Intro: Has your identity been stolen? Nowadays people don’t steal and break homes anymore they just steal your identity and then have access to your bank accounts or credit cards. There are warnings not to give out your social security number but some entities requires you to give it out to them. Are we protected and can we trust them? I don’t know. This is modern day robbery and they could be far away without physical contact with you. How is it in the spiritual realm? Are there identity thefts? Yes there are. In the Old Testament the Bible calls them false prophets. And this was true in Jesus time and as He prophesied there will be more today.
“And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” Matt. 24:11
And here’s what they will do as explained by apostle Peter.
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth to disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” 2 Pet. 2:1-3
There is another identity thief who has taken the name of God for himself.
“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” Matt. 23:9
How many people are guilty of calling a priest ‘father,” the title given to their position by this religion? Father is God’s name and title. Isn’t giving ones self the same title of God blasphemous? Identity thief? There are preachers, evangelists and teachers who do it for profit and monetary gain. One can also call himself a Christian and yet his life does not exhibit the life of Christ. There is no likeness to Christ at all by the life he lives. There is no transformation and change from who he was before to who he is now. A fitting title of this message is a question one ought to be able to answer.
“Who Am I Now?”
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Cor. 5:17-19
Last Sunday we looked at the good news how to be saved from going to hell and have eternal life. The turning point that starts the change is when a person gets born again, redeemed by Christ and given this new life. This is a onetime event just like when a baby is born physically. The same is true with the spiritual birth Jesus calls “born again.” Should we know when that happens? Of course because there is a conscious decision to repent of all the sins that one is aware of sinning against a holy God. This happens after hearing the gospel of salvation and the conviction by the Holy Spirit to see his need to be saved by Jesus Christ alone. Even children can do this except that they may not be conscious of the when they received Christ into their hearts. They may not have realized and fully understood the theology and doctrine of what being born again means, but God knows their hearts giving the simple understanding of the gospel. Those who have shared the gospel to them can remember when and also where. Many parents have done this and led their children to Christ.
I have encountered many who call themselves Christians but when asked when and how they became Christian they give different answers. An example would be, I have always been a Christian. Some say I come from a Christian family, others I have been baptized or I go to church and some say I believe in God and I pray to God. So are they? Sometimes when I start to tell the good news, I would be asked, what religion do you belong to? When I say, I am a Christian, immediately they would say, I am a Catholic or this and that religion.
But who are the true Christians and how did Christians get their identity? Did Jesus tell His disciples that they were now Christians? Followers of Christ in the beginning were identified as a sect called “the Way”. Then later they were identified as Christians. Did they give that identity to themselves?
“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called “Christians” first at Antioch.” Acts 11:25-26
Notice that it was the people who gave them the name as they observed the lives of the disciples. Jesus said “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” After telling the people about Christ, they now identified them as His followers and they called them little Christ’s. Isn’t that a great testimony of Christ? If there is anything I want to be identified with, it is to be like Christ. That’s why we purposed as the ultimate goal for our church “to become like Him.” So what is it that makes the difference? A new life that has been changed from a life of sin to a life of righteousness. Here are some visible and obvious changes.
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” 1 Cor. 6:9-11
Did you once upon a time lived like this? Maybe not all but are these still present in your life? Anyone who says he is not guilty of and did anything like this in his or her past is a liar. And anyone who professes to be a Christians but has not been changed may be guilty of identity thief. And who is put to shame and hurt the most by his testimony? The name of Christ is maligned and shamed but the thief is hurt the most.
Our text states that “if” anyone is in Christ there is a condition that must happen. This little word “if” determines who is the true Christian. To be in Christ means that one has heard the gospel, convicted of sin then repented and turned away from all his sins and received Christ as Lord. Then first of the “new” is he will confess Christ with his mouth. He cannot keep the forgiveness of all his sins and the love of God that is now his, a secret. It is like what happens when one decides to get married. If possible the couple would invite the whole town to the wedding to let them know what they are getting into and witness their commitment to each other. So if anyone is in Christ the sins one has done is the past is to go and has gone.
