[Ed. Note: This article is an excerpt
from The John Ankerberg Show series, "How Can You Be
Sure That You Will Spend Eternity With God?" It has been
edited for publication.]
Dr. John Ankerberg:
How can you be certain that you will spend eternity with
God? I asked my friend, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor of
Moody Church in Chicago, IL to explain.
Dr. Erwin Lutzer:
Well you know, we have to be perfect to enter into
Heaven. And that shocks people because we all know that
in experience, weíre not perfect, of course. Weíre all
sinners. But the good news is that when we transfer our
trust to Christ alone, He gets our sin and He
gives us His righteousness, so that as far as God is
concerned, we are perfect.
Let me just give you an illustration
here. Let me take one of your books here. I remember in
Chicago a man who died of AIDS. He had been a homosexual
prostitute but he came to saving faith in Christ and was
gloriously converted and had a marvelous testimony of
Godís saving and forgiving grace. Now, letís pretend
that this book is The Life and Times of Roger. We
look into it and all that we see is uncleanness and sin
and deception and sexuality and disobedience. Itís an
ugly book, actually.
But letís suppose we had another book
here, if we can imagine it, that says, The Life and
Times of Jesus Christ. We open the book. Itís a life
of beauty and obedience and perfection. Letís suppose
then, that Jesus were to take all of the contents, all
of the pages of His book, and then letís go back over
here and pretend that this book that is Rogerís and
Jesus, in effect, says to Roger, "Iím going to take out
all of the contents of your bookóIím going to rip out
the pages. Just give me the covers."
So Roger gives Jesus the covers. Jesus
takes His pages and puts them into Rogerís book. Now
what do we have? We have a book titled The Life and
Times of Roger. We look in and what do we see?
Nothing but beauty, perfection, obedience, holiness, the
righteousness of God. In fact, the book is so beautiful
that even God adores it.
That is the Gospelówhere Jesus Christís
obedience and sacrifice on the cross is a substitute for
us, and weíre saved on the basis of His merit. And
thatís what justification by faith means. It means that
we are declared righteous on the basis of what Jesus
did. It is a declaration that God does outside of us in
But today we are going to speak about
another aspect of salvation. Weíre going to talk about
the work of God in the human heart that happens
simultaneously when people trust Christ as Savior.
Okay, if justification is a legal pronouncement that God
makes about me eternally, that because of Christ I am no
longer guilty of my sinsóor if you want, a transfer
takes place: our sins are transferred to Christ, imputed
to Christ and He paid for them on the crossóthen
Christís righteousness, His perfect life, His track
record, if you want, is legally given to you and to me.
Thatís the declaration. Now I stand before God in
Christ. So hereís where the transfer is made in
terms of The Life and Times of Roger, the
contents of Christís life were put inside the covers of
Rogerís and we are now standing in Christ, perfect
before God. But people say, "Okay, thatís a legal
pronouncement that takes place." What we want to know
is, does anything happen inside of you beside that?
what is this new birth deal all about?
listen to the words of Jesus. Of course, Heís our
authority on these matters. Nicodemus, who was actually
a Pharisee. Now, the Pharisees were in many respects
good people, but they loved regulations, regulations
that even they couldnít keep. As a matter of fact, they
put these burdens on people. They loved to saddle people
with religion and nobody could keep all the explanations
and all the laws. But thereís one man who has a desire
for God. He comes to Jesus by night. The hint there is
he doesnít want anyone else to know that heís coming to
Jesus. And he says, "Youíre a teacher, come from God."
This is the third chapter of John. "Because we know that
you couldnít do what youíre doing unless God were with
you." And Jesus, just out of the blue without even being
asked about it says, in verse 3óand this is important
for everyone to hear: "I tell you the truth, no one can
see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
One day I was talking to a person and he
said, "Oh, Iím a Christian, but Iím not born again."
What I needed to point out was, youíre not headed for
the kingdom of God, because we have on the authority of
Jesus: unless you are born again, you
cannot see the kingdom of God.
