being born again

The Second Death



Jesus ends each of His seven letters to the church with intriguing promises. In the previous post I wrote of the significance of His reference to ‘the tree of life’, but in the very next letter the Lord moves from ‘life’ to ‘death’. He concludes the letter to the church in Smyrna with, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (Revelation 2:11).

What is this ‘second death’? To find an answer we have to turn to the very last chapters of Revelation: ‘Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire‘ (Revelation 20:14-15). There are two other references to the second death in Revelation 20:6 and 21:8.

The lake of fire is a graphic depiction of Hell and the book of life is symbolic of all who are saved from Hell by faith in Christ Jesus. Remember that everything in Revelation is symbolic.

Although the words ‘first death’ do not appear in scripture, the reference to a second death begs the question, ‘but what is the first death?’ Death had its origin in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled and chose prideful independence from God. The penalty of this was, and is, death. Yet we know that Adam didn’t drop down stone dead at the foot of the tree of the knowledge of all things, he lived on physically till the ripe old age of 930! Yet, if we regard death primarily as a separation, then we can deduce from the Genesis account that Adam and Eve were, in that fateful moment, separated from the life and presence of God.

There are several ways of understanding the human constitution but I choose to regard people as having three dimensions; the physical, the mental (soul), and the spiritual – this is known as Functional Trichotomism. It is pointless to try to separate these three elements from each other in this life because they form the whole of our person-hood. However, when we die only the physical component ceases to exist; the non-material combination of soul and spirit lives on. When Adam and Eve ‘died’ at the foot of that fateful tree their spiritual dimension was separated from God. This spiritual condition has been passed down through the generations and effects every person born on this planet (Romans 5:12). This inherited separation from God is what we could refer to as ‘the first death’ which has its final expression when we die physically from old age, disease, or other ways.

When an unsaved person, who is thus already spiritually ‘dead’, dies physically there awaits a final resurrection, judgement and separation; a ‘second death’. For this person there is much to fear in the second death because he or she will live on in spirit/soul separated from God… and that is called Hell! However, if a person has been spiritually born again through faith in Christ Jesus, then the second death holds no terror because he or she will live on eternally in the presence of God.

There is a nifty little saying that has been around for a long time:

Born once and die twice; born twice and die once

What is meant by this is that if you are only born into this world by natural birth (born once) then you will die both physically and face judgment and eternal separation from God (die twice); but if you are born naturally of human parents but also born again of the Spirit of God (born twice) then only your body will die (die once) but you will continue to live in the presence of God.

Being born again is not the invention of ‘happy-clappies’ but a profound truth taught by Jesus (John chapter three) and expanded on in much of the New Testament.

I hope you are enjoying this series. If you have any questions please post a comment or email me using the Contacts page.

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More Mission Impossible – an unforgettable Sunday

As I recounted in my last blog post, the high point of these missions is the Sunday morning service. This service was the culmination of meetings on both Friday and Saturday nights as well as a small group session on the Saturday morning.
On Sunday morning everything is drawn together in a service of worship and Gospel testimony. On that day the resident minister graciously yields the pulpit to the leader of the visiting team; in this case, me.
Although I was a trained preacher at that time, the idea was not to deliver a sermon but rather to testify to what God had done in my life and how I had come into a saving relationship with Jesus.
As I spoke that morning,  I was deeply conscious of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. My hands trembled and I was close to tears as I recounted the wonder of how Jesus had reached out to me through my best friend when I was 30 years of age.
I could see that He was moving in the hearts of the congregation as well, for a holy hush enveloped the building like a soft cloud and every person in the considerable crowd was focused in rapt attention.
At the end of my testimony I articulated the Gospel as clearly as I could so that everyone there would understand and be able to respond.
I have never been keen on the, “While all heads are bowed and every eye closed” altar call, so I simply said something like; “If you would like to respond to the offer of life in Jesus’ name then get out of your pew and come to the front so I can minister to you personally.”
It was a traditional church building and I came down from the pulpit and stood just behind the communion rail facing the people. For a while nothing happened. Nobody made a sound, but the very atmosphere in the sanctuary was charged with expectant tension.
Then an old man stood up and walked as rapidly as he could to the front. He was very old, yet he threw himself down on his knees at the altar rail. His face was upturned and tears poured down the deep wrinkles in his cheeks.
With a loud voice he cried out to the Lord to be saved.  At that moment it was as if a sluice gate had opened and people poured to the front from all over the sanctuary area. There was not enough room for them all at the altar rail but still they came, kneeling on the carpet right back to the first row of pews.
I will never forget this sight! What started with a vision of a young boy drowning in a submerged bus and crying silently for help, had ended with an old man kneeling at an altar rail crying out loudly for salvation.
Thank you Lord Jesus for allowing me to witness this; I will forever be grateful.

