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REGENERATION – THE LINK TO CHRISTIAN LOVE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, March 15, 2015

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (I John 5:1).


I was not raised in church. I began attending a Baptist church when I was thirteen years old. One of the things I learned right away was that the young people in the church did not love each other, they did not love me, and they did not love the adults or the pastor. They told dirty jokes and backbit each other continually. They whispered and passed notes to each other as the pastor preached. I also discovered that the adults in the church had no love for each other. In fact, they seemed to dislike each other, and many of them despised each other. They were held together mostly by force of habit. They had gotten used to being together. They spent a couple of hours together on Sunday out of habit. It was their custom to come to church. But there was no love for each other. When the original pastor went to another church, their routine of church attendance was disturbed. In a short time they broke into three groups that started fighting with each other. Many people dropped out of the church completely. The ones who stayed ferociously attacked each other like wild animals. They threw hymn books at each other during the Sunday morning service. They cursed each other with foul language in that service.

Finally the Southern Baptist group left to start another church. I went with them. But no sooner had we started another church than the same sort of thing began to happen! Most of the young people left. Finally I left and went to a Chinese church, where I remained a member for twenty-three years. But even though the Chinese people weren’t so ferocious, there was little love between the members until God sent a revival and things changed for the better.

But soon after the revival began I went away to seminary. I started a church near the seminary. Things went well for a while. Then the same thing started over again. There were squabbles and arguments and people leaving. It was a mess. I left and came back to Los Angeles.

I started a church here forty years ago, which finally became this church we are in today. But this church also went through convulsions, fights and horrible church splits. It took about twenty-five years for things to cool down and become like it is today.

Now, that’s my experience. You may wonder how I made it through that maze of craziness. I often wonder about that myself. I can only say that, through it all, I knew there was a God and I knew the Bible was the Word of God. I didn’t just believe those things. I knew them, in the depths of my soul. I knew those things, “Not by works of righteousness…but according to his mercy” (Titus 3:5).

My experience is not unusual. Most, if not all, young evangelicals have gone through similar experiences. What makes my experience somewhat unusual is that I went through it and came out of it believing God and the Bible even more than I did before!

But before I go on I am going to quote Christine Wicker, the author of The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church (HarperOne, 2008). She said,

Evangelical Christianity in America is dying. The great evangelical movements of today are not a vanguard [not on the front rank]. They are a remnant, unraveling at the very edge. Look at it any way you like: Conversions. Baptisms. Membership…Giving…Attendance…all are down and dropping (ibid., introduction, p. ix).

And she backs up that statement with facts and statistics that are impossible to disprove. As I read the book I had to agree with her basic thesis: our churches are in deep trouble.

But this is nothing new. Sixty years ago Dr. A. W. Tozer wrote, time after time, about the problems in our churches. For instance, Dr. Tozer said,

The whole evangelical world is to a large extent unfavorable to healthy Christianity. And I am not thinking of modernism [liberalism] either. I mean rather the Bible-believing crowd that bears the name of orthodoxy…We are making converts to our effete [unfruitful, worn-out] type of Christianity that bears little resemblance to that of the New Testament…Clearly we must produce better Christians (Of God and Men, Christian Publications, 1960, pp. 12, 13).

Dr. Tozer was called a prophet in his own lifetime!

How can we have a loving church in the midst of so much confusion and apostasy? We must start where the Bible starts – with conversion. You cannot have a loving church made up of unconverted people! Real conversion is a radical event. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great British preacher, said,

Becoming a Christian is a crisis, a critical event…which in the New Testament is described in such terms as a new birth, or a new creation, or a new beginning. More than that, it is there described as being a supernatural act wrought by God Himself, something comparable to a dead soul being made alive…in and through Jesus Christ His Son (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Evangelistic Sermons, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990, p. 166).

And that takes us back to our text.

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (I John 5:1).

I. First, what “believing” means in the text.

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ…” (I John 5:1).

The Greek word translated “believe” is “pisteuōn.” Dr. A. T. Robertson said that this is “not merely intellectual conviction, but full surrender to Jesus Christ…pisteuōn in the full sense” (A. T. Robertson, Litt.D., Word Pictures in the New Testament, volume VI, Broadman Press, 1953, p. 237; note on I John 5:1).

