At the beginning of January, perhaps like many others, you made a New Year’s resolution.
Maybe it was to eat less sugar, to exercise more regularly or to read all the way through the Bible. These are all good resolutions, and if you’re still keeping your resolution even up to this early point in the year, you are doing well! After all, research conducted by Strava, a social media network for athletes, reports that most people in their network have lost their resolve by Jan. 12. Others continue on in their resolution for several months, and some even make it through the whole year.
But as helpful as New Year’s resolutions may (or may not) be in changing certain behaviors and habits, they cannot bring about a true transformation – the transformation of the soul in the inner person.
Human resolve and sheer will power cannot change a person’s nature from being bent toward self and against the one true and living God. Only by the supernatural working of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) can such a radical transformation take place in a person’s heart so that they turn from self-centered and even self-destructive ways to truly loving God and others.
This supernatural transformation is what Jesus was referring to when he said to Nicodemus (a religious teacher in Israel), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This spiritual rebirth, also called regeneration, is a work of God the Holy Spirit to make people new from the inside out so that they become a new creation.
As the Apostle Paul states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But if such a transformation is the work of God, how can you tell if it is something that you have truly experienced or not? While more could be said, the Apostle Paul gives a few indications in 2 Corinthians 5 that reveal such a spiritual transformation has actually taken place. First, in verse 16 Paul writes, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” There is a change in how a person views other people and in how they view Jesus Christ.
Before Paul was regenerated, he viewed Jesus Christ as merely a man who led a radical sect and was crucified for his crimes. To Paul, Jesus was the chief cause of disturbance among the Jews in his day, which is why Paul persecuted the Christian church. But when Paul was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9), he was reborn and given spiritual eyes to see that Jesus is not merely a man but the son of God and promised Messiah who loved His people by dying on the cross not for any crimes or sins that He committed, but to take the wrath and curse of God against the sins of His people.
Paul came to see that this Jesus has been raised from the dead and is now the Lord of glory. Paul realized that Jesus is the only savior of sinners and only hope for all of humanity. Paul came to see other people not according to outward circumstances or worldly standards of status and reputation, but as people made in the image of God who have all sinned against their Creator and in need of the loving grace and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ alone.
Paul’s spiritual rebirth resulted in faith or belief in Jesus, that He is all that He claimed to be: the Christ who came to save sinners and bring about a new creation.
The Apostle Paul also describes those who have experienced the new birth as those who “no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Not only is there a change in belief as described above, but there is also a change in life and purpose. The goal of life is no longer to live for oneself.
Before Paul’s regeneration, he lived for himself, seeking to climb the ladder of the religious establishment by his strict external observance of the traditions of the rabbis. But after his spiritual transformation, Paul’s one goal in life was to please his Lord Jesus Christ and to serve Him in whatever way the Lord saw fit.
These are a couple of the indications that the new birth has occurred: there is a change in how a person views the Lord Jesus Christ and other people, and there is a change in a person’s purpose in life. Someone who has become a new creation is truly transformed so that they see Jesus as their Savior and Lord of the universe, and desire in all things to please Him. Have you experienced this new birth? If not, I pray that you may know true transformation this year.