Now, Nicodemus does not understand what
Jesus is talking about. He immediately is thinking of
obstetrics, so he says, "How can a man be born when he
is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his
motherís womb and be born." Jesus answered, "I tell you
the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he
is born of water and of the Spirit."
Now, immediately when we read that there
are some people who see the word baptism, but of course
the word baptism isnít in the text. Could I be very
respectful and say that I donít think Nicodemus in any
sense would have thought of this as baptism. Jesus
expected him to know these things, so what would
Nicodemus have been thinking when Jesus said to "be born
of water and of Spirit?" Heíd have thought of passages
like Ezekiel 36 where God says, "Iím going to cleanse
you. Iím going to sprinkle you with water, and Iím going
to regenerate you and give you a new heart." In the
Bible, the washing of God, the cleansing of God, is
oftentimes directly linked to the work of the Spirit and
I think indeed what Jesus is talking about is not being
baptized by water. In fact, in the Old Testament people
werenít baptized. The priest would wash his hands and
wash his feet but the average person wasnít baptized so
thereís no way that Jesus would expect Nicodemus to know
that he had to be baptized. But Nicodemus should have
known that even in the Old Testament there was this
change of heart that God gave people, and it was
sometimes talked about as "the sprinkling of water, the
cleansing of God."
In fact, thatís why there are some
translations that translate it this way: "Unless you are
born of water, even the Spirit, you cannot enter
into the kingdom of Heaven." So what weíre saying is
that when a person is justified by God, at the very same
time something happens within him. He is "born again."
Another New Testament word is
"regenerated." I know thatís a $50 word, but maybe I can
explain it this way: Where God actually does a miracle
within a human being and gives us a new nature that is
like His. It is the bringing of Godís life and Godís
nature into a person. Now, I want to be very clear about
this. After you were born again, thereís actually
something within you that was not there before you were
born again, because the Bible says, "If any man is in
Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed
away, behold, all things have become new" [2 Cor. 5:17].
So there is a new heart that is given to us. And this,
by the way, is the answer to those who say, "Oh, you
folks, you teach that you can accept Jesus Christ as
your Savior and then you can live as you please." Well,
there is always that danger to be sure. But remember, we
no longer want to live the way we please because weíve
been given a new heart with new desires. And Jesus said
that "unless you are born again, you will not see the
kingdom of God." So people listening today who are not
born again ought to listen very, very carefully, because
this is Jesus talking.
is the new birth, being born again, a miracle that we
canít contribute to?
canít contribute to any of Godís miracles. You know,
when God decided to create the world, even if you and I
had been around, He wouldnít say, "Well, you know this
business of creating all of these stars and everything,
this is work. Would you help me?"
I love to tell this story of George
Beverly Shea, Billy Grahamís soloist singing in
Harringey Arena in 1954. He was singing that song, "It
took a miracle to put the stars in space." And there was
an English lady who misunderstood his words and came to
him later and said, "Mr. Shea, what do you mean by
saying Ďit took America to put the stars in space!í"
Now, America has done some wonderful things. We put men
on the moon. But there isnít a scientist who is
listening to this program who can go into a laboratory
and spend an afternoon and create so much as one single
molecule. And so when God creates something new within
us, we do not contribute to that. Now, we believe on
Christ and so weíre very thankful in that sense that we
give Him permission, as it were, to do it. But, at the
end of the day, itís a miracle of God. Itís an
instantaneous miracle. It happens at a point in time.
Erwin, letís go back to the fact of when we have a human
birth, there are two elements that are involved in that,
and interesting, in the Bible there are two elements
that contribute to the new birth there. Explain that.
of all, just like a father and a mother come together
and the father contributes the sperm and the mother
contributes the ovum, and thatís what really forms a
human being, in the very same way, when Jesus talks
about the new birth, there are two elements that come
together. One is the Word of God. It says that we are
born of the Word because thatís the truth of the Gospel;
and the other is the Spirit of God. And so the Word of
God and the Spirit of God work together to produce a
miracle in our hearts, a miracle that we canít produce
on our own. It has to be a God thing. In fact, when
Jesus says that you have to be born again, really the
Greek says, "You have to be born from above." So the
people who are listening to us today, they need a
miracle from God. Itís a miracle that Iíve experienced.
