Summary: This sermon explains why Jesus says we all must be "born again". It also goes into an explanation of what is a sacrament and why we baptize. This sermon is based upon John Wesley’s sermon #45 by the same name preached in 1760.
First, a little humor:
A preacher once heard about another preacher who gained notoriety by preaching the world’s longest sermon. He felt led to preach some kind of notable sermon, too, and get in the record books. But he didn’t want to bore people with a long sermon.
So he decided he would preach the world’s shortest sermon and he told his congregation that he was going to do this. He didn’t want it to be just an excuse for a sermon. He had to say something meaningful in the sermon.
He received a lot of good suggestions. When the time came for his notable short sermon he stood up at the pulpit, cleared his throat and said, “Love,” and then sat down.
[This is where I tell my congregation, that unfortunately, ethical issues in terms of plagiarism, prohibit me from preaching someone else’s sermon, so my message will be longer — perhaps considerably longer — than this particular pastor’s sermon!]
There are many doctrines within Christianity, but if we tried to narrow them down to two fundamental doctrines, they would have to be the doctrine of justification, and the doctrine of new birth.
The first, the doctrine of justification relates to the wonderful work God does for us through His grace in forgiving our sins. The second relates to what God does in us by renewing our fallen nature.
The moment we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are justified by the grace of God through the redemption in Jesus Christ. Its “just as if” we had never sinned. In that same moment, we are also “born of the Spirit.” Sometime we call this “born again.” The term “born again” is often associated with Pentecostal churches, sometimes called the “Holy Rollers.” However, in fact, being “born again” or experiencing “new birth” is an event all who professes Christianity will experience upon truly confessing Christ as Lord and Savior. In the sense of “time”, neither of these events is before the other. That said however, in our human thinking we must first conceive and believe that God turns His wrath away for us with our surrender, and then we sense His Spirit begin to work in our hearts. In this sense, justification occurs just ahead of the new birth.
In John Wesley’s time, much controversy existed concerning the terms and meaning of justification, new birth… and baptismal regeneration, not unlike many controversies of today.
Wesley attempted to address these issues in his sermon “The New Birth” written in 1760. Today, we begin a series of reviewing Wesley’s sermons, exploring his theology and in so doing, discovering the roots of our denomination. I am confident as we review and put into contemporary language the sermons of John Wesley, we can discover the very foundation of the Methodist church, a foundation from which, we have perhaps somehow in some ways drifted away.
Therefore, we begin by answering three questions. (1) Why must we be born again? What is the foundation of this doctrine of the new birth? (2) How must we be born again? And (3) To what ends must we be born again?
Why must we be born again? The foundation of this doctrine rests with the creation of the world. God said, “let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him. Male and female He created them.
When God created man, He created him not just in His natural image, a picture of His own immortality, a spiritual being enabled with understanding, freedom of will, and various affections. — nor merely in his political image, that is, the governor of this lower world, having “dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over all the earth;” — but chiefly in his moral image; which, according to the Apostle, is “righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph. 4:24.) In this image of God was man made.
“God is love:” Accordingly, man at his creation was full of love; which was the sole principle, the sole standard of all his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions.
God is full of justice, mercy, and truth; so was man as he came from the hands of his Creator. God is spotless purity; and so man was in the beginning pure from every sinful imperfection; otherwise God could not have pronounced him, as well as all the other work of his hands, “very good” (Gen. 1:31.)
“Man” could not have been “very good” had he not been pure from sin, and filled with righteousness and true holiness. For there is no halfway. If we assume an intelligent creature not to love God, not to be righteous and holy, we necessarily suppose him not to be good at all; much less to be “very good.”