving a car, they can drive cars with a clean conscience.

Of course, driving cars or not driving cars has nothing to do with being born again or getting to heaven. Most Amish folks who realize that defend their policy regarding using taxis as a means to lessen temptation. OK, but I’ve owned a car for more than 40 years, and I only use my car for good! One good thing I do with my car is drive Amish people to where they want to go!

In any case, if you want to know how being born again changes people, ask people who have been born again! If you know Amish people who are born again, ask them! If you know any former Amish people who are born again, instead of shunning them, why not humbly discuss the Bible with them? In the Johnsonburg group, there are born-again young people who previously had a habit of getting drunk every weekend. But no longer. Yet they have been excommunicated and are being shunned! Should we prefer that they return to being drunkards, whom the Bible declares will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)? One of them is a bishop’s grandson!

But should not all Amish people honor their parents? Yes, of course they should! That is a commandment from the Bible. But Jesus requires His followers to love Him more than they love their parents (Matt. 10:37 and Luke 14:26). If followers of Jesus are forced to choose between honoring their parents or honoring God, they will choose God. When a man whom Jesus called to follow Him requested that he first bury his father (which would have been honoring his father), Jesus said, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22). Had that man honored his father in the way he desired, he would have sinned. Jesus expects us to honor our parents as long as honoring our parents doesn’t get in the way of obeying Him.

Jesus declared that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). No one, especially the devil, can stop the gospel from spreading. Any who are standing against the recently born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg, or anywhere else, are fighting against God. Those among the Amish deacons, ministers and bishops who excommunicate those who are born again are even more accountable to God as leaders, because “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). They should be leading their flocks into genuine faith in Jesus Christ and the new birth. They, like Levi and Jonas, should be leading Bible studies to help their flocks learn and obey the commandments of Jesus. Jesus warned the Pharisees of His day, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

Those who excommunicate and shun people because they are born again reveal that they themselves are not born again. One of the signs of being born again is love for others who are born again (1 John 3:14-15). If you are shunning others because they are born again, you are shunning God’s people who have had their sins forgiven and in whom God’s Holy Spirit dwells! So, you are effectively shunning God! That is why, when Amish people are born again, one of the first things they do is ask for the forgiveness of those whom they have been shunning because they were born again.

If you can read German, wonderful. If you can’t, I strongly encourage you to read an English Translation of the New Testament. There are many English translations, such as the New American Standard Version, King James Version, New Living Version and so on. If anyone tells you that it is dangerous for you to read the Bible because it might lead you astray, you can be sure that is the devil speaking through that person. Only the devil would tell you not to read God’s Word. If you don’t have any access to an English New Testament, I would be happy to mail you one. You don’t need me, or anyone else, to discover the truth that is in the Bible. Jesus promised everyone, “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7).

You are dearly loved by God! Jesus died for all your sins so that you could have eternal life! You can be born again today and become a “new creation” in Christ!

If you have a question, would like to receive additional information about being born again according to the Bible, or would like to be contacted by someone who was born Amish but who has been born again and is now a follower of Christ, please respond by mailing the enclosed card back to me. It will only cost you a postage stamp. You can also write to me at: P.O. Box 33, Smicksburg, PA 16256.

I hope to hear from you. In the meantime, I will not stop praying that you will read the New Testament for yourself that you might believe the truth that is only found there! If you have already been born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, spread the good news to those in your Amish community who are waiting to hear!

James 4:6: God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

To Everyone Who is Hoping to be Good Enough to Get into Heaven

The Amish Papers - Chapter 7

For everyone who is hoping to be good enough to get into Heaven

Here is another article written in early 2022 that was published on our website. It explores a number of important theological issues all centered around holiness, forgiveness for sins we commit as believers, penance, public confession of sin, the discipline of the Lord, the loss of salvation, the assurance of salvation, and the marks of a genuine new birth. It could be helpful for any believer who has questions regarding these issues.

It is not only Amish people who are hoping they are good enough to get into heaven. Probably the majority of people on Planet Earth—at least those who believe in an afterlife—are hoping they are good enough to graduate at death to something better. It is a hope shared by billions of people, most of whom are persuaded that one’s state after death is determined by how one lives his or her life.

Although I’ve never been Amish, I know quite a few Amish people, as I live in the middle of Pennsylvania’s third-largest Amish community. As I’ve talked with them about their beliefs, I’ve learned that they’ve been taught all of their lives that you can’t know until you die if you will make it into heaven. The reason is because they believe that heaven hinges on their holiness, and no one will know until they die if they’ve been holy enough. Until then, they can only hope for the best.

The standard for holiness in Amish communities—as all Amish and Amish-background readers already know—is not just the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule. It is also their local Ordnung, which legislates almost every detail of Amish life and culture. If you are not Amish, you may not know that every Amish adult is expected to affirm his or her agreement with the local Ordnung twice annually. Unrepentant infractions are grounds for excommunication.

Of course, because good Amish people can only hope they will be considered worthy for heaven, excommunicated Amish people have no hope at all. Rather, they are told that they will go to hell. That fear is a big part of what has perpetuated Amish culture for hundreds of years. If you believe that driving a car is a sure ticket to hell, that has a way of motivating you to keep driving a horse and buggy.

In Amish thinking, anyone who says he is certain of attaining heaven is prideful. Only proud people, they believe, would ever think they are good enough for heaven. And I couldn’t agree more. Looking at my own life, I tend to think I’m more deserving of hell than heaven.

It may surprise you, however, to hear me also say that I’m certain—if I died right now—that I would be going to heaven and not to hell. Obviously, my reason for being certain of my salvation is not because I think I’m good enough for heaven. On the contrary, I’m 100% certain I’m not good enough.