Strong says that “pisteuōn” means “to have faith in, upon…a person” (#4100). Spurgeon said, “Look at any Greek lexicon you like, and you will find that the word pisteuōn does not merely mean to believe, but to trust…the meaning of faith is confidence in, reliance upon Jesus Christ, [not]…a mere notional faith…[which] could not save your soul” (“Faith and Regeneration,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, number 979, p. 138; note on I John 5:1).

Demons have a “notional” belief in Jesus Christ. You don’t have to read the New Testament very long before you find a verse like Luke 4:41,

“And devils [demons] also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God...for they knew that he was Christ” (Luke 4:41).

These demons understood that Jesus was the Christ. But they did not trust Him. John is not telling us to merely believe the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He is telling us to trust Christ – pisteuōn – “to have faith in and upon Christ, to trust Him.”

Spurgeon went on to tell about the serpent of brass. Snakes were biting the Israelites, and killing them. God told Moses to make a serpent of brass and raise it up on a pole. Whoever was bitten and dying from a snake bite only had to look at the serpent of brass to be healed and live. In John 3:14, 15 Jesus used that story to explain how we are saved. Spurgeon said, “To believe in Jesus is [only] to glance the eye of faith to him, to trust him with thy soul” (ibid., p. 140). No matter how small your faith is, if you look to Jesus and have faith in Him alone, you have the faith that in every case shows that you are born again.

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…”
      (I John 5:1).

II. Second, whoever trusts Jesus is born again, born of God.

Now, many who have not trusted Jesus say they are born again. They are trusting something else. Dr. Cagan went with Ileana and me to a funeral near San Diego. On the way back we stopped at one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in California. A Saturday evening service was just ending. When we came out I saw a young woman who was a guard. I asked her if she was a Christian. She said, “Yes, I am.” I asked her, “How did you become a Christian?” She said, “I’ve been a member of this church all my life.” I said, “I don’t think you understand my question. I said ‘how did you become a Christian?’” She said, “I was baptized.” I said, again, “But how did you become a Christian?” She said, “I come to church every week.” I walked away sadly. That poor young woman could not be persuaded to say even one word about Jesus! The pastor of that huge Southern Baptist church is known throughout the world. That girl had heard him preach all her life. Yet she was as ignorant of the new birth as Nicodemus, who said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9).

God help us! No wonder Christine Wicker said, “Evangelical Christianity in America is dying.” No wonder Dr. Tozer said, “The whole evangelical world is to a large extent unfavorable to healthy Christianity.” Without trusting Jesus you are as lost as that poor young woman, who is a life-time member of the big Southern Baptist church. Oh, do not trust in church membership! Do not trust in baptism! Do not trust in your own goodness! And whatever you do, do not trust in a feeling of emotion! Trust Jesus Christ! Be washed clean from your sins by the Blood Christ shed on the Cross! As Spurgeon often said, “Lay flat on Christ.” Look to Christ. Trust Christ. Look toward Christ! It isn't hard! Look toward Him as the Israelites looked toward the brass serpent and were healed!

Look and live, my brother, live!
   Look to Jesus now and live,
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live!
(“Look and Live” by William A. Ogden, 1841-1897).

III. Third, what flows out of the new birth.

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (I John 5:1).

Notice the second half of the text, “...and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (I John 5:1). Love of the brothers and sisters in the church is the outcome of the new birth. The test of a true conversion, then, is that we love others who also are truly converted. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, “You are born again when you trust the Lord Jesus Christ...and the proof of it is that you love God. You love [God] your Father – he begot you – and you are going to love His other children because they are your brothers and sisters” (Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1983; note on I John 5:1).

I am convinced that this is the main reason that we have so many church quarrels, so many splits, so many leaving the churches, especially young people. My pastor for many years was Dr. Timothy Lin. He wrote about a church that experienced many problems,

Many in [the] congregation claimed to be Christians but had no eternal life; they fought for privileges but retreated from responsibilities. Such members were apt to mishandle church ministries...Unfortunately, people often allow cancerous cells [unconverted people] to be injected into the body of Christ. This is the reason why...churches today are suffering from terminal diseases (Timothy Lin, Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, FCBC, 1992, pp. 38-40).