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Mission Impossible?

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.Matthew 19:26 
Before taking up the role of pastoring a local church, I was involved in an organisation that arranged for teams of lay people to conduct week-end missions at various more traditional churches. 
At that stage they had two basic mission formats; one to evangelise and the other to encourage members to join church fellowship groups. On this occasion I was asked to lead the second of these missions to a church in a town just to the East of Johannesburg.
Before assembling the team and communicating with the church leadership, I prayed earnestly for the Lord’s direction. At that time the newspapers were full of the story of 39 school pupils who had drowned when their school bus plunged into a dam – trapping them onboard. 
As I was praying, a vision suddenly swept into my consciousness. I was under water and the bus was right there in front of me. A boy, his longish blond hair wafting in the water, had his face pressed up against the window. The look on his face was desperate and his mouth was moving. Although I couldn’t hear him I knew he was screaming, “Help me!”. 
Then as suddenly as it had come, the vision left me and I dissolved in a paroxysm of tears and grief. I realised that the Holy Spirit was showing me that the people of the church we were to minister at, did not need to be encouraged to join fellowship groups; many were drowning spiritually and in desperate need of Jesus as Saviour.
After liaising with the mission organization and recipient church it was agreed that the mission should change to the evangelistic format. When my team and I arrived in the town, a couple of months later we were full of expectation and excitement. Surely the Lord wanted to do something extraordinary!
As customary, each member of the visiting team was hosted by a family of the recipient church who provided meals, transport, and accommodation. The team leader was usually placed with a couple that were either prominent within the local church, or in need of special spiritual attention. 
After the Friday night introductory session in the church hall I was introduced to my hosts, Henry and Eve (not their real names). They took me to their home and we sat in their lounge chatting for quite a while, although it was already late. As I gently probed their church backgrounds it became obvious to me that, although they were members of the church, they were not born again: they did not have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We talked frankly about this and I explained what the Bible revealed concerning the Gospel. 
They were both so open to hear that the Holy Spirit began ministering powerfully. We knelt together around their glass coffee table, joined hands, and prayed. As Henry confessed his sin and cried out to Jesus for salvation, he suddenly pitched forward under the strong anointing of the Spirit. The bowl of fruit on the table shot up into the air and there was a moment of holy surprise. He straightened up and the three of us beamed at each other with joy.
God goes before us to prepare the way; He guides and orchestrates; He creates a new spirit in those who cry out to Him; and He sustains and keeps us from spiritually drowning.
Many years have passed since then, but Henry and Eve are still passionate about their relationship with Jesus. Henry became an elder in that church and more recently both have become involved in an evangelistically orientated non-conventional church in Johannesburg.


In my next ‘What the Pastor Saw’ story I will write about what happened on the Sunday of that memorable mission.

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Being filled with the Spirit

In the seventies, my wife Pat and I became disciples of the Lord Jesus. The first church we attended was a traditional Pentecostal assembly, and the leaders wasted no time in instructing us in the need for baptisms. First they baptised us by immersion in water and then, some months later, they laid hands on us to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. The Charismatic renewal was in full flood then and we were soon exposed to people who identified themselves as ‘born again, baptised in the spirit, tongues talking believers’. It came as a sad shock to realise that some folk regarded themselves as higher class citizens in the Kingdom of God because of their ‘second experience’. Our naivety was also assaulted by traditional folk who thought that being ‘born again’ was some sort of cult membership initiation. On the one hand we heard Charismatics referred to as ‘holy rollers’, and on the other to traditional worshippers as ‘the frozen chosen’. My, my, my!

