Are You "Born Again"?

A Sermon By
Dr. Walter A. Maier

"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." – I John 5:1

Purifying, Strengthening Spirit of God:
Make us new creatures in Christ through the mercy and marvel of the second birth!  Show us again today that as soon as we find in the Lord Jesus the atonement for our sins, the cleansing for the stains of our guilt, the ransom from all punishment, we who were children of wrath have – by the miracle of the new birth – become children of a loving heavenly Father!  Help those who know their Redeemer to face every adversity bravely and walk resolutely in the Savior's footsteps!  Especially do we beseech Thee mightily to spread the glorious promise of Gospel grace.  Convict many of their sins and bring them contritely to their Savior!  Guide our repentance, and according to Thy good will grant us genuine peace!  Destroy the evil plans of selfish, unbelieving men who promote aggression and hatred!  Be with us, strengthening Spirit, as Thou wast with our father, for Jesus' sake! Amen.

 In 1858 thirty-four-year-old John Paton left Scotland for the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.  Words cannot begin to describe the lust for blood, the shocking vice, the satanic practices, he found on his arrival among the naked, treacherous cannibals.  Blood flowed so freely that sometimes even the springs were discolored by its crimson, and Paton had to use rainwater for drinking.  The devilish desire for human flesh drove the natives to dig up decaying bodies and to consume the rotting remains.  When one of the savages died, his wife was choked to death.  If a chief took sick, three women were sacrificed to secure his recovery.  The entire island was ruled by bestial superstition, sorcery, and the cringing fear of demons.  Yet, before thirty years elapsed, when this brave man left the New Hebrides, the fiendish fury of the inhabitants had been completely and miraculously transformed.  The chiefs had pledged themselves to avoid war, women and children were no longer murdered, sorcerers and witch doctors were banished, nakedness outlawed, fear supplanted by happiness, and in a hundred other astonishing ways these people had been freed from the hideous slavery of vice and literally changed into new persons.

 What was the secret of this startling success?  Was Paton a military genius, acquainted with the strategy of slaughter?  Did he follow dictators' methods by killing masses and forcing survivors into subjection?  As far as his life story shows, Paton never raised a rifle to his shoulder.  Did he produce this phenomenal change by making people physically better, removing tonsils, adenoids, head bumps, instituting new diets, explaining vitamins and calories, teaching eugenics, demanding health examinations?  He never dreamed of all this.  Did he write a new code of laws, establish a police force on the islands or seek to elevate the minds by holding lectures on culture and civilization for the cannibals and thus argue them out of their vicious habits?  Did he try to socialize them into progress and prosperity?  If you have ideas like these, you do not know John Paton.  You cannot understand this South Pacific miracle or the same wonder perpetuated in 10,000 other places unless you realize that instead of force he used love.  Instead of trying to alter the body or influence the mind, he sought to change the heart, to purify the soul.  For Paton was a missionary of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his preaching the glorious Gospel of free, full, final forgiveness through faith in that Savior, the Holy Spirit cleansed the blackened hearts of those natives and made of them new creatures in Christ.

 The same wondrous grace of rebirth in Jesus has been repeated millions of times throughout history whenever a sinner has come to Jesus in trusting reliance on His mercies.  But far more important than other instances of conversion and regeneration through the Savior is the matter of your rebirth.  Pay close attention, then, as in our Lord's name I put this pointed question before every member of our coast-to-coast radio mission:

Are You "Born Again"?

 May the Holy Spirit so enlighten the hearts of multitudes from the Atlantic to the Pacific that today – and O God, let it be a time of glorious grace for thousands! – many may believe this promise of our text (First Letter of Saint John, chapter five, verse one): "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," with repentant faith give themselves to Christ and through His Spirit become totally "new creatures"!


