“Expect a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). These words of Jesus are clear and emphatic. Taken in context, they state a fact that is stressed throughout the Word of God—that is, that man is born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and in his natural state cannot please God (Romans 8) nor understand the things of God (I Corinthians 2:14). Nicodemus, to whom these words were spoken, was a “ruler of the Jews,” a “master in Israel.” He addressed Jesus as “Good Master,” and acknowledged Him “a teacher come from God.” But that was not enough: he needed to be “born again.” Jesus said to him, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Some men interpret this passage to mean that baptism is essential to salvation. That is not what our Lord meant. He was speaking of two births—the physical birth by which we come into the world, and the spiritual birth by which we come into the family of God and become joint-heirs with His Son, Jesus Christ. As with the physical birth, so with the spiritual birth; there is some mystery surrounding it. Jesus explained it, “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.” Paul said, “The things of God knoweth no man, but the spirit of God. Now we have received…the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given us of God” (I Corinthians 2:11, 12). Because we have received Jesus Christ, have believed on His Name, power has been given us to become the sons of God. In other words, we have experienced the second birth, which is “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God “(John 1:12, 13).
Having been born of God, we are children of God. In our hearts is the spirit of His Son “crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). A child has certain characteristics common to the family into which he is born. He has some of the appetites of his parents. New England families are supposed to like clam chowder and Boston baked beans. Southerners eat turnip greens, grits, and fried chicken. In China rice is a staple diet. Similarly, a man who is born of god will manifest characteristics of his Father. He will love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates. “In this the children of god are manifest, and the children of the devil: Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (I John 3:10).
The man who has not experienced the new birth is on his way to hell; for no man can see God unless he is born of the Spirit of God. Some people mistake reformation for regeneration. These are not at all the same. Reformation says to a man “You can conquer and rise above what you have been in the past. Whereas you have been a thief, you can reform and become an honest man.” It is possible for a man with a strong will—especially if he has the proper help from outside sources—to reform. Notwithstanding, he still carries the guilt of his past. Reformation does not take care of the past; it merely helps a person do somewhat better in the future. But no man is saved by determining to do better—by simply changing his outlook; for basically no man’s outlook ever changes save as does the man himself; and that change is brought about by regeneration.
Regeneration means a “renewing of life.” It is a synonym for “a new life.” By its miracle, a man once dead in trespasses and sin becomes “a new man in Christ Jesus.” A new heart replaces the old stony heart, and a new spirit is put within (Ezekiel 11:19, 20).
Sometimes when we ask a person to accept Christ, we say to him, “Will you give your heart to the Lord?” The expression is all right, but actually God does not want the old heart; for it is sinful and black—“the fountainhead of all evil” (Mark 7:21) What God wants to do is take away the old heart and put in its place an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15) of right principles which will bear the fruit of right actions to the glory of God.
When a man is born again, the grace of God imparts to him a new nature. God’s Word describes it, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). A better translation could be, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). The meaning of the original, I am told, is that we are His creation in the sense that we are like a poem created by a poet. When by His grace we experience the new birth, we are God’s workmanship not only in the sense that we are made by Him into a new creature, but also in the sense that we are His expression of His own deep emotions of love as a poem is the expression of the heart of the poet. That is a wonderful thought.
Until and unless a man is born again, he is dead unto God (Ephesians 2); and being dead, he cannot please God. As far as spiritual things are concerned, an unregenerate man cannot comprehend spiritual truths, indeed, they are foolishness to him (I Corinthians 2:14). No wonder John said, “He that knoweth God heareth us” (I John 4:6). Those who knew God heard the apostle because he was dealing with the eternal things of god. The heart of any born-again person naturally responds to whatever is of God, for he has God’s nature imparted to him by the miracle of regeneration. If you do not delight in the Word of god, if it does not say much to you as you meditate therein, if your heart does not respond to the spiritual and is not thrilled when people exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, if the discussion of spiritual truths bores you, you had better be concerned as to whether or not you have spiritual life.
