Ankerberg: Weíre talking about how you can be
certain that you will spend eternity with God. And I think that is
something that everybody wants to be certain about. The question is,
"How can you be certain?" Last time we were talking about
justification by faith alone in Christ. Now, those are fancy words.
Erwin, give us a little rehash here. What were we talking about? Why is
that crucial? Make that come alive.
Lutzer: Well, you know, as we learned last
time, 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 using a book. I remember 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.
suppose, John, 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 Jesus were
to take all of the contents, all of the pages of His book, and then
letís go back over here to the book that is Rogerís. And Jesus, in
effect, says to Roger, "Iím going to take out all of the contents of
your book. Iím 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
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 Gospel Ė where 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 Heaven.
John, 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.
People would say, okay, if justification is a legal pronouncement that
God makes about me eternally, that because of Christ I am no longer
guilty of my sins Ė or if you want, a transfer takes place Ė our sins
are transferred to Christ, imputed to Christ, and He pays for them. He
paid for them on the cross. The fact is, is it Christís righteousness,
His perfect life, His track record, if you want, that 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 book, and we are now standing in Christ, perfect
before God. But people say, "Okay, thatís a legal pronouncement that
takes place." What they want to know is, does anything happen inside of
In other words, what is this new birth deal all about?
Well, listen to the words of Jesus. Of course, Heís our authority on
these matters. Nicodemus 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 3, and this is important for everyone to hear: "I
tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born
John, 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.
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."
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
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 today is that when a
person is justified by God, as we explained, 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, John, 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.
Why is the new birth, being born again, a miracle that we canít
We 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?" There isnít a scientist
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.
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.
First 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 you
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 God Ė and those are the words of Jesus [John
The 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 true spiritually?
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 know Ė love, joy, peace, and all of those works
that the Holy Spirit of God births in our hearts.
Those 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 become God-like.
Jump to the next point and that is, 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.
Thatís right. Letís just hop into this. Letís talk about children. 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, no, no. 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. Here I am. Iím 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." Itís used often but thatís not the best terminology. You
know, 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
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." Real problems; number one, what
about the person who is like I was Ė too 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
John, 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.
thing is that we give the impression that just because youíve gone
forward, youíre saved. Thatís another wrong impression.
And the reason itís wrong is because people are trusting their action of
walking down the aisle or of saying a prayer. Itís something they did;
itís not trusting Christ.
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 meÖ"
Well, I guess that was a prayer. "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.
there were some guys who came along and offered everyone who lived on
this street, "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.
"Every tree that my Heavenly Father has not planted shall be torn up"
(Matt. 15:13). Isnít that sobering? So I believe, even today, there may
be many people who 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 never Ė and I love this expression Ė
theyíve never "savingly believed." They may have assented; they may have
signed their card. And so we need to be very, very careful.
What is saving belief? Contrast that versus intellectual belief.
Well, you know, I think that even an example is right
here at this desk where Iím sitting. 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 held me. Okay? 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 for me."
Go to the story of Moses and lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to
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 brass serpent" a snake, "you put in on a
pole, and everybody who is going to look at this pole is going to live."
Now, John, I
can imagine that there were some scientists among them, some skeptics,
"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 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.