The miracle of rebirth

418 the miracle of rebirthWe 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 stained painting should help us better understand why we need spiritual cleansing 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 1508 at the age of 33 years. In just over four years, he created numerous paintings with Bible scenes on the almost 560 m2 measuring ceiling. Among the ceiling paintings are scenic scenes from the Book of Moses. A well-known motive is Michelangelo's anthropomorphic representation of God (the image of man): the arm extending to the first man, Adam, the hand and the finger of God. Over the centuries, the ceiling fresco (called fresco, because the artist painted on fresh plaster) had suffered damage and was finally covered with a layer of dirt. Over time, it would have been completely destroyed. To prevent this, the Vatican entrusted experts with cleaning and restoration. Most of the work on the paintings was completed in the 80er years. Time left its mark on the masterpiece. Dust and candle soot had severely damaged the painting over the centuries. Moisture - rain had penetrated through the leaky roof of the Sistine Chapel - had caused mischief and sharply discolored the work of art. Paradoxically, perhaps the worst problem has been the attempts made over the centuries to preserve the paintings! The fresco had been covered with a varnish of animal glue to lighten its darker and darker surface. However, the short-term success proved to be an enlargement of the deficiencies to be remedied. The decay of the different varnish layers made the clouding of the ceiling painting even clearer. The glue also led to shrinkage and distortions of the painting surface. In some places, the glue broke off, and also dissolved particles of paint. The experts entrusted with the restoration of the paintings proceeded to be extremely cautious in their work. They applied mild solvents in gel form. And by the careful removal of the gel with the aid of sponges, the russian 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.

God's masterpiece

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 in the light that is visible to all of us. The question is: do we really want to do what God wants us to do? Most people do not want this. They still lead their lives over and over stained by the ugly blemish of sin in darkness. The apostle Paul described the spiritual darkness of this world in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. About their past life, he said, "You too were dead by your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live according to the nature of this world" (Eph 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 in Paul's words, which have been addressed to Christians for centuries: "But you are cleansed, you are sanctified, you have been justified by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Kor 6,11). This cleansing is an act of salvation and is called in Paul's "rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Tit 3,5). This removal, cleansing or eradication of sin is also well represented by the metaphor of circumcision. Christians are circumcised in their hearts. We could say that God saves us in His grace by releasing us from the cancer of sin through surgery. This separation of sin - spiritual circumcision - is a picture of the forgiveness of our sins. This made Jesus possible through his death as a perfect 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" (Col. 2,13).

The New Testament uses the symbol of the Cross to illustrate how our sinful nature was deprived of all effectiveness by killing our ego. Paul wrote, "We know that our old man is crucified with him [Christ], that the body of sin may be destroyed, so that from henceforth we shall not serve sin" (Rom 6,6). When we are in Christ, sin is crucified in our ego (that is, our sinful ego), or it dies. Of course the worldly still tries to cover our soul with the dirty dress of sin. But the Holy Spirit protects us and allows us to resist the attraction of sin. Through Christ, who through the action of the Holy Spirit fills us with God's essence, we are freed from the supremacy of sin.

The apostle Paul explains this act of God through the funeral metaphor. The funeral, in turn, brings with it a symbolic resurrection, which stands for the born again in the place of the sinful "old man" as a "new man". It is Christ who has made our new life possible, who continually gives us forgiveness and life-giving power. The New Testament compares the death of our old self and our restoration and symbolic resurrection to a new life with a rebirth. At the moment of our conversion, we are spiritually reborn. We are born again and raised to new life by the Holy Spirit.

Paul made Christians know that God "has reborn us after His great mercy for a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Petr 1,3). Note that the verb "reborn" is perfect. This expresses that this change is already taking place at the beginning of our Christian life. In our conversion God takes dwelling in us. And with that we will recreate. It is Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father who dwell in us (Jh 14,15-23). When we are converted or reborn as spiritually new people, God moves into us. If God the Father works in us, it is at the same time also the Son and the Holy Spirit. God inspires us, makes us pure of sins and transforms us. And this power is given to us through conversion and rebirth.

