Am I Born Again?
James Smith, 1860
The new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul, by which we are created anew in Christ Jesus, become new creatures, and are fitted for a place in God's church on earth, and God's service in heaven. It is of the greatest importance, for "except a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." It is something more than spiritual convictions or impressions; for many have been convinced, and impressed — who have never been regenerated. Many are born of God, who fear they are not; and many imagine they have experienced this change, who never have. Let us therefore seriously inquire, "How am I to know whether I am born again?"
This great change is often produced imperceptibly, though in some instances it is sudden and striking. We are not therefore to pry curiously, to find out when it was produced — but only to seek for proof whether we have experienced it or not.
First, let us look at our desires, our habitual desires — for desire is the appetite of the new man. If we desire above all things else — a saving interest in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be made holy in heart and life — that is one proof. Our Savior has said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." And the Psalmist long before that testified, "He will fulfill the desire of those who fear him, he also will hear their cry, and will save them." But by desires, we do not mean mere cold, powerless wishes; such are only the desires of the slothful — which end in death. The desires we intend, are like the appetite of the hungry man, which will not let him rest without food, or be put off with anything but food.
The desires which spring from a spiritual nature are fixed on their object, and will not let the person rest until the object is attained. The soul expresses its desires in prayer, manifests its desires in reading the Scriptures, hearing the gospel, and making use of all means to secure a saving interest in Christ; and to enjoy the sanctifying influences and operations of the Holy Spirit.
Second, let us look at our prayers, for prayer is the breath of the new-born soul: hence it was said of Saul of Tarsus, to prove his conversion, "Behold, he prays!" Many say prayers, or go through the form of prayer from habit; but there is a time in the experience of every soul that is born of God, when it first begins to pray in real earnest. Then prayer is like the cry of the child for food; or the call for help, of one in great danger. The cry is for the pardon of sin, acceptance with God, or a present salvation. The prayer is from the heart, it rises and ascends as naturally as a sense of hunger leads us to seek food, we feel that we must pray; nor will having set times for prayer satisfy — but the soul will cry unto God in business, or while walking by the way; nor will it cease crying until it is heard and answered. Delays may discourage, and temptations for a time may cool our ardor; but the pinching sense of need, and the deep-seated desire, will set us going again, and we shall cry, and cry again, until God says unto the soul, "I am your salvation!"
Third, let us look at our faith, for faith is the confidence of the divine nature, hence John says, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." The Holy Spirit also leads those who are born again, to receive the testimony of God concerning his Son. Which testimony is, that he is the only Savior, the Son of God, and his unspeakable gift. Receiving this testimony into the heart, we look to him for salvation, we personally apply to be saved by him, we exercise confidence in him, and commit our souls to him. In doing this we may be exercised at times with many fears, we may be tried by distressing doubts, and the suggestions of Satan may fill us with gloom and sadness; but again and again the effort will be made, the cry for help will ascend to heaven, and at length we shall make the full surrender, and trust in Christ alone. No one can be said really to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God — who does not receive him as God's gift, apply to him to be saved by him, and render to him the obedience of the heart and life. Now he who believes on Jesus, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation — but is passed from death unto life.
Fourth, let us look at our love, for love is the beating of the heart of the new man in Christ. By nature, we love what is natural; and being carnal, we love what is carnal. By the new birth we become spiritual, and therefore we love spiritual things and spiritual people. The Apostle bears witness to this when he says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." We love them, because they are spiritual, because they resemble Christ, because in our estimation they are the excellent of the earth. If we love the saints, as saints; and because they are saints, it is clear that we love the Savior — for we would not love the likeness, if we did not love the original. "Everyone who loves the father — loves his child as well." If our love goes forth in desires after Christ; if our love sighs to resemble and be united to the saints; if our love leads us to prefer the Lord's people to all other people, and their company to all other society — then it is spiritual love, and can only flow from a spiritual nature.
Those who are born of God — love the house of God, the ordinances of God, the word of God, the people of God, and the ways of God; and when they do not feel their hearts going out after these, or their affections set upon them — they are not satisfied or happy. Hear the Apostle John, "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loves, is born of God, and knows God."
Fifth, let us look at our hope, for hope is the expectation of the new creature. It is an expectation of good things promised, simply on the ground of the divine promises; especially of the heavenly inheritance, of the free grace of God, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence Peter writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into a priceless inheritance — an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay!"
The heart, when the man is born again, is set upon being like Christ, and where Christ is; and the heart being set upon it — this becomes the grand object of pursuit. In time, as faith embraces the promises — hope springs up; by degrees hope acquires strength, and the soul lives in hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began. This hope bears the soul up — when trouble swells like a sea; this hope bears the soul on — when opposition and temptations try to obscure the path. It is a good hope through grace, and therefore saves us from indulging despondency, giving way to despair, or sinking amidst our conflicts and trials.
Finally, let us look at our lives — for the life is the fruit of the incorruptible seed of which the regenerated are begotten, and which lives and abides forever. If we love sin, indulge sin, or live in sin — we are not, cannot be born of God; for in the new birth, God stamps his own likeness upon us; and imparts a holy nature to us, as we read, "that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit." Therefore the Apostle John declares, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." This does not mean that he is perfectly holy, or that he never sins at all; but it means, that his heart is set against sin, he is delivered from the power and authority of sin, and he cannot live in the practice of sin. He wants to be holy. He strives to live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in the present world. Sin is not his element, he cannot follow it as his trade, or indulge in it as his pleasure.
If then your desires go after spiritual things — if you pray from the heart — if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God — if you love all who love God — if you hope in God's mercy through Christ — and if striving to avoid sin, you seek to live in holiness, and righteousness before God and man — then unquestionably you are born of God.
But in addition to all we have said, there is the distinct, inward witness of the Holy Spirit, in the heart, for "the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God." Rest not, until you have obtained that blessing. Do not encourage doubts or fears. Do not give way to the distressing injections, and insinuations of Satan. Hold fast by any one evidence that you have, even if it is but one. But be not satisfied, until you have obtained the full assurance of hope. Seek the witness, the sealing, and the pledge of the Spirit in your heart, as a gift from God, to enable you to glorify his grace.
Reader, after reading the above, what conclusion do you come to? Are you born again? Or, are you still in doubt upon the point? Make sure work of it, in order to which be much in prayer, keep close to the word, honor the Holy Spirit; and if uncertainty still remains, consult a godly minister, lay your heart open to him, and ask his advice and prayers. But if you are obliged to come to the conclusion that you are still in your natural condition, give up all searching for evidences, and as a poor, lost, and ruined sinner — come to the Lord Jesus Christ, just as you are, and just as if you had never attempted to come before, and cast your guilty soul on him. You need not perish. You have no reason, no right, because you have no warrant to despair.
Jesus calls you to him, arise and go as the poor blind man in the gospel did. He went as blind, ragged, filthy, as he was. He went for all he needed, and obtained all he asked. Just so will you. Therefore come to Jesus, whose eye has been watching you while you have been reading these lines, and whose loving heart yearns over you, and will rejoice to bless you with a free, full, and everlasting salvation.
Remember, salvation is a free gift. It is free for the vilest. It is free for you! You cannot merit it, or deserve it; nor will it be given you on account of anything you do or anything you feel. But believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is yours — yours immediately — yours forever. The Holy Spirit also is a free gift, and Jesus says, "Ask, and you shall receive: for if you, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." Ask then, ask at once, ask expecting, ask and receive, that your joy may be full. You cannot be more willing to receive — than the Lord is to give; nor so willing, for he bids you to ask, exhorts you to ask, almost begs you to ask — that he may confer the blessing upon you!