13. A New Life
Please remember to pray before reading!
The Wind and the Spirit
Jesus told us that the new birth experience is similar to the wind in this way: You cannot see the wind, but you can see the results of what the wind does. In the same way, you can't see the renewing power that creates a new nature in us, but you certainly will be able to see the results.
If the Holy Spirit gives you a new heart, your life will change. This change that takes place is God's work; we must never trust our own efforts to gain favor with God.
While it's true that we can't change our attitudes and motives by ourselves, we will be able to tell if we have been born again. Our character will be transformed when the Holy Spirit dwells in us. There will be a clear contrast between what we used to be and what we are now.
Characters are revealed by the general direction and focus of a life. The occasional bad or good deed doesn't show what the heart is like. We show whether we've been born again by our habits, our interests, and our goals in life.
How Can You Tell?
Sometimes people who have not been born again can impress others with their good behavior. Perhaps they want to have a good reputation, or they want to impress their boss. Perhaps they pretend to be kind and loving so that others will give them what they want.
All this good outward behavior without an inward change is really based on selfishness. But it looks very good and it may be hard to tell if it is genuine.
But there is a way for us to know if we've been born again. Ask yourself these questions: Who holds the highest place in my affections? What are my interests in life? What is my favorite topic of conversation? What do I like to think about when I'm all alone?
If you have truly given yourself to Christ, He will be the center of your attention. The promises in His Word will be precious to you. Your greatest delight will be to please Him. You will be aware of His presence and you will want to follow Him and be like Him. He will be your closest friend.
A Changed Life
There is another way you can tell if the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you. And that is, your life will develop the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self control.
Your own will and desires will no longer control you, but you will be learning step by step to walk in Jesus' footsteps. Our tastes and interests will change. We will find that those things that were once so appealing to us will lose their appeal. Instead of being proud and egocentric, we will become more interested in helping others. Our moral standards and even our thoughts will become pure. Instead of being focused on Worldly wealth and honor, we will be interested in promoting God's kingdom.
The Spirit Makes It Easy
When God's Holy Spirit takes over the life, He convicts us of our sins and leads us to make things right with others and with God. When we receive pardon, the power of God fills our lives. This power is love that motivates us to be obedient to God. This makes it easy to follow God's way. When the Spirit is in control. He takes the rebellion out of our hearts and gives us good desires. So we will actually find that following Jesus is a pleasure. We will find great joy in serving God.
There is no possible way to be truly righteous without this love in our hearts. Divine love is a gift from God. We can't have true love apart from the new birth experience. Jesus was our perfect example because love motivated everything He did. And when we have this same love in our hearts, it will change our characters to be like Jesus'.
Two Dangerous Errors
New Christians need to be aware of falling into either of two dangerous errors. The first mistake is one we've already mentioned, and that is thinking that you can be good just by trying hard enough. If you are trying to impress God by your good behavior, you might as well give up! There is no possible way you could be good enough because remember, inside you will still be rebellious. And that means that everything we do, even if it looks good on the outside, is basically selfish. God doesn't care about how you perform on the outside. He cares about your heart. Only God can change your motives and give you new desires and attitudes.
Even with a changed heart, we can't ever earn salvation. We need Jesus constantly to change our desires. We must realize how helpless we are to do anything good by ourselves. Then we won't take credit for anything we do. We simply give God permission to do good things in us and He gets all the credit. Our behavior is not what saves us. Salvation is a free gift from God, and we receive it by faith in Him.
The second dangerous error is just the opposite of depending on our good works. The other extreme is to think that our behavior doesn't matter at all. But our works do matter, not that we gain any credit for good behavior, but it is a sign that we have been born again. Since God's law expresses His character, when we accept Him we receive the principles of His law of love as our own. Our attitudes, motives, and actions are changed to be in harmony with God's law.
True faith does not release us from obedience to God's law. Faith is what connects us to God's power and makes it possible for us to obey. When people claim to have faith but don't obey, this proves that they don't have true faith. Obedience is the result of having true faith.
Jesus Took My Place!
The condition of receiving eternal life is based upon perfect obedience to God's law. But here we face a problem. It was possible for Adam to obey perfectly before he sinned. But after sin, we all inherited a fallen nature that cannot obey. But Jesus has solved our problem. He lived a perfect life that He will exchange for our sinful life. And He died the death we deserve to die because of our sins. So when you accept Him as your Savior, He exchanges your life for His life. So God considers that Christ's life is now yours. God looks at you just as He looks at Christ, just as if you had not sinned.
And even more than this initial trade, Jesus continues to give us His life. As long as we are willing to receive it, the character of Jesus is given to us. We receive a new nature that is obedient to God's will. If we will continue to have faith in Jesus and choose Him over our own way, He will work in us through this new nature. Our lives will come into harmony with God's law. We don't have any room to boast at all because this new nature is simply Christ living in us. The Holy Spirit provides all the power, and our part is to cooperate with Him. This is what true faith will accomplish.
There is another kind of belief that doesn't accomplish a changed life. This is merely acknowledging that God is right, but not choosing to let Him have full control. We must let our belief go deeper and allow God to have His way in our lives.
God's Pardon and Power
It is important to realize that we will make mistakes even after we've accepted Jesus, but we should never despair. Our mistakes should drive us closer to Jesus and help us to realize we need Him even more. The closer we come to Jesus, the more we will realize how faulty we are. That shows us that we are not deceived into thinking that we don't really need Jesus. We know we need His pardon and His power. We aren't safe without Him. And the more we realize our need of Him, the closer we will come to being like Him.