The miracle of rebirth
We were born to be born again. It is your as well as my destiny to experience the greatest possible change in life - a spiritual one. God has created us so that we can share in his divine nature. The New Testament speaks of this divine nature as a redeemer that washes away the filthy layer of human sinfulness. And we all need this spiritual cleansing, since sin has taken purity from every man. We all resemble paintings to which the dirt of centuries clings. As a masterpiece is clouded by a multi-layered film of filth in its radiance, the remnants of our sinfulness have tarnished the original intent of the almighty master artist.
Restoration of the artwork
The analogy with the dirty painting should give us a better understanding of why we need spiritual purification and rebirth. We had a famous case of damaged art with Michelangelo's scenic depictions on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome. Michelangelo (1475–1564) began with the artistic design of the Sistine Chapel in 1508 at the age of 33. In just over four years, he created numerous paintings with Bible scenes on the almost 560 m2 ceiling. Scenes from the Book of Moses can be found under the ceiling paintings. A well-known motif is Michelangelo's anthropomorphic Representation of God (modeled on the image of man): the arm that extends towards the first man, Adam, the hand and fingers of God. Over the centuries, the ceiling fresco had (Called fresco because the artist painted on fresh plaster) damage and was finally covered with a layer of dirt. In time it would have been completely destroyed. To prevent this, the Vatican entrusted cleaning and restoration to experts. Most of the work on the paintings was completed in the 80s. Time had left its mark on the masterpiece. Dust and soot had severely damaged the painting over the centuries. Even moisture - rain had penetrated through the leaky roof of the Sistine Chapel - had wreaked havoc and strongly discolored the work of art. Paradoxically, however, perhaps the worst problem was the attempts made over the centuries to preserve the paintings! The fresco had been coated with an animal glue varnish to lighten its darkening surface. The short-term success turned out to be an enlargement of the shortcomings to be remedied. The decay of the various layers of varnish made the clouding of the ceiling painting even more apparent. The glue also caused the surface of the painting to shrink and warp. The glue flaked off in some places, whereby color particles also loosened. The experts then entrusted with the restoration of the paintings were extremely careful in their work. They applied mild solvents in gel form. And by gently removing the gel using sponges, the soot-blackened efflorescence was also eliminated.
It was like a miracle. The gloomy, darkened fresco had come to life again. The representations produced by Michelangelo were refreshed. From them radiant splendor and life again went out. Compared to its previous darkened state, the cleaned fresco looked like a re-creation.
The restoration of the ceiling painting made by Michelangelo is an apt metaphor for the spiritual cleansing of human creation from its sinfulness by God. God, the masterful creator, created us as his most precious work of art. Mankind was created in his own image and was to receive the Holy Spirit. Tragically, the defilement of his creation caused by our sinfulness has taken away that purity. Adam and Eve sinned and received the spirit of this world. We too are spiritually corrupt and stained by the filth of sin. Why? Because all people are afflicted with sins and lead their lives contrary to the will of God.
But our Heavenly Father can spiritually renew us, and the life of Jesus Christ can be reflected by the light that we all see. The question is: do we really want to do what God intends to do with us? Most people don't want this. They are still living their lives stained with the ugly stain of sin in darkness. The apostle Paul described the spiritual darkness of this world in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He said of her previous life: "You too were dead through your transgressions and sins in which you used to live in the manner of this world" (Ephesians 2,1: 2).
We have also allowed this corrupting force to cloud our very nature. And just as Michelangelo's fresco was soiled and defaced by Russ, so did our soul. That is why it is so urgent that we give space to the essence of God. He can cleanse us, take the scum of sin from us and let us spiritually renew and shine.
Images of renewal
The New Testament explains how we can be spiritually re-created. It cites several apt analogies to make this miracle clear. Just as it was necessary to free Michelangelo's fresco from dirt, we have to be spiritually washed clean. And it is the Holy Spirit who can do this. He washes us clean of the defilements of our sinful nature.