I know youíve experienced it. But without it, the Bible
says, we will not see the kingdom of Godóand
those are the words of Jesus [John 3:3].
human characteristics of a child are interesting to see.
You see a little baby born and you say, "Oh, it looks
like its mom. It looks like its dad." It has certain
characteristics. And itís true. Itís true. Is that also
Exactly. In fact, as a result of that, we should be
God-like. You know, the Bible talks about being godly.
Itís like we should have some of the attributes of God,
you knowólove, joy, peace, and all of those works that
the Holy Spirit of God births in our hearts.
moral attributes of God. Now, that does not mean that we
ever become God. You know, itís not as if somehow we all
become little gods running around. No. We still will be
human beings throughout all of eternity, but isnít it
marvelous to know that God shares His nature with us so
that we can have the opportunity even in this life, with
all of our struggles and all of our continual struggles
and sins, we have the opportunity to progress so that we
to the next point. In some of your books you have some
warnings for people. You say that some people have
walked an aisle, put up their hand, prayed a prayer, but
they never got saved.
right. Letís just hop into this. Letís talk about
Lutzer: A child
brought up in a Christian home. Heís told he has to
accept Christ as Savior. He prays a prayer. Maybe his
age is five or six. And later on he grows up and he has
no awareness that heís really saved, no sense of
assurance. His parents tell him, "Oh, you accepted
Christ at the age of five because you prayed a prayer."
Now, I want to be very clear on this: I believe that
children can be saved at the age of five or six. But,
there are instances like this where wisdom on the part
of the parents would say, "All right, if youíre not
sure, letís make it sure now. You transfer your trust to
Christ, receive Him as your very own, and as a result,
you can receive the assurance of faith."
Let me use my own testimony. I was
brought up in a Christian home. I asked Jesus into my
heart every single night and I donít feel anything
different. I donít act different. And I think to myself,
"I canít be saved. Where do I go?" At the age of 14 my
parents said to me, "You know, weíre not sure whether or
not youíve ever trusted Christ." And I said, "Well, Iíve
tried, but it hasnít worked." And they said, "You know
what you need to do, this is actually the step of
faith." And then I understood that the best terminology
is not really "inviting Christ into your heart." Little
children sometimes say, "Well, if He comes in, is He
going to get wet with blood?" You know, they interpret
it literally. The best terminology is to say that "Jesus
died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. Why donít
you accept Him and trust Him as the One who bore your
sin? And when I did that at the age of 14, I have had
the assurance of salvation.
So, one danger is that of children. The
other danger is people going forward in a meeting. Now,
this is very sensitive, okay? But somebody gives an
invitation: "Come forward to be saved." Really problems.
Number one, what about the person who is like I wasĖtoo
shy to go forward in a crowd of hundreds of people?
Because you felt you couldnít do that, youíd rather go
to hell than to walk forward.
youíre giving my testimony exactly. Thatís the way I
felt at about the age of 10 or 11. I said, "You know, if
I have to go forward to be saved, I guess Iíll go to
hell." I mean, I was so shy that my sisters had to pull
me out from under the bed when we had company, you know.
The second thing is that we give the
impression that just because youíve gone forward, youíre
saved. Thatís another wrong impression.
the reason itís wrong is because people are trusting
their action of walking down the aisle or of saying a
prayeróitís something they did. Itís not trusting
Lutzer: I like
to shock people and say flat-out: Prayer doesnít save
you. It never has and never will. That usually gets
their attention. It is faith in Christ. It is that
transfer of trust to Christ. You know, not even the
thief on the cross actually prayed when he said,
"Remember me."óWell, I guess that was a prayeró"Remember
me when you come into your kingdom" [Luke 23:42]. But it
was the faith that that thief had in Christ. And itís
possible for you to say the right words, to sign a
decision card, and yet faith has not yet been birthed in
the human heart. This is a good point at which I need to
tell you a true story.
Canada, there were some guys who came along and
convinced everyone who lived on this street, they said,
"Weíll plant you evergreens for so much money." So all
the neighbors got together and said, "Letís do it." The
guys came, took their money, planted the evergreens.
