It is time to start rebuilding the character of the American people. Our greatest leaders came from families whose ethical foundations were built into their very souls. Abraham Lincoln, with neither natural ambition nor education, never escaped the unique character building principles formed in his life by his loving stepmother. Christian character is not old-fashioned or outmoded.
J.D. Grey once said, “When we religious teachers urge young people to live sober, clean and honest lives, we are accused of ‘preaching.’” But the fact remains that business advocates the same thing. Nearly every week we receive letters of inquiry from bonding companies and corporations, asking questions about certain individuals. One questionnaire reads as follows: “To your knowledge is the employee known to be: a user of intoxicating liquor; interested in gambling, in speculation; a user of drugs, opiates or the like; the possessor of a good reputation; happy in domestic life; extravagant; honest and trustworthy; suspected in any fraud; in good company and associates?” It is perfectly obvious that even business considers a strong Christian character of vital importance.
How about the questionnaire on your personal life? Could you pass that sort of examination? One mistake is the tendency to confuse character with greatness. A.W. Tozer said, “Bible characters fall into four classes: first, those who are great but not good; second, those who are good but not great; third, those who are neither good nor great; and fourth, those who are both great and good.”
Goodness is possible for everyone, even though greatness is achieved only by a few. Greatness contributes nothing to one’s personal and inward happiness. Goodness contributes everything. Most people aspire to be great, only a few desire to be good. We are upside down. We are placing value on the wrong thing. Greatness requires a combination of qualities rare in nature. Goodness is a gift of God and may be acquired by the humblest person.
A famous newspaperman said some time ago, “The world is in its present mess because of the absence of character.” The glue that holds society together has been allowed to dry out. We have come unstuck, and we shall certainly fall apart unless somehow we can put moral virtues back into fashion.
Man measures material wealth. God measures character. Man says we must have something. God says we must be something. Man measures values by the degree of his own strivings and accomplishments. God measures true values by the degree to which His power is permitted to flow through a person.
In the sight of God, permanence and stability and character are related to conversion to Christ. Outward circumstances change, and as a result people change, but Christ is unchanging. Jesus remains the same in the storm or in the calm. His disciples withered under certain circumstances and were astounded to notice that Jesus was the same regardless.
Even though Nicodemus was a great religious leader, Jesus said that he still lacked something. Jesus turned to him and said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). In other words, Jesus said, the only way that you can establish a permanent Christian character, the only way that you can be rid of the sin in your soul, the only way you can have a new life, the only way that you can begin to build a new and better world, is to be born anew.
Jesus taught that all of man’s difficulties and problems come from a sinful heart. It is the heart that defiles a person, He said: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matthew 15:19-20). The only way to build true Christian character is through a new birth.
This divine new birth is not the remolding or improvement of the nature with which you are born. It is not the remaking of the old nature. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). God wants to create a new nature in the individuals who make up our society.
The new birth is the impartation of a new life wrought in the Christian by divine power through a supernatural act, whereby we become partakers of the divine nature. The new nature is spiritual and distinct from the old nature. It is a God-implanted, divine life. The Bible teaches that it is the very life of Christ Himself. The only way for us to have true Christian character is to be born again.
When we, by faith, accept Jesus Christ as Savior, then God places within us a totally new nature. Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in our hearts. The Christian begins to produce the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. The Bible teaches that we cannot produce these fruits unless we have been born from above.
Many people ask the same thing that Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by being born again?” (Cf. John 3:4-8). The first time we experience birth, we are born physically into the physical world. But at the moment we are born into the physical world, we are born spiritually dead. The Bible teaches that we are dead spiritually.
The Bible says the natural man “does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are … spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). We are the natural man. We have been born once into the physical world, but we are blind to spiritual things.
There comes that moment in life when the Spirit of God convicts us of sin. It may be a sermon preached, it may be a tragic circumstance, it may be a disappointment in life. But the Spirit of God uses these things to convict us of the fact that we are sinners.
Christ is presented to us as the only hope of salvation from the bondage of sin. We are told to turn from our sins and commit and surrender our lives to Jesus Christ. The moment we do that—and it happens instantaneously—the Bible says we are born again. It is not a matter of emotion or some great feeling that sweeps over us. It is a simple act of commitment to Christ. Then by faith we believe the Word of God, which says, “God puts a new nature in you” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18).
We cannot inherit Christianity. There are people who think they are Christians because they have Christian parents. I could be born in a garage, but that would not make me an automobile. We can be born in a Christian home, but that does not make us Christians. We may live a fairly decent and moral life, but that alone does not make us born again. We may go to church once in a while, but that does not make us born again. We may give our money to charitable organizations, but that does not make us Christians. Jesus said, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). You must be born again.
There are just two conditions to the new birth: the first is repentance, the second is faith. At the moment we are born again, God will give us supernatural power. Lying, cheating, hate, lust and all such things will disappear if we let the Spirit of God have his way in our lives.
In every part of the world where I am invited to preach the Gospel, I seek for individuals to be born again. It is only as people are born from above that they can live the Christian life, and it is only as we inject Christians into our society that nations can be saved. We have tried to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and we have failed. We have tried many schemes and philosophies. They have all failed. Now I beg of you to choose Christ. You cannot know the fruits, thrills, joys and destiny of the Kingdom of God unless you have been born again.
Have you been born again? ©1976 BGEA
Reprinted from Decision magazine, September 1976. Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.