There Is More to Life than Being Borncomment (0)
February 6, 2014
By Bob Terry
Few memories are as precious to a parent as the birth of a child and Christians, it sometimes seems, are mostly interested in spiritual birth stories too.
Personally I clearly remember the agonizing day in Baptist Hospital in Louisville, Ky., when my late wife Eleanor gave birth to our first child. It was a long, hard labor and Brent was born with a black eye. But his bruises meant little to me the moment I saw him for the first time.
He was an answer to prayer. Our first pregnancy abruptly ended in a miscarriage at five months and we both lived with unspoken fears during the months Eleanor carried Brent. But on Dec. 7 our hopes and prayers transformed into reality as I took Brent in my arms for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday.
But there is more to life than being born. These years later Brent is married and has a family of his own. I was privileged to watch him grow into a strong Christian father. He is a Sunday School teacher and sings on a praise team at his church. Along the way I was able to baptize him and watched him grow through his school years. During college he solidified the direction of his life and his personal values. That was followed by establishing a vocation as an attorney.
I performed his wedding to a wonderful Christian young lady and celebrated the birth and development of his children.
Today Brent is much more than the bruised, helpless baby I lifted from his hospital bed those years ago. He has grown in every way. There is little resemblance between the baby I met that evening in the hospital and the man I know now. Today I celebrate who he is more than the birth experience. Still there is an unbreakable link between his birth and who he has become. None of who he is now would have been possible without his birth.
My story is no different from any parent’s story. I share it only because it illustrates a truth about the Christian life. There is more to the Christian life than being born.
As Baptists, we so emphasize the birth experience of the Christian life that we sometimes create the impression that being born again is all there is to being a Christian. We sometimes fail to recognize that like with physical life, the birth experience is just the beginning of a life-long journey with the Father. Who one ends up becoming in the Lord may have little resemblance to who one was at the moment of spiritual birth but without that spiritual birth none of the rest is possible.
Baptists and most other evangelical Christians use the term “justification” to describe the spiritual birth experience. For the journey of spiritual growth, the term “sanctification” is most often used. The two are related but they are different.
Justification is a legal term. It describes the act of God as He pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ. Justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the one justified. One scholar wrote, “The law is not relaxed or set aside but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense.”
This happens to an individual only because of personal faith in Christ. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” To the Ephesians he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not of works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
Justification is an instantaneous, once-for-all act. The one coming to God in faith through Christ is spiritually born in that moment. Everything that follows is a result of being justified.
Just like growth in “wisdom and stature” is the expected outcomes of physical life, continued growth of the spiritual life is the expected outcome of Christian living. And like growing physically, growing spiritually can have its starts and stops, its pains and disappointments, as well as its victories and successes.
The Greek word translated sanctification means “holiness” implying the kind of life the believer is to live. Romans 8:29 affirms this understanding when it says believers are to “be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Jesus).” Sanctification is a moment-by-moment process beginning at our spiritual birth and continuing throughout our Christian lives.
Again in 2 Corinthians 3:18, the apostle Paul wrote that believers are “being transformed into His likeness.” Notice the continuous action of the verb. It is similar to 2 Corinthians 7:1 where one reads the apostle’s urging toward “perfecting holiness,” a continuous process of overcoming the sinful impulses and cultivating the Lordship of Christ in one’s life.
Sanctification takes place in the believer’s life because of the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s abiding presence stimulates the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) in one’s life and overcomes the acts of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19–21).
It is not the moral discipline of trying to live by the law that makes the difference. It is not mere abstinence from evil in the believer’s life that is the goal. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit from the moment of spiritual birth that results in Christian character evidencing the rule and reign of Christ in one’s life.
Yes there is more to the Christian life than being born. Being made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ (being justified) is certainly something to be celebrated but it is only the beginning. Perhaps it is time Baptists paid more attention to the growth process (sanctification) so we can celebrate who believers become as well as their spiritual birth.