 When Saint John here speaks of being "born of God," he tells us that there is a second birth, marvelous and beyond human understanding.  As all who come into this world of physical life must be born of human parents, so all who would enter the next world for spiritual and eternal life must be "born of God."  Don't think that this rebirth is merely a pretty thought, a pleasant phrase, a pious wish, yet empty of practical value!  When you see drunken blasphemers permanently sobered into courageous witnesses for Christ, wife-beaters become loving husbands, murderers remade into true Christians, South Sea Island cannibals into self- sacrificing believers, African child-killers into devoted parents, sworn enemies of Jesus into His avowed friends, snarling atheists reborn as contrite confessors, devil worshipers as children of God, you are confronted by reality, positive and assured.  Even unbelievers have often admitted the truth and power of regeneration in Christ.  Charles Darwin certainly was no Christian; and his claim that man is descended from apelike creatures, together with his further rejection of the Bible, has helped to send many souls to hell; yet he conceded openly in his writings that no other power could alter human hearts and lives so completely as conversion to Christ.  Darwin traveled to Tahiti, saw the startling missionary transformation on that island and wrote in his Journal of Research: "Human sacrifices, unparalleled profligacy, infanticide, and bloody wars had been abolished, dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness greatly reduced by the introduction of Christianity."  He went to New Zealand and, beholding the conversion of the natives, wrote: "The lesson of the missionary is the enchanter's wand . . . The march of improvement consequent on the introduction of Christianity throughout the South Seas probably stands by itself in the records of history."  He sailed to the southern tip of South America and, dumbfounded by the moral, social, spiritual improvement in Christianized Patagonia, recognized the renewing power of the Gospel by sending an annual check to the Patagonian mission.  Now, if this man, whom militant atheists have exalted as one of the Bible's most destructive enemies, thus freely conceded the electrifying changes Christianity brings, should not those who bear Jesus' name unhesitatingly express their faith in its regenerating strength?

 We know, of course, that this truth has been violently attacked even by churches.  When asked to explain his refusal to preach on the new birth, a Christ-denying pastor sneered, "I will have no obstetrics in my pulpit."  We had learned to expect such ridicule and blasphemy from Modernists; but it is even more discouraging to see how many Gospel churches neglect this teaching.  In protest not the repeated emphasis God's errorless Scriptures place on this truth.  No fewer than seventy Old and New Testament passages explain, exalt, exemplify the new birth.  If the Bible speaks only once, that should be sufficient authority for all men; but how unusual the stress when the Scriptures speak seventy times in the words of prophets, psalmists, evangelists, apostles, particularly in the sacred utterances of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

 Do you know that according to the Gospel records rebirth in God was the first great doctrine Jesus explained at length?  When our broadcast is over, take your New Testament – and if you are too poor to own one, let me send you a copy! – turn to the third chapter of Saint John's Gospel and read of the remarkable visit paid to our Lord during the darkness of night by Nicodemus, teacher and leader of Israel.  How solemnly, how unmistakably Christ taught the reality and necessity of the rebirth!  Read these verses carefully, and you will se that four times the Savior says, "Verily," as though He were taking a repeated oath to stress the truth.  Once again, if the Son of God speaks, that should settle the issue, but when He uses four "verily's"  (I know of no similar number of verses in the whole Scripture with this quadruple emphasis), He speaks with compelling power.  Pay close attention, therefore, when the Redeemer tells Nicodemus and you, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"; and when, for the third time in five verses Jesus decisively insists, "Ye must be born again."  May that "Ye must – ye must – ye must – be born again"  be dinned into your very souls!  Wealth can never buy the key to God's kingdom.  High position and authority will not unlock the door to heaven.  Old age and white hair cannot bring you a step closer to God.  Church membership is no assurance of your salvation.  You need far more than leading offices in the congregation.  Even preaching from pulpits gives you no title to a prepared place in the many mansions.  You may come from a Christian family with a long list of churchgoing ancestors; you may have a devout wife, a consecrated husband, but all these, unmistakable blessings that they are, will never bring you before the Throne of Mercy.  You may show the close acquaintance with the Bible which enables you to cite book, chapter, verse; you may display medals for Sunday-school attendance or certificates for teaching; you may wear a robe and sing in the choir; you may be generous with your gifts, sympathetic with your fellow-men, abounding in so-called good works – but this is not enough.  Men have enjoyed such preeminences and still gone straight to hell!  Jesus tells us, "Ye must be born again."

