May 9, 2019

How should we recognize the new birth?

Lead Pastor

Lead Pastor

David Milroy

The most amazing miracle in human existence is when a person who is not a believer in Jesus and therefore “without hope and without God in the world,” and “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2), comes to repent and believe in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

The most amazing miracle in human existence is when a person who is not a believer in Jesus and therefore “without hope and without God in the world,” and “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2), comes to repent and believe in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

There is nothing more miraculous! When this happens, the new believer is “born again” (John 3). Once he/she was under condemnation and eternal death, but now they have eternal life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is the greatest gift we could ever receive and it is the hope of all Christians that more and more people receive this new birth.

The way that God works out the new birth in people varies tremendously. Some grow up in the church and slowly but surely come to faith in Christ, with lots of steps along the way in a seemingly gradual progression (although make no mistake, conversion does happen in a definite moment, even if the individual is not entirely sure when that moment took place). Others have a clear and definite time where they are converted – they didn’t hear the Gospel until they were invited to a Christmas Eve service or a Christian camp or Bible study, and after hearing it they converted in a flash of understanding, repentance and faith. Still others are converted at a young age, seem to drift away, and then return with a fuller appreciation of the great gift of salvation. 

The important thing in all of this is not how or when the new birth took place in your life, but that it in fact did take place in your life. And once it happens, what then? Is there anything that should be done? The Bible says we should be baptized, that much is clear. But what if you’ve already been baptized? What if you were sprinkled as a baby and you’ve come to Christ since then, years later?

As a church, we have always believed that the practice of “re-baptism” is neither Biblical nor necessary. If you have been baptized as an infant, and you have since experienced the miracle of the new birth by repenting and believing in Christ, there is no need to be re-baptized. There are a couple reasons for this:

  • God is sovereign and was working in your life well before you responded by faith. Your baptism, whenever it happened, is no accident.  It is a sign of God working in your life.  
  • We believe that when Ephesians 4:5 says that there is “one baptism,” it suggests that only one is required for Christians, no matter when in life it happens.
  • Here our tradition is helpful. This is from the EPC Book of Worship: “The grace received through Baptism does not come from the tradition or form of administration, and since it is not dependent upon the devoutness or the intention of the person administering it, baptism should be administered only once.”
  • The logic of re-baptism could suggest that any time someone has a crisis of faith or a lapse of obedience, upon repenting and returning to Christ that person should be re-baptized. This would mean dozens/hundreds/thousands of re-baptisms for us sinning followers of Christ! 

So then, what if someone wants to publicly affirm their faith and they have already been baptized? That was the question posed to me by Justine Albert last week. She was baptized as an infant, but was not given any real instruction in the faith at home or through church. She came to Christ through NAPC a few years ago. She has been  through some tremendous trials in her life and faith. But God has graciously given her the power to persevere with help from her small group, from worship, and the Word of God. She is incredibly grateful for her relationship with Christ and all that He has done to rescue her, and she wants to publicly proclaim that faith in Christ. 

This Sunday, she will. At the Acoustic service, I will ask her questions that affirm her faith in Christ. Then her closest friends and I will pray for her, and I will anoint her with oil. The practice of anointing is not a sacrament. But it has a long Biblical precedent (Exodus 28:41; Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2 Corinthians 1:21; Hebrews 1:9). It symbolizes the setting apart of someone for service to God. In fact, the word “Christ” means Anointed One. As Christians, all of us are set apart to serve the One who was set apart for us. And Sunday, Justine will publicly affirm this. Along with the joy of confirming 7 of our high school students, this will be a great celebration as well.

There are people in our church who have been born again in Christ over the last few years at NAPC, but who have not affirmed this publicly. There is no Biblical command to do so, especially if baptism has already taken place. But Justine’s upcoming anointing with oil is a way to affirm faith in Christ for those who have already been baptized. It is a matter of personal conscience, nothing more or less. But for Justine and perhaps others, it gives expression to the greatest miracle of all – the gift of the new birth. If you have questions about this or would like to talk with an elder or pastor about this, feel free to reach out.

I hope you will be in worship this Sunday to help celebrate the public affirmation of this greatest miracle of all, the miracle of new birth in Christ!

Pastor David