Or to put it in Paul's words, which have been addressed to Christians for centuries: "But you have been washed clean, you have been sanctified, you have been justified by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 6,11). This cleansing is an act of redemption and is called “rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit” by Paul (Titus 3,5). This removal, cleansing or eradication of sin is also well represented by the metaphor of circumcision. Christians have their hearts circumcised. We could say that God saves us in His grace by surgery to free us from the cancer of sin. This separation of sin - spiritual circumcision - is a picture of the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus made this possible through his death as a complete atonement. Paul wrote: "And he made you alive with him, who were dead in the sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, and forgave us all sins" (Colossians 2,13).
The New Testament uses the symbol of the cross to show how our sinful being was deprived of all power by killing our self. Paul wrote: "We know that our old man was crucified with him [Christ], so that the body of sin could be destroyed so that we no longer serve sin" (Romans 6,6). When we are in Christ, sin becomes in us (i.e. our sinful self) crucified, or it dies. Of course, the worldly is still trying to cover our soul with the dirty dress of sin. But the Holy Spirit protects us and enables us to resist the attraction of sin. Through Christ, who fills us with God's being through the action of the Holy Spirit, we are freed from the supremacy of sin.
The apostle Paul explains this act of God using the metaphor of the funeral. The funeral in turn entails a symbolic resurrection, which now stands for the newly born as "new man" in the place of the sinful "old man". It is Christ who made our new life possible, who constantly gives us forgiveness and gives life-giving strength. The New Testament compares the death of our old self and our restoration and symbolic resurrection to new life with rebirth. We are spiritually reborn at the moment of our conversion. We are reborn by the Holy Spirit and brought back to life.
Paul let Christians know that God "after His great mercy reborn us to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1,3). Note that the verb "reborn" is in the perfect. This is an expression of the fact that this change takes place at the beginning of our Christian life. When we are converted, God dwells in us. And with that we will be re-created. It is Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father who live in us (John 14,15: 23). When we - as spiritually new people - are converted or born again, God moves into our home. If God the Father works in us, so are the Son and the Holy Spirit at the same time. God inspires us, cleanses us from sins and changes us. And this bestowal is given to us through conversion and rebirth.
How Christians grow in faith
Of course, born again Christians are - to put it in Peter's words - "like the newborn children". They have to be “eager for the sensible, louder milk” that feeds them so that they can ripen in faith (1 Peter 2,2). Peter explains that born again Christians gain insight and spiritual maturity over time. They grow "in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3,18). Paul is not saying that broader knowledge of the Bible makes us better Christians. Rather, it expresses the need to further sharpen our spiritual awareness so that we can truly understand what it means to follow Christ. "Knowledge" in the biblical sense includes its practical implementation. It goes hand in hand with the appropriation and personal realization of what makes us more like Christ. Christian faith growth is not to be understood in the sense of human character formation. Nor is it the result of spiritual growth in the Holy Spirit the longer we live in Christ. Rather, we grow through the work of the Holy Spirit already inherent in us. The nature of God comes to us from grace.
We obtain justification in two ways. On the one hand, we are justified or experience our destiny when we receive the Holy Spirit. Justification from this point of view takes place in one fell swoop and is made possible by the Atonement of Christ. However, we also experience justification over the time that Christ dwells in us and prepares us for worshiping God and serving in His ministry. The essence or "character" of God is already given to us when Jesus takes us into our home when we are converted. We receive the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit when we repent and put our faith in Jesus Christ. A change is taking place in the course of our Christian life. We learn to subject ourselves more to the enlightenment and strengthening power of the Holy Spirit that is already inherent in us.
God in us
When we are spiritually reborn, Christ lives fully within us through the Holy Spirit. Think about what that means. People can change through the action of Christ who lives in them through the Holy Spirit. God shares his divine nature with us humans. That is, a Christian has become a completely new person.
«If someone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed, behold, new has become, »says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5,17.