I was not good enough before I became a believer in Jesus about 46 years ago, and since I became a believer in Him, although my behavior is much more in line with God’s will, I’m still not good enough. The only way a person could be good enough to earn a place in heaven would be to be perfect his or her entire life, never sinning once. It is certainly too late for me to employ that strategy, and I’d be willing to bet it is too late for you as well! So, if any of us folks who have sinned—either a little or a lot—are going to get into heaven, it is going to require some mercy from God. The only way for sinners to get into heaven is through God’s mercy.

All Amish folks would agree with me on that point. They are, generally speaking, very much aware that they are sinners who need mercy from God. Amish belief, however, places a limit on God’s mercy, which then necessitates an unknown degree of personal obedience to make up for the mercy God does not extend. So Amish people believe they are saved by a combination of God’s mercy and personal obedience. And that obedience involves not only obedience to the “law of Christ” (which includes every commandment that Jesus gave to His followers) but also to the hundreds of unwritten requirements contained within their local Ordnung. So, of course it is impossible for them to know for certain if they will attain heaven. All they can do is hope for the best—for themselves and their loved ones who have died before them.

It may surprise you to learn, however, that none of the early Anabaptists believed like modern Amish people believe. Neither did any of the early Christians. Nor did Paul, Peter, John, James or Jude. Neither did Jesus.

Mercy and Grace

Any person who reads the Bible will repeatedly encounter two of the most wonderful words in the English language, which are mercy and grace. Both are expressions of love, and you know that if anyone has ever extended either to you. Both mercy and grace are undeserved blessings. To receive mercy or grace from a fellow human being is lovely. To receive mercy or grace from God, well, there are no words to describe how wonderful that is!

Although similar, mercy is sometimes defined as “not receiving a penalty you do deserve,” whereas grace is often defined as “receiving a blessing you do not deserve.” Whether those contrasting definitions are entirely accurate is not that important. Mercy and grace are both forms of undeserved favor. Every person who has ever lived has received both from God, but those who have believed in Jesus have received—by far and away—the most mercy and grace, and they are destined to receive even more of both in the future.

Let’s consider some of the mercy and grace God has showered upon those who believe in Jesus.

Scripture tells us that believers in Jesus “will not perish”:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Do you believe in Jesus? If “yes,” then you will not perish according to Jesus’ own promise in John 3:16. Of course, we all deserve to perish because of our sin, and to perish in hell. But because of His great mercy towards us, the Bible promises believers:

God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us (1 Thes. 5:9).

Do you believe that promise? If you do, it should also fill you with confidence that your eternal future is bright. God has not destined you for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Notice that Paul did not credit any good things believers have done as being the reason they are not destined for wrath. Rather, Paul credited Jesus and His death, because Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sins. And not just for some of our sins, but for all of our sins. That includes even the sins we might yet commit in the future. That is why the apostle John, writing to Christians, said:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

My little children, I amwriting these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 1:8–2:2).

A Closer Look at 1 John 1:8-2:2

To begin to paraphrase John, he wrote that if we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived. We are all sinners. As sinners, we’re going to need forgiveness, which is why Jesus instructed His followers to pray for forgiveness of their sins in their daily prayers:

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matt. 6:11-12).

This is not to say that believers in Jesus sin just as much or to the same degree that nonbelievers do. Although believers are certainly capable of committing every sin that unbelievers commit, they have God-given incentives not to sin, as well as power over sin, that generally produce a much higher degree of holiness than what is observed in unbelievers. Later in this article, I will discuss some of those incentives and power in more detail, but I only want to establish now that Christians still sometimes sin. And that is why John wrote to Christians regarding what they should do if and when they do sin. Specifically, they should confess their sin to God. John declared that if we, as Christians, confess our sins to God, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Do you believe that promise? If you, as a believer in Jesus, confess your sin, God will mercifully do two things for you: (1) He will forgive you. And (2) He will also “cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” That means you are instantly perfectly clean in God’s eyes as soon as you confess. If you think you need to do something beyond confessing your sin to God, you are mistaken. Contained within your confession, of course, is your remorse, as well as your desire to not repeat the same sin. (And I think we all know that those good desires do not guarantee we never will repeat the same sin.)

Although John did not mention it in the passage we’re considering, if your sin has harmed another person, of course you should also confess your sin to that person and seek his or her forgiveness. But John is referring to what needs to be done to be forgiven by God.

John also wrote that Jesus is our “Advocate with the Father.” That is, Jesus is our lawyer who defends us against the condemnation we deserve for our sin. Jesus, of course, would never lie and argue that we didn’t commit the sins of which we are guilty. Rather, He declares that the penalty for our sin has been paid. John wrote in the same passage that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins.” (Note that John is definitely including the sins committed by Christians.)

The dictionary definition of the verb propitiate is “to win or regain the favor of someone by doing something that pleases them.” The New Testament Greek word, hilasmos, which is often translated propitiation in English translations carries the meaning of “making appeasement by a sacrifice” or “atonement.” Jesus made atonement on the cross, where He suffered and died for all of our sins. He appeased the wrath of God that we deserved. Therefore, to think that what Jesus did was insufficient, or that we must add some additional atonement, is at best an unscriptural idea, and at worst, a degradation of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. To “do penance” as a means of atoning for our sins is to say that Jesus’ sufferings and death were not enough!

It is interesting that in Amish culture, those who sin are expected to confess their sin to the entire church and then endure a time of being excommunicated or shunned, a form of “doing penance.” Tragically, most Amish folks don’t realize that some of their Anabaptist forefathers gave their lives standing against the idea of “penance” as it was practiced then and still today within the Roman Catholic Church. When Roman Catholics “go to confession” where they privately confess their sins to a priest, penance is often prescribed. All of the Protestant Reformers and early Anabaptists considered such a practice to be heretical. Even if it is claimed that penance only validates the sincerity of one’s repentance, it can easily be perceived by the one doing penance that he or she is “making up for their sin,” which is a form of atonement beyond Christ’s atonement.