Dr. Lloyd-Jones also saw this problem. He said,

This idea that because people are members of the church and attend regularly that they must be Christians is one of the most fatal assumptions, and I suggest that it mainly accounts for the [bad] state of the Church today (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan Publishing House, 1981 edition, p. 149).

Lost people can become members of nearly all Baptist and evangelical churches with no questions asked. They are accepted immediately. Most of them have never become real Christians. As Dr. Lin put it, they “claimed to be Christians but had no eternal life.” Of course he meant that they had no zōē aiōnio – no life of God in them. The life of God comes into people when they are converted. As our text puts it, they are “born of God,” “begotten of God.” The great preacher George Whitefield (1714-1770) was saved after he read a book by Henry Scougal (1650-1678) called “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” (Martino Publishing, 2010 reprint). The life of God regenerates people the moment they trust Jesus. They may not “feel” anything, but mature Christians will recognize that there is something different about the new converts. One of the main differences is that they will deeply love others in the church who are “begotten of God,” who are “born of God.” They will sense those who have the life of God within them. They will have Christian love for them, love that the lost world, or lost church members, cannot understand. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “We need the divine nature within us before we can truly love one another” (The Love of God, Crossway, 1994, p. 45). As the Apostle John said earlier in this epistle,

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I John 3:14).

That person remains in a state of spiritual death. We pray that you will pass from death to life this morning. Believe on Jesus. Trust Jesus. Rely wholly on Jesus. His Blood will cleanse your sins. His resurrection from the dead will give you life. The moment you turn to Jesus and trust Him alone – you will pass from death unto life. You will be spiritually united by a holy love with those among us who have also trusted Jesus.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
   (Chorus by Peter R. Scholtes, 1938-2009).

I pray that will be your experience soon! Trust Jesus. He will cleanse you from sin with the Blood He shed on the Cross. He will save you from sin and give you eternal life – even the life of God! You will be born again, born from above!

Let me end this sermon by reminding you of a scene in “Oliver Twist.” Oliver is a skinny little orphan boy about 9 or 10 years old. His mother died giving birth to him and he has no other relatives. He is an orphan – all alone in the world. He is in an orphanage in 19th century England. He is half-starved. They only give him a very small bowl of watery oatmeal for dinner each night. The other boys at Oliver’s table whisper to him, “Go and ask for more.” Finally, desperate with hunger, the little boy takes his bowl and walks up to the big, fat man in charge. The fat man looks down at him and says, “What do you want?” In a terrified little voice, Oliver says, “Please, sir, I want more.” The fat man says, “What?” The boy says, “Please sir, I want some more.” The fat man screams, “What? You want MORE? MORE! You want MORE!” Oliver was whipped and confined to a cell. They got rid of him. In a couple of days he was sent away to work for an undertaker, who made him sleep in a dark room, under a coffin.

If you have ever read the book by Dickens, or if you have ever seen the 1948 movie, you will never forget that scene – where the big, fat “Beadle” refuses to give this starving boy another spoon full of watery oatmeal.

I am afraid that some of you think of Christ that way. You think He is mean and hard. You think He doesn’t want to give you salvation. How wrong you are! Christ loves you! He is ready to give you all you want – and more! Jesus says, “Come unto me...and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus says, “I give unto them eternal life” (John 10:28). Jesus says, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Revelation 21:6).

Jesus will give you salvation freely. He will give you life and peace. He will give you salvation from sin. He will give you eternal life. All you need to do is trust Him, look to Him and be saved.

Look and live, my brother, live!
   Look to Jesus now and live,
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live!

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: I John 4:7-11; 3:11-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Blest Be the Tie” (by John Fawcett, 1740-1817)/
“They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love” (by Peter R. Scholtes, 1938-2009).


THE OUTLINE OF

REGENERATION – THE LINK TO CHRISTIAN LOVE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (I John 5:1).

(Titus 3:5)

I.   First, what “believing” means in the text, I John 5:1a;
Luke 4:41.

II.  Second, whoever trusts Jesus is born again, born of God,
John 3:9.

III. Third, what flows out of the new birth, I John 5:1b; 3:14;
Matthew 11:28; John 10:28; Revelation 21:6.