Weeks later these things all began to turn brown. The
neighbors watered them more. The more they watered them,
the browner they became. Finally, somebody went over and
thought, "What kind of a tree did they plant?" Pulled it
up and discovered that what they had done was put
branches into the ground. No roots. Nothing. Jesus said,
"Every tree that my Heavenly Father has not planted
shall be torn up" [Matt. 15:13]. Isnít that sobering?
So I believe, even listening today, there
may be many people who have, oh, what shall we say? They
may look like evergreens, to use an expression. They may
look like other trees, but they have no root. God has
never regenerated them, has never granted them the
wonderful privilege of being born again because they
have neveróand I love this expressionótheyíve never "savingly
believed." They may have assented; they may have signed
their card. And so we need to be very, very careful.
is saving belief? Contrast that versus intellectual
you know, I think that even an example is right here at
this desk. You know, thereís a sense in which I could
believe that this chair could hold me. That would be
mental assent. But itís not until I choose to sit down
and to say, "Okay, I trust it now with myself." And when
I trust it with myself, thank God, the chair here held
me. In the very same way, people can say, "I love Jesus.
I trust Him. I believe that Heís the Savior." They can
have that intellectual belief, but if I might say, I
think sometimes the greatest distance in the world is
the distance between the head and the heart where there
is that transfer of faith, where thereís the recognition
of helpless sinfulness that says, "Jesus, you alone are
the One. Be my Savior. I receive you as the One who died
to the story of Moses and lifting up the serpent in the
wilderness to explain this.
Lutzer: This is
so exciting. In fact, itís in the third chapter of John.
Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus and says, "Just as Moses
lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man
must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may
have eternal life." Do you remember the story? The
people had a plague. They were cursed of God because of
disobedience and God sent a plague. Moses said, "What do
I do?" and God says, "You take a serpent"óI think it was
a brass serpent, a snakeó"you put in on a pole, and
everybody who is going to look at this pole is going to
Now, I can imagine that there were some
scientists among them, some skepticsóIím sure there
wereówho said, "That does not make a bit of sense! What
possible connection can there be between me looking at
the pole with the serpent outside of me, how can that
affect the disease of my body and stop the progress of
the disease?" Scientifically, medically, rationally, no
sense at all. But you know what, God says, "If you do
that, I will do a miracle."
And there are some people who are
listening today who are saying, "You know, this business
of Jesus dying so many years ago, what does His death
2,000 years ago have anything to do with me? Whatís the
connection?" God makes the connection. And today there
are people who could be looking to Christ, who can look
to Christ with that look of faith and as a result of
seeing Jesus, not on a pole but as it were, on a cross,
and then of course, dying and raising again and
ascending into Heaven who say, "I want to receive that."
What they will discover is not only that they will be
justified, but something else will happen. There will be
a miracle that will take place in their hearts and they
will say, "I donít understand it, but it has happened."
Itís called the new birth.
Maybe you are reading this right now and youíre like
Nicodemus. Youíre religious. Youíve got rules but youíve
got no reality. And Erwin, Iíd like you to say a prayer
for the ones that want the miracle of the new birth.
They want God to do it to them. Would you pray?
Lutzer: John, I
want to tell these people that there may be somebody who
says, "Yeah, but Iíve sinned so much." The issue is not
the greatness of your sin or your crimes, the issue is
whether you are willing to look to the wonder, and the
beauty, and the completeness of what Jesus did on the
cross. So nobody who desires to believe may be excluded.
letís pray. Father, we want to thank you so much that
Jesus came to die for us. We thank you that even as He
was raised on the cross, those who look with faith
receive His gift. And we pray today that many people
will be born again of the Holy Spirit because they have
looked to the risen Christ. And may you grant them the
ability to pray a prayer like this: "God, I know that
Iím a sinner. I canít save myself. The disease of sin
permeates my body, pollutes my mind. But at this moment
I look to Christ. I receive Him as the One who bore my
sin. I accept Him personally as my Savior." Grant, oh
God, that they shall have the assurance of eternal life.
In Jesusí name. Amen.