We Must Begin With Born Again

We Must Begin With Born Again
Robert Wurtz II

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? (Galatians 3:2–4 NKJV)

The book of Galatians is unique among Paul’s epistles as the only one written in his own handwriting. In his other epistles, he employed an amanuensis to do the writing — book ending the text with a greeting at the front and a closing salutation at the end. For Paul to take up the pen, and write himself, we know this signaled a very serious urgency. Teachers had come into the church preaching a different Gospel. 

Ministers generally preach their own experiences. If they struggle with sin, they preach that Christians struggle with sin. Few have the mind to let God be true in spite of their personal experience. This was likely the case at Galatia. The born again experience was not working in these ministers, so they were teaching and preaching the people back under the Old Covenant system of laws. They did not understand that “one cannot do with institutional law was can only be accomplished by a constitutional change of ones’ nature.” (R. Bailey) 

In our passage above, Paul appeals to the experience of the Galatians. He knew that these saints had been truly born again. They repented, believed and received the Holy Spirit. This is not salvation by logical deductions and proof texts as is often the case today; Paul knew they had truly believed and received. Regardless of what these new teachers were saying, the Galatians had an experience far beyond what they were being taught. 

Did You Receive?

Paul asked the Ephesians if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. Paul asked the Galatians if they received the Holy Spirit by the works of the Law or by the hearing if faith. In both cases, receiving the Holy Spirit is in view. Receiving the Holy Spirit is essential to new Covenant Christianity. How the Spirit is received is the question Paul asks the Galatians. This is important because they already received the Holy Spirit in the beginning; now they are being taught that they need to come under the law. Why? So they can continue to be filled with the Spirit? It could never happen. The two approaches to receiving the Spirit are incompatible. One is either in the flesh and under the Law, or they are in the Spirit and not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18) 

Having Begun In the Spirit

Coming under the Law cannot facilitate Spirit filled living. However, this may not have been the teaching at all. They could have been told that receiving the Holy Spirit gets things started, but afterward we come to perfection by keeping the Law of Moses (or some legalistic system). This is completely false. Nevertheless, it is often how Christians live and teach. I suggest it happens most often because the teacher has not received the Spirit in the genuine article and are struggling to live a life as outlined in the New Testament. Many doctrines have been invented to compensate for an inadequate Born Again experience. 



The late Leonard Ravenhill, author of Why Revival Tarries,  stated in his final interview in ca. 1988, “I guarantee that not five percent of people in America and England are genuinely born again of the Spirit. They are born again of a decision. They give up a few lousy habits some of them and some of them don’t. They go right back.” This is a sobering comment. He had lived long enough to see a transition in how people are brought along into Christ. Decisionism, as it is sometimes called, has left us with a multitude of people that have “believed on Christ” and show no fruit afterwards. 

Since roughly the time of D.L. Moody, the emphasis in preaching has been on getting sins forgiven. This has morphed into a humanistic “gospel” that leaves multitudes believing they are saved, but they have not truly repented, believed, or received the Holy Spirit. In other words, they have not been Born Again. Everything is done from proof texts and logical deductions. The dealing of the Holy Spirit is left out. The churches are loaded with these type people. Sins forgiven is essential, obviously; however, this is only a portion of the starting point. 

The End Before the Beginning

I wish to end this entry with a provoking thought that summarizes the whole of our subject: 

The old must end before the new can begin. 

Paul asked the Galatians, Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Because the Galatians had obviously been living many years before beginning in the Spirit, the implication is that the old life had to come to an abrupt end. Paul said it this way, I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I  live. Crucifixion implies death. I died, but nevertheless, I live. This is the effect of repenting, believing, and receiving the Holy Spirit. God baptized us into Jesus Christ so we can share in His death on the cross — bringing an end, to “I” or “me.” We cannot begin a life in the Spirit until our life in the flesh is ended. This is the force of Calvary — it brings an end to a person. 

Many people want to be a Christian, but they don’t want to be crucified (with Christ). They believe they can get on with something less than the death of them. They want reformation or a few changes here and there. They are even willing to go under a system of rules, so long as they don’t have to be crucified (with Christ). This is why Paul spoke to the Galatians of the things they suffered. He was concerned that they were about to undo all that God had done in their lives making the sufferings they went through in the beginning all in vain. 