There is one more important part of John’s words in 1 John 1:8-2:2 that I want to emphasize. Take note John wrote that, if we confess our sins, God is “faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Although we might have thought the basis of God’s forgiveness is His mercy and grace, John says it is God’s faithfulness and righteousness. That is, it is right for God to forgive us. How can that be? The reason it is right for God to forgive us is because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. Yes, Jesus’ death was a manifestation of God’s mercy toward us in that His death provided the means for our forgiveness by God, but that forgiveness is a manifestation of God’s faithfulness to do what is right because of what Jesus did on the cross! If God didn’t forgive us when we acknowledge our sin, it would be wrong of Him—in light of Jesus’ payment!

So, I hope you can see how silly it would be to think that we need to rely on anything other than Jesus’ sufferings and death to atone for our sins. Imagine someone paying off your long-overdue million-dollar debt and all the overdue interest, so that you were completely debt-free. Then imagine giving your former creditor ten cents to show him how sorry you were for not paying him when the money was due. That is somewhat akin to any “penance” we might do before God.

Public Confession of Sin

But what about the apostle James’ admonition to “confess your sins to one another”? (Jas. 5:16).

Clearly, James was not prescribing a practice that required all Christians at all times to confess all their sins to the entire church. Rather, he was addressing a specific group of Christians, and that specific group becomes obvious when we read the context of James’ words:

Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (Jas. 5:14-16).

The specific Christians whom James was addressing were sick Christians. They should call for the church elders to pray over them with faith and anoint them with oil in Jesus’ name. James said that such folks will not only be healed but also be forgiven, if they have committed sins. The implication is that, if their sickness was the result of God’s discipline for their sin, God would both heal them and forgive them of the sins that opened the door to their sickness. Paul wrote of such a possibility in his first letter to the Corinthian believers:

For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:30-32).

It would be unsafe to conclude that all sickness (and premature death) that Christians suffer is a manifestation of God’s discipline for sin, but it would be equally unsafe to conclude that no sickness Christians suffer is a manifestation of God’s discipline for sin. It is every Christian’s responsibility to “judge himself,” as Paul wrote, and if we will, we can avoid God’s discipline/judgment.

The kind of sins of which James wrote that Christians should confess to one another are most likely sins they have committed against each other, as that interpretation fits best within the whole context of the book of James and the entire Bible. If we read the entire book of James, we see that James was writing to people who were very familiar with strife among themselves (see Jas. 4:1-2, 11-12). Broken relationships are only restored through confession. So James admonished them to reconcile by making confession and extending forgiveness, evidenced by prayers for healing.

Christians are commanded by God to love one another. To disobey that commandment is to potentially open the door to the Lord’s discipline. For that reason, to sin against a fellow believer is to potentially open the door to sickness, or even premature death. But that door can be closed by going to the person who has been sinned against and by asking for his or her forgiveness.

Of course, offended Christians are commanded to forgive those who confess their sins against them. If they don’t, they will get in trouble with God (see Matt. 18:23-35). If they have truly forgiven a sick believer who is requesting their forgiveness, they will have no trouble praying for that person’s healing. That is more of what James was talking about. There is no scripture in the New Testament that requires all Christians to confess all their sins in front of the entire church, much less any scripture that requires some form of penance from believers who have sinned.

The Initial and Latter Cleansings

When someone first repents of their sins and believes in Jesus, all of their past sins are forgiven and cleansed:

“Of Him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14)

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake (1 John 2:12).

Not only that, but new believers become “new creations in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17), the Holy Spirit comes to live inside them (1 Cor. 6:19), and they are given a new inward nature that motivates and empowers them for holiness (Eph. 4:24). Still, those new creations have a residue of the old, sinful nature, so they are faced with a daily battle between flesh and spirit (see Gal. 5:16-24). As the apostle James wrote to believers in his day: “We all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). No Christian, of course, wants to sin. But sometimes we stumble. The word “stumble” implies falling unintentionally. So, although all true Christians have experienced a very significant initial cleansing, they occasionally need a subsequent, minor cleansing. Can you relate? I certainly can.

You may recall the time when Peter resisted Jesus’ intention to wash his feet. Jesus said to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). Peter replied, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head” (John 13:9). Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” (John 13:10).

That conversation between Jesus and Peter is an excellent illustration of the initial and subsequent cleansings within the normal Christian life. As new believers, we are washed clean of our sin in a monumental way. Every sinful thought, word and deed is erased from our record when we believe in Jesus. God looks at us as if we had never sinned. That is what the New Testament means when it says that we have been “made righteous” or are “justified.” It is just-as-if-I’d never sinned!

But in our daily lives in the world, as we face all the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we still sometimes get some dust on our feet. We need Jesus, the one who formerly cleansed our entire bodies, to then wash our feet, reminding us again of His humble service and great mercy. Once He does wash our feet, we are just as clean as we were when He first cleansed us. His mercy is more than sufficient.

What if a Believer Dies with Unconfessed Sin?

Since God expects us to confess our sins in order for us to be forgiven, what if we die with unconfessed sin?

We have already read a scripture passage that addresses that very issue in 1 Corinthians:

For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:30-32).

Obviously, those Corinthian Christians who had died prematurely due to God’s judgement/discipline died with unconfessed sins. If they would have “judged themselves” Paul said they would have avoided God’s judgment. So did they go to hell? No, Paul wrote that they were “disciplined by the Lord so that [they would] not be condemned along with the world.” So they obviously did not go to hell.

