I remember no’ng Elementary or High School pa ako, every time na mag-fi-fill up ako ng slum-book or mga forms sa school, lagi kong nilalagay d’on sa part ng “Religion”—“Born Again Christian.” I’m not Roman Catholic, not Jehovah’s Witness, or any other religious group. I’m a “Born-Again Christian.”
Fast forward, habang tumatanda, sa grace ni Lord, mas lumalim ‘yong understanding ko ng “Born Again.” Hindi pala ‘yon basta pangalan lang ng religion na pinanghahawakan ng mga Kristiyano. It’s the spiritual state of believes in Christ. It’s not a name of a church or religion; it’s a being. All true believers are “born again,” having new life in Christ.
So walang tunay na Kristiyano, walang mananampalataya kay Cristo, na hindi “born again.” And vice versa. Walang “born again” na tao na hindi mananampalataya kay Cristo.
At ‘yong naging question ko ‘don: How is a person “born again?” Is being “born again” something that a person does? Or is it something done to him?
Now, this afternoon, we continue our series on the Heidelberg Catechism. And one text in the Scripture that Lord Day 3 summarizes is John 3:3-8, where we find a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Hindi na po natin lubusang titingnan ‘yong buong context ng John 3. Lord-willing, kapag nag-karoon tayo ng series on the Gospel of John, mas ma-explain natin lahat ng pwedeng ma-explain dito sa text.
What we will focus on here is Christ’s words: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
‘Yong words na “born again” dito ay pwede ring “born from above.” The word is designedly ambiguous and suggests a transcendent experience. It is a birth exceeding or beyond the usual physical and earthly birth.
And later in verse 5-6, Jesus further clarifies, “… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
- “Water” pertains to Christian baptism, not just the physical water but the sign of cleansing, the purifying of sins.
- “Spirit” of course pertains to the Holy Spirit.
Then in verse 6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The human flesh, the human nature is earthly… while the one wrought by the Holy Spirit is heavenly, it is spiritual.
At dito po, mas naging clear ‘yong point ni Christ: Unless you are given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, you cannot enter God’s kingdom. You cannot see God, you cannot please God, you cannot have fellowship with God. Maliban kung ikaw ay pinagkilusan at binuhay ng Banal na Espiritu, hindi ka maliligtas at makakapasok sa kaharian ng Diyos.
So may dalawang katotohanan na pinapahayag si Cristo dito:
- The inability of human nature to please God
- The need for new birth in order to please God
‘Yon po ‘yong ating pagbubulay-bulayan ngayon hapon. And we’ll spend more time ‘don sa unang point, and look at various realities to prove the “inability of human nature to please God.”
1. The inability of human nature to please God
Now, the big question here is this, “Why?… Why is the human nature unable to please God? Why is it that man in the flesh, why is it that the human nature in and of itself cannot (unable) to enter God’s kingdom?”
Ano bang mayro’n sa human nature? How is it unable?
Bago natin tingnan ‘yong “corrruption of human nature,” sundan natin ‘yong argument ng ating Catechism.
In Lord’s Day 2, we learned about the moral law of God. At tanong ng question 5, “Can we live up to all [of God’s law] perfectly?” The plain answer is, “No. We are inclined by nature to hate God and our neighbor.”
At syempre, ‘yong natural na response do’n, “Bakit ganun? Ginawa ba tayo ng Diyos na gano’n—‘inclined to hate God and others?’”
Lord’s Day 3, Question 6, answers that: “No. God created man good and in his own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness…” This points to man being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Imago Dei. Bearer of God’s image.
At the end of God’s creation, in Genesis 1:31, it reads, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…” Kasama po ‘yong tao ‘don sa “everything.” God created man as very good. And that’s a good description especially because man is made in God’s image.
Ngayon, ano po ‘yong “God’s image” na tinutukoy dito? Some use the term to assume that God has a physical form/shape. Kasi kung man is made in “God’s likeness” at may ulo, kamay o paa ‘yong tao—so gano’n din daw ang Diyos.
But that’s not what we understand about the “image of God.” The Catechism lists it:
Based din po ‘to sa Ephesians 4:24, where Paul exhorted the Christians , “… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” That’s what the likeness or image of God in man involves.
