Elder Joseph Holder
What does it mean to be born again? What is the new birth? What causes it? What was your condition with God before you were born again? Is there a difference between the new birth and discipleship? In John's gospel, Chapter 3, Jesus used the illustration of birth with a Jewish rabbi named Nicodemus. The same illustration appears several times in the New Testament. Jesus, the greatest teacher who ever lived, made it his practice to explain eternal spiritual truths in terms of common every day events with which his audience was familiar. He never spoke over their heads, but to their hearts. Twentieth Century preachers could learn a valuable lesson from the One who should serve as their leader and example. Jesus never found it necessary to invent a new vocabulary of long, highly technical terms to communicate his eternal truth. Anthropomorphic, supralapsarian, omniscient, these are the words of spiritual dwarfs who fail to learn the fundamental truth Jesus taught by his matchless example. May God direct our minds into solid eternal realities, and may we embrace those truths with the simplicity of Jesus Christ.
Is the new birth merely a change of philosophy? Is it an experience of intellectual or emotional enlightenment? What is it? This brief excursion will attempt to de-mystify an important Bible doctrine.
Every birth which occurs in the realm of nature eventually results in death. Everything which is born will die. Remember the cliche, "As sure as you are born to die." Born to die, three words encompass the whole human cycle in nature. If God is eternal, and he is, shouldn't we expect more than this three word cycle of futility? Yes! Yes, my friends, we should. The new birth is the beginning of the spiritual cycle for the child of God, a cycle which does not end with futility and death, but with a glorious, ceaseless fellowship with God.
While the new birth is the beginning of the spiritual experience for the child of God, it most assuredly is not the beginning of the matter with God. Repeatedly, scripture opens the window of God's timeless infinity and shows us glimpses of his eternal purposes. "Before the foundation of the world," "Before the world began," "From the beginning," all speak of God and his grand design for us. Before God created the world, time, space, matter, life, or anything else, he knew exactly what he wanted and what he would do. He knew how you would fit into that grand tapestry, and he determined the outcome to fit his purpose. Many theological groups quickly reject this teaching with "Oh, that doctrine violates man's free will." Somewhat beyond the scope of this work, but certainly appropriate to it, the question calls for an answer, "Is man's will really free?" "What about God's will? If man's will and God's will came into direct conflict, which will must prevail?" Within the realm of nature and creation, God most surely gave man certain powers, and he is accountable to God for his use of those powers. That is scriptural. However, to make man's will superior to God's violates both scripture and reason. Within the sphere of man's existence, he possesses certain abilities, along with a moral mandate to use those abilities in an honorable way. That accountability infers responsibility and obligation. Failure to comply brings judgment. Considering man's obligation to fulfill that responsibility, he may do or not do what God commanded, but he is not free. He is under God's law which defines his obligation and reveals the penalty for his failure, sin. Is he free to do either? No, for freedom suggests no absolute, no law, no right or wrong.
Man also lives with certain limitations over which he has no power. He cannot will to be some other creature than man. He is not free to will himself into a dog or a cat; his will is a product of his creation, and it functions within the limits of his creation as a member of the human family. We readily accept the limitation of man's will to recreate himself into a lower life form, but we seem blind to the folly of man's professed ability to will himself into a higher life form, the life of God. Jesus told unbelievers during his time upon earth "Ye cannot come to me," and "Ye will not come to me." Both expressions define the limits of man's desire, inclination, and ability. And both expressions contradict the idea of man having a free will.
How is the vast gulf between man and God spanned? Scripture leaves no question. The one mediator, the only one who can reach to heaven and God, while reaching man, is Jesus Christ. How does he accomplish that transition? Our study of the new birth will touch many of these issues.
The gospel of New Testament Christianity, first and last, deals with the family of God. Whether we consider the procreative process which brings one of Adam's sons into the family of God, or investigate the nurturing love and care which the child of God receives after the new birth, God tells us much about his family. The more we understand about God's family, the more we will love and appreciate the gospel message. It truly represents the most beautiful thrilling message known to man, for it enlightens us to the tender, loving side of our God and Savior. Once we face that beautiful message, we can only look into the rich treasure of his goodness and cry out, "I want to love him more."
