A First Touch: Rebirth
Have you wondered what the difference is between a Christian and a non-Christian? After all, the world has some nice people in it, but not all nice people want anything to do with Jesus. They live decent lives. Theyâ€™re friendly, and you like them. So whatâ€™s different between them and you, non-Christian and Christian?
Buried in his letter to the Colossians, in a passage that explained the gap between Christian and non-Christian behavior, the apostle Paul spoke about what it means to be born anew, to be a Christian. He said, â€ś...you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creatorâ€ť (Col. 3:9b-10). This seems clear enough: Born anew in Christ, youâ€™re to live in a Christian way. The first touch of Godâ€™s gracious finger in your life brings about your rebirth. Youâ€™ve taken off an old suit of clothes and put on a new one. Your life has started again. So you act in newer, better ways.
How you behave is supposed to be a hallmark of your character as a Christian. So it seems as if the expected level of conduct is part of the difference between Jesusâ€™ disciples and those who choose not to be his followers. A Christianâ€™s behavior is supposed to be of a higher quality. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, â€śâ€¦unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heavenâ€ť (Mt. 5:20).
A friend of mine once told me heâ€™d become a Christian, which he defined as going to church, when he decided it was time to give up his nightly beers and daily cigarettes. He was partly correct. Being a disciple of Jesus holds you accountable for excellence in your activities. He was incorrect in thinking that better behavior would make him a Christian. Itâ€™s the other way around. Because Godâ€™s touch results in a rebirth of godliness in your heart, you start working on the construction of a better personality and the acquiring of higher interests. Rebirth results in renovation!
To be born anew in Christ is to be dressed in new clothing. Thatâ€™s how Paul put it. Off with the old muddy clothes! He called the rags we once wore the â€śold self.â€ť Our characteristic behavior before we were believers included things like hateful desires, impurity, selfishness, sexual immorality, and greed. Sounds like the plot of a modern television series, doesnâ€™t it? But those are the old clothes a Christian has to remove. Paul explained the new birth in Christ to the Colossian Christians by saying, â€ś...you have taken off your old self with its practices...â€ť
In other words, prior to following Jesus of Nazareth your habits and thought-patterns were conditioned to the typical human standards. If people left you alone, you tried not to be a bother in their lives. Live, and let live! Letâ€™s be friendly and tolerant! Letâ€™s stay close, but not too intimate! The usual desire of human beings is for peace, safety, and limited companionship. But these are not very high standards, are they? When you began to learn a Christian way of living, greater value was demanded from your behavior.
If you remove dirty slacks and shirt, you need to wear something else. So on with the new! The apostle Paul continued his instruction on the new birth. â€śYouâ€™ve put on a new self,â€ť he told the Colossians. In other words, now you follow Jesus, so wear something better than you used to wear. Throw away the worn-out apparel! Get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. â€śDo not lie to each other...â€ť Paul demanded. Notice that two of these bad habits are internal sinsâ€”rage and maliceâ€”and the rest are sins of the lips. They extend outside yourself. They smack against other people. Anger leads you to filthy talk, to slander, to lies. These are the clothes you used to wear before you knew Jesus. Put on new garments! Praise others, ask for forgiveness, offer forgiveness.
Do you know how long the proverb, â€śThe clothes make the man,â€ť has been around? At least since the time of the Romans. It first appeared in their literature. The clothes make the man. Thereâ€™s truth to it. As Thomas Fuller pointed out, â€śGood clothes open all doors.â€ť Thatâ€™s why people advise you to dress well for a job interview. Yet this bothers some people. Henry David Thoreau warned, â€śBeware of all enterprises that require new clothes!â€ť
You have a different perspective on the world than a non-Christian has. This is what Paul was driving at when he wrote:
Since...you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)
Born anew in Christ, you focus your attention on the concerns of heaven, and you occupy yourself with the business of the Fatherâ€™s heavenly kingdom. The finger of grace has tapped your shoulder. Itâ€™s as if you died and now live a new life. Behave like it!