So when God created man, he was without sin. In all his faculties—mind, heart, and will—he was good, righteous, and holy. That is why as summarized in the rest of Question 6, man was originally able to:
- Have a true knowledge of God
- Love God with pure affections,
- And fellowship with him and glorify him.
That’s the original condition of man. Pa’no ngayon nangyari na naging “unable na ‘yong human nature?”
Well, we know that perfect, sinless creation of man didn’t last long because of Adam and Eve sinned. ‘Yon ang sagot ng ating Catechism in Question 7. Obviously, we have no time in this sermon to answer all the possible questions regarding the Fall. But it is sufficient to affirm that by his willful disobedience against God—man fell into corruption and condemnation.
Ito po ‘yong sinasabi ni Paul sa Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (referring to the first sin of Adam, with Eve), and death through sin, and so death (physical and spiritual death, the corruption) spread to all men because all sinned—”
This passage speaks of Original Sin. ‘Pag sinabi po nating original sin, hindi ito ‘yong mismong unang kasalanan na ginawa ni Adan. After all, we don’t do the same sin Adam did (i.e., disobeying God by eating a forbidden fruit). Rather, Original Sin pertains to the “fallen nature, that guilty, corrupt, and disobedient nature” that “spread to all men”… that we all inherit from Adam—dahil lahat tayo galing sa kanya.
And from that corrupt nature comes all other forms of sin. Kaya tayo nakakagawa ng kasalanan kasi makasalanan tayo.
EXAMPLE: Kaya nga lahat ng tao ay makasalanan from the very start eh. Pinanganak tayong makasalanan. Para sa mga parents, you know this. Kahit gaano niyo turuan nang mabuti ‘yong bata, lalabas at lalabas ‘yong katigasan ng ulo niyan. Lalabas at lalabas ‘yong heart na gusto niya kung anong gusto niya, ayaw niya kung ano ‘yong ayaw niya.
EXAMPLE: May kilala nga kami ni Yeng, mula pag-kabata todo bantay ‘yong magulang na hindi mapariwara ‘yong anak. Na hindi mapunta sa di magandang relationship. ‘Nong adult na, nagkatrabaho na… ayon, may ka-live-in. Kung ano ‘yong bawal, kung ano ‘yong kasalanan, ‘yon pa ang sinusunod.
TRANSITION: So, following Christ’s argument in John 3, man in his natural state cannot please God… because we all possess that fallen and corrupt nature from Adam.
Now, we might say, “So naging corrupt ‘yong nature ng tao. Anong nangyari do’n sa ‘image of God?’ Hindi na ba tayo ‘image-bearers of God?’”
Ang classic Reformed answer po is: “Yes” and “No.” We also recognize the image of God having two aspects: Broader aspects and narrow aspects.
- Broader: Ability to think, capacity to be religious, ability to will (decide and act)
- Narrow: True knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and all forms of goodness.
So yes, man is still an image-bearer in the sense na bagama’t makasalanan… moral and volitional creatures pa rin tayo. Nakakapag-isip pa rin tayo, ‘di tulad ng mga hayop. Hindi naman tayo naging “baliw” dahil sa corrupt nature. Kung ico-consider natin ‘yong paligid natin, it is a proof of man’s intellect.
May capacity pa rin tayo na maging religious. Paul affirmed that, nung nasa Athens siya. In Acts 17:22, sabi ni Paul, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” Naiisip pa rin ng tao na may Diyos, na may Supreme Being, a greater power above all. At nando’n ‘yong longing ng tao na maka-connect sa
Supreme Being na ‘to. Kung pag-aaralan mo nga ‘yong iba’t-ibang religion even today, lahat may religious affections.
Furthermore, though sinful by nature, man still has the ability to decide. Every day, every moment, we decide kung gagawin mo ba ‘yong isang bagay o hindi. Babangon ka na ba ‘pag nag-alarm na, o ii-snooze mo lang. Kakain ka ba ng pork or chicken.
And so many decisions.
In this sense, “yes”—man still bears the image of God. We think, we are religious, and we decide.
