I initially wrote this as a guest post over at Veritas Domain.
When I wrote my first book, I began by talking about how I felt that I was born three times. The first was the day I came into this world. Then, just days after being born, I was adopted into a second family to be someone else’s son. It was as if, just three days after being born, I was born again into a new life with a new family.
My life was changed drastically when I became a son in a third family. I was born again, but this time, as a child of God. I put my faith in Jesus during my late twenties. As John wrote in the fourth gospel:
“To all who received him, namely the ones believing in the name of him, he gave to them the right to be born children of God, who were born, not from bloodlines, nor out of the will of flesh, nor out of the will of man, but from God.”( John 1:12-13, personally translated from the Byzantine Greek text.)
I was born again. Adopted into the most holy family. But I didn’t fully grasp exactly what that would mean for me right away. As I grew in this new family, I learned more and more what it meant. It meant leaving behind my old life and become a changed person.
Over time, I dove into studying scripture. Sure it’s tough. Even today, I still struggle both with understanding scripture and with repenting and turning from sin. I understand, intellectually, that my ‘old Adam’ still desires to sin and my ‘new Adam’ is repulsed by it.
Regardless of this, it’s hard to resist sin.
But deep down, I know it is sin. Deep down, I know it is wrong. And so, I do what I can to resist it. I keep memorizing more scripture so I can pray and remind myself what God’s will is and how his way is not man’s way. I do so in order to be able to meditate on God’s word anytime.
At the end of the day, that’s what gives me hope. God’s word and his promises. It also gives me a goal to strive for. To work towards being a better person and to live more like God wants me to live.
Last year I searched for, and found, my birth mother. I discovered I had two younger sisters and they were all living a few states away, in Florida. We get along great, and this search and my discovery became the theme of my first book. Then this year, I found my birth father. Turns out, he’s Italian. And not Italian-American. Rather, he’s actually Italian. He and his parents and grandparents had grown up in a small town in Italy and live there today.
Last week I returned from my third trip to Italy to spend time with him. During this last trip I began to see some parallels with how God wants us to change when we become adopted into his family.
We are given a new heart and are taught that our ways should not conform to the ways of this world, but rather to God’s kingdom (Romans 12:2). In fact, one striking verse can be found in Luke’s gospel:
”But Jesus said to them, “No one, having put his hand hand on a plow and having looked back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”( Luke 9:62, personally translated from the Byzantine Greek text.)
We cannot say we are Christians and not be repulsed by what God calls sin. We may have trouble with sin, but when we are given a new heart, Jesus is telling us we cannot, with one hand say we are Christian, and still lust after the ways of the world.
When I travelled to Italy, it occurred to me that this had some similarities. I didn’t want to just visit this new country and still demand fast food, nor demand they speak English. Neither did I want to impose my culture onto them, but rather embrace their culture. When I discovered my family is from this new country, I wanted to learn their ways. I wanted to learn their language (his English is decent, but limited). I wanted to experience their food. I had tasted this new life and my heart craved it.
I was sitting on the shore in Positano, Italy, early one morning two weeks ago, thinking of my father, and had a flashback of a comment someone back in the States had said to me years ago.
This person said to me, “I’m a Christian, I don’t need to go to church or read the Bible. Jesus loves me, I don’t have to go to church to prove I’m a Christian.”
It occurred to me how absurd it would sound if I changed a few words and related it to the purpose of my trip. Imagine if I had said, “I know I have a father in Italy. I don’t need to go see him, or learn his language. I don’t have to go to Italy to meet him to prove I’m Italian. I know I have a father, why do I need to know him?”
Technically, yeah. Whether or not I travelled to Italy wouldn’t change that he was my father. Not immersing myself in his language to understand his thoughts better wouldn’t nullify being his son either.
But I wanted to learn! I wanted to speak his language and know his culture, know his ways. I didn’t want to rely on a translator to know what he was saying. I wanted to know him.
This analogy hit home with me deeply. I wanted to know my father better, I wanted to understand him and when I am in Italy, I want to become a part of their culture which was, really, part of my own culture.
I would never be able to understand my father’s life through the lens of America. It just wouldn’t make sense. Only through Italian culture, language, and geography could I really understand who he was and really know him.
I ask myself this question all the time now. Is my heart set on learning God’s way? Am I immersing myself in his word to better understand him or am I trying to fit God into the lens of a fallen world? Am I trying to justify sin because the world says it is okay? Popular opinion in the world is often not God’s way. John wrote in 1 John (chapter 2) that if we crave the ways of the world, the love of God is not in us.
Learning Greek, for me, was another way I could learn God’s will. I’m not implying that everyone needs to learn Greek or Hebrew to become a Christian, but I will say that the more I studied scripture, the more I had a desire to learn Greek so I could hear the play on words and appreciate the richness of its depths. To be clear, I didn’t become a Christian because I learned Greek. I learned Greek because I wanted to deepen my understanding of Christ.
Perhaps instead of learning Greek, for others, it is connecting underlying themes and relating them to those themes in a bible study. Perhaps your gift is being able to memorize large portions of scripture to recall it at a moment so as to be able to lift up a stranger in need.
But we cannot do God’s will without diving into his word and knowing it. For me, that has been the largest weapon against Satan’s desire for me to sin. Knowing God’s word allows me to remind myself of God’s will.
Matthew 4:17 reminds me that we are to repent and turn from the worldly ways and towards God’s way. And our Father wants us to grow more like him, not bring our culture to him but bring his culture to here, much like I wanted to learn the Italian way, not impose my American ways on my father.
Knowing God’s word allows me to be assured that he is there. Always. And that Christ has given his life so that we can become citizens in this new kingdom.
”Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born from above, it is not possible to see the kingdom of God.”(John 3:3, personally translated from the Byzantine Greek text.)
I love the play on words that John uses here for ‘born from above’ which can also be translated as ‘born again.’ It means both. It’s passive, so it is something done to us. A gift. We are born again. And it is from above. From him. Beautiful.
I pray your new heart continues to give you that desire to know God’s word so you can better see the kingdom to give glory to God.
Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ and husband to my awesome wife Angie. I'm an artist and writer,
living in the beautiful countryside of Lancaster, Pa.