by J.C. Metcalfe
THE NATURE OF THE NEW LIFE
"Partakers of the Divine nature" -2Peter 1:4
The Bible is full of the wisdom of ordinary life. In one place it asks a question - "Can the leopard change its spots?" and in this way brings before us one of the great facts of life, which you and I take for granted. Why does a leopard behave as it does? The answer is simple. Because it was born a leopard, and has a leopard nature. It is reasonable, is it not, to expect any creature to act in accordance with the nature with which it was born? A bird will fly, a fish will live in the water, a monkey will climb trees, because it is their nature to do so. In just the same way men sin because they are born with a sinful nature. David in the Psalms confesses what every honest man knows is true of himself. "I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). When a man is born again he receives a new nature. Peter tells us he becomes a "partaker of the divine nature" (2Peter 1:4). Paul says: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new" (2Corinthians 5:17). Is it not, therefore, right to expect that he will live a new life, for the simple reason that he is now a child of God?
Bishop Ryle in an article on the new birth, wrote as follows: "You have seen what regeneration is, and why it is necessary to salvation. The next step is to find out the signs and evidences by which a man may know whether he is born again or not: whether his heart has been changed by the Holy Spirit, or whether his change is yet to come. Now these signs and evidences are laid down plainly for us in Scripture. God has not left us in ignorance on this point. He foresaw how some would torture themselves with doubts and questionings, and would never believe it was well with their souls. He foresaw how others would take it for granted they were regenerate who had no right to do so at all. He has, therefore, mercifully provided us with a test and gauge of our spiritual condition in the first epistle of John. There He has written for our learning, what the regenerate man is, and what he does - his ways, his habits, his manner of life, his faith, his experience ... We find boldly printed the six marks of being born of God. Certain positive things are laid down as parts of the regenerate man's character, as plainly as the features of a man's face ... More than once in this same epistle, when these marks are mentioned, the Apostle tells us that he who has not this, or that mark, is 'not of God'. I ask the reader to observe all this."
1) "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not" (1John 3:9 and 5:18)
2) "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1John 5:1).
3) "Everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him" (1John 2:29).
4) "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren." "Everyone that loveth is born of God" (1John 3:14 and 4:7).
5) "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (1John 5:4).
6) "He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1John 5:18).
Shall we study in detail these clearly marked features giving us a picture of the born again Christian, and the character that becomes his because he has become a child of God?
1) Sinneth not. One of the very first things which must happen when a man is born again is that he at once takes a completely different attitude towards sin. We are not told that he never slips, or stumbles, or does wrong; nor are we told that he loses the capacity to be tempted. He breaks with sin, as a habit. He begins to see himself as God sees him, and to rebel against his old ways and attitudes. He begins to take God's side, and his aim and purpose now is to be free from the dominion of sin, and live a life that is pleasing to God.
From the days of Adam, the tendency of men has been to blame someone else for their own sin. Adam blamed Eve, and in her turn Eve blamed the devil. King Saul when he failed to obey God in his campaign against Amalek blamed the people (1Samuel 15:15). The wicked King Ahab tried to make Elijah the prophet responsible for the judgment that had fallen on Israel (1Kings 18:17). Again and again this same cowardly trait of man's nature can be seen in the Bible, and is true to the everyday experience of life. Today men blame the people they live or work with, the circumstances of life, in fact anything and everything but their own sinfulness. The born again man, on the other hand, submits his actions and thoughts to the light of God's word, and confessing his own sinfulness, constantly seeks that his life shall be acceptable to God.
Men again are very prone to self-satisfaction. They build up a standard of righteousness, which does not ask too much from them, and has no relationship to God's standard revealed in Scripture; and are content with that. I once knew a man, for instance, who was always afraid that I would speak to him about his soul. He had made honesty in business his one standard of good living, and always used to say to me, "I owe no money, and always pay for everything I buy". I used to tell him, "If you did not do that you ought to go to prison", and then sought to show him his need of Christ. When the Lord Jesus was on earth the Scribes and Pharisees had built up their own standards of good living, but He warned His disciples - "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, Ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:20). The born again man is never satisfied with himself. He knows that God's aim is to make him Christ-like, and he knows that he can never fully reach that glorious goal until he can say with David - "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake with Thy likeness" (Psalm 17:15). Until then sin is something to be hated, feared, avoided, and fought against; and day by day we may prove the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who saves from the guilt and power of sin.
2) Believeth that Jesus is the Christ. This is something more than a mental acceptance of the Bible records about the Lord Jesus Christ. In many Churches preachers tell about the life and teachings of Jesus, and ask their hearers to try and copy Him. This is not the Christian gospel. The born-again man knows by the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus died on the Cross for him, in his place. That "He was wounded for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:5). He also knows that "He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1Corinthians 15:4); and that finally He "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). He knows that "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" and that he is "complete in Him" (Colossians 2:9:10). He lives in the light of the fact that all the things he cannot do by Himself, Christ can work in him by His indwelling Spirit. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 3 shows how this new nature worked in his case. In verses 5 and 6 he makes a list of all those things in which he had placed his confidence before his conversion, and then in verse 7 declares: "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ," and in verse 8 tells of the whole object life now has for him - "that I may win Christ".
Just as it is natural for a bird to fly, just because it is a bird, so it is natural for the born again Christian to see all his need met in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. He lives by "looking unto Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2).