On the other hand, “no”—man no longer bears the image of God because in that fallen nature, we lost the true knowledge of God, righteousness, holiness, and all forms of goodness. Ito ‘yong sinasabi sa Belgic Confession at Canons of Dort na “excellent gifts” na nawala sa tao after the Fall.
- Bagama’t naiisip ng tao na mayro’ng Diyos, may sarili siyang idea kung ano ang Diyos. May sarili siyang idea kung anong tama sa mata ng Diyos, imbes na mag-submit sa Word of God.
- Bagama’t religious ‘yong tao, may sarili siyang paraan para sambahin ang Diyos. Perfect example nito ‘yong mga idols at traditions sa iba’t-ibang mga religion.
- Bagama’t may “ability to choose” ang tao—he will not choose God. Hindi niya kusang hananapin ang Diyos at lalapit sa Diyos. Romans 3:11, “… no one seeks for God.” (Later in a while, let’s also talk about the “human will”)
So although nandun pa rin ‘yong lahat ng faculties natin bilang tao—’yong mind, heart, and will—’yong buong pagkatao natin ay puno ng sin and error. It is so “poisoned,” as the Catechism puts it.
TRANSITION: So, following Christ’s argument in John 3, man in his natural state cannot please God… because we lost our excellent gifts and possess only small remains of God’s image.
Now, some would go further and say, “Eh, may natitira pa palang ability to will, ability to choose—so malamang, man in himself can eventually choose God, can choose to change himself and be saved. Aren’t we free to choose?”
That’s a crucial argument, and many Christians and churches struggled with that question: “May ‘free will’ ba tayo?”
Well, if we say we don’t have free will—then it implies we’re robots. Obviously, we’re not robots.
But how we understand “free will” also depends on how you define “free” or “freedom.”
ILLUSTRATE: I don’t have the freedom to choose to eat a sandwich right now if someone/something is “just forcing” me to do or someone/something is “constraining/preventing” (pumipigil) you from doing it.
Likewise, when it comes to God, no one is “forcing us to disobey God” and no one is “preventing us from obeying God.” Satan can only tempt us to sin, but he does not force us to commit the sin. And God does not prevent us from obeying him. In fact, he encourages us to obey.
But because of our fallen condition, our will is in bondage to sin. Hence, though we are free to choose, it is naturally inclined to choose sin, to go against God. Hindi na kailangang pilitin; the human will freely chooses sin and freely rejects God.
So in the final analysis, on the issue of “free will,” man is indeed free to choose. But because his will is in bondage to sin, that free will is no longer free.
Kaya nga po may mga tao na bagama’t alam nila ‘yong tunay na Diyos, at convicted sila na kailangan nilang lumapit at sumampalataya sa Diyos—hindi pa rin nila gagawin ‘yon.
Romans 1:21 – “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…”
EXAMPLE: Talking to someone regarding an immoral relationship. The person agrees with everything I said, and seems to be really convicted with tears. But when I asked that person to leave that immoral relationship—the person said, “I can’t.”
That’s our reality…
- In created state: Man was able to choose God or choose evil
- In the fallen state: Man is not able to choose God, and he is not able to not choose evil. In fact, the Bible says that the natural man always chooses evil. “We are dead in our sins… and we walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1)
- Romans 8:7-8 – [the mind according to the human nature] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
We are fallen and we cannot do anything about it ourselves. Canons of Dort 3-4, Art 3, emphatically puts it this way:
“… all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.”
TRANSITION: So, following Christ’s argument in John 3, man in his natural state cannot please God… because we all possess that fallen and corrupt nature… because the remaining image of God in us is polluted… and because our will is in bondage to sin and evil.
That’s why Christ is saying, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” As long as a person remains in his natural, sinful state—he will not be saved.
Ano ngayon ang implication n’on? As Christ said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” How? By the Holy Spirit’s work.
2. The need for new birth in order to please God
The fact that in and of ourselves, in our natural and fallen state, we cannot be saved—so we need to be born of something beyond our natural state. We need to be born of the Spirit. Kailangan natin ‘yong buhay na nagmumula sa Espiritu ng Diyos.
We don’t have time to discuss a lot about regeneration here. But let’s just meditate even briefly on what the Spirit does so that a person is born again.
