This is the Bible study on becoming a Christian that I sent to my (very small) mailing list at RebuildingTheFoundations.com. I think it is worth posting here as well.
Becoming a Christian
In previous Bible studies, we have talked about the Gospel (the “Good News”) that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. I have allowed several weeks to pass since the last Bible study, so it might be good to read Psalm 2 again. It will remind you who Jesus was, and why it is important to know that he is “the Christ” or “the Anointed.”
In the last two Bible studies, we talked about “foundations.” Matthew 7:24-27 taught us that hearing and obeying Jesus is the key to standing on the foundation. 2 Timothy 2:19 taught us that everyone who calls Jesus Lord should “depart from unrighteousness.”
If you are a human, then you know that it can be hard for us to do what is right. Saying that we should obey Jesus is one thing, but doing the things Jesus taught (e.g., Matthew, chapters 5-7) is quite another thing.
The New Birth
We will begin this study with John 3:1-8.
Take the time to read the passage now. If you do not have a Bible at hand, go to a search engine and type in “John 3 1-8” and click on the BibleGateway.com link. There you can read the passage in just about any version you want.
“Born again” from John 3:1-8 is a mystery to anyone who has not experienced being born again. Trying to explain being born again is almost impossible. The new birth is not a teaching, it is an experience.
It is not impossible, however, to tell a person how to be born again.
Becoming born again is a promise to all who believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God as described in Psalm 2. Those who believe this will, of course, commit themselves to obeying him because they do not want him to “be angry, and you perish” (Psalm 2:12).
As I wrote earlier, mere humans have a lot of trouble obeying Jesus’s teachings, which are best summed up in Matthew 5-7, which we call “the Sermon on the Mount.” That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again” in John 3:3.
Old Wineskins and New Wine
Let’s look at one passage to help explain the need. Look up Matthew 9:14-17. You can do that at any search engine as explained earlier.
In that passage, John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples ask Jesus why his disciples don’t fast. He explains first that fasting is for later, after he is gone. Then he tells a little parable about wineskins.
In Jesus’s day, a wineskin was made of leather. When it got old, it was stiff. If you put new wine in an old wineskin, the wine would continue to ferment, put off gases, and explode . A fresh wineskin, though, one that has oil rubbed into to it to restore it, can stretch to handle the new wine.
In the same way, Jesus’s new teachings are too much for a person who is not made new. The oil used to refresh a wineskin represents the Holy Spirit. When Jesus puts the Holy Spirit in a person, they are changed. They are changed so much that Jesus called it a new birth (“born again”).
How to Be Born Again
The apostle Peter explained this very well the first time the Gospel was preached. The story is in Acts 2. It is well worth reading chapters 1 and 2 for the whole amazing story of the birth of the Church, but I will summarize it for you.
When the Holy Spirit first came to the Jesus’s apostles after his resurrection, there was an uproar. First, there was a sound of a strong wind that everyone in crowded Jerusalem could hear. Then, flames appeared in the upper room where the apostles were praying. One flame settled on the head of each apostle (and some companions), and they all burst out in languages they did not know.
The people who had followed the sound of the wind were puzzled at these Galileans, who would have been “hillbillies” to the more refined Jews in Jerusalem. How could they speak the praises of God in all these languages?
Peter stood up and explained that the Holy Spirit had come, which had been prophesied by the Jewish prophet Joel. Then he explained that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and he used other prophecies to convince the Jews that the Messiah was supposed to die and rise from the dead. He explained that the miracles happening that day were proof that Jesus rose from the dead and that the Holy Spirit had come.
Then he came to his grand conclusion, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made this same Jesus, the one you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Messiah)” (Acts 2:36).
There were some who believed him, and he told them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus the Christ, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit, for the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all those who are far off.”
This is the way to be born again. This is the way to receive the Holy Spirit.
“Repent” in its simplest form means to change your mind. In this case, it is to stop living for yourself and instead acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Christ. As the apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters, “[Jesus] died for all, so that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
For those who have believed and therefore repented, the act of commitment to that decision is to be baptized. Baptism represents being buried, then rising to a new life as a child of God. It is the new birth, rising out of the water into your new life of following Jesus.
That transformation is what provides the power to do the things Jesus commands. There is no hope of obeying him without the new birth. That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again.”
In future Bible studies, we will learn about the things that the Jewish prophets, Jesus, and Jesus’s apostles taught. All of those Bible studies will accomplish nothing, though, if they do not bring you to belief, repentance, and the new birth. These things are mandatory if we are to drink the new wine of Jesus’ teachings and be able to live them out.