And because Scripture teaches that we must all one day stand before God in judgment (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:9-10), we can be sure that any unconfessed sins will be addressed at our judgement. Obviously, if God can forgive us when we confess our sin on earth, He can also forgive us if we confess our sin in heaven.

This is not to say that there won’t be eternal consequences for our disobedience as believers. Scripture teaches that some believers will suffer loss of heavenly rewards they could have enjoyed had they been obedient. Concerning himself, an apostle, and concerning Apollos, a teacher, Paul wrote:

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yetso as through fire (1 Cor. 3:5-15).

According to Paul, it is possible—even for Christian leaders like himself and Apollos—to build Jesus’ church using figuratively-flammable materials that will one day perish in the flames of judgment. Those Christian leaders who build with “wood, hay and straw,” as compared to “gold, silver and precious stones,” will tragically witness their ministry works turn to ashes. But will such ministers be condemned to hell for building Jesus’ church using means and methods that proved to be of no real value? No, Paul wrote that, although their works will be “burned up” and they “will suffer loss,” they themselves “will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). The fire that burned their worthless works will also erase those works from their ministerial record.

Born-again Amish bishops, ministers and deacons would be wise to ask themselves what kind of materials they are using to build Jesus’ church. Will the various manmade Ordnungs which can be found nowhere in the New Testament fall under the category of wood, hay and straw, or gold, silver and precious stones? Of course, there is no need for Amish bishops, ministers and deacons who are not born again to ask such questions, because they will never see or enter God’s kingdom according to Jesus (see John 3:3,5). They will be cast into hell along with all the people whom they misled into believing that heaven is attained by keeping hundreds of manmade rules, an idea that contradicts the gospel and denigrates Jesus’ sacrificial death.

But is it Not Possible to Forfeit Salvation?

Some claim that no Christian can possesses assurance of salvation because no Christian knows if he or she will “endure to the end,” because Jesus said, “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matt. 10:22; 24:13).

Indeed, because it is by believing in Jesus we have the guarantee that we “will not perish but will have eternal life” (John 3:16), we must of course continue to believe in order to obtain ultimate salvation and heaven. We have been saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8), but not by a momentary instance of faith, but by a faith that continues and endures.

Similarly, Paul wrote that Jesus “has now reconciled us in His fleshly body through death, in order to present us before God holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed we continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that we have heard” (Col. 1:22-23). To ultimately be saved in the end, we must “continue in the faith.”

So, the New Testament teaches that (1) faith is not necessarily permanent or perpetual, and (2) those who currently believe could abandon their faith at any time in the future (see Luke 8:13). Therefore, none of us can be 100% certain that our faith will endure to the end. Those of us, however, who have believed steadfastly for decades, and through many trials, have good reason to think that we will never stop believing. Still, we always remain cautiously alert, lest within us ever arises “an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Heb.3:12).

Those facts, however, do not prove that it is impossible for us to possess assurance of eternal life right now. If I were to die right now believing in Jesus, then I “will not perish, but will have eternal life” (John 3:16). Therefore, I possess current assurance of my salvation even though the possibility exists that I could fall away from faith at some future point. The apostle John certainly believed that it was possible for a believer to forfeit his salvation (see 1 John 2:28; 5:16, yet he still wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13). According to John, knowing that you currently have eternal life is the normal Christian experience.

What About Faith Without Works?

Is it not true, however, as James wrote, that “faith without works is dead”? (Jas. 2:26).

Yes, it is certainly true. Faith without works cannot save anyone (see Jas. 2:14). Then how could anyone be certain that he has sufficient works to validate the authenticity of saving faith?

Take note that James did not write, “Faith without perfect holiness is dead and cannot save you.” Rather, he only wrote what everyone knows is true: If someone believes something, you can tell they believe it by their actions.

People who believe there is a scorpion hiding in their boot do not put their foot in that boot.

People who believe that their adult children and grandchildren are coming for a visit prepare for that visit.

People who believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for their sins and before whom they will stand one day strive to obey Him. That is how we know that many people—including even Amish people who say they believe in Jesus—don’t actually believe in Him. Keeping the Ordnung is more important to them than keeping Jesus’ commandments. They are more concerned about what other Amish people think about them than what God thinks about them. They are religious but not righteous. They have no genuine faith in Jesus, so they have never had their sins forgiven, they have never been born again, and they will not enter God’s kingdom—unless they repent and believe. Once they do believe in Jesus, their lives will change, and they will be characterized by daily striving to obey Him. But will they achieve perfection? No, as James also said, “we all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). So, “faith without works is dead” but “we all stumble in many ways.”

The Marks of the New Birth

If you have truly been born again, you are a different person than you were before you were born again. The Holy Spirit has come to live inside you, and He has transformed your spirit, the “inward person.” According to the apostle John, that transformation manifests itself in the lives of believers in at least three ways:

First, that transformation shows up in their confession of faith:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God (1 John 4:15).

John was not writing about a one-time confession when someone is baptized, a confession that is often not made from true faith, but from a desire to please one’s family. The Greek word translated “confesses” implies an ongoing confession. Born again people often confess their faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and not just when they are reading a prayer or repeating words in church. They are not ashamed to confess their faith before others, and they often do. As Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).

Second, the transformation shows up in their love for their fellow believers in Christ:

We know that we havepassed out of death into life, because we love the brethren (1 John 3:14).

This is how we know that many Amish people have never been truly born again. When someone is actually born again by God’s Spirit, Amish people often excommunicate him. I know of Amish people who have been excommunicated because they started studying the Bible with others! That is a sure sign that those who are doing the excommunication are not born again. Born again people love other born-again people! They don’t excommunicate them for being born again! And born-again people also love God’s Word! So they naturally want to talk about what God has said with other believers.

Third, the transformation shows up in their obedience to Jesus’ commandments:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments (1 John 2:3).