Let’s read Ezekiel 36:26-27 (a promise to God’s people):
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
By his Spirit, God gives a new heart, changes the inclination of the person’s heart, and subdues and transforms the will. Paul also said the same thing in Philippians 2:12-13, that God works within a person to “will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Sa example ko kanina, there are those who understand the gospel in the mind, are convicted in the heart, but do not choose to submit to Christ at all. But for the sinner that is born again, regenerated by the Spirit—God works supernaturally in the person’s heart so that he will not only understand the gospel and desire Christ in the heart. That person will actually repent, believe, and follow Christ.
Let me quote again a portion from Canons of Dort, Heading 3-4, Art 11:
“The Spirit enlightens the mind… and opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart… and he infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant…”
And then, and only then, does a sinner is able to repent and believe unto salvation.
Conclusion and Application
As I end, let me appeal to all of us here. Listen to Christ: “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” One time may nagtanong kay George Whitefield, “Bakit ‘yan na lang lagi sinasabi mo, “You must be born again.”… He replies, “Because you must be born again!”
Unless you are “born again” you remain in your sins, you remain in the deadness and the corruption of your flesh, and there is no hope for you but eternal damnation in hell.
But this is not something you can do by yourself. ‘Yong sinasabi ni Christ na “You must be born again,” hindi Niya ibig sabihin, “You must be born again, so make yourself born again.” No, none of us can make ourselves born again.
What Christ is saying, it is necessary that you be born again. And that is the Spirit’s work, not ours.
In verse 8, Christ said to Nicodemus, “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.”
Ang hangin, ‘di mo pwedeng utusan. ‘Di mo pwedeng hawakan. ‘Di mo makikita. Pero ‘pag dumaan ‘yan—you know it’s there. You know it’s real.
The same way with the regenerating work of the Spirit. You cannot command the Spirit, “regenerate me.” You and I cannot see the Spirit. But once he works within
you—making you understand God’s Word, making you repent and believe in Christ—you will know he is there. You know he is real. You will know that you have been born again.
So my only appeal is the Word of God which the Spirit himself uses to call sinners to faith: “If you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.” I don’t know whether that is already the Spirit giving you a new mind, a new heart, a new will. But if you are hearing and understanding his Word, do not be unbelieving… but be believing.
The Word of God proclaims to us that although we are fallen in our nature and have no hope changing ourselves and saving ourselves—the Son of God redeemed us from our sin and from the consequences of our sins. He himself took our weak and frail human nature (except sin), and lived righteously and paid the penalty for all our sins. So that what is broken and fallen in us will be restored. And what was lost—righteousness, holiness, fellowship with God—will be given us, not only in this life but also in the future glory forever.
So to those who are given the eyes to see and ears to hear, see and hear what the Spirit says: “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”
At para naman po sa’tin na convinced that we are born again and now believers and followers of Christ—what does this remind us of? Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Maraming implications at applications ‘to. For instance, kapag may mahal ka sa buhay na shine-share-an mo ng gospel over and over again… keep in mind and take comfort that it is the Holy Spirit who transforms sinners, not us.
But let’s apply this to ourselves…
Mga magulang ko’t kapatid… tayo ay mga Kristiyano, tayo’y nabago at patuloy na napapabanal—hindi dahil matalino tayo, hindi dahil marami tayong nabasa, hindi dahil lumaki tayo sa Kristiyanong pamilya, hindi dahil magaling ‘yong nag-share sa’tin ng gospel o magaling ‘yong pastor na napakinggan mo. At the end of the day, we are saved and a new creation in Christ all because in the grace and sovereignty of God, his Spirit gave us a new birth.
In the fall to sin, man is responsible. In the new birth, God is responsible.
Ano pong maipag-mamayabang natin sa sarili natin? Nothing. All we can do is give all the praises and live in gratitude to him.
As Paul said, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
Reuel Dawal is the Minister of the Word and Sacraments at ZCRC. He was an intern prior to being ordained and installed as the church's new pastor. He is currently finishing his Biblical and Theological Studies at the Miami International Seminary (MINTS) online. He and his wife Yeng are married since 2017 and lives in Imus, Cavite.