Ye must be born again.
In this way, the Lord delivered truth that Nicodemus, an upstanding religious man of the Pharisees, much needed to hear; as all they that consider that they have a good standing before God to be a birthright.
And in this way, many a gospel preacher has sought to deliver this truth to his audience in effort to bring them to Christ. Many a sinner, hearing the evangelist’s announcement, consents it to be indeed true that he needs to be born again, for he knows that he made a mess of the first time. But that same sinner, while he may walk away feeling rejuvenated as though he truly was born again may also, days weeks, months, or years later, look back and see that he has not changed. His “born again” experience did not seem to stick. Could the Lord be saying to him “Ye must be born again…again”?
Here is a case where sound doctrine, i.e., theology, is necessary to dispel notions that toss us back and forth like a ship at the mercy of the wind and waves because the sails are not set or cannot handle the water’s might.
As I stated at the beginning, this was a message that this “master of Israel” (John 3:10) needed to hear. It was a message that is true for all of us, for the Lord said to this man of the Pharisees “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Let us look below to the first ten verses of this passage, where our Lord teaches Nicodemus this divine truth:
John 3:1–10 — ” There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
“Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”
As we look to this passage above the last words, the question with which the Lord answered Nicodemus tells us something. A “master of Israel” should have known these things. He should have known, because “unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2).
This oracle, that this master, or teacher of Israel should have known can be read in the book of Ezekiel the prophet. Chapters 36 and 37 speak of the nation of Israel being born again of water and the Spirit:
Ezekiel 36:24–27 — “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
It was long the desire of the Lord that His people, all of them, from the least to the greatest would have His Spirit and prophesy in His Name:
Numbers 11:26–29 — “But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.
“And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.
“And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”
This promised birth of the Spirit was illustrated to the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 37, to the dry bones which were the whole house of Israel. When we read verses 1–14, take note of the number of references that are present to breath, breathe, wind, and spirit. These are all kindred terms, and in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, they are all forms of the word pneuma, which in English is often translated spirit.
Verses 11–14 explain explicitly the meaning of this vision of the valley of dry bones:
Ezekiel 37:11–14 — “Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.”
This is the rebirth of the Nation of Israel. Has this happened yet? If not, when will it happen?
In Matthew, the Lord spoke to Peter, and the rest of the twelve, concerning the regeneration:
Matthew 19:28 — “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
This is a time yet future for the nation. But that which was true for the nation was true for the individual Israelite as well. Recall that the Lord said to Nicodemus “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
By natural birth, as a child of Abraham, there was a place of national privilege. That place of privilege was also a place of great responsibility, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). The nation suffered for their breaking of the covenant that Moses enjoined to them, and eventually were cast out of their land and taken captive, first the 10 tribes, collectively known as Israel, and later the kingdom collectively known as Judah.
After the years of captivity, many came back to the land and idolatry never seemed to be an issue since. There was a strict Judaism that would never again let that unclean spirit of idolatry come into the land. The Lord, in Matthew chapter 12 spoke about this:
Matthew 12:43–45 — “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”
The heading in my Bible says “the worthlessness of self-reformation”, and it indeed addresses this, but note that the Lord ends this by saying “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation”. This generation could not save itself, it needed a rebirth. And who better to speak to about this rebirth than a Pharisee, those who epitomized “self-reformation”.
John’s gospel, in the first chapter, begins with the Word made flesh as coming to His own, and His own did not receive Him. The entire record shows this as a main theme of the book. Here in chapter 3, we have one of His own coming to Him. And in this, he explains to this man of the Pharisees this truth from chapter 1:
John 1:12–13 — “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The record in the Gospels and Acts shows the nation as a whole rejecting the Lord, but any individual that received Him by faith was already born again. The apostle Peter, addressing scattered strangers (of the dispersion — diaspora — these were scattered Israelites) speaks of them as being born again, not as a goal to reach, but of a fact accomplished:
1 Peter 1:22–25 — “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
To a Pharisee, or to anyone that thinks it a birthright or right of privilege by his supposedly good life, the truth of the need for new birth is necessary to show them that there place of privilege means nothing. He must be born again. The entire nation — “Ye must be born again” of Israel at the Lord’s first coming, as well as today, must be born again to enter into that state, and the Lord promises in Scripture that it indeed one day will be.
To the sinner, in conviction for his sins and under the weight of impending doom because of his guilt, he needs the gospel message. It is God’s gospel, or God’s good news. And God’s good news is not about the sinner. It is not about his need to be born again. It is “the Gospel of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1–3). It is the glad message of the righteousness of God given to sinners freely by God’s grace through redemption in Christ Jesus, when they simply believe this glad message. This salvation is the gift of God, by grace through faith. It is the good news by which we are saved, how that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, all of this according to the scriptures. (Romans 3:19–27; Ephesians 2:8–9; 1 Corinthians 15:3–4).
When a sinner is saved, and justified by grace, he is also saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5), and this is before that national regeneration that we read about in Matthew 19. This is now. Every sinner who is saved, made alive, and given new life in Christ is regenerated, whether he feels it, or even knows it, or he doesn’t. Romans chapter 8 speaks of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and every Christian should get acquainted with this chapter on our new life in Spirit.
Don’t put yourself on a reforming quest to be “born again” and see it loom large as a mountain that cannot be climbed, or a sea that cannot be crossed. Know this instead:
2 Corinthians 5:17 — “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
“Here, then, is the value of the Spirit’s work. For the humble penitent it bridges over and conceals the gulf that separates the sinner from his God. For the self-righteous or profane, it serves but to prove that gulf to be impassable. To the one it testifies of sovereign grace, to the other it testifies that grace is sovereign.”
—Sir Robert Anderson
The Gospel and its Ministry, chapter 5, “Repentance and the Spirit’s Work”
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