Some of those people were so radically changed that they were not recognizable to friends and family. For Paul, his transformation resulted in the loss of everything. Some people have lost mothers and fathers, wives or husbands, or even children to the alienation experienced when others will not accept their having been changed. Paul reminded these people at Galatia of their ” beginning ” as if to say, “are these new teachers promoting an experience at that level? Or are they preaching something so inferior that you might as well have lost everything for nothing. Because what you’re doing right now — the substandard pretentious forgery of a Christian life — doesn’t have the power to offend anybody like that.” In other words, if you had begun the way you are trying to continue — you would not have lost any family or friends. 

God wants to bring an end to the old that He can make all things new. We have to be willing. We can’t be joined to the Spirit and the flesh at the same time. We cannot be married to both the Law and Christ. We have to die to the Law and the flesh, so we can be raised in Christ to live in the Spirit. These are light-years beyond the imposition of laws and rules. The Law was tailored for the man of the flesh. Nevertheless, when we truly begin in the Spirit, we walk in a changed constitutional nature that no man in the flesh following a Law could ever rise to. This is the reality of truly having begun the road to perfection in the Spirit. 




Accepting the Diagnosis

Accepting the Diagnosis
Robert Wurtz II


Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:3)



As Germany was near to falling during WWII, POW Lieutenant general Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben was compelled to watch a video documentary of Nazi war crimes. General Eisenhower was filmed seeing with his own eyes the atrocities at Nazi Germany prison camps after they were captured by the allied forces. Eisenhower ordered German civilians to come and view the shocking evidence for themselves. Among the civilians was a Nazi officer who was a commander of one of the death camps. Having witnessed this officer being forced to look over the ghastly sight of death and distress, Schlieben made this comment, “That’s the only thing about the ‘thousand year Reich’ which will last for a thousand years.” Fellow POW VonFelbert added to the statement, “Yes, we are disgraced for all time.”


This is one of many examples of inhumanity that could be cited in this entry, not the least of which was the mass death of Native Indians in the Americas in the 18th an 19th century. There have many “trails of tears” throughout the ages and all have occurred under the watchful eye of God almighty. Nothing escapes His piercing gaze. Surely He will avenge all of these things in His own time. Nevertheless, multitudes have asked how human beings could be capable of acting in such an inhumane — even diabolical ways. The answer to that question is the subject of this entry. 

Born Into Sin

One of the fundamental elements of the subject of man’s sin and salvation (soteriology) biblically is what came to be known as “Original Sin.” There are various ways this doctrine is described, but typically it is understood to mean that men and women are born into this life as sinners’ with a sinful nature. People are not sinners because they sin — they sin because they are constitutionally sinful as a consequence of Adam’s fall. When we speak of Original Sin we are dealing with what is sometimes known as original guilt and original pollution. As David said, “…in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) Some more radical ideas suggest that the will of man is in complete bondage to the sinful nature. Simply put this is known as Total Depravity. This essentially means that man in his fallen state cannot rightly obey God. Some suggest that men and women are dead in trespasses and sins in such a way that they cannot respond to God without God’s direct intervention. These subjects have been the cause of much debate in the churches over the centuries. The sad thing is that folks that discuss these topics typically straw-man the other sides views until there is little fruit in the conversation. I hope to help change that in this entry. 


Constitutional Sin


I affirm that though man is born constituted a sinner (because of the choice of Adam), this by no means relieves man of his free choice. (Joshua 24:15) Sin reigns in the heart of a sinner, but not in such a way that he or she cannot do otherwise. In a matter of saying, men are not “sin possessed.” They are bent towards sinning, but not in such a way that Sin is in complete control. Moreover, God is just in condemning man for his sin because man could have chosen not to sin. (Romans 2:1) This is the essential message of Romans chapters 1-3. 


However, we must bear in mind that Romans goes on to tell us that man has been constituted a sinner in Adam. (Romans 5:19 YLT) The KJV uses the phrase “were made sinners.” Notice we were not created sinners, we were “made” sinners as a consequence of Adam’s transgression. Paul goes on to say that by the obedience of one many will be made righteous. That “one” is Jesus Christ, the last Adam. Keep your eye on the word “made.” As an aside, Finney and neo-Finney-ites balk at the notion of imputed righteousness; nevertheless, there is only one other way to see this passage. It has to mean that we are made righteous in Christ, positionally or actually (or both). If we say actually then it proves the need for genuine regeneration. 


God made man good and upright; however, by the one man Adam the Sin (the dynamic) entered the world and the Death (the dynamic) by the Sin. This is not sin the fruit (deeds) this is Sin (the root or the dynamic). It should go without saying that all people everywhere have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that seeks after God and there is none that does good- no not one, etc. People generally know they are sinners; albeit, the have to be reminded of it. We were all born into this world constituted sinners. Only God can heal this problem. However, getting people to understand and to accept the diagnosis is the hardest thing of all. 