 Because this rebirth is so vital, forget the war for a few moments and think of the struggle in your soul, as well as your own personal need of  being born again!  Realize immediately this basic, inescapable truth from which our haughty, self-righteous world constantly recoils – the shocking reality that men without Christ live in repeated, grievous sin, held and swayed by envious, covetous, lustful, hate-filled thoughts and cruel, dishonest, destructive actions!  Take Christian influences from our modern culture, and unbelievers in principle would not be different from those hideous savages who opposed John Paton in the New Hebrides Islands!  Take God out of men's hearts, and they will be devoted to evil instead of good, to hatred much more than love, to war in place of peace, to kicking their helpless fellow-men instead of helping them!  At the beginning of this twentieth century, scoffers, without the churches as within, insisted loudly that mankind was really good, that the whole race was improving, that human affairs were on the upgrade toward beauty, truth, happiness.  The Bible passages which declare, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," or, "There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not," were laughed away as outworn, pessimistic errors.  At the heyday of that delusion came World War I, and after just enough time for another generation to arise, World War II with greater hatred, brutality, mass destruction, murder of innocent hostages, suffering on the part of non-combatants, than any war between cannibals has ever witnessed.  And unless God is undeservedly merciful, in the year 1965, or thereabouts, if this earth can stand that long, World War III will be in the making, with even more shocking destruction.

 Survey our reaction to the heaped blessings God has showered upon us!  Ungratefully men have rebelled against the Almighty and employed His benedictions in sin's service.  They have used their brains and intelligence, the faculties of schools and colleges, to attack His Word and banish God from modern life.  They have poisoned home happiness with adultery, lust, unfaithfulness, strife, unbelief.  Many churches have become campaign headquarters for assaults on the Scriptures.  Newspaper columns, as here in St. Louis, advertise material which champions atheism and free love.  Across both oceans, in Europe and Asia, dictators restrict the course of the Gospel.  Crime soars to the zenith in American history, and those who are aware of these trends ought to be convinced that the whole human race without God is an ugly, sordid, selfish, sensual aggregate; that men who reject Christ are truly murderers of their own souls.

 It is not easy for me to use this microphone and vast network to tell you, the self-respecting, substantial, esteemed, and applauded, that you must be born again if you would behold God, that lacking the new birth, you are still children of wrath; but in the eternity awaiting every one of us I do not want you to point a finger of scorn at me and say, "You had that coast-to-coast radio hook-up, and you never told me that I was lost in my sins, that I had to be born into a new existence before I could see God."  Every one of you ought to realize in an intimate, direct way that daily you commit transgressions which invoke divine wrath.

 While most people are ready to admit that not all is right in their lives, yet nothing is harder to wring from the heart of an unconverted man or woman than the confession "I have sinned before my God."  One of the supreme needs of this spiritually decadent day is to call sin by its right name, to recognize every violation of God's Law as an iniquity capable of sending the soul and body to hell.  Many deluded individuals, particularly church- members, can become so blinded to God's truth that they seek even to glorify sin.  Some of you labor under this curse when the divine Word plainly brands your actions as sin and you try to justify yourself by disguising iniquity as virtue.  But you will never succeed.  If you are not born again, you are spiritually dead.  You face complete and everlasting rejection by the Almighty, eternal death and banishment from heaven, the pain and penalty of hell itself.  To escape that terror, to enter God's kingdom, to be assured of heaven, you must – O Father, engrave it on our souls! – "be born again," of in the words of our text, be "born of God."