3) Doeth Righteousness. This is something more than "sinneth not", and means that the born again man is a man set apart to fulfil the purposes of God here on earth. The Lord Jesus came into this world with a clear purpose. "He that sent Me," He said, "is with me; the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29). The epistle to the Hebrews quoting from a Psalm puts it this way - "Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me), to do Thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7). This "doing righteousness" is fulfilling the will and work of God here on earth. Many do not see this. They think of holiness simply as avoiding certain wrong actions and attitudes. It is far more than this, it is the recognition that henceforth we are not our own, but are set apart for God for the fulfilment of His will in and through us. After He had risen from the dead, the Lord Jesus told His disciples - "As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you" (John 20:21). John remembering this writes: "As He is, so are we in this world" (1John 4:17). The Son of God naturally lived to glorify His Father, and to do His will. The man, who is born again, because He is a child of God, will naturally seek to live in the same way. To do God's will becomes his life purpose. You begin to understand how great a thing it is to be a Christian, when you realize that God has something prepared for each one of us, in which we can glorify Him here, and which no one else can do. So few people who read the Bible seem ever to have seen this great verse. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Before we are converted we "have turned everyone to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6). In doing this we are merely following the instincts of our nature as sons of Adam. When we are born of God we just as naturally are turned towards the presenting "of our bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God ... that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:1,2). This is doing righteousness.
4) Loveth. Since it is the nature of God to love, and therefore to sacrifice for and give to those He loves; it is easy to see that love will also be natural to His children. In the first place they will love God, Who has done so much for them. "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1John 4:19). "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). It is not the mere acceptance of the truth that makes a man a Christian, it is "the love of the truth" (2Thessalonians 2:10). There are many, who believe the gospel to be true, but they neither love the Savior Who died for them, nor the Father Who gave His only begotten Son. These are not Christians. Again, the man who is born again loves his fellow Christians. To quote Bishop Ryle once more, "He feels that they are members of the same family with himself, his brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. He feels that they are his fellow-travellers, journeying along the same road, tried by the same difficulties, and soon to rest with him in the same eternal home. He understands them, and they understand him. He and they may be very different in many ways - in rank, race, station, wealth - what matter? They are Jesus Christ's people. They are the Father's sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them." Animals will often fight to defend their own, because it is their nature to do so. How much more then will one, who has become partaker of a nature that is love, love his fellow Christians; and "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). This love is not for what can be got out of others. It is a love that gives.
4) Overcometh the World. To understand this part of the Christian life we need to understand clearly what the world is. It is used here for the whole of the race of men who make up the population of the world, who are not born again. The apostle Paul described the world in this way. "You ... were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; among whom also we had our conversation in times past in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others" (Ephesians 2:1-3). Satan is the "god of this world" (2Corinthians 4:4); or as John puts it, "The whole world lieth in the wicked one" (1John 5:19), and the Greek word means "to lie like a baby on the lap of the evil one". Satan's one employment is to fight against the Lord Jesus Christ, and all who are His. He tries to draw them away, and Christians are warned against "the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11), and if he cannot do this he will stir up all the opposition and persecution he can. The Lord Jesus seeing this warns us, "In the world ye shall have tribulation," and then adds for our encouragement, "but be of good cheer; for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Because He lives in us by His Holy Spirit we also overcome the world whether it comes to us with dazzling temptation or bitter opposition. Just as a bird flies through the air because it is its nature to do so, so the born again man may live above the opinions, difficulties, and trials of this world. It is with this is view that Paul writes to the Christians of Rome saying: "Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ..." (Romans 12:2). Many professing Christians allow their thinking and attitude to life to be governed by the ideas of the world, and those who watch such lives cannot see any difference between the so-called Christian and those who profess no interest in religion. The man who is born again feels he must seek to please God, and that he does not live simply to please man. He is a child of God.
5) Keepeth Himself. The meaning of the Greek word translated "keepeth" is in the first place to "watch carefully". God did not make machines when He made men. Machines can be manufactured, which can do many wonderful things, but they cannot think for themselves. You cannot make a friend of a machine. False Christian teachings cause men to place the responsibility for their spiritual lives on someone else - a priest or a Church. The man who is born again takes responsibility for his own life in fellowship with God. Paul expresses it in these words,"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12,13). The people of Israel made a mistake, which led them into continual national backsliding, when they made the decision that Moses should deal with God on their behalf, because they were afraid to do so themselves. "And they said unto Moses, speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us lest we die" (Exodus 20:19). How different is the experience of the man who is born again! The promise quoted in the epistle to the Hebrews belongs to him. "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest" (Hebrews 8:10,11). He has become a real man in the sight of God, and has the very great honor of being permitted to know and walk with God, and the dignity of being His child. He no longer lives as a slave. His Savior has broken the reign of sin, and overcome the world. He may, therefore, quietly, earnestly, watchfully, apply in his own heart and life the laws of his new life. Every animal is fitted for the environment in which it must live, often even to such details as its coloring: it does many things through an inborn instinct. Every man who is born again is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), and He puts within him the new life given in Christ, and that new life is the life of God Himself.
As the Christian learns to deal with God, and to "keep" himself, the evil one, however he may try does not touch him. As the sheep warily keeps near the Shepherd and looks to Him as He goes before (John 10:4) the wolf cannot catch it, "For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (1Peter 2:25).
We will close this chapter by quoting once again from Bishop Ryle, "Have you these marks?" he asks, "I warn you, if you find nothing in yourself answering to the marks I have been speaking of, you have reason indeed to be afraid, without these marks it is vain to fancy that you are born again. There must be a certain family likeness between God and His children. Without it you are none of His."
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