Jesus told Nicodemas that he must be born from above. He mildly chided him for being a teacher in Israel and not knowing this basic fact. Why did he not believe it or teach it? Because the diagnosis is far beyond the realm of most peoples’ ability to accept it. Consider what John says about man’s condition.

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:8-10)

This is the diagnosis. A person who lives in sin is a child of the Devil. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil. This simply means that Jesus came to provide a new birth for those who receive Him. understand that a person cannot become a child of God simply by turning over a new leaf or getting rid of a few lousy habits (as L. Ravenhill would say). A person must be born of God. This is the John 3:3 reality that Nicodemas, the teacher in Israel, had no clue about. It is a supernatural transformation of the person that takes place when they are Baptized into Jesus Christ by the Holy spirit. 



Look around in the world. What is the pattern of most peoples’ lives? Do you see people sinning and hating one another? Or do you see people living righteously and loving one another? Some would dismiss these passages or explain them away and say, “It is their choice,” etc. and this is true. It is their choice, but it is also their nature. It’s what they do in the same sense that producing thorns is what a thorn bush does. Notice John did not call the sinners “disciples of the Devil.” He did not call them “followers of the Devil.” He called them children of the Devil. Why? Because the Devil is their father. A father does not make followers and disciples; a father makes sons and daughters. This is one of the oldest truths in the Bible — living things bring forth fruit after their own kind. Look at the fruit and you will know the parent.  

Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. (James 3)
The answer to James’ question is a resounding no, it cannot. If you are going to change the fruit of something you have to change its essential nature. Moreover, we have this Old Testament question; Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. (Jeremiah 13:23) This motif continues to play out when we read in Hebrews:

For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8) 
Notice there is no such thing in this passage as a fruitless or thornless tree — a tree is one or the other. Trees are used figuratively in scripture for men. God is pouring out grace by His Spirit; nevertheless, many people continue to yield thorns and briars. The axe is laid to the root of the trees and those that do not bring forth good fruit are cast into the fire. However, a thorn tree cannot arbitrarily decide one day it will bring forth fruit. People try it all the time. Many try (as it were) to cut the thorns off of their limbs and hang the fruit of the Spirit on like Christmas ornaments. When the trial comes the real nature of the tree comes out again. In other words, give it time and you will know if the person is really changed. A thorn tree will always be a thorn tree until God changes it’s essential nature. This is the finger of God effecting regeneration (palengenesis). What did Jesus say?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:4-5) 
If there is no fruit, then the person is not In Christ. It doesn’t matter how many times they said the sinners prayer or signed a card. The test is in the fruit. 


Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:16-21)

If a person is not bearing fruit — they are not partaking of the Holy Spirit. This is because they are not grafted into the vine. This is what Paul was talking about when he told the Gentiles not to boast against the branches. They had been “grafted in” to the olive tree (Christ). Let’s turn this around. What is a person ‘grafted in to’ that bears thorns, briers, thistles, etc.? Why do they have to be burned? Because they are bringing forth from their essential nature that is drawing from a totally different spirit. Nobody on earth lives without drawing from some well — either of Satan or of God. This is not a casual dropping by to get some advice from the Devil; it is a drawing forth of the very life (death) of Satan himself. Jesus told them, “You are of your father the devil.” The fruit of the life demonstrates the source of their strength. Paul said it plainly in Ephesians:

And you hath he quickened, who 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 all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 

Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved; (Ephesians 2:1-5)



So we were dead towards God and alive (quickened) towards the Prince of the Power of the Air — walking in the Spirit of Disobedience — and were by nature children of wrath. This is almost parallel to walking in the Holy Spirit (born of the Spirit) except it is the spirit of the Devil himself. As surely as a thorn tree is naturally such, a sinner is a sinner by nature. I know it sounds simple, but this is why John had to keep coming back to the subject over and over again. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:8-10) 

There is no middle ground where people are just neutral. Some live their whole lives in denial that this is their true condition. This is a horrific truth given the fact that God has the power to regenerate us. No need to fear the Dr. report when yours is the Great Physician. He can heal our sin problem.  


Summary


One is either a child of God or a child of the devil. They are either in Adam or in Christ. They are either grafted into Christ bearing the fruit of His vine — or they are grafted into the Prince of the Power of the Air and moving in the spirit of disobedience yielding thorns and briers. If a person wants to switch from being a thorn yielding child of the Devil, they have to agree with God in what He has said about them and their condition. You must be born from Above. (John 3:3) It is a simple statement of fact. We must be transformed into new creatures. We must have God as our Father. 

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