Life is right at the center of God’s purposes for this dead world of ours. But the way into this new world He is fashioning is quite similar to the way we got into the old world — we have to be born into it. A new world, a new creation, requires, of necessity, a new birth. How will the new world get people otherwise?
But this new world is being established in the midst of the old house — it is like a remodel project in a house, but with nobody moving out while the work is in progress. The end result will be a completely new house, and there is some debris in the meantime, and you can see aspects of the old house disappearing, and the shape of the new house is becoming clearer, and the whole thing is quite exciting.
Material from the old house can and usually does go into the new house, but in order for that to happen, it must be made new, it must be made alive. The old material has to become new material in order to go into the new house. This is the meaning of the new birth. And the transformation is no incidental or surface thing — it is not a matter of sanding, or painting, or carving. No, the dead stones are turned into living stones (1 Pet. 2:4-5), which of necessity affects everything about the stone, except the fact that it is stone. Stone, but stone that is alive now, which is not exactly a trifle. So not only is this a remodel project, but it is one in which the house is in the process of becoming a living organism.
Now all churches have distinctives, and ours is no exception. We believe certain things are true, and not other things, and we organize our worship services in a particular way, and not in another way, and so on. In our case, some examples would be that we practice a weekly renewal of the covenant, which means that each service culminates with communion. We are postmillennial, which means that we believe that the world will be successfully evangelized before the Lord comes again. We sing psalms and hymns, which means that we believe our music should be God-honoring and rich in fiber. We believe in cultural engagement, which means that we hold the Christian faith is not a private mystery religion, but rather a public faith, claiming that the authority of Jesus Christ must be universally recognized by all nations. But how could that ever happen?
This brings us back to the centrality of the new birth. Without the new birth, all the doctrinal and liturgical work in the world is just the reorganization of dead materials, instead of what it is described in the Bible as being, which is the organization and discipleship of living materials.
Liturgy without life is like putting make-up on a corpse. Doctrine without this same life is like spelling everything right on the tombstone.
So at the center of all of this is the new birth. Without this principle of new life, nothing matters anyway. With this principle of new life, brought about by men preaching a robust gospel, and expecting results in faith as they do, all these other issues, these other distinctives, become important in their own order and in their proper time. Once your newborn daughter is out of the ICU and home safely from the hospital, it is then appropriate to think about getting her violin lessons in due course.
We have to be adults in our thinking of course. There are many “evangelicals” who have experienced the gift of this new life, and who emphasize it as they ought, but who have hired a terrible violin instructor. And others, reacting against that, have assumed that the life is somehow optional, so long as the violin instructor is a virtuoso.
Jesus Christ wants those who believe and understand these things to assume the center. He prohibits us seizing the center — the kingdom of God is not like a coup. The new life has political results but is not achieved by political means — which incidentally includes ecclesiastical politics. The experience of the new life will always, of necessity, be at the very center of God’s work in the world — because that is what He is doing here. And the intelligent awareness of what He is doing (which is only by faith, from first to last) will always be at the center of that experience. This is just another way of saying that the center of gravity in this new world that God is fashioning is, of necessity, an evangelical center.
So we know what God’s plan for this world is — it is life from the dead. He has told us this quite plainly. God’s plan is a resurrection plan. This means that if our plans are to line up with His, we have got to put the principle of new life right at the foundation of all we want to do. And that, by the grace of God’s Spirit, is what we are seeking to do.
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).