As I have already said, this is how we know that many Amish people have not been born again. They aren’t keeping Jesus’ commandments. Some are drunkards. Some are liars, or gossips or slanderers. Some are fornicators and adulterers. Some, believe it or not, sexually abuse children. Some are always engaged in hatred and strife even while claiming to be “people of peace.” Some are lovers of money. Some are full of pride like Pharisees. And many are trying to earn their way to heaven by keeping hundreds of manmade laws, in by doing, are ignoring the gospel of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Paul warned:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

But all those things change when people are born again. Paul continues:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11).

Notice that the three scriptures I cited regarding the three ways that believers are transformed are all from John’s first epistle (1 John 2:3; 3:14; 4:15). John repeatedly mentioned those three ways of transformation: People who are truly born again continually confess that Jesus is the Son of God, they love other believers, and they obey Jesus’ commandments. And then John concludes his letter by saying, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). That is, John repeatedly mentioned the three proofs of transformation so that his readers could be certain that God’s grace had indeed transformed them.

What about you? Is the reason that you don’t have assurance of eternal life is because you have never truly been born again? Is it because you are hoping that you are good enough, but you are not certain that you are? Is it because you think that heaven is earned by a combination of keeping Jesus’ commandments as well as hundreds of manmade commandments?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then I have very good news for you. You can have assurance of eternal life by abandoning all hope that you can be saved by your conduct and then by believing that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sins. He will forgive and cleanse you. He will cause you to be born again. He will put His Holy Spirit inside of you. And you will know that you can never be good enough to merit heaven or eternal life, but that you have been saved by grace through faith. What are you waiting for?

What Does It Really Mean to be Born Again?

The Amish Papers - Chapter 2

What does it really mean to be born again?

Because of the encouragement of Paul Miller, then editor of The Amish Voice, I wrote some additional articles to submit to him for consideration for publication. Paul liked the article below, but he told me it was too lengthy, so he divided it and published it as a two-part series in two consecutive editions of The Amish Voice in 2020.  Both of those editions were mailed to every Amish household in the Smicksburg community, but I received no responses from any of them. I did receive some positive feedback from Amish and ex-Amish readers in other places. This article is also one that we sent to those who responded to our June, 2022 mailing to over 60,000 mostly-Amish households, who asked for more information about the new birth.

One of the most tragic statements I’ve ever heard was spoken from the mouth of a woman who had encountered some people whom she considered odd—folks who had identified themselves as “born-again Christians.” She rolled her eyeballs as she mocked them, saying to some family members, “Watch out for those ‘born-again’ Christians! They’re out to convert you!”

What made her warning so tragic is that she attended a Methodist church every Sunday. Not only was the founder of her denomination—John Wesley—fully persuaded almost 300 years ago of the necessity of being born again[1], but even more persuaded was the founder of all of Christianity—Jesus Christ—about 2,000 years ago! Jesus once said to a very religious man, a highly-respected teacher and Pharisee named Nicodemus:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Take note that that solemn declaration, spoken by the King of God’s kingdom, begins with the words, “truly, truly.” Jesus didn’t want Nicodemus—or anyone else—to take His words lightly. It was a declaration of unassailable truth uttered by the very Son of God: Unless one is born again, he absolutely cannot see the kingdom of God. There are no exceptions. For that reason, everyone, and especially those who profess to be Christians, should ask themselves this very important question: Have I been born again? (And if you answered “yes,” a second important question is: “Have I REALLY been born again?”)

One who has not been born again is comparable to a baby who has not yet been born. She is blind to the world outside her mother’s womb. She may hear muffled sounds and perhaps even perceive a dim light that penetrates the darkness of the womb, but she is completely shut off to that world and cannot see it. Similarly, those who are not born again may sense some hints of the kingdom of God “out there.” They may, like Nicodemus or the mocking woman I first mentioned, be steeped in religion and therefore think they already have some connection to God. But still, until they are born again, they cannot see His kingdom. They live in isolation, blind to a wonderful realm that potentially awaits them.

Conversely, one who has been born again is comparable to a baby who has escaped the womb and now entered into a brand-new world he previously could not see. The born-again believer has his eyes opened to see God’s kingdom. He realizes there is (of course) a great king—Jesus Himself—who rules over that kingdom. He understands that Jesus’ kingdom includes not only himself, but everyone who truly believes in Him and has thus submitted to His loving rule. For his “fellow kingdom citizens,” he feels a special affinity, a supernatural love. He soon realizes that Jesus’ kingdom extends all over the world, and that it will one day be the only kingdom on earth—when Jesus finally banishes all those who did not heed His solemn words: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The Conversation Begins

Not understanding Jesus’ declaration regarding the necessity of a second birth, Nicodemus replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4).

Nicodemus apparently thought Jesus was referring to a physical rebirth. So Jesus repeated what He had already said, but altered it slightly to help Nicodemus realize He was referring to a spiritual rebirth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

First, notice Jesus again began His second declaration with the words, “Truly, truly.” Of course, Jesus never lied. So we should believe everything He said. How much more when He prefaces His words with “Truly, truly”!

Second, it is from this elaboration we realize that, not only can one not see God’s kingdom unless he is born again, neither can one enter God’s kingdom. Jesus’ solemn declaration has become even more solemn. No one can enter God’s kingdom unless they are born again. There are no exceptions. This teaches us that all true Christians are born again. If you are not born again, you are not a true Christian.

If you think you are a Christian, but you have not been born again, you put your own opinion above the solemn words of Jesus. You exalt yourself above God! (Which probably isn’t a good strategy for getting into heaven…)

Third, it is from this declaration by Jesus we realize that, to be born again, one does not need to re-enter his mother’s womb. Rather, he needs to be born “of water and the Spirit.” What does that mean?

