“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved”. (Ephesians 2: 1-5) In his Gospel, John writes about an encounter that Jesus had with Nicodemus, a highly respected teacher of the writings of Moses and of the prophets. Nicodemus recognized that Jesus was also a teacher, however, a teacher who taught with clear authority backed by unmistakable mind-blowing miracles. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Trying to comprehend what Jesus meant, Nicodemus wondered how this was possible. Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8) In the referenced verses in Ephesians, Paul writes how all of us are “dead”, not dead physically but dead spiritually. Our first birth in the flesh came with the no ability to “enter into the kingdom of God”. Under the influence of Satan, “the prince of the power of air”, our minds are further darkened by vain imaginations and false delusions. Hence, we cannot understand nor perceive God’s ways but end up “following the course of the world”. God sees us as “children of disobedience”, who live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” We are “by nature children of wrath”, doomed not only in this life being alienated from God, but, worst of all, doomed to be permanently exiled to hell where we will spend eternity with Satan and his fellow demons. As Jesus said plainly, we will forever be weeping and gnashing our teeth (Luke 13:28) as we realize the finality of our excruciating tormented existence. But God, in his immeasurable incomprehensible mercy, love and compassion, intervenes. By His grace alone, He sends the Holy Spirit to give us “eyes that see and ears that hear” (Matthew 13:16). For some, receiving such perception may have happened at an identifiable time. For others, there may be no particular identifying time. No matter how or when the experience, we have this inner sense that God is calling us, that He has our number. Our souls are restless. God then either reminds us or provides us opportunities to read or hear His sacred written word in the Bible. The words resonate within us. As Jesus said, “Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God.” (John 8:17) As we hear God’s word, the Holy Spirit further reveals how we have sinned against God. We have been rebellious, disobedient creatures to the core. Filled with pride, we have made ourselves our own god. We have lived “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”. We have clearly broken God’s commands, starting with the first commandment “you shall not have any gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:1) Not only have we committed crimes against God, we have committed crimes against other human beings. We lie, hate, abuse, gossip, covet, smear, insult…the list goes on. Who in their right mind can say they are pure and without sin? (Proverbs 20:9) We know that we are sinners. Denying that we have sin, is to make God a liar. (I John 1:10) Convicted by the Holy Spirit, we feel our guilt and shame. We know we are unholy. The fear of going to hell grips us. But God, who shines His light into our darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6), shows us the good news! We understand who the Son is. We understand how He came from heaven to earth to take the form of a man to be a sacrifice for our sins. As our scapegoat, He took God’s punishment on our behalf. We understand how He defeated sin’s curse of death by rising from the dead. We understand how He ascended to back to heaven to reign as the King of the universe. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and in the earth”, He told His disciples. (Matthew 28:18) And when we least expect it, He will return to end this world as we know it. (2 Peter 3:10) In the context of the entire Bible, God reveals to us who Jesus Christ is! Praise God for giving us eyes that see! Then a faith and trust in Christ and in what He did wells up within us. We are drawn to Christ (John 6:44). The Holy Spirit compels us to surrender ourselves. The longer we resist surrendering, the more miserable we become. Praise God for His effectual calling (Romans 8:30)! His love for us is relentless! With our souls broken and bankrupt, we repent from our rebellious, independent, self-indulgent, sinful ways and cry out for forgiveness to our risen Christ. We don’t want to be disobedient but be obedient to live and follow our King, the Shepherd of our souls. For some, an overwhelming peace comes to the soul. For others, not so much. No matter the emotional experience, we notice that we are definitely changing inside out. With new hearts, our attitude toward God has gone from being indifferent or even hostile to an appreciation and love for Him. We are at peace with God. Now justified by God because we believed in Christ and what He did, by faith alone we have entered into His invisible kingdom. Repentant and forgiven, we find a new desire to live differently. He has “made us alive together in Christ”. We want to live for God instead of living for ourselves. We want to read His word and to talk with God about everything going on in our life. We want to find a church that feels like home to us. We want to serve and help others. We love what God loves and hate what He hates. We want to learn more and more about God’s ways and can see how starkly different His ways are compared to the world. There is a witness inside of us that we now belong to God. Our family and friends also see how we have changed; our behavior is noticeably not the same. We know that we have been born again. But something happens along the way…we realize how sinful we still are! We are tempted by our own fleshly desires, by the world and by demonic forces. We find ourselves constantly having to make choices between obeying or disobeying what God said in his word. We rationalize and fall into temptation. We grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). We do things we know we ought not to do. Exasperated, we relate to Paul’s lamentation “Oh wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24) But God, is “faithful to complete the work He began in us” (Philippians 1: 6). With the same grace the Holy Spirit gave us to repent and follow Christ, the Holy Spirit helps us to keep repenting and keep following Christ. We are reminded what Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser….Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1, 4-5). “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”, says our King. (Hebrews 13:5) There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) As fathers disciplines their children for their own good, even more so does God in his steadfast love and care discipline us (Hebrews 12:7). As painful as they are, our trials and afflictions are used by God to make our faith and trust in Him more complete (James 1:2-4). With our lives securely in His hands, He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28). And so, we continue with our journey as pilgrims in this temporary life in our temporary bodies toward our permanent home in heaven where we will receive new perfect bodies (1 Corinthians 15:43). We have the Holy Spirit abiding in us. We learn how His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) We learn what Jesus meant when He told us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow Him. We learn to be salt and light as we live in this world but not be of the world. Through the means of praying, reading His word, belonging to a church, taking communion, having fellowship with other believers, we grow more and more in truth and grace. With God’s steadfast love toward us and by His faithful grace, we are being transformed more and more into the image of our Savior (2 Corinthians 3: 18). Although we will never achieve perfection in our bodies of clay, we nonetheless have the Holy Spirit working within us. He gives us an unspeakable joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding as we head toward our eternal home. Oh, what mercy and grace! What compassion and commitment! Praise God for His unconditional covenant with us! By His grace alone, God alone saves us and keeps us in His hands forever and ever. To Him belongs all the glory, honor and power! Amen.