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'You must be born again.' John 3:7

By Nelson Thomas Mumbai

The Lord Jesus Christ is introducing here one of the most essential spiritual experience for every individual who comes to Him. He had just started His public ministry. Nicodemus, who was one of the members of the Jewish religious court, comes to appreciate Him for His mighty deeds.

The Lord’s response is interesting. Without even commending him for those words of encouragement, the Lord Jesus explained the need of a born-again experience to this teacher, that too three times. Cf. v.3, 5, and 7. Twice He says it as the ‘most assured’ thing and the third time as a ‘must’. That shows how imperative and crucial it is to be born again!

The Lord declares emphatically that without this spiritual new birth no one will neither enter the Kingdom of God nor even see it. Yet how many even today, neglect this topic and vainly hope that everything will be alright!

The meaning
What does it mean to be born again? Nicodemus, the strict follower of the Mosaic Law and an instructor of it could not understand this. The Lord also marveled at His ignorance, v.10 "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” If that is the case with such a religious and pious man, what about the common man. No wonder, so many ‘sincere and religious’ ones continue to fail in comprehending this vital truth of regeneration.

When Nicodemus asked with surprise, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" the Lord warned him, “Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” John 3:7. That means, this is something beyond human knowledge. It’s natural for anyone to doubt and wonder. In spite of such a normal response, the Lord advices… do not marvel…. Do not reject or ignore this truth He teaches here. If the blessed Lord Jesus says one must be born again and it’s fundamental, we ought to consider it seriously.

In this passage, we can see the word ‘born’ around 8 times. The Lord is talking about something which is real just like our natural, physical birth. The word used for ‘again’ in v.3 can be translated ‘above’. That means, when Christ said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again…" (v.3), He was referring to a birth from above. That is very much similar to what John says in 1:13. In connection with the children of God, John writes, “Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” John 1:13. The Lord further explains it in v.5, “Born of water and Spirit.”

So, what does it mean to be born again?
It is the work of the Spirit of God by which new life or the divine nature is imparted to the one who is spiritually dead in sins and trespasses. Naturally, man is dead as far spiritual life is concerned and hence incapable to relate with God or enjoy His blessings. In such a situation, God in His grace quickens him/her using the word of God, Eph. 2:1; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3.

Who should be born again?
Who actually needs such regeneration? Is it necessary for someone who is born in a Christian family? Is regeneration necessary for a god-fearing individual?
Many think they don’t need to be born again because of the many virtues they possess. Remember, to whom the Lord says these words. Notice the qualifications of Nicodemus.

a. He was a religious man. v.1 As a Pharisee among the Jews, he followed the Law of Moses with all zeal. But those external rituals did not save him from sins or give him divine life. So, he had to be born again.

b. He was a ruler. v.1 As a member of the religious court, he was like a judge, a respectable man. His position or reputation did not qualify him for God’s kingdom.

c. He was a teacher. v.10 As a teacher of the law, he was a learned man. He was well aware of all the Old Testament teachings. He could even teach those things to others. But his knowledge whether religious or secular did not give him a new life.

d. He was a grown-up man. v. 4 As an elderly individual, he had sufficient experience in life—matured enough to live a better and decent life. However, that maturity or decency did not make him a child of God.

That means, although one is religious, respectable, educated or matured with all qualities, one can think of himself that yet he needs to be born again. In other words, to enjoy God and His blessings, our religious services are not enough. Education or status does not make us worthy for the kingdom of God.

A new life by the work of the Holy Spirit is needed for all. It’s not for any particular community or type of people only, but every individual needs to be born of God. That’s why John writes in 1:12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

Why is it so essential?
The Lord Jesus further clarifies the reason for that. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” v. 6.

How brilliantly the Lord Jesus explains the rationale behind our new birth or regeneration. Our natural birth in the flesh has produced only flesh. This gave us the opportunity to live on the earth and enjoy life. But to enjoy spiritual things or heavenly life, we need a birth from above. Only that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Further, the word of God reveals our present state as being born of flesh.

a. We are born with a sinful nature. Psalm 51:5
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” Modern man may try to deny this evil nature. But as the whole world is experiencing the terrible consequences of man’s wickedness, some of the ‘experts’ would call it as human weakness, traits or even beastly nature. Whatever term may be used, an evil nature is inherent in man and the results of it are evident. Cf. Galatians. 5:19.

b. We have a tendency to please Satan and live like him! John 8:44
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” The Lord Jesus Christ minced no words as He spoke to the Jews who claimed to be the people of God. Unequivocally He declared, ‘you are of the devil!’ The reason—they follow Satan’s life-style. They imitate the devil. Cf. 1 John 3:10.