Some think the phrase being “born of water” refers to a physical birth, which is often preceded by a rush of water-like fluid from the breaking of a mother’s amniotic sac. If this is the correct interpretation, Jesus was simply telling Nicodemus that one must experience both a physical and a spiritual birth in order to see and enter God’s kingdom. Jesus seems to also draw this contrast in His very next sentence: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

Other interpreters, however, wonder why Jesus would affirm to Nicodemus something that is so obvious, namely, that one must be physically born to ultimately enter God’s kingdom. For that reason, some think Jesus was referring to water baptism, or to something else that the word water might symbolically represent, such as the word of God, spiritual purification, or the Holy Spirit (see Ezek. 36:25; John 7:38-39; Titus 3:5; Eph. 5:26; 1 Cor. 6:11). I don’t see a great need to be dogmatic about any single interpretation, as all of them contain some biblical truth. Every new believer should be baptized in water. And one must respond in faith to God’s word as revealed in the gospel, be spiritually cleansed, and be indwelt and transformed by the Holy Spirit to enter God’s kingdom. According to the New Testament, all those things occur when one is born again. So let us focus on what it means to be “born of the Spirit.”

Being Born of the Spirit

Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). So it is the spirit of a person that needs to be reborn if that person is to enter God’s kingdom.

Scripture teaches that all of us are tripartite in nature—spirit, soul and body:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 5:23).

My body, of course, is my physical, material self—my flesh, bones, blood and so on.

My soul is my mind, emotions and intellect.

My spirit is revealed in the Bible as being the “true person,” who lives on even after my body dies:

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:26, emphasis added).

The human spirit is referred to in the Bible as the “hidden person of the heart” (see I Pet. 3:4). The human spirit is a person. People who have temporarily died during hospital surgery sometimes say, “I came out of my body and ascended to the ceiling, and I was looking down at the doctors who were trying to revive me.” They refer to their spirit as “I” and “me.” Your spirit is the “real you.” And your spirit must be born again by the direct action of God’s Holy Spirit if you are to see or enter God’s kingdom.

Why is being born again essential? Because the Bible teaches that prior to being born again, our spirits possess a sinful nature, and we are “spiritually dead.” Consider Paul’s words in his Ephesian letter:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Eph. 2:1-6).

Paul told the Ephesian Christians they were formerly dead in their “trespasses and sins.” Obviously, they were not formerly physically dead, so he must have been saying they were spiritually dead. Their sins made them dead to God. They lived like everyone else, indulging in sin every day, not even realizing that the spirit of the devil, whom Paul called “the prince of the power of the air,” was “working in” them. They were “by nature children of wrath.” That is, they sinned because they were sinners by nature.

This state of spiritual death is the same state in which Adam and Eve found themselves after they sinned. God had told them they would die on the day they ate the forbidden fruit, but Scripture tells us that Adam lived hundreds of years after he sinned. So he must have died spiritually that day. He found himself cast out of Eden, alienated from God. That is the state of every spiritually dead person. It is not only their sin that separates them from God, but their sinful nature.

And all of this explains why no one can enter God’s kingdom unless they are born again. People who are spiritually dead, whose very nature is sinful, who have Satan’s spirit working in them, cannot enter God’s kingdom unless they are somehow radically transformed. They must be born again!

Thankfully, the Christians in Ephesus had all experienced that wonderful spiritual regeneration. As we just read in Paul’s letter to them, God, in His great mercy and love, changed them from being dead to being alive, spiritually. That is just another way to describe being born again. Both Jesus and the apostle John referred to the spiritual rebirth as “passing from death to life”:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24; see also 1 John 3:14).

Obviously, in light of Scripture’s very descriptive words related to this subject, one who has been truly born again has experienced a profound spiritual change. To be born again is not a human effort of reformation; it is a divine work of resurrection! It is not “turning over a new leaf,” but “receiving a new life”!

This is not to say that true Christians have no struggle with sin. Although they possess spirits that have been transformed, they possess souls/minds that are being transformed, and bodies that are awaiting future transformation. Their transformed spirits find themselves at war with their non-transformed “flesh” (see Gal. 5:19-23), but they are no longer slaves to sin as they were prior to their rebirth.

Religious Blindness

Tragically, those who are often the most blind to their dead spiritual state are those who are the most religious. As they keep their traditions, manmade rules, and even some of God’s commandments, they wrongly assume that they have no need to be spiritually reborn.

Such folks are somewhat comparable to pigs that have been bathed and sprinkled with perfume. They may look clean and smell nice, but they are still pigs. And if you put them close to mud, they will gravitate towards it. That is their nature.

The only way to keep pigs from returning to the mud is to build a fence that prevents them from doing what they want to do. And it is the same way for religious people who have not been born again. Their leaders, ancient or modern, build fences to keep them away from sin. In Jesus’ day, this is exactly what religious leaders like Nicodemus did. They built fences around God’s laws, hoping to keep people from even getting close to sinning. But those “pigs” always found some way to slip under or around the fence, because pigs love to wallow in the mud! And when they found their way under and around those fences and into the mud, they often discovered that their fence-building leaders were already wallowing in the mud themselves!

God, however, takes pigs and transforms them into sheep, the “sheep of His pasture”! (Ps. 79:13). That is why Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Difference

People who are born again are radically different than they were before they were born again. From the moment of their spiritual rebirth, they immediately see themselves and others differently. They know that every person is either born again or not born again, a new creation or not a new creation. And the first thing that enters their minds when they see or meet a new person is, “Are they born again or not?” They want everyone to experience the same rebirth they’ve experienced.