If we unpack the core differences concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit from their traditional and language wrappings, it comes down to the following: Pentecostals and most Charismatics believe that there are two distinct experiences of the Holy Spirit. The first is when He gives us new spiritual life and we are born anew from above. The second is when He empowers us for ministry. The first experience is being ‘born again’ and the second is being ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’. The teaching of the traditional non-Pentecostals is that there is only one experience, and that we receive the full blessing of the Holy Spirit when we are converted from the dominion of darkness to the Kingdom of God – “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV) Lying between these two positions is the path I choose to walk. I accept that when we become disciples of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives us a new spiritual life, and we are thus born again in a very real sense. I also believe that the Holy Spirit empowers us for life and ministry many times afterwards. I understand that sometimes there is a significant time delay between conversion and effective empowerment and I can see that in these cases an encounter with the Holy Spirit can be a dramatic and radical ‘second’ experience at a level of intensity beyond subsequent anointings.

For me, the issue is not so much the label we attach to the experiences, nor the timing of these encounters with the Holy Spirit, but the fact that we need to fully embrace His presence and ministry in our lives. A key text is Ephesians 5:18 where, in the context of God’s will for us, it has; “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (NIV). The Greek word translated as ‘be filled’ is a present tense imperative verb. The present tense indicates that it is something that should occur repeatedly. The imperative indicates a command, or at least an entreaty. This statement embraces both initial and subsequent experiences of the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit. More than this, it points us firmly to the need for frequent spiritual infillings. Perhaps, to avoid any confusion it would be better to refer to being filled with the Holy Spirit rather than baptised in the Holy Spirit. In this way we will not restrict ourselves to just one formative, post regeneration, spiritual experience.

The Greek word pleeroústhe, ‘be filled’, contains a further aid to our understanding; it is in the passive voice. This means that we, the objects, receive the action, we do not generate it. We receive an infilling of power from on high and it is the Holy Spirit who does the filling. He gives and we receive. We do not ‘plug into’ some heavenly power; rather we receive from the one who is the very source of spiritual power – the Holy Spirit Himself.

When I discuss the spiritual manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12 with some folk, a fairly common response goes something like this; “Why do I need to speak in tongues and what difference would it make if I did?” I point out that tongues are a form of prayer (1 Corinthians 14:2) and provide the believer with a Holy Spirit given means of expressing adoration and dependence that goes far beyond the limitations of our mother language. A similar question can be posed; “I am saved by the grace of God, so why do I need to be ‘spirit filled’?” Well, if you have been regenerated, born again, then in a way you are already ‘spirit filled’. But are you effective in life and ministry? When you put a new rechargeable battery into a torch you will have the ability to shed light. But batteries discharge by being used, and rechargeable batteries loose their current even when the torch is not in use. We are much like that – if we are not recharged then we loose what charge we have. Being filled with the Spirit is just not an optional, charismatic, religious experience – it is a spiritual life, and light, necessity!

When Zerubbabel returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia to rebuild the Temple, the prophet Zechariah spoke this word of God to him; “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6 NIV) He could attempt to rebuild the temple by organizational group might or by personal power, and in this way erect a building. However, only the anointing power of the Holy Spirit could enable him to restore the Temple, the place where God dwelt by His Spirit. We too can do many good works in our own strength. By organizing and mobilising the church we can do even greater works. But if we are not anointed by the Holy Spirit for these tasks then that is all they will ever be, good works. NGOs’ and social societies can do good works, but only a spirit filled disciple of the Lord Jesus can make an eternal difference in the lives and destinies of people and nations. Is this a bold claim? Perhaps it is, but this is how I understand the prophetic word to Zerubbabel and the injunction of the Lord Jesus to His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to “wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4 NIV)

So then, we NEED to be spirit filled, not just once, but often. But what do we need to do? ….We need to ask. Jesus said this; “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13 NIV) It is so simple that it is almost impossible for us to comprehend. “Just ask?” “Yes, just ask!” However, asking is not a perfunctory or casual enquiry. To ask for empowerment is to acknowledge total dependence on God. To ask Him to fill us with His Spirit is to admit that we cannot be effective without His empowerment. Perhaps this is why we so often fail to ask… to really ask. James pinpoints the problem; “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” (James 4:2-3 NIV) This is hard to swallow, but it is often the true diagnosis of our condition.

