“Ye Must Be Born Again.”
These days, almost everyone talks about being born again; but virtually no one knows what the Word of God teaches about the new birth. For that reason the subject needs to be explained in simple, clear, unmistakable terms.
The religious world around us, in its apostate rejection of the truth of God, has made the new birth to be nothing more than making a decision, walking an aisle, and saying a prayer. Because of their abuse and error regarding the doctrine of the new birth, our tendency is to shy away from using the term “born again,” lest we be identified with those who deny the gospel of Christ. But, no matter how much men may pervert the language and the doctrine of Christ, our Lord’s admonition to Nicodemus still stands. It is as necessary and urgent today as it was when he first made it two thousand years ago. This is my message to you today, “Ye must be born again!”
Perhaps some who read these words have never made any profession of faith in Christ. “Ye must be born again!” Perhaps some who read these lines have been in the church for many, many years and are yet without Christ. You made a profession of faith a long time ago; but you are yet without life before God. May God the Holy Spirit cause you to hear this message and grant you his grace. “Ye must be born again!”
Look at these five words, and ask God to give you wisdom and grace to understand what they mean. Here is a personal word -- “Ye.” This message is for you. Perhaps you are moral. Perhaps you are very religious. Perhaps you are even well instructed in doctrinal truth. So was Nicodemus. He was a highly respected religious leader, a Pharisee, and a ruler among the Jews. Nicodemus was a teacher who taught the teachers. He was a preacher, but more. Nicodemus was a preacher who taught preachers. He was a theologian. This was a man of highest rank in the Jewish church. But he was dead. He was without life before God. He was totally ignorant of all things spiritual. He was a lost man. If you are in his condition, if you are yet without life toward God, this is a word from God for you - “You must be born again.”
Here is a pressing word -- “Must.” “Time is short.” “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” This is not a good recommendation. This is not wholesome advice. This is imperative. This is vital. This is a necessity. “You must be born again!” Otherwise, you will perish in your sins. You will die under the wrath of God! Hell will be your portion forever!
Here is a passive word -- “Be.” The new birth is not something you do. It is something God does for you. A man has no more to do with his spiritual birth than he does with his natural birth. In this matter of regeneration man is passive. He has nothing to do with it (John 1:12-13). You cannot save yourself. You cannot give yourself life. You cannot be born again by something you do (Tit. 3:4-6). No one has ever been born again by the exercise of his will, saying a prayer, doing good works, being baptized, making a decision for Jesus, or even by faith in Christ. Faith in Christ is not the cause of the new birth. Faith is the result of the new birth. We believe, according to the working of God’s mighty power, by the operation of his grace (Eph. 1:19; 2:8; Col. 2:11-12). The new birth is something done to you, for you, and in you by God’s sovereign, irresistible grace. It is not something you do. “You must BE born again!”
Here is a powerful word - “Born.” The new birth is a gift; but it is not just any ordinary gift. This is the gift of life, eternal life. When our Lord declares, “Ye must be born again,” he is saying you must be the object and recipient of divine power. Just as God created the world, God must create life in your soul. Just as God breathed into Adam and made him a living soul, so God must breathe into you the breath of life by his Spirit, or you will perish in your sins. We are all spiritually dead, helplessly lost by nature. Man’s only hope is that God the Holy Spirit will give life. “You must be born again!”
Here is a profound word - “Again.” The new birth is a mystery of grace. It cannot be explained. It simply cannot be fully understood. It is a work of God beyond our comprehension. Yet, this much is certain, when our Lord says, “Ye must be born again,” his meaning is twofold. The word “again” has two meanings. First, it means, “You must be born from above.” James tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Then he tells us what he is teaching in the next verse. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:17-18).
Second, it means, “You must be born a second time.” Our first birth was of sinful parents, and we were born in their image. The second birth is of God, and we are born in his image. The first birth was of corruptible seed. The second birth is of incorruptible seed. Our first birth is in sin. Our second birth is in righteousness. By our first birth we were polluted and unclean. By our second birth we become holy. Our first birth was fleshly and carnal. Our second birth is spiritual and makes us spiritual. By the first birth all men are foolish and ignorant. By our second birth we become wise unto salvation. By our first birth we were slaves to sin and the lusts of the flesh. By our second birth we are made free from the dominion of sin. By our first birth we are all children of wrath. By our second birth we are children of promise. Our Lord says, “Ye must be born again,” because we were all born wrong the first time.
Our Lord said, “Ye must be born again,” because none shall ever enter into glory except those who are born again by the power and grace of God and made to live in and by the Lord Jesus Christ. In order for God to save a sinner two things must be done. God must do something for you. And God must do something in you. Redemption is the work of God for sinners. Regeneration is the work of God in sinners. Both are the works of God. Man has nothing more to do with regeneration than he has to do with redemption. “Salvation is of the Lord!”
“Not all the outward forms on earth, Nor rites that God has given,
Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth, Can raise a soul to heaven.
The sovereign will of God alone Creates us heirs of grace;
Born in the image of His Son, A new peculiar race.”
Why must we be born again?
There are many answers that are given to that question in the Word of God. In the third chapter of John our Lord gave Nicodemus three reasons why he must be born again. These three things make it imperative that you and I must be born again.
First, unless we are born again we cannot understand anything spiritual (v. 3). -- "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." The natural man is totally void of spiritual understanding. He may be a logical, reasonable, rational, and well educated person among men, but with regard to the things of God, he is as ignorant, foolish, and unreasonable as a madman. He has no capacity for spiritual knowledge (Rom. 8:5; 1 Cor. 2:14). The heart of stone is hard, cold, unbending, unaffected.