When religious people experience a spiritual rebirth, they no longer look at the world as consisting of everyone who is in their religious group and everyone who is not. Again, they realize that there are only two categories of people in God’s eyes—those who have been born again and those who have not been born again. When religious people are born again, they are immediately concerned about everyone who is not born again, especially those within their religious group. And they can’t keep quiet about it, any more than they could keep quiet if they saw their neighbor’s house on fire. Because people who are not born again are on the road to hell—unless Jesus was lying when He said, “Unless you are born again, you cannot enter God’s kingdom.”

Spiritual rebirth is just one of numerous immediate blessings God pours out upon those who believe in His Son. God forgives their sins, makes them His children, gives them the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and promises them eternal life. These blessings are like birthday gifts, but gifts that are given at birth!

How Can I Be Born Again?

Babies in the womb can’t birth themselves. They are birthed by the action of their mothers. Similarly, no person can cause himself to be born again. Spiritual rebirth is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. This is why the New Testament refers to those who have been born again as people who are “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6, 8) and “born of God” (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1). Being born again is a divine miracle that no one can fully understand or explain.

The Holy Spirit, however, doesn’t regenerate people’s spirits arbitrarily. He regenerates the spirits of those who believe in Jesus. John wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah] is born of God” (1 John 5:1, emphasis added).

John also wrote, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith (1 John 5:4). Faith is the key that opens the door to being “born of God” and “overcoming the world” (that is, not living like the people of the world who are not born again).

Similarly, and just a few seconds after telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, Jesus told him:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16; emphasis added).

It is simply by believing in Jesus that eternal life, and spiritual rebirth, is gained. If we had lived sinless lives of perfection, we would not need to be born again, and we would have earned eternal life. But sinners (like all of us) need forgiveness and transformation. The New Testament repeatedly reveals that these things are graciously granted to those who believe in Jesus.

How Can I Be Sure I’ve Been Born Again?

Of course, claiming to believe that Jesus is the Christ is not proof that one actually does believe. I know that, because I publicly claimed I believed in Jesus when I was confirmed as a church member at age 12. Looking back, I realize that I really didn’t believe what I claimed to believe. If I would have truly believed in Jesus, I would have been spiritually reborn and become a new creature—just as Jesus promised—and I would have started acting like it. The New Testament teaches that there are two primary marks that identify those who are genuinely born again:

  1. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him…. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 2:29; 3:9, emphasis added).
  2. Beloved, let uslove one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7, emphasis added).

The first identifying mark of those who are born of God is that they practice righteousness and do not practice sin (1 John 2:29; 3:9). That is, they consistently do what is right. They are not perfect, and they may sometimes stumble (see James 3:2), but their lives are characterized by righteousness and holiness. Those whose lives are characterized by sin and unrighteousness are not born again. As Paul warned in his letter to the Corinthians:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Take note that Paul credited the transformed lives of the Corinthian Christians, not to human efforts to reform, not to fence laws, nor to church membership. Rather, he credited God’s Spirit. The Corinthian believers had been “washed,” “sanctified” (set apart for holy use) and “justified” (declared righteous) by the work of God, not by the work of man. They had been born again!

The second identifying mark of those who are born of God is that they love others who are born again (1 John 4:7)—those who are fellow members of their spiritual family and who have the same Heavenly Father. If they mock, resist or don’t want to associate with those who are born again, it proves they are not born again. As John also wrote:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death…. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 3:14; 4:20, emphasis added).

How tragic it is when people who profess to be Christians shun or disassociate themselves from family members who are born again. By their actions, they demonstrate that they are not Christians, but just religious.

The love that born-again people have for their spiritual family also motivates them to make sacrifices for members facing hardships. Jesus’ foretelling of the future judgment of the sheep and goats makes that ever so clear (see Matt. 25:31-46). To not care for the “least of these” among Christ’s brethren is to not care for Jesus. As John echoed:

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:16-17).

The Assurance of Salvation

Notice that so many of the passages I’ve quoted from the Bible are from the apostle John’s first letter. John wrote that letter to help his readers ascertain, by self-examination, if they were truly born again and genuinely possessed eternal life. Near the end of that letter he wrote:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

It is not only possible to know that you have eternal life and are born again, it is the normal experience of every true Christian. To say that we can’t know if we have eternal life or if we are born again is to take sides against the Bible.

Moreover, to claim that people are born again simply because they are water baptized, even though they continue to live sinful lives or don’t love born-again people, is also to contradict the Bible. Baptism is a symbolic picture of being born again, not a means to be born again. New believers should be baptized, yes, and they should be told that their baptism represents their death, burial and cleansing resurrection to a new life—as spiritually reborn children of God. But those who are baptized without genuine faith in Jesus are like dry pigs who temporarily become wet pigs! They are still pigs!

A Gradual Rebirth?

Occasionally, I’ve encountered religious people who tell me their church teaches that Christians are gradually born again over their lifetimes. This, too, is an idea that you will never find in the Bible. Consider the many Scripture passages I’ve already cited that make some reference to being “born again,” “born of God,” “born of the Spirit,” “passing from death to life,” and so on. Most of them make it abundantly clear that the new birth, like the physical birth of a child, is an event that takes place in a relatively short amount of time. The apostles wrote to the early Christians as if they had already been born again at some point in the past, not as if they were gradually being born again throughout their span of their lives.

For example, Peter wrote:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again [past tense] to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet. 1:3, emphasis added).

For you have been born again [past tense] not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Pet. 1:23, emphasis added).

If you encountered an adult who said, “I can’t say that I’ve been born yet, but I believe I’m gradually being born over the course of my life,” you’d have to conclude that person doesn’t understand the plain meaning of the word “born.” Similarly, the person who claims he is gradually being born again over the course of his life does violence to the simple word “born.” Moreover, he clearly has not investigated what the Bible says on the topic of the new birth and has no idea what it actually means to be born again.

What About You?

