26 August 2020
Nicodemus, a teacher of the Law and a member of Sanhedrin, was puzzled by the statement made by Jesus in John 3:7.
This is a truth that even puzzles not only unbelievers but also those who believe in Jesus. What does this really mean; what constitutes being ‘born again’? We may say that it means ‘believing in Jesus’; we may conclude that it implies ‘trusting Jesus’ and ‘following Him’. But what does it really mean in terms of the details, the process, the reality of being ‘born again’? Yet to understand this truth and to ensure that this truth is real in our lives constitutes the most important experience for us all, and determines our eternal destiny which may mean eternal damnation and separation from God, or eternal life and fellowship and oneness with God and all His people forever.
Scriptures do show what it means but we need to ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the details to us from a humble and contrite spirit. May I share what the Lord has enabled me to understand thus far, and I am sure that there is much more beyond my appreciation which may take many more years to comprehend and assimilate. Perhaps we will only know the glorious details and implications only at the end of our spiritual pilgrimage. I venture to share the little I know, knowing that the little understanding God has graciously given me has helped tremendously in my christian life and discipleship, and I trust that it may also contribute positively to the brethren in their own context.
The first aspect of ‘being born again’ is to be ‘transferred’ from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God (the kingdom of light). All of mankind, apart from those who belong to Christ, are in Adam, the fallen human race, and belong to “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The penalty of sin and rebellion against God is death, not just physical death but spiritual death (Romans 623) – we are all ‘spiritually dead in our sins’, implying that we are rebels and failures before God, separated from Him and His life, enslaved by sin, the devil and the fallen and evil world, as well as condemned as ‘children of wrath’ to eternal perdition.
By grace, although we were spiritually dead, God made us alive with Christ; we were slaves to sin and the devil, but God raised us with Christ and set us at His own right hand in a position of honour and power; God has taken action to reverse our condition of sin. In other words, God has saved us ‘in Christ’ and given us a new life. We are a ‘new creation’ in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This essentially is what it means to ‘be born again’. We were dead, and so helpless to save ourselves, the situation for us ‘in Adam’ is hopeless; we are under God’s wrath but God, in His love, grace, and mercy, rescue us from what we deserve (judgement) and in His Son (Christ), we are made alive , exalted and adopted into God’s family. It is not our own doing; it is the gift of God and we are ‘born again’ by faith (which is also a gift of God). Faith is not ‘works’ but only a ‘vessel’ which receives God’s outpouring of mercy and love which we thoroughly do not deserve. Indeed, it is all by grace and there is no room for boasting (Ephesians 2:8-9)
We were dead, helpless and hopeless in our spiritual condition, and God, through His Spirit, had to ‘draw us to Himself’ by granting us the ‘desire’ to seek Him. When we respond in repentance, and faith in Jesus and in what He had done for us at the cross, the Holy Spirit regenerates us, made us alive spiritually, and the result is ‘conversion’ and being ‘born again (into a new humanity under Jesus Christ (the second Adam)). Being ‘born again’ means we are no longer under the bondage of sin, Satan and the negative influence of the world; we have a new and loving Master – the Lord Jesus Himself. In our previous condition in ‘Adam’, we have freedom of choice but this choice inevitably is not a choice for God, but a choice to turn away from Him and to choose the offer of Satan, sin and the world. In our previous spiritual state, we have no desire for God or the things of God – we are basically disobedient and spiritually depraved. (Ephesians 2:1-3). Being ‘born again’ means we have been changed, supernaturally renovated in the core of our personal being, and the nature of this change has been brought about through union with Christ. By virtue of our union with Christ, we have actually shared in His death, resurrection and ascension. Union with Him also means we are reconciled with God and also with all those who are ‘in Christ’. Christ is the head of the new humanity; all members are ‘in Him’ and ‘He in us’.