How Christians grow in faith

Of course, born-again Christians are still - to put it in Peter's words - "like the newborn Infant". They must be "eager for the sensible louder milk" that feeds them, so that they may ripen in the faith (1 Petr 2,2). Peter explains that born-again Christians gain more and more insight and spiritual maturity over time. They grow "in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Petr 3,18). Paul does not say that broader Bible knowledge 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 be following 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 terms of human character formation. Nor is it the result of a spiritual growth in the Holy Spirit the longer we live in Christ. Rather, we grow through the workings of the already existing in us Holy Spirit. By grace we receive the essence of God.

We obtain justification in two ways. For one, we are justified or experienced in our destiny when we receive the Holy Ghost. Justification from this point of view takes place in one fell swoop and is made possible by the Atonement of Christ. However, in the course of time in which Christ lives and equips us for God's worship and service, we also find justification. However, the nature or "character" of God is already given to us when Jesus takes refuge in us in the conversion. We receive the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit as we repent and place our faith in Jesus Christ. In the course of our Christian life a change takes place. We learn to be more subservient to the enlightenment and empowering power of the Holy Spirit, which 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 anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed, see, new things have become, "says Paul in the 2. Corinthians 5,17.

Spiritually born Christians take on a new image - that of God, our Creator. Your life should be a reflection of this new spiritual reality. Therefore, Paul could give them the direction: "And do not equate yourself to this world, but change yourselves by renewing your mind ..." (Rom 12,2). However, we should not think that means, Christians did not sin. Yes, we have undergone a change from one moment to another in the sense that we have been born again by receiving the Holy Spirit. However, something of the "old man" is still there. Christians make mistakes and sin. But they do not give themselves habitually to sin. They must be constantly forgiven and washed clean of their sinfulness. Thus, the spiritual renewal is to be seen 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 lackluster and damaged painting. But God performs a far more amazing spiritual miracle on us. It does much more than restore our stained spiritual nature. He recreates us. Adam sinned, Christ forgave. The Bible rejects Adam as the first man. And the New Testament reveals that in the sense that we as mortal human beings are mortal and carnal like him, we are given a life as great as Adam (1 Kor 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 releases us through his redemptive work in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the pay of sin: death. The sacrificial death of Jesus reconciles us to our Heavenly Father by eradicating what separated the Creator from his creation as a result of human sin. As our High Priest, Jesus Christ causes us to be justified by the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Atonement of Jesus tears open the barrier of sin that led to the breaking of the relationship between humanity and God. But beyond that, the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit makes us one with God, while at the same time making us happy. Paul wrote, "For 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, now that we are reconciled" (Rom 5,10).

The apostle Paul contrasts the consequences of the annihilation of Adam for the forgiveness of Christ. At first Adam and Eve allowed sin to come into the world. They fell for false promises. And so she came into the world with all her consequences and took possession of her. Paul makes it clear that the punishment of God followed the sin of Adam. The world fell into sin, and all people sin and fall to death. It's not that others died for Adam's sin or that he passed his 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 unhindered. Adam's sin laid the groundwork for further human action.

Similarly, the sinless life of Jesus and his willing death for the sins of humanity made it possible for all to be spiritually reconciled with God and reunited with Him. "For if because of the sin of the one [Adam] there was death by the one," wrote Paul, "how much more shall those who receive the fullness of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life by the one, Jesus Christ "(verse 17). God reconciles the sinful humanity through Christ. And moreover, we who are empowered by Christ by virtue of the Holy Spirit will be spiritually reborn as the children of God on the highest promise.

Referring to the future resurrection of the righteous, Jesus said that God is "not a god of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12,27). The people of whom he spoke, however, were not alive, but dead. But since God has the power to realize his goal, the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ spoke of them as if they were alive. As children of God, we may look forward with joy to the resurrection to the life of Christ's second coming. We are also given life, a life in Christ. The apostle Paul encourages us: "... keep you dead for sin and God live in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6,11).

by Paul Kroll

pdfThe miracle of rebirth