 As I now repeat this direct question, "Are you ‘born again'"?  I thank the Lord that the blessing of this rebirth can be yours through the Savior's grace and might.  If it were not for this power, of course, you would be helpless, hopeless, lost forever, unable to lift a finger, move and eyelid, whisper a plea that would help change your hearts or purify your lives.  True, modern science and industry can produce amazing transformation.  Visit a paper factory and you will see how dirty rags, thrown in to a large hopper, cut into pieces, treated with acids, finally emerge as white, spotless sheets.  But no industrial process can take human beings despite claims of many righteousnesses – the Bible calls these "filthy rags" – and make them clean, stainless.  By the marvels of modern chemistry coal tar, black, sticky, smelly, altogether unpromising, can be converted into a rainbow of wonderful colors, an array of perfumes, a number of useful plastics, and assortment of explosives, and many other materials.  But the soul will not yield to such treatment, and neither education, medical care, social improvement, can transform black, sordid, corrupt characters and endow them with beauty, strength, and power.  At best, evil may be concealed or disguised; but as little as you can restore a rotting, worm- eaten apple by polishing its skin, purify water by painting the pump; bring life into a corpse by putting rouge on its cheeks, so and even more impossible is it to change the soul by culture, medical or social science.  You need God for that!

 Thanks to His endless compassion, you can have God in the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we are crushed by the weight of our sins; when we grovel in damning, degrading vices; when in human blindness we grope for safety and salvation, only constantly to find ourselves farther from the goal, then what glory beyond compare to know, as I now assure you, that our heavenly Father in the magnificence of His divine mercy has sent every one of us a Savior!  This Redeemer – oh, for a thousand tongues, ten thousand radio stations, a universal hook-up throughout every nation, to sing His blessed praise! – is God's own Son, Jesus, the Christ, who alone could fulfill the Law we had broken, suffer the penalty we had deserved, die the death that should have been ours.  This Savior gave Himself, His holy, divine Self.  He was nailed to the cross, the accursed tree, to which the lowest criminals were sentenced.  There He shed His blood, suffered the agonies of excruciating pain, the torment of ridicule, and above all, the anguish of soul torture – for this sacred, heavenly, compassionate purpose, - to remove once and forever the entire burden of men's sins, with their ugly guilt and the dread damnation to which, if unforgiven, every transgression must lead.  Whether you have heard this before or not; whether you now believe it or not, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," to save you.

 Such glorious grace, however, does not exhaust the Savior's mercy.  Besides redeeming us for eternity, His love also remakes us entirely, for as soon as we penitently confess Him our Ransom and Redemption, sincerely crown Him the Sovereign of our souls, contritely cling to Him as the immovable Rock of Ages, the Holy Spirit has begun His marvelous work in our souls by which we, children of wrath, become children of grace; sinners in the eyes of men, but now saints in the sight of our heavenly Father – all in fulfillment of the sacred promise "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature."  We look the same after this rebirth as before, but we cannot act the same.  A real change has come from within.  We who hated God begin to love Him.  Those who ridiculed a rejected Christ now show Him reverence.  Those who served sin now serve Jesus.  Habitual drunkards write us to testify that after hearing the broadcast Word the power of alcohol has been broken.  Self-confessed atheists testify that they have become humble believers' would-be suicides that they have found life eminently worth while when lived for Jesus.  Scoffers have converted their blasphemy to testimony, their foul- mouthed profanity to praise for Christ.  Parents who wickedly plotted to destroy their unborn children have learned to stop this murder, welcome and cherish the baby that came to them as God's gift.  In hundreds of ways by the Spirit's power working through these broadcasts, lives have been remade, the desires of the heart directed from sin to the Savior, the understanding of the Scriptures opened and simplified, as men who before their conversion had sought contradictions in the Bible now bow before its harmony.

 With this new birth comes a new power to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to lead clean and pure lives, never perfect, it is true (since we are still in the flesh while here on earth), yet always, despite serious lapses, progressing toward holiness.  With this new birth comes new courage, fortitude required to face the difficulties that will confront many of us during the post-war crisis, the bravery with which Chrysostom, fifth- century pulpit orator and witness to the Lord Jesus, could face threatened exile and exult: "Should the Empress banish me, let her; the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.  If she cast me into the sea, let her; I remember Jonah. – If she cast me into the fire, the three Hebrews were there.  If she throw me to the wild beasts, Daniel was among the lions.  If she stone me, I shall stand with Stephen.  If she behead me, I am the Baptist.  If she takes all – naked came I into the world, and naked leave it."