You may not know the time or the place of your second birth, but you should be sure that there has been a time and a place. I once heard of a man who had been left on the doorstep of a family when he was only two months old. He did not know when or where nor to whom he had been born. But he was aware of physical existence and had contact with the world about him. Your new birth could have occurred when you were quite young. Nevertheless, if you have eternal life, there will be certain evidence that you have been born again. First of all, the Spirit bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God (Romans 8:16). Then, you may know that you have passed from death unto life because you “love the brethren” (I John 3:14). If you prefer the company of sinners to fellowship with Christians, you have not been born again. However, you can be born again right now. The Lord promised, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). He is the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father but by Him (John 14:6).
Though we are new creatures in Christ, we are still in the flesh and must fight against the temptations of that flesh. Paul realized the presence of the old nature, for he said, “When I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21). Then he cried, “Who can deliver me from the body of this death?” For people who considered themselves civilized, the Romans had a very cruel and wicked custom. When two men were taken in the same crime, one was executed and the other one left alive. The body of the dead man was tightly bound to the body of the live criminal—cheek-to-cheek, arm-to-arm, and chest-to-chest—until the corruption of the dead body caused the death of the other criminal. No more horrible form of torment would ever be imagined! That is exactly what Paul had in mind when he cried, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Our new nature is bound in the old, corrupt body. We are two creatures—the new man, and the old man. The new is in the old and there is constant warfare between the two. But, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the Excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” He gives grace, and He also gives strength. We could never make it alone.
THE GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE BY THE GRACE OF GOD
Some people teach that a man ban become an heir of eternal life through some effort of his own. That is false doctrine. The Word of God makes it plain that eternal life is a free gift of God—that is “by grace…through faith…not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
By the grace of God is meant, “Unmerited favor.” Grace and mercy are not the same. God is a God of mercy, buy He is also a God of grace. If we earn something and receive it, it is not of grace. If you get paid for a job, that is not grace, you earned it for services rendered.
Grace, however, is that which is extended to one who is wholly undeserving of it. It is God’s favor, God’s forgiveness, extended to those who have no claim on God’s mercy. It is that to which we are in no wise entitled, but which is given as an act of special favor. If we received our just dues, we would receive judgment and hell and would forever abide under the wrath of God; for sin deserves those things. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
A man’s attitude toward sin depends upon what he is. For example, one who has lived a wicked life would not consider it much of a sin to read some modern, filth laden novel. He is hardened to it and accustomed to doing all the evil things mentioned in the book. But to a young and innocent person who has been reared in the Christian home and protected from the evils described, the novel would be terrible, because the heart is pure. God is infinitely holy, absolutely pure, and whole righteous. To Him sin is sin: and it is terrible, no matter how small it may seem in the eyes of man. “All our righteousness are as filthy rags” in His sight (Isaiah 64:6); and if He gave us what we deserved, we would receive His wrath, His judgment, and His punishment. But because He is a God of love and grace, He gives to us the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). We are saved because Christ died for our sins, God offered us a pardon, and we as poor miserable sinners accepted it by faith.
“This is eternal life,” says our Lord: “that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, who thou hast sent” (John 17:3). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on Him” (John 3:36; John 4:14). We are not saved by believing Christ and going to church; by believing Christ and praying to the Virgin Mary and the saints. We are saved because we have believed in Christ. We have reached out a hand of faith and accepted God’s free gift.
If you are given a ticket to a luxury liner with all the whistles and bells that go with it, and you report to the ship and ask the captain, “Which deck do I scrub first? I have to work for my passage.” You would be considered a fool. God’s free gift entitles us to everything that God has for His children; and we do not have to scrub one deck to get it. Of course, in appreciation for the gift, and because we cannot help ourselves, we will try to bring others to receive the gift also. We will want to be a good witness for God and do those things, which please Him. We will not want to do anything that will grieve or hurt the One Who made it possible for us to enjoy all the riches of salvation. But the gift itself is free. All is of God.
If we did any work for salvation, it would be a work and not of grace; if we paid for salvation, it would be a purchase and not of grace. But the gift of eternal life is by the grace of God. We did not deserve it, and God did not give it to us because He felt that we were in the least degree entitled to it. Rather, He loved us so much that He gave it to us in spite of the fact that we did not deserve it. We deserve Hell, but God through His grace provided a way for us to have eternal life.