Until a person is born again, he cannot see the spiritual nature of God’s law (Matt. 5:21, 27, 38, 43, 48), -- the spiritual nature of sin (Matt. 15:17-19), -- the glory of God in redemption (Rom. 3:24-26), -- the spiritual condition of his own heart (Jer. 17:9), -- the spiritual nature of salvation (Ezek. 36:25-27), or -- the spiritual nature of obedience to God (1 Sam. 16:7; Rom. 14:17). Human religion is carnal. It has to do with carnal things. In the kingdom of God all things are spiritual (John 4:23-24; Rom. 14:17). Until a person is born of God, he simply cannot see spiritual things, he cannot see the spiritual nature of faith and worship (Phil. 3:3), -- the true character of God (Ex. 33:18-34:7), and -- the glory of God in Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The natural man cannot see the glory of God in Christ’s suretyship, his incarnation, his obedience, his substitutionary atonement, or his ascension and exaltation as the God-man Mediator. The natural man just cannot see the gospel of the grace of God (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
Second, unless you are born again by almighty grace you can never enter into the kingdom of God (v. 5). -- "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." You can reform your life without the new birth. You can be baptized without the new birth. You can join the church, be zealous in religion, teach a Bible class, serve as a deacon or elder, you can even preach with great success without being born again. But unless you are born again, you will never enter the kingdom of God. Without the new birth, you will never be a part of the church and family of God. -- You will never have eternal life. -- You will never enter into the worship and fellowship of God’s saints. -- You will never be admitted into the presence of God’s glory in the bliss of heaven (Rev. 20:6; 21:27). Only new creatures will enter the New Jerusalem. Only holy men will walk into the Holy City. Only heaven born citizens will possess the bliss of heaven.
Third, “Ye must be born again,” because by nature we are fallen, sinful, depraved children of human flesh (v. 6). -- "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." All flesh is defiled. All flesh is corrupt. All flesh is sinful. All flesh is condemned. All flesh must die. Unless we are born of the Spirit, we will die in our sins, and our flesh shall be justly damned.
What is the new birth?
No man can explain the mystery of the new birth. It is one of God’s incomprehensible works. But there are several things in the Word of God which identify God’s regenerating grace. To be born again is to be raised from the dead (Eph. 2:1-5; Rev. 20:6). To be born again is to be made a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). In regeneration a new, Christ-like nature is created in our souls, so that men and women upon the earth are born in the image of God (Gal. 5:22). As John Gill expressed it, “In regeneration there is that wrought in the soul which bears a resemblance to the divine nature, in spirituality, holiness, goodness, (and) kindness.” To be born again is to have Christ formed in us (Gal. 4:19). To have eternal life is to have the Lord Jesus Christ living in you (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27). To be born again is to have a good seed implanted in you by grace (1 John 3:9-10). By nature we are all sprung from bad seed -- Adam. But in regeneration we are sprung from good Seed -- The Lord Jesus Christ.
To be born again is to be made new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In the new birth, God the Holy Spirit gives chosen, redeemed sinners a new heart to know and love God, -- a new will to bow to the rule of Christ, -- a new mind to understand the things of God, -- a new, spiritual nature to know, enjoy, and live upon spiritual things, -- new eyes, eyes of faith, with which to see Christ, -- new ears with which to hear his voice, -- new hands, hands of faith, with which to lay hold of Christ and do his will, and -- new feet, with which to flee to Christ and walk with him in the newness of life. This is the great difference between the law and the gospel. The law demands everything, but gives nothing. The gospel demands nothing, but gives everything!
“Run, run, and work,” the law demands, Yet gives me neither feet nor hands;
But sweet, good news the gospel brings. It bids me fly, and gives me wings!
With these my heavy soul may fly Away to Christ and reach the sky,
Nor faint, nor falter in the race, But work with cheer and sing of grace!
How are men and women born again by the Spirit of God?
Anyone who understands the nature of man and the nature of the new birth realizes that divine, sovereign power and grace is required to give dead sinners life. Moral reason cannot give men life. Eloquence and logic cannot give men life. Emotional stirrings cannot give men life. A mere exercise of the will cannot give men life. “Ye must be born again.” Only God himself can give dead sinners life (John 6:63).
Regeneration is the sovereign, irresistible work of God the Holy Spirit (v. 8). -- "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." At the time appointed by God, the Holy Spirit comes to the sinner, who was chosen by grace in eternal election and redeemed by Christ at Calvary, and creates life in that sinner by his sovereign, irresistible, effectual grace (Gal. 4:4-7).
The instrument by which the Holy Spirit causes men and women to be born again is the gospel of Christ (vv. 12-16). “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” “Of his own will begat he us with the Word of Truth.” Sinners are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever…And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
In preaching the gospel God’s servants call dead sinners to arise (Eph. 5:14), knowing full well that they are preaching to dead sinners, knowing that they cannot hear and cannot obey the call. But knowing this, too -- If God the Holy Spirit will be pleased to speak through them, though men are dead, the dead shall hear and live (John 5:25).
When is a sinner born again?
I have no interest in answering the foolish questions of men about the chronological sequence of events in a man’s salvation. I am happy to leave that to theologians who have nothing better to do. However, I do want all who read these lines to know when a person may with confidence say, “I am born again by the grace of God.” When you know Christ, you are born again (John 17:3). When you believe on Christ, you are born again (John 3:15, 36). (See Isa. 45:22). When you have Christ, you are born again (1 John 5:10-13). – “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life!” Get Christ and you get life. Miss Christ and you miss life.
 I fully agree with what Martin Luther had to say in this regard. "If any man ascribes anything of salvation, even the very least thing, to the free will of man, he knows nothing of grace, and he has not learned Jesus Christ rightly."
 The flesh is your natural, sinful self (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Rom. 5:12; Rev. 20:11-15).