 I ask you once more, "Are you ‘born again?'"  Remember that the blessings of the new birth are assured you in heaven's highest mercy.  Our text promises, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ born of God."  That blessed "whosoever" includes you, for whom life may have little attraction, who may be suffering under racial prejudice, social injustice, religious discrimination.  Here before the Lord Jesus Christ – all on the same level – are men of various colors, conditions, and countries, men of all creeds which proclaim Jesus as the only Savior.  Before Christ there are not Protestants, Catholics, Lutherans, or Reformed, no denominations or divisions within denominations; but "whosoever," wherever and whatever he may be, "believeth that Jesus is born of God."

 And what marvel of mercy radiates from that word "believeth"!  It implies the supreme glory of our Christian faith which enabled Saint Paul to exult, "By grace are ye saved, through faith," and which gives us the assured conviction that while this whole world of striving men could never heap up enough wealth, perform sufficient penances, earn the merits required to pay for a single sin, Jesus by the shedding of His blood, His atoning death, has earned and paid all a holy God requires for the remission of our sin.  We need only believe, only approach Christ, our compassionate Redeemer, with contrite, trusting hearts to have pardon, peace, and power.

 Think of the blessings which could come to our world in these days of deep-rooted sorrow if millions who now reject Christ could be "born again" in Him and if those who confess His name would show their new birth!  We could then be assured, for example, that the terror of war would be reduced.  Men reborn in Jesus are reborn to peace with their God and, as far as in them lies, with their fellow-men.  Wherever true missionaries of our Lord have planted His cross, they have checked bloodshed.  If only the churches of Jesus Christ could proclaim His good news to men throughout the world, so that Christian faith would produce an increasing number who live, work, and pray for peace, blessed peace!  Perhaps this war is to remind us as American Christians, with our advantages in men and money, that we have been remiss in our missionary duties.  Who knows, had we really made sacrifices in the past and brought the Gospel with greater intensity to Japan, whether much of international misunderstanding could not have been removed, some of the cause and spirit of aggression retarded?

 I come back, then, to this vital question, "Are you ‘born again'?"  If you are and can testify that everything I have said is God's holy truth, then show the world that you are "born of God"!  With all your heart get behind the spread of the saving truth by which other may be reborn!  Work for missions!  But if you do not acclaim Christ your own Savior and must confess, "The black powers of darkness still control my life," then let me ask you the most vital question ever directed to you, "What keeps you from Jesus?"  In stubborn pride do you insist you have no need of a Redeemer?  The last person who told me that was a derelict in the shelter for homeless men in Saint Louis, and he was in a drunken, slobbering stupor, as he struggled to his feet to say he had never done anything wrong.

 Swinging to the other extreme, do you think you have been guilty of sins too terrifying to be forgiven; that you are so steeped in iniquity that you can never be cleansed?  Hear David, after his adultery, pleading, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!"  only to receive the promise of pardon and purity!  Recall skeptical, sword- bearing Saul, transformed into penitent, believing Paul; Augustine, the sensualist, remade into a saint!

 Have you refused to accept Christ and His new birth because you cannot understand the unsearchable love and power of this grace?  But you do accept the mystery of this physical life though neither you nor anyone else can explain it.  Why, then, reject the divine processes which not physical instruments can measure and no laboratory analyze?

 Have you postponed your desire to accept Christ, hoping, in common with many deluded people, for a more convenient time, a day which may never come?  For the sake of your soul, now, today, while the Spirit urges you, give Christ His blessed way in your heart!  Welcome Him as your own Savior!  Receive Heaven's own Redeemer, sent to the world for all men but particularly for you!  Resolve today that with divine assistance you will take time for instruction in the Christian faith, to read the Scriptures, to be baptized for the washing away of your sins!  Let me send you a true man of God, a pastor and spiritual guide who preaches the same messages I have broadcast to you for nine years!  Give us your children for our Sunday-schools and Christian day-schools!  Welcome Christ into your family circle!  And as you accept Him, by the Holy Spirit's indwelling, you will be "born again," "born of God," born into everlasting life.  O Father, may this day be the spiritual birthday, the beginning of a new, reborn existence for multitudes in this mission of the air!  We ask it in Jesus' name and by the restoring, re-energizing, renewing power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

 The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in January 1942.