The first of the old to go is sexual immorality. Any sexual relationship outside of marriage is an adulterous relationship. In the Philippines this used to be kept a secret as much as possible from the public. However, this is no longer true today. Society accepts it and there is no longer any shame and sexual relationship outside of marriage is now a normal thing. This ought to be the first to go when one is in Christ,“the old has gone the new has come”. There has to be a change. Paul said, “that is what some of you were,”
But on the other hand if there is no change and one continues in this life of sin, God’s Word says that you are deceiving yourself. When one is in Christ, Christ now lives in that person represented by the Holy Spirit and He will not allow that kind of life to continue. He is the one who is going to do the changing because the repentant sinner has given all his sins that he knows to Christ. So what should happen to the old life of sin? “The old has gone the new has come!” Christ took away what was surrendered to Him and exchanged with this new life. This is the miracle of the new birth.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.” This new birth and new life is all the work of God. There is a parallel of the physical birth to the spiritual birth. When you and I were born physically, did you have any part to create you in the womb, develop you to full term and then brought out into the world as a live baby? Who did all that? God did. Unlike Adam that God created from dust, all his descendants came through the womb of Eve and the womb of mothers. Here’s what God revealed to David in creating the human being.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, you saw my unformed body.” Ps. 139:13-16a
One is born in the spirit the same way by God. The Bible says that the moment we sin we die spiritually. Adam did and so did Eve. That’s why God made provision for their salvation by shedding the blood of an animal and clothing them with the animals skin to represent the righteousness of Christ and His blood. That is how God saved Adam and Eve and saves us in the same way. This truth is revealed to us this way by the apostle Paul,
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Eph. 2:1-2
So what died here in you and me and why? Sin brought death to our spirit. But did our spirit really die? The death of our spirit is the separation from God. No fellowship, no connection and relationship with God. Our spirit is still alive but it is a slave to the ruler of darkness. A sinner is now referred to in the Bible as the natural man. With a final destiny in hell if not saved.
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them for they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2:14
Can we give life to our dead spirit by ourselves? No. Only God can do that and this is through Christ. It is Christ who reconciles us to God by His death as payment for all our sins and by His resurrection He gives us this new life. So when Jesus said, you must be born again what did he mean?
“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with one born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
Is it something that I do to make it happen? When Jesus said, flesh gives birth to flesh did we have any part in our physical birth? None. What about the spiritual birth? No difference. Our spirit is already dead that’s why it needs to be born again. It is the Spirit who gives birth to ones spirit. On our own our spirit cannot make ourselves alive. God reveals this birth as explained by Paul.
“But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show his incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2:4-7.
It means the Holy Spirit gives life to our dead spirit in order for us to be in tuned with God and connects with God. Because we have received Christ into our hearts, the Holy Spirit comes in to dwell in us in order for us to be partakers of the divine nature. So we now have a new nature. However our old sinful nature is still there and alive. But now that we have the Spirit of God, He starts his work of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. He is God and has the supernatural power to do the changing. This was promised in the Old Testament what He does with the ones He save.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezek. 36:26-27
Has God fulfilled this promise? Yes. By sending His Son to save us from our sins and reconcile us with God. He came to establish a new covenant in His blood. And by his death and resurrection, after having paid for our sins God is now able to reconcile the world to himself in Christ, “not counting men’s sins against them.” This is because Jesus paid them all at the cross. The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all as prophesied by Isaiah. This became the final transaction.
“God has made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:21
“All this is from God.” Did all the Jews in Jesus time receive Christ and believe in Him? No. Not all, that’s why we Gentiles came into the kingdom of God. Yet it is not from us that we Gentiles are reconciled with God, but God by his grace alone, He saved us and continues to save many others. When one is the object of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit brings about the conviction of sin and grants him repentance unto life. That too is by the grace of God. When the Jews heard that Gentiles were also being saved just like them, they said,
“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Acts 11:18
So the big question is “Who am I now?” Have I been born again? When you professed to believe in Christ and received Him into your heart as Lord, have you been changed to a new creation? Has this new life replaced your old and sinful life that now loves the Lord Jesus Christ, worships Him, follows in His steps and obeys all His commands. At almost the end of this second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, he ask us to do this,
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course you fail the test?” 2 Cor. 13:5
And if you fail the test, here’s Paul’s and my appeal to you,
“We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5:20b
However, if you pass the test, this is who you are now.
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of son-ship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Rom. 8:15-16
How good it is to be a child of God? How good it is to spend eternity with God in heaven forever? Like Paul, you ought to be able to say,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” 1 Cor. 15:10