This is another natural state of mankind as born of flesh. Yes, no man will be happy to hear it… some may even object to it. But the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who never says a false thing made it clear, that too, to the so-called people of God.

c. We are not able to understand the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:14
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them... .” Without having life from above and the help of the Holy Spirit one cannot understand spiritual truths. Just like an old cell phone cannot receive 3G or 4G signals, man born in sin and having no life of God cannot communicate with God.

d. We are unworthy for God’s Kingdom. Galatians 5:21
“... of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” All those who are born of flesh and producing fruits of the flesh are unworthy for the kingdom of God. Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50. “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” That’s the reason the Lord Jesus said, you will not enter, not even see the Kingdom of God.

Notice the result of ‘flesh born of flesh’! Every man and woman is born with these features: sinful nature and activities, a diabolic mind-set, spiritual ignorance and being unfit for the divine kingdom. Finally, they will end up in the place that has been designed for Satan and his angels. Cf. Matthew 25:41; Revelation 21:8.

Unpleasant truths
True, these are not popular truths. No one is happy to hear that they are sick and in trouble. Most of us try to justify our failures. All this is natural. Yet, we have to face the reality. Just try to examine, ‘what is my state today?’ ‘Am I just a flesh born of flesh?’ ‘Do I have the above mentioned traits?’
The story of Nicodemus teaches that our religious exercises do not change this condition. Similarly, our educational or social status does make one different from the above. If at all someone may look decent, honest and godly, it’s only an external improvement that is not lasting; internally every one is the same.

The only hope for fallen man is new life from God. That is what the Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘you must be born from above’. What a blessing it is that God chose to regenerate us even from such a helpless situation. It’s not just a repairing or re-development, but a total transformation—a new life.

The Mystery
How is it possible? Even after repeating this topic three times, Nicodemus was still asking, ‘how can these things be?’ The Lord Jesus does not say that regeneration is something easy for anyone to comprehend. His additional explanation with a metaphor brings before us the mystery behind new birth.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8.

Just as in the case of the wind, regeneration is not easy to explain but anyone can experience it. There are many such things that we may not be able to give all the details but we can all experience them. However, the scripture refers to various aspects of this new birth that can give light to the method of regeneration.

a. 1 Peter 1:3 – God the Father and God the Son have their roles in it
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Cf. John 1:13; 1 John 4:7. God the Father purposed it eternally and the Son executed the work of redemption by His death and resurrection.

b. 1 Peter 1:23 – The word of God has been used as a seed.
“Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…” cf. Ephesians 5:26; James 1:18.

c. John 3:5 – The Holy Spirit is the main agent who works within
“One is born of water and the Spirit” – Here water may refer to the word of God or even the Spirit Himself. As the Lord speaks to a Jewish teacher, He knows the usage of water for the work of Spirit. Cf. Ezekiel 35: 25 – 27; John 6:63; Titus 3:5.

d. John 1:12, 13 – Our faith is the medium by which we experience this
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Even though God the Father made the provision for our new birth through Jesus Christ His Son, without a personal faith, no individual can be born again. God never does anything against our will. The Holy Spirit keeps on convicting us. It is the responsibility of each individual to receive Christ into their hearts to be forgiven and born again. Revelation 3:20.

In short, we can say that God the Father planned the work of regeneration through the work of His Son Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God is applying those precious truths of the word of God into the heart of a believing sinner. At the moment a sinner yields to the word of God as the result of the convicting work of Holy Spirit and receives the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, regeneration takes place. Instantly, they are forgiven, cleansed and the divine life is imparted into them. It’s not a gradual process, but instantaneous.

This newly born child of God is entitled to not only the new life from above, as in the case of natural birth, to all the privileges and blessings of our heavenly Father. Cf. Romans 8:14–17; Matthew 6:31, 32; 1 John 5:3; 3:9 etc.

Yes, still it could be a mystery, but anyone who experiences this divine work can really know what it means to be born again. Of course the others also can/should be able to notice new life in a child of God. That’s why the Lord says in Matthew 7: 20, ‘you shall know them by their fruits’. If our faith does not bring any change in our personal life, if our spiritual services do not results in a righteous practical life, we need to examine our real position.

Dear reader, you must be born again. This is not the idea of any man. The Lord Jesus who loved us and came to die on our behalf emphatically declares this. Without this experience no amount of religious activities can help us once we leave this shore.

You may be born into a Christian family. You may even read the Bible and attend spiritual services. Yet, listen to what the Lord Jesus says—do not be deceived. All those things are good, but not enough to change you. You need life from above.

Do you have this born again experience? Are you a child of God? Can you really feel the new life in you? What about others who look at our life? Do they notice this divine nature within us?

Before it is too late, make sure you are born again. Though Nicodemus did not understand all what Christ spoke that night, he trusted the words of the Lord Jesus later and became a child of God. Cf. John 19: 38, 39.


Related topic:- Regeneration



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