Who am I? If we honestly ask this question to ourselves, we will probably give an answer based on our ethnicity, our ancestors, our family, our social position, our culture, our job, our relations, our hobbies, our abilities, our fame, our beliefs… However, for God, our identity is more than a genetical heritage, a reputation, a wealth or a title. Indeed, all those things are seen with eyes but God considers things differently. “[…] For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16: 7). Many times God reminds us the importance of the heart as illustrated by the following verse: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverb 4: 23, ESV). Likewise, Jesus declares in Matthew 5:8, that only those who are pure in heart will see God. In this article, we will see, in the light of Scriptures, that we need to receive a new heart, through conversion and new birth, to live a new and wonderful identity in Christ.
WHY A NEW HEART?
One of the main consequences of Adam and Eves’s fall is the corruption of man’s heart. Indeed, from this moment their hearts knew darkness and were filled with it. In Matthew 15: 19, Jesus declared that out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. One of the first manifestations of this truth can be found in Genesis 4. Cain brought to God an offering from the ground the Lord had just cursed. When he saw that God took pleasure in Abel’s offering and not in his, he let sin rule over him and became the first murderer of the biblical history.
Shortly after that story, the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that all the thoughts of his heart were evil. So he decided to destroy man and all creature of the earth. Fortunately, Noah – described as a preacher of righteousness in 2 Peter 2: 5 – found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and he and his family were saved and did not perish in the flood with the rest of humankind.
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6: 5-8).
Nevertheless, after the flood, the problem of man’s heart was not resolved. People still rebelled against the Creator (e.g. Genesis 11). Afterward, God called Abraham and made a covenant with his offspring. Therefore, the children of Israel received in heritage a land as well as a Law to follow to remain blessed by the Most High God. However, Moses law did not bring anyone to the purity of heart nor perfection as it is written:
For the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God (Hebrew 7: 19).
The law only has a shadow of the good things to come (Hebrew 10: 1) and could not change man’s heart. The good news is that God prepared a solution to man’s sinful heart. This heart, that the Lord described as “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” in Jeremiah 17: 9, will eventually have the possibility to be transformed. It is important to remind that this corrupt heart was synonymous with the impossibility to please God and separation from Him. However, God promised that He would give men a pure heart, essential condition to see Him (Matthew 5: 8). The Lord made this wonderful promise through Ezechiel:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezechiel 36: 25-27).
About five hundred years before the actual coming of Christ, the Lord announced the restoration of His relationship with men through conversion of hearts.
CONVERSION AND BIRTH FROM ABOVE
The word conversion comes from the Greek word ‘epistréphō’ and is the action to turn to or return to. This verb is used in Luke 1: 16 to explain that many of the children of Israel will turn to the Lord, their God, through the ministries of John and obviously Jesus. Indeed, the true conversion is preceded by a sincere repentance and is the firm decision to turn to God and to forsake evil deeds. In other words, it is the transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God.
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3: 19).
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1: 13).
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5: 17).
The person truly converted to Christ is a new person. Therefore, conversion can not be separated from new birth or birth from above.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to 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 the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3: 1-8).
In this famous passage of the Scripture, Jesus declares that to see the kingdom of God, we need to be born again. In verse 3, the word ‘again’ comes from the Greek ‘ánōthen’ and can also be translated by ‘from above, from a higher place’. Indeed, this new birth in Christ is a birth from above which implies the intervention of the Most High, it is a spiritual birth made possible by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
In verse 8, Jesus explains that this new birth is of water and Spirit. Paul describes the same process in the following verse:
In Him [Jesus Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1: 13).
In the Scriptures, water is regularly used as a symbol of the word of God that cleanses us from all impurity (Ephesians 5: 26). Indeed, the first step of the conversion is to believe in the gospel. Thus, the new convert receives the word of God as a seed that remains in him and leads him to a holy life (John 17: 17; 1 John 3: 9).
The Spirit is given to the new believer as a guarantee of his inheritance. The Spirit of God convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 15: 8-10); He dwells in every true disciple of Christ (1 Corinthians 3: 16) and testifies that he belongs to God
It is essential to understand that to enter the kingdom of God, we have to be born of water and Spirit. Repeating a prayer is not enough. This new birth produces a radical change in one’s life and some visible fruits such as holiness, truth, love, righteousness, patience, self-control… (Galatians 5:22; Romans 6: 22; Ephesians 5: 9).
Most importantly, by new birth, one can live a personal relationship with God and receive the mind of Christ.
For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2: 25).
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2: 3-5).
This process is extraordinary. The fleshly man becomes spiritual; the heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh; the earthly citizen turns to a heavenly citizen and the old man makes way for a new man. Naturally, this new man has a new identity.
CHILDREN OF GOD AND MORE…
At the birth from above, the Word, as well as the Spirit, confirm the central element of our new identity in Christ.
But as many as received Him [Jesus, describes as the Word in John 1: 1], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1: 12-13).
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8: 14-17).
We are called children of God. What an immense privilege! It is the clear manifestation of God’s love towards us, as it is written:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3: 1)
This identity is not a result of our good deeds but the perfect work of Christ at the cross. It is given by faith.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3: 26).
There are wonderful consequences to this identity. If I am a son of God, God is my spiritual Father. If I am a son of God, I am also an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. If I am a son of God, the Scriptures declare that I have a very particular identity in Christ. Here are some of the aspects of this identity:
I am the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).
I am the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
I am a branch of the true vine; I abide in God and He abides in me (John 15:5).
I am a friend of Christ (John 15:15).
I am chosen and appointed by God to go and bear fruit (John 15:16).
I am a slave of God (Romans 5:22).
I am the temple of God; His Spirit lives in me (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19).
I am joined to the Lord, I am one with the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17).
I am a member of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:30).
I am a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I am reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, and I have received the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
I am a son of God, I am in Christ (Galatians 3:26-28).
I am a saint (Ephesians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2).
I am the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10).
I am a fellow citizen with the saints and member of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).
I am a prisoner of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:1, 4:1).
I am seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6).
I am hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).
I am elect of God, holy and beloved (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4).
I am a son of the light and of the day; I am not of the night nor of darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
I am holy, partaker of the heavenly calling (Hebrew 3:1).
I am a living stone, part of a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).
I am a member of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the own special people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).
I am a sojourner and a pilgrim on earth (1 Peter 2:11).
THE HOPE OF BEING LIKE HIM
Like said previously, it is an immense privilege to be children of God. During our journey on earth, we will never cease to realise the grace of our Saviour through the different aspects of our new identity in Him. Even though what He already gave us is more than enough and much more than what our best works would deserve, God promised us something better. If we abide in holiness and persevere in purity, we shall be like Him when He is revealed.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3: 2-3).