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The Water of Life


Mark 1:4-11 - NIV

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”


Are you born again?



I was talking to a friend a week or so ago and she told me that they once moved into a new home for work and the next-door neighbours came over and greeted them. They greeted them first with the question: “are you born again? “

the person telling me the story said that she had to think on her feet, and tell them what church they attended and then the neighbour proclaimed that they were alright then, they are born again, that counts.

The neighbours were the Pastors of some little Pentecostal church in that town. (Interestingly they were the most difficult neighbours this family had ever had,)

And when she related the story to me I asked her if she would like to hear what might be a typical Lutheran answer to that question?

Again it was from another story I had heard years before, where a young man in an airport, obviously fired up about his faith, was running around asking people the same question, if they were born again, and proudly telling them the moment that he was, and getting a lot of negative reactions, as you can imagine.

He saw an old man sitting on a bench watching him and finally getting some eye contact with someone after everyone else had avoided him he walked over and asked the old man if he was born again, and the old man said yes. Then he asked him when, because the young man could tell him the precise moment he was born again.

And the old man gave this answer: (And this is the one I use now if ever confronted with that question) : Well, I was born again a bit before that. Actually, it was 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem, but I was baptised into it as a baby.

And I have remembered that answer, and maybe it would be a good one for you to remember too. It may mean that the conversation goes on a lot longer, because some people will see that as a challenge. Especially those who see our conversion to the faith as a conscious decision on our part.

But we, as Lutherans, do not insist on this conscious decision on our part as a necessary part of our conversion and salvation. In fact, we go further and deny that it is even possible as the first step towards our salvation.

This is because of what the church has always known as original sin.

What is original sin?

It is the reason that so many people think we Lutherans are depressing when we do our confession and absolution.

The bible teaches us that since the fall into sin in Genesis, we are born outside of a relationship with God, and in our natural state we do not even WANT to know him!

All we want to know about is ourselves. And we can do amazing things outside of a relationship with God. We can work for charity, save lives, live moral lives ourselves, but none of this saves us in the eyes of God who is perfect.

Because nothing that we can do will ever be enough.

The law of God shows that he demands perfection, and shows that we lack the ability to find it:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23”

And the punishment due for that sin is death.


Romans 6:23a “The wages of sin is death.”


We are born a sinful human being, born OF sinful human beings, and we don’t walk in the Garden of Eden any more, in a perfect relationship with our maker. Instead we inherit this hereditary condition of sinfulness.

The sin of our Origin, the sinfulness that comes from being mortal human beings is still a falling short of God’s perfection and separates us from him. And it leads to death.

Now we need to remember that the first sin, that removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and from relationship with God, was not God’s fault. And the life into which we are born, with physical death as it’s consequence was not the intention of God, but is the consequence of sin. It is NOT the way God made us. It is something that came from outside of his perfect creation.


So why, when faced with a question about being born again, do we insist so much on baptism and conversion being something that God does in our lives, and not something that we do?

Because the wages of sin is death. And, we were dead! And dead people make no decisions for anything! They don’t decide to come back to life! They don’t decide to be resurrected.

God must work on them from outside, the same way Jesus’ word worked on Lazarus to raise him to life. Lazarus didn’t choose to invite Jesus to raise him. It’s also why  it is important to realize that Jesus, after good Friday was truly dead (that was the purpose of the spear into the side, that’s why it was written down, so people couldn’t say, oh, he wasn’t really dead, just unconscious and revived)

No, God is not in the business of resuscitation! Of people or of churches.

God is in the business of resurrection.

He was dead.

We, were dead!

And now the sobering part.

Many of our friends and loved ones are dead because they are not in that relationship with God. And no matter how good they are, and how many good things they do, they cannot raise themselves. Either they have rejected him or have never heard of him and been given the chance.


Don’t get me wrong, we still sin just like anyone else. Christians are no better than anyone else. But death is defeated for us. Not by us, but for us.

Our Faith is not based on any decision that we make. You know the song from the All Together books that comes obviously from a very different tradition than ours : “I have decided to follow Jesus”.

Fine, but that’s not the first word.

By the time we can decide to do anything, by the time we can “Make a decision to invite the Lord Jesus into our hearts” as we commonly hear, He’s already there! He has set up house in our lives and worked on us.

Any decision we make is a reaction, a response,


Because, if you will remember the simple line from Kelly Friar’s “reclaiming the L Word”, “God always comes down”. The arrow always points this way. (down)


Even Jesus received in his baptism. That’s all he did in the story. He was quite passive. He was not the main actor here at all!

It was the Father speaking, and the Spirit descending, working in him and on him.


God the Father, and God the Spirit worked through a simple means, that of water. And he still does. There are other means too by which we see that the Spirit works, like electricity flows through a wire: through the water and the word in Holy baptism, through the bread and wine and the word in holy Communion, and through the word of God which is spoken and proclaimed, the bible.


Because we believe that people cannot find God by themselves, and that God works through these means, we go out of our way to USE these means whenever we can. When we present the word of God and speak the word of God to people, we have a secret weapon! We are not just relying on our persuasiveness to convince them, we are letting the holy Spirit of God do his work, whether the person knows it or not.

When God acts, he does it right. When God speaks, he means what he says.

When God says about you in your baptism: you are my daughter, you are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” You can believe him.

You are born again.



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