We need to be constantly filled with the Spirit and we need to express our motive and humility by asking. If we do, then will we instantly be ‘mighty men of God’ or ‘wondrous women of faith’? Probably not, but I believe we will become more effective in ministry than we were before, and we will be more sanctified in lifestyle than we were. The Holy Spirit both empowers and frees from sin. Anything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, done in the anointing power of the Holy Spirit can make a life-changing difference and even a small adjustment towards holy living, affected by the work of the Holy Spirit, can change us eternally.

We can argue about being baptised in, by, or with the Holy Spirit. We can set ourselves above others because of our claim to a higher experience of the Spirit. We can discuss when the various acts of grace occur in our lives. But all of this will not change anything! What changes us, our church, and our world, is the power of God. Being spirit-filled is not the subject of a doctrine or a tradition, it is a spiritual life necessity.


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As with the world, so with the church

From time to time members of my local church leave to join another Christian fellowship in the area. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is always a painful shock. The reasons given usually have something to do with one of the following: the children need a bigger church group; the music is too loud/quiet/fast, or slow; the preaching is too expository and not topical enough; or someone offended them.

These losses to the local church family sadden and confuse me. I feel like a father who comes home from work, notices that his daughter is missing and asks his wife, “Where is Sandy?” “Oh” his wife responds, “She says the food is better at her friend’s house down the road, so she’s gone to live there!”

The church is the household of God. It is a unique family, based on the relationships within the Holy Trinity, and with Christ Jesus as its head. Ephesians 3:14-15 and 21 capture this essential nature of the church; ‘For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name…’ And, verse 21, ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.’

Now I realise that the church is more than just the local church. Most of the church is already in heaven, and the church still on earth is spread across the face of the planet. Never the less, only the local church gives expression to the church universal in a particular location and time. The church universal is more a concept for most of us, but the local church is a concrete reality.

Paul addressed his letters to actual local churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, and so on. When he was on route to Jerusalem for the last time, he called for the Elders of the church in Ephesus, and this is what he said to them; “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Of course, Christ died for all of humanity, so that the church universal might come into being, but here Paul applies the blood of Christ to the local church. The local church is of huge value to God, but how important is it to us?

The local church is an extended family, and a family is defined as ‘a group of people, related to each other in some way, who have a long-term commitment to support, nurture, protect, and develop one another.’ A natural family has a parent as its head, but the local church has Christ Jesus as its head. The local church is a group of people related to each other through the new birth. We have the same spiritual DNA. We also have a long-term commitment to support, nurture, protect, and develop one another. A natural family produces sons and daughters whilst a local church family produces children of God.

The local church is important. Christ died for it. It is the tangible expression of the universal household of God. It is a family. So why then do members leave it to go down the road and live with another family? I believe there are two major responses to this question.

Firstly, the family model in modern society is, in many cases, corrupted and dysfunctional, and people project this broken model onto the church. Fathers leave their families and move in with the woman down the road. Mothers neglect their children for the sake of a higher standard of living. Children demand and get self-centred instant gratification. As with the family, so with the church.

The second reason is that many churches have abandoned the extended family model of church life. They position themselves instead as spiritual schools, cinemas, or supermarkets. They see themselves as suppliers of spiritual and psychological goods, and their members as consumers. I call this Ecclesiastical Consumerism.
Consumerism is all about satisfying wants; it’s about getting. “I want my church to teach me how to get on in life and be prosperous. I want the music to make me feel good. I want the church to entertain me and my children.” Now, if I regard my wants as a high priority, and I regard the local church as a supplier, then I will surely leave the church if I don’t get what I want, and I will join another church I think will supply what I want. Sadly, many churches support this attitude by having professional music groups, fog machines, constant dynamic life-skills preaching, self-improvement programmes, and so on.

How then should we respond to these two dysfunctional models? Concerning the breakdown in the family, I believe that churches need to work hard in strengthening and equipping families in every way possible. Regarding Ecclesiastical Consumerism, we need to present the local church, not as a supplier but as a participating family of God. Most of all though, each of us needs to recognise our role in the local church family – we need to live out the definition of the church as ‘a group of people related to each other through the new birth, who have a long-term commitment to support, nurture, protect, and develop one another.’ We, together as the local church, are the environment where people can come to know Jesus, become like Him, and help others to do likewise. This is our unique role and responsibility.

As with the world, so with the church? Perhaps, but this is not how it is supposed to be. It should be ‘as with the church, so with the world!’


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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.