Being supernaturally changed, our regenerate hearts cannot love what God hates; our hearts are now set against sin and when we do sin, we know we are behaving in a radically unnatural way, and in the depths of our hearts, we know we are going against our changed nature, and we are actually doing what our renewed hearts ‘dislike’. The Holy Spirit would convict us of our wrong doing and wrong direction, and direct us to repentance and confession of our sins, and God has provided forgiveness if we sincerely confess our sins (1John1:9). Christians are called to a life of habitual repentance, as a discipline integral to healthy holy living. Repentance is never a pleasure; every act of repentance is a separate act and a distinct moral effort. While we still live in a fallen world, and while we still dwell in our physical bodies (which are awaiting glorification following the resurrection), we are not perfect and we still have to battle our enemies – Satan, the world and indwelling sin. Satan has been defeated at the cross, but he still seeks to destroy God’s people with his limited time before the Lord Jesus comes again. He still can marshal his evil spirits and use the lusts of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life to cause God’s people to be entrapped and led astray; he can still distort truth, employ deception and various underhand methods (including appearing as an angel of light) to destroy and cause damage to God’s people. In one sense, we are saved, we are being saved and we will be saved – there is the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ in our salvation even though we have been ‘born again’. Although our enemy is formidable, the Spirit who lives in us is greater than him, and God has set limits to what the devil can do. Nonetheless, spiritual warfare is real and we need to be prayerful and vigilant in our pilgrimage here on earth as we prepare for the new heavens and the new earth. God, in His wisdom and sovereignty, has allowed the evil one to still operate, and He uses evil to bring about good for His people. He allows tribulations to ‘test’ and to ‘train’ His people in the process of transformation into the image of Christ. His people are to continue to walk by faith, to persevere, to endure and to trust HIm in all circumstances of life, and He would be faithful to keep them, preserve tham and enable them to ‘finish the race’.
The Apostle Paul expressed the concept of being ‘born again’ in the following manner:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God , who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatiams 6:14).
Notice that Paul was basically saying that he died in Christ and with Christ (been crucified), and the world is dead (has been crucified) to him. But he did not stop at that – after death, he was ‘born again’ and Christ then lived in him – the old Paul or Saul died but the new Paul lived by faith in the Son of God, with Christ living in him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit., Through the Spirit, the Son and the Father also made their home in him (John 14: 23). Because he died in Christ, the world no longer had any ‘hold on him’ for the world in that sense exercised no more influence on him in the manner when he was alive. Being freed from the bondage of the evil one and the dominion of sin, Paul knew he no longer was obliged to be enslaved by them.The ‘old man’ in Paul had been crucified and the ‘new man’ in Paul became alive in Christ, in union with Him, living by faith in Him and indwelt by God’s Spirit. This is not just a description of Paul being ‘born again’; it is a description of all those who have been born again in Christ.
We have noted that being born again in Christ implies that we are no longer under the bondage of sin, Satan and the negative influence of the world. We need no longer listen to Satan; we are not obligated to respond to the negative pull of the world; sin no longer has dominion over us. We only need to listen to our new Master, the Lord Jesus and to the Spirit given to us by the Father and the Son. Understanding this truth would help us tremendously to live a victorious Christian life – we are no longer enslaved to sin, the world and the devil – we have the freedom in Christ, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, to say “NO” to them and “YES” to God from now on. The evil one might try to intimidate us in the way he had been doing in our previous spiritual state, manipulating us with the dominion of sin and worldly desires but in reality, he no longer has this ‘right’ and ‘hold’ over us – we are now joined to Christ and we belong to Him – we are a new creation in Him, children of the triune God and members of God’s new community and humanity. By the Spirit, we can put to death the deeds of the flesh, and by the Spirit, we can fulfil the requirements of God’s law. We fulfil the requirements of the law not in order to be saved but we do it because we are saved, “for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, a ruler of the Jews and a member of the Sanhedrin, as a member of the nation of Israel which was given the Torah and the Scriptures, thought that surely he belonged to God’s kingdom. What he needed to realise is that the keeping of the Law and Torah cannot ‘save him’ and grant him entrance into the kingdom of God. The law was given as a ‘family code’ to Israel after they have been saved through faith by grace; Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness and it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “in you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:6-8). So those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham – that is, those who are ‘born again’ by faith. Abraham was justified by faith before receiving the covenant of circumcision. “No one is justified before God by the law for the righteous shall live by faith. But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them” (Galatians 3:11-12). And no one can keep the law in its entirety except the God-Man, Jesus. So for the Jews in the Old Testament, and for believers in the New Testament, salvation is still by grace through faith, and the object and basis of this faith is the Son, the only Son given by the Father that whoever believes in HIm should not perish but have eternal life. Whoever believes in HIm is not condemned but whoever does not believe is condemned already (John 3: 16-18).
God has provided His Son to save us; He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, Jews and Gentiles alike, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ; we who believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance in Him. We who believe in Him are ‘born again’ of the Spirit.
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also?l Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith… And to the one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. This is the essential lesson Nicodemus and the other pharisees had to learn: this is why the Lord told Nicodemus “You must be born again”. Today, non-believers, must learn like Nicodemus that their ‘good works’ are like ‘filthy rags’ in the eyes of God; they cannot be saved by their works and performances, only by faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross can they be ‘born again’ by grace and by God’s mercy, through the work of the Spirit of God.