Have you experienced a life-changing spiritual rebirth so significant that you view the span of your life so far as “pre-born-again” and “post-born-again”? Has your inward nature changed so that, more than anything else, you want to please God? Do you look at God as your Heavenly Father rather than as “the Man Upstairs” or the distant God whom you sing about on Sunday mornings? Have your eyes been opened to see God’s kingdom, and do you consider all of those who have been born again to be your spiritual brothers and sisters? Are you sure that when you die, you will enter God’s kingdom?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all of those questions, then there is one thing you must do: You must believe in Jesus:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

If you believe in Him as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—as the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, the Future Judge before whom everyone will stand and give an account—He will become your Lord. Your life, and eternity, will dramatically change.

Don’t wait until you are in hell to finally take Jesus’ solemn words—”You must be born again”—as serious as He intended for you to take them. Don’t wait another second! Fall on your knees and pray to the God who created you, loves you, and who will re-create you!

[1] See John Wesley’s Sermon #45, titled The New Birth, which begins with the words, “If any doctrines within the whole compass of Christianity may be properly termed fundamental, they are doubtless these two—the doctrine of justification, and that of the new birth.”

Surprising Biblical Truths About Grace and Works

by David Servant

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the British woman whose neighbor commented on her garden, “My, what a lovely flower garden God has given you!” She replied, “I don’t mean to sound boastful, but you should have seen this flower garden when God had it all by Himself!”

That funny little story is actually an illustration of a big theological issue that challenges us all. We all know that God is working to accomplish His will, but we also know that human beings have a part to play in many outcomes both temporal and eternal. In the case of the British gardener, she knew that only God can turn a seed into a beautiful flowering plant. That being said, she also realized that, unless she strategically planted flower seeds, kept them watered, and periodically pulled weeds, the outcome would be an ugly mess. She knew what God was responsible for and what she was responsible for. In the end, both could rightfully take some credit for the outcome—although God’s contribution was certainly much more impressive than hers!

Christians often struggle trying to find the dividing line between divine and human responsibility. What is our job and what is God’s job? None of us wants to make a wrong assumption, but still, opinions vary. Although we are all reading from the same Bible, many theological debates revolve around this issue, and two words often surface within those debates. They are grace and works—two words that stand in contrast.

How do they differ?

The Hyper-Grace Twisting of Paul’s Teaching About Salvation

by David Servant

Is there any more beautiful word in the English language than “grace”? If there is, I don’t know it. How lovely it is to think about being undeservedly blessed.

I love gracious people. They won’t let me get away with murder, but they do extend kindness when I sometimes don’t deserve it. They often overlook what fault-finders feast on. They look for the good in me and motivate me by encouragement.

The biblical word (Greek: charis), found more than 100 times in the New Testament, is usually defined as “unmerited favor.” Grace certainly stands in contrast with merit, which is why Paul could write, “But if it [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6).

No one who reads the New Testament can miss the fact that salvation is due to God’s grace. We are saved “by grace…through faith…not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Is it any wonder that Paul referred to his message as “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) and “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32)?

The Joy of the Johnsonburg Awakening

By David Servant

News sometimes travels very fast among Amish folks! So perhaps you’ve already heard about the Johnsonburg Awakening. I’ve been blessed to have witnessed it from the day it began, which was January 31st of this year. That was the day I met Jonas ——–, an Amish minister who had been born again a few weeks earlier, and Levi ——–, an Amish bishop who had been born again a few years earlier.

Both of those Amish men, of course, had been baptized when they were teenagers, and according to what many Amish people believe, that is when they were supposed to have been born again. But by the time I met them, they both had come to realize that they had not actually been born again when they were baptized as teenagers. When they were baptized then, they said and did everything they were expected to say and do, but they did not possess a genuine heart-faith in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until years later that they truly believed in Jesus—as evidenced by their genuine repentance and subsequent heart-obedience to His commandments. That is when they were truly born again.

When someone truly believes in Jesus, Jesus becomes their Lord, because that is who He is. Jesus is Lord, and He is mentioned as “Lord” hundreds of times in the New Testament. If Jesus is not your Lord, you don’t actually believe in Him. You may think you do, but you don’t. As the apostle James wrote, faith without works is dead, useless, and cannot save anyone (see James 2:14-26). And as the apostle Paul wrote, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom. 14:9).

The Dating/Courting Christian: How Far Can We Go?

Sex is for Christians! Biblical Insights for a Lifetime of Purity and Pleasure - Chapter 9

PLEASE NOTE: This e-teaching is not appropriate for children, preadolescents, and many adolescents.

Among all the strange, sexual stories in the Old Testament, one stands out as being perhaps the most patriarchal. It involves a young, single woman, an orphan named Esther. She lived with her uncle (or cousin), Mordecai, among an exiled community of Jews in Susa, the capital of the ancient Persian Empire.[1]

Persia’s king, Ahasuerus, hosted a half-year party for his court and dignitaries that showcased “the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty” (Est. 1:4). During the final seven days of the exhibition, all the citizens of Susa were invited to a lavish banquet at which “the heart of the king [became] merry with wine” (Est. 1:10). Like any drunk husband might do who possessed a trophy wife, Ahasuerus decided to exhibit his woman, so he ordered the royal eunuchs to summon beautiful Queen Vashti. She, however, was not a woman who appreciated being put on display before a hall of half-drunk men so they could gawk at her face and body as all their wives stoically pretended not to mind. So she refused to comply.

Her dissent enraged King Ahasuerus, so he consulted his royal advisors, all men, to ask what should be done to Queen Vashti. Worried that her insubordination might embolden all of Persia’s wives to disrespect their husbands, they quickly reached a consensus:

Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes, and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, “King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.” And this day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti should come no more into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. And when the king’s edict which he shall make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small (Est.1:16-20).

As you probably noticed, women’s liberation had a rough start.