Joseph R. Holder
2479 Vicentia Avenue
Corona, California 91720
The State Before The New Birth, Faulty Morality.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not
known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had
said, Thou shalt not covet. Romans 7:7.
What is the state of the child of God before he is born of God? Is the new birth simply a change of philosophical thought or a time of spiritual enlightenment? Our study investigates the state of man, not God. Obviously, the eternal God does not experience changes in his mind or purpose. Time does not alter his view of the sinner, for he is eternal. His love is everlasting, his purpose is eternal, and the unfolding of events does not startle his being. From creation to the last tick of the universe's clock in God's view is a mere moment, a second, one panoramic glimpse. However, scripture reveals that the change wrought by the creative power and grace of God in the new birth is extra-ordinary. On at least three occasions (II Corinthians 4:6, II Corinthians 5:17, and Ephesians 2:10), Paul compared this change to a new creation, as dramatic in spiritual terms as the creation of the universe was in natural terms. To appreciate the extent of that change fully, we must consider how scripture describes the child of God before the new birth.
In Romans, Chapter 7, Paul described his personal experience with God in a practical and rather analytical manner. In discussing the specific time of Paul's new birth, some hold that it occurred on the Damascus Road, others at another time. My purpose here is not to debate the time of his change, but the state of Paul before the new birth, regardless of when it happened.
Paul discussed a time in his life when his only knowledge of sin was the teaching of the Old Testament which formed the basis for the Jewish culture in which he was born. From a personal, internal conviction he had no sense of morality, at least in relationship to a holy and righteous God. Man, even in his sinful state, is certainly endowed with intelligence and rational competence above any other creature. However, that sense of rational intelligence which man respects for the sake of personal survival and reasonable prosperity does not make him sensitive to God. David described the wicked in his sinful state as rejecting God entirely.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. Psalm 10:4. And in Job 21:14 we find the wicked speaking out in blasphemy against God. Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
While man in his sinful nature may hold some awareness of sin in an intellectual sense, he does not feel the sense of conviction and conscience toward God that a child of God feels.
I had not known sin, but by the law. His awareness of sin in relationship to God was what the tradition, religion, and law of his nation taught him. Had he been born in a culture which embraced a moral code contrary to every one of the Ten Commandments, Paul would have as easily accepted that code. It was not a matter of God's absolute right or wrong to him at that time, but simply a matter of his culture's accepted code of appropriate ethics.
I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. To lust is to crave, and seek to obtain that which belongs to another. It characterizes the self-centered appetite of the wicked. If something appeals to him, he will do anything he thinks possible to obtain it. What if it belongs to someone else? Never mind, he wants it. What if taking it will impose pain and hardship on its owner? It doesn't matter to him. All that matters is that he wants it. That makes anything necessary to get it right in his eyes. Lust for power, for money, for position and prestige, or for a member of the opposite sex who is not your marriage partner; these all represent the height of sin to us. But to the man who is not born of God, his personal appetite determines right and wrong. Remember Paul's words, "Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things," Philippians 3:19. Do you see this man's god? It is his belly!
Inherent in Paul's teachings from Romans 7 is the existence of an absolute right and wrong. Paul's problem before God worked his grace within was that he had no conviction of morality in relationship to Divine judgment or
authority. His thought of right and wrong was what the law said, what the tradition of his race taught, or what socially accepted values imposed upon him. As we study the new birth further, we will note that at the new birth the law of God is written in the heart. It was a common practice for Old Testament Jews to wear small pieces of jewelry over their heads or around their necks which had portions of the Ten Commandments written on them. Moses encouraged this practice in Deuteronomy to help the people remember the law in their personal habits and in raising their children. Such reminders serve a noble purpose, but they cannot substitute for the law of God written within.
