Are You Born Again?
J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)
This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
It is not enough to reply, “I belong to the church; I suppose I’m a Christian.” Thousands of nominal Christians show none of the signs of being born again which the Scriptures have given us—many listed in the First Epistle of John.
NO HABITUAL SINNING
First of all, John wrote: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin” (1 John 3:9).
“Whosoever is born of God sinneth not” (5:18).
A person who has been born again, or regenerated, does not habitually commit sin. He
no longer sins with his heart and will and whole inclination. There was probably a time
when he did not think about whether his actions were sinful or not, and he did not always
feel grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin; they were friends.
But the true Christian hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, considers it his greatest
plague, resents the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and
longs to be completely delivered from it. Sin no longer pleases him; it has become a horrible
thing which he hates. However, he cannot eliminate its presence within him.
If he said that he had no sin, he would be lying (1 John 1:8). But he can say that he
hates sin and that the great desire of his soul is not to commit sin at all. He cannot prevent
bad thoughts from entering his mind, or shortcomings, omissions, and defects from appearing
in both his words and his actions. He knows that “in many things we offend all” (James
3:2). But he can truly say, in the sight of God, that these things cause him grief and sorrow,
and that his whole nature does not consent to them. What would the apostle say about you?
Are you born again?
BELIEVING IN CHRIST
Second, John wrote: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1
A man who is born again, or regenerated, believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour
who can pardon his soul, that He is the divine Person appointed by God the Father for this
very purpose, and beside Him there is no Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness.
But he has full confidence in Christ, and trusting in Him, he believes that his
sins are all forgiven. He believes that, for the sake of Christ’s finished work and death on the
Cross, he is reckoned righteous in God’s sight, and he may look forward to death and judgment
without alarm (Romans 4:20-5:1; 8:1).
He may have fears and doubts. He may sometimes tell you that he feels as if he had no
faith at all. But ask him if he is willing to trust in anything instead of Christ, and see what he
will say. Ask him if he will rest his hope of eternal life on his own goodness, his own works,
his prayers, his minister, or his church, and listen to his reply. What would the apostle say
about you? Are you born again?
Third, John wrote: “Every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” (1 John 2:29).
The man who is born again, or regenerated, is a holy man. He endeavors to live according
to God’s will, to do the things that please God and to avoid the things that God hates. He
wishes to continually look to Christ as his example as well as his Saviour, and to prove himself
to be Christ’s friend by doing whatever He commands. He knows he is not perfect. He is
painfully aware of his indwelling corruption. He finds an evil principle within himself that is
constantly warring against grace and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not
consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence.
Though he may sometimes feel so low that he questions whether or not he is a Christian
at all, he will be able to say with John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be; I am not
what I want to be; I am not what I hope to be in another world—but still I am not what I
once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” What would the apostle say about
you? Are you born again?
LOVING OTHER CHRISTIANS
Fourth, John wrote: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we
love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).
A man who is born again has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father
in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for those
who share his faith in Christ. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners and
could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so
much at home as when he is in their company.
He feels they are all members of the same family. They are his fellow soldiers, fighting
against the same enemy. They are his fellow travelers, journeying along the same road. He
understands them, and they understand him. They may be very different from himself in
many ways—in rank, in station and in wealth. But that does not matter. They are his Father’s
sons and daughters and he cannot help loving them. What would the apostle say
about you? Are you born again?
OVERCOMING THE WORLD
Fifth, John wrote: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (1 John 5:4).
A man who is born again does not use the world’s opinion as his standard of right and
wrong. He does not mind going against the world’s ways, ideas, and customs. What men
think or say no longer concerns him. He overcomes the love of the world. He finds no pleasure
in things which seem to bring happiness to most people. To him they seem foolish and
unworthy of an immortal being.
He loves God’s praise more than man’s praise. He fears offending God more than offending
man. It is unimportant to him whether he is blamed or praised; his first aim is to
please God. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
KEEPING ONESELF PURE
Sixth, John wrote: “He that is begotten of God keepeth himself’ (1 John 5:18).
A man who is born again is careful of his own soul. He tries not only to avoid sin but
also to avoid everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He
knows that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is more catching than good,
just as disease is more infectious than health. He is careful about the use of his time; his
chief desire is to spend it profitable.
He desires to live like a soldier in an enemy country—to wear his armor continually
and to be prepared for temptation. He is diligent to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man.
What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?
These are the six great marks of a born again Christian.
There is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks in different people.
In some they are faint and hardly noticeable. In others they are bold, plain, and unmistakable,
so anyone may read them. Some of these marks are more visible than others in each
individual. Seldom are all equally evident in any one person.
But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted six marks of being born of
How should we react to these things? We can logically come to only one conclusion—
only those who are born again have these six characteristics, and those who do not have
these marks are not born again. This seems to be the conclusion to which the apostle intended
us to come.
Do you have these characteristics?
Are you born again?
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