Spiritually born again Christians take on a new image - that of God, our Creator. Your life should be a mirror of this new spiritual reality. That is why Paul was able to give them the instruction: "And do not put yourself on a par with this world, but change yourself by renewing your mind ..." (Romans 12,2). However, we shouldn't think that means Christians don't sin. Yes, we have changed from one moment to the next in the sense that we were born again by receiving the Holy Spirit. However, some of the "old man" is still there. Christians make mistakes and sin. But they don't habitually indulge in sin. They must be constantly forgiven and washed away of their sinfulness. Spiritual renewal is therefore to be regarded as a continuous process in the course of a Christian life.
The life of a Christian
If we live according to the will of God, we are more likely to follow Christ. We must be prepared to renounce sin daily and submit to God's will in repentance. And as we do so, God, through the sacrificial blood of Christ, constantly washes us clean of our sins. We are spiritually washed clean by the bloody dress of Christ, which stands for His atoning sacrifice. By God's grace, we are allowed to live in spiritual holiness. And by translating this into our lives, Christ's life is reflected in the light we make.
A technological miracle transformed Michelangelo's dull and damaged painting. But God is performing a far more amazing spiritual miracle on us. It does much more than restore our stained spiritual being. He creates us anew. Adam sinned, Christ forgave. The Bible identifies Adam as the first man. And the New Testament shows that we are given the same life as Adam in the sense that we are mortal and carnal as he is on earth (1 Cor 15,45: 49).
In the 1. Book of Moses, however, states that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Knowing to be created in the image of God helps Christians understand that they are saved by Jesus Christ. As people originally created in the image of God, Adam and Eve sinned and charged themselves with the guilt of sin. The first-born people were guilty of sinfulness, and a spiritually stained world was the result. Sin has soiled and polluted us all. But the good news is that forgiveness can be given to all of us and we can be spiritually re-created.
God saves us through his redemptive work in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the pay of sin: death. The sacrificial death of Jesus reconciles us with our heavenly Father by redeeming what separated the Creator from his creation due to human sin. As our high priest, Jesus Christ gives us justification through the inherent Holy Spirit. The Atonement of Jesus breaks the barrier of sin that has broken the relationship between humanity and God. But beyond that, the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit unites us with God by making us at the same time happy. Paul wrote: "Because if we were reconciled to God by the death of his son when we were still enemies, how much more will we be saved by his life after we are now reconciled" (Romans 5,10).
The apostle Paul contrasts the consequences of Adam's sin with Christ's forgiveness. In the beginning, Adam and Eve allowed sin to come into the world. They fell for false promises. And so she came into the world with all its consequences and took possession of it. Paul makes it clear that God's punishment followed Adam's sin. The world fell into sin, and all people sin and fall prey to death. It is not that others died for Adam's sin or that he passed the sin on to his descendants. Of course, the “carnal” consequences already affect future generations. Adam was the first person to be responsible for the origin of an environment in which sin could spread freely. Adam's sin laid the foundation for further human action.
Likewise, the sin-free life of Jesus and his willing death for the sins of humanity made it possible for everyone to be spiritually reconciled with God and reunited with him. "Because if because of the sin of the One [Adam] death has reigned through the One," wrote Paul, "how much more will those who receive the fullness of grace and the gift of justice rule in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Verse 17). God reconciles sinful mankind to himself through Christ. And beyond that, we who are empowered by Christ through the Holy Spirit, are spiritually born again at God's promise as God's children.
Referring to the future resurrection of the righteous, Jesus said that God is "not a god of the dead but of the living" (Mark 12,27). However, the people he spoke of were not alive, but dead. Since God has the power to achieve his goal, the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ spoke of them as alive. As children of God, we can look forward to the resurrection to life at Christ's return. We are also given life now, a life in Christ. The apostle Paul encourages us: «... think that you have died of sin and live God in Christ Jesus» (Romans 6,11).
by Paul Kroll