Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe starred in a movie titled ‘Proof of Life’ released in 2000. The movie tells about an engineer who has been kidnapped in South America. A negotiator was called to help release the engineer from the band of anti-government guerrillas. The first thing that the negotiator asked was what is commonly known as ‘proof of life’ – a recent picture, a voice, a token, whatever that proves that the kidnapped is still alive – because there would be no reason to negotiate if he were already dead.
Last Sunday, John chapter 3 was preached at CrossCulture. The term ‘born again’ is explained. I am not going to explain what ‘born again’ or ‘born of water and Spirit’ means. Suffice to say that ‘born of water’ does not refer to water baptism, and ‘born of Spirit’ does not refer to Baptism in Spirit that the Pentecostal circles commonly claim. Rather, they refer to the Old Testament prophecy by prophet Ezekiel chapter 36 verses 24 to 30. The term ‘born of water’ refers to God cleansing us from all our idols and uncleannesses and the term ‘born of Spirit’ refers to God giving us a new spirit – His Spirit – within us. Didn’t I say I was not planning to explain… well, I did already… never mind…
However, there is one phrase in John 3 that Jesus gave to Nicodemus that is rather interesting. When Nicodemus asked Jesus how this ‘born again’ works, Jesus answered in verse 7 and 8:
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus is basically saying to Nicodemus that Nicodemus would not know how it works or when it is going to happen; but when it happens, he would know that it has happened. God is sovereign, and His Spirit is the one who will give birth to the new spirit in us. However, this is not something that we, human beings, can engineer or provoke. This is something that we simply receive and/or notice when it happens in a person’s life. In other words, we would not know when or how a spiritually dead person would be brought to life spiritually, but when he or she is, we will know because it will be clear that the ‘wind has blown.’
Of course, this triggers many questions. But for the purpose of this post, there is one question that people would then ask: How do you know when one is born again? How do you know whether one has been spiritually brought to life? What are the evidence that someone is spiritually alive? In other words, we want the ‘proof of life’ albeit spiritually. It will be helpful for us, who claim to be born-again Christians, to know whether or not we have indeed been born again (or if someone else is).
Before we get to the proofs of life, it might be good to mention a couple of non-proofs of life. No, I am not talking about proofs of death. Rather, I am talking about things that can be mistakenly thought as proofs of life. It does not mean that they are dead, but it is not enough to establish that one is alive. Here they are:
1. They profess that they believe in Jesus
Yes, John 3:16 does say that ‘whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,’ and Acts 10:9 also confirms that ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ However, the word ‘believe’ here begs for further explanations. Why? Because in other parts of the Scripture, Jesus also says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 7:21). James also responds – rather sarcastically it sounds – to his readers, ‘You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!’ Basically, simply claiming that you believe is not enough. Even Satan believes, and he will rot in hell. Note that I carefully use the word ‘claiming’ because I truly believe that if you believe in Jesus, you do have eternal life, although again, the word ‘believe’ here is not merely lip-service. I’ll get to that later. So, for now, profession of faith is not a definite proof of life.
2. They do great ‘work of faith’ in Jesus’ Name
We are fallible human beings and we are easily ‘tricked’ by people who do great feats. We think that when someone does great things in God’s Name, then that person must have great faith, and therefore that person must be a great Christian. However, God knows what’s in people’s heart. One unmistakable teaching by Jesus related to this is found in Matthew 7:22-23 when He said, “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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” If that is not clear, I don’t know what else is.
So, neither profession of faith nor supernatural works is necessarily a demonstration of faith. But then, what is?
Going back to Ezekiel chapter 36, especially verse 27, can be helpful. It says,
And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
It is clear that in the new birth, God put His Spirit within us to cause us to obey Him. He gives us a new heart, new Spirit, which results in a new desire. We used to be dead when it comes to responding to God’s commandments, but now, we are alive and we are responding positively to God’s instructions. We used to love the things of the world and despise the things of God, but now, we have a new desire to love the things of God and begin to despise the things of the world. To use Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 6: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v11).
When Jesus said that not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, He continues his sentence with this, “but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” James also says in James chapter 2 that faith without good works is dead. Only faith that results in good works (obedience to God and love for others) is faith that really saves. Jesus also says that we can know whether a tree is good or bad from its fruit. If the fruit is good, the tree is good. If the fruit is bad, the tree cannot be said as good. The good fruit here refers to our obedience to God. In the same chapter, the point of Jesus’ parable of a person building his house on a rock also demonstrate that our obedience is what eventually matters when it comes to ‘proof of life.’
Now, I have to be careful also to say this: we are not saved by our obedience to God. We are not saved by our works. We are saved by faith alone. We are born again when we truly believe in Jesus. When we can profess truly that Jesus is the only Way to God, then we are born again. However, our profession can only be proven as genuine and true when our profession of faith overflows in our obedience to God. So, how do you know whether you are born again? Two things. Do you genuinely believe that you are saved only through faith in the person and works of Jesus Christ and Him alone? And do you find yourself growing in your trust and love for Jesus and in your obedience to God? If so, then you are born again. That’s your proof of life.