What are you motivated by? Well, that depends on what it is you’re trying to accomplish. It depends on what your goal is. If you’re the competitive type, a good goal might be to look to someone that is the best at what your trying to accomplish or someone who has already accomplished it and aim to surpass their accomplishments. Without a goal, without something to motivate us, we can easily get sidetracked and lose focus. We won’t know where we are headed and we won’t know if we’ve reached what we’re looking for.

In saying this, you may conclude that the greater the object of your motivation, the greater your success will be. But that’s not always the case is it? Sometimes, in the face of seemingly impossible goals, when the heights of your dreams are beyond what you imagined, you can easily lose hope and give up. So it’s not simply how much greater our motivation is. What is missing is the effect of that motivation on us. This effect is the measure of our hope for success and it determines whether that motivation will be enough to reach our goal or give up in failure.

Living hope is in genuine experience.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5

Our passage today talks about the hope we have for success, the salvation of our souls. However, no matter how much we talk about the love of God, what a friend He is and how powerful He is, if we do not experience Him in our lives, if there is no effect of His love and living hope in our lives, this hope will be a meaningless hope. So the key to a living hope will be how much this hope takes effect in our lives.

You may think that any kind of motivation is good if the results are good. However this isn’t the case for our salvation. In the case of our faith, it is critical to recognize and distinguish between real and fake experience, between true and false effects of this hope. Because genuine spiritual experience really matters towards faith and salvation. Genuineness of faith actually matters. For example, you can diligently go to church, live a moral life, do all the Christian deeds and yet it could all be fake. And the result of that will not lead to salvation. Jesus himself talks about how many people will come to him thinking they knew him.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

We see here that those who do the will of God will enter heaven. From the words of these people in this passage, it seems they did many things in the will of God. But Jesus still says, I never knew you. Why is that? The results of their actions were good. But it was not a spiritual experience that came from genuine faith.

Jonathan Edwards, a great philosopher and theologian in the 1700’s who was instrumental in the first great awakening with people like George Whitfield and John Wesley, saw the mass effects of spiritual revival. And he saw some people, although they did not have a genuine spiritual experience, were being confused to think they did because of their emotions and outward results. So he wrote a book called “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections” to clarify and help people find genuine spiritual experiences. And in an abridged and modernized version of that book, “The Experience that Counts” we see in his introduction the eternal weight of genuineness of faith.

“This mixture of false religion with true has been Satan’s greatest weapon against the cause of Christ. This is why we must learn to distinguish between true and false religion – between emotions and experiences which really come from salvation, and imitations which are outwardly attractive and plausible, but false. A failure to distinguish between true and false religion produces terrible consequences.”

Jonathan Edwards, The Experience That Counts

What does it mean to be a Christian? Is Christianity a matter of the intellect alone? What about desires, feelings, and experiences? What is conversion? Find ‘a guide for the perplexed’ – a voice of clear Biblical and spiritual sanity to lead us safely through the maze of contemporary confusion in this crucial area.

This book was written back in the 1700s but I can’t believe how relevant it is for us today.

And I know these things sound serious but it’s because it really is serious. But at the same time, I don’t want us to be afraid of experiencing God because we’re not sure what’s real or not.

The fact is, many people are caught up with looking for a certain experience and in essence, we keep God limited to these specific spiritual and emotional experiences. For example, if you aren’t stirred in your heart at a retreat or worship, and you don’t cry your eyes out, some might say that you didn’t encounter God and you might not feel satisfied.

The reason Johnathan Edwards wrote that book and the reason why Peter writes this letter for us is to tell us that no matter what experience may tell us and no matter how we may feel at any point in our faith that there is a hope that is alive, imperishable, undefiled, unfading, guarded by God’s power. Despite what you’ve experienced in life, despite all that you feel, this hope of the Gospel is unshakable and it is our constant and security. And so, regardless of your experience or lack thereof, the Word of God today speaks of a living hope we have and it is in the very fact that we are “born again.” To hope and trust in the truth of God’s Word despite our feelings and experiences is the very core of faith.

We must be born again to have a living hope.

What does “born again” mean for you? For some, maybe it’s just a spiritual way of explaining that you’ve prayed a certain prayer to receive Jesus into your heart. For others, maybe it’s just symbolizing that you now identify as someone who’s decided to live the “Christian” way. However, the reality is that everyone who claims to be born-again may not be a genuine follower of Christ. 

A 2017 study by LifeWay Research showed that 24% of Americans considered themselves to be evangelical and 29% considered themselves to be born again Christians. But when these people were asked to affirm basic evangelical beliefs, only about 15% of Americans could. Basic evangelical beliefs were defined as below.

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

So what does “born again” mean for you? In the Bible, you see this term “born again” in a few other places. Most famously from John 3 where Jesus is talking with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who eventually becomes a disciple of Jesus.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

John 3:1-6

So, what does it mean that you are born again? First of all, it is not simply us receiving Jesus into our lives. It’s not simply praying a sinner’s prayer and it’s not simply us opening the door for Jesus to enter in. And it’s not simply God filling a god-sized hole in our hearts. All this is true and good but being born again is so much more. We read in our passage that God “has caused us” to be born again. It is the work of God by his grace and mercy.

Being born again is so much more than Jesus filling a god-sized hole in our hearts. The more accurate description of the god-sized hole is actually that were condemned to a god-sized pit where we could never come out of. The born again Christian knows that there was nothing we could do to save ourselves. Not even an eternity in hell could ever repay the price of sin in us. It is not a god-sized hole that God has filled, but it is this god-sized pit that only God could save us from. And God did come and save us. He has caused us to be born again.

So when the Bible talks about being born again, being made into a new creation, being given a new spirit, it literally means we are brand new. We are not a better version of our old selves and we are not leveling up to a certain spiritual level to enter heaven. The Bible goes on to say, we have been crucified with Christ. What does that mean? We have been put to death. The old has gone and the new has come. This is what it means to be born again. Completely and entirely born a second time. Born of the Spirit.

Do not believe the lies of Satan. Who knows? Maybe you had reasoned with yourself before that we are only human, that we are sinners and we aren’t perfect. We make mistakes and we can’t achieve perfect holiness and that this is a reality we need to just live with. This is true but only partially. The best lies are always partially true and the better the lie, the closer it is to the truth. But I wonder how many of us fall to our temptations just because we accept the fact that we are mere humans. 

For the true Christian, the reality of our flesh should lead us to greater dependence on the Holy Spirit and a greater humility with a heart of repentance. If it leads us to compromise holiness and devotion, we are in the deception of Satan and we are actually walking away from God and we are being led to our own judgment so much so that John write in 1 John 3:9 that “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

In being born again, we are not only saved from condemnation, from judgment of hell but we are also saved to something. We are saved to what Peter calls a living hope. And Peter refers to this living hope as an inheritance. What is an inheritance? It is something that is legally yours but not yet. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about this inheritance again.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:11-14

We see here that this living hope is sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. What does this mean? It’s the fact that, yes we have a hope of salvation and heaven but it is living. It is active. It’s not just about a future of salvation but also hope and power that is alive in our everyday through the promised Holy Spirit who has been given to us when we were born again. 

Our lives are not divided between the worldly and spiritual. And our lives are not simply a placeholder for an eternity in heaven. There is no season in our lives where it’s just preparation for the next. Each season is given to us with a specific purpose and meaning. And that purpose and meaning is not fulfilled by getting to the next stage of life. It is fulfilled through being faithful with today. And everything that we go through in each season and how we react to things that happen, every decision that we make tells us and others about what it is that we believe. It tells ourselves and others about what our motivation is. Everything we say and do says something about the God we believe in.