God did not intend that they should. What is the effect of the law of God written in the heart? Does it mean that
everyone who is born of God will hear, believe and obey the gospel, living out a near perfect Christianity in his life? No, for such a position would essentially deny the value of, or the need for, chastening, God's parental correction of disobedience within his family. It would contradict Paul's teaching of the two vessels in the one great house, II Timothy 2:20, 21. It would deny the practical value of the Prodigal Sons, one who was prodigal away from home and the other who was prodigal at home.
Scripture equally requires that we not deny the power of the law written within. To suggest that a person's moral conscience before and after the new birth is unchanged is to deny the law written within and to demean the effect
of that law. Although Paul only knew lust by the external law in his early life, the lesson before us urges that his resent state of morality was not so superficial. Now he knew lust by something more intimate and deeply personal. Even if his cultural background had justified lust, something within now witnessed to him that lust was wrong. You see, God teaches the same morality in the Ten Commandments and in the law written within the heart.
It is important to note the depth of the change in Paul's description of himself before and after the new birth. Before, his sense of morality did not embrace God or God's view of right and wrong. Afterwards, his first thought of morality was God's perspective. God changed something within the deepest fiber of Paul's being, and his view of sin reflected that change. I did not know sin, but by the law. Now I know it by a law written within. I did not know lust, except the law said, "Thou shalt not lust." Now I know it by the law of God within. Paul's experience of the new birth was not characterized by his discovery of a law that was written within all the time, for he described a time in his life when no such law existed within. In the new birth God wrote his law in Paul's heart, where it had not existed before.
Such was also your experience with the grace of God. That is the reason God inspired Paul to include this lesson in his sacred writings.
At the heart, our awareness of God, especially as a moral God, the final authority for right and wrong, is a distinct expression of God's law written in the heart at the new birth. Our internal conscience springs from God who wrote his law within our innermost being. May we respect God's handwriting in our hearts with reverence and holy obedience.
Lord, how secure my conscience was,
And felt no inward dread!
I was alive without thy law,
And thought my sins were dead.
My hopes of heaven were firm and bright,
But since the precept came
With a convincing power and light,
I find how vile I am.
(My guilt appeared but small before,
Till terribly I saw
How perfect, holy, just, and pure
Was thy eternal law!
Then felt my soul the heavy load;
My sins revived again;
I had provoked a dreadful God,
And all my hopes were slain.)
Thy gracious throne I bow beneath;
Lord, thou alone canst save;
O break the yoke of sin and death,
And thus redeem the slave.
The State Before The New Birth, Children Of Wrath.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world,
according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now
worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our
conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the
desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of
wrath, even as others. Ephesians 2:1-3.
Aside from a descriptive record of our past sinful lifestyle, this lesson also contains two specific descriptions of our state before God quickened us, made us alive in Christ Jesus. As you read the lesson, notice the difference between what we did and what we were.
What we did:
Walked according to the course of this world.
Walked according to the prince of the power of the air.
Had our conversation (permanent lifestyle) in the lusts of our flesh.
Fulfilled the desires of the flesh.
Fulfilled the desires of the mind.
What we were:
Dead in trespasses and sins.
By nature the children of wrath, even as others.
A man's nature, what he is, will determine what he does. That we were dead in sins and were by nature children of wrath motivated our consistent course of sinful living.
God inspired the Bible to correct errors which would not appear for centuries. Consider the impact of this lesson on the doctrine of common grace. Those who hold to this opinion believe that every human being possesses sufficient grace to understand and believe the gospel. Inherent in this theology is the idea that man saves himself by acceptance and belief of the gospel. In this lesson common wrath, not common grace, forms the universal link of mankind outside
the grace of God. The shocking revelation of this lesson announces that the child of God was by nature a child of wrath, even as others.
Even as others. These words draw a clear distinction between the children of God and the wicked. We are different by the grace of God, but without that grace, we were just like other wicked sinners. Question as we might, the whole human race does not belong to the family of God. All will not be saved!
That we stood in the position of wrath, even as others does not give us reason to boast or think ourselves better than they. Our beginnings were the same!
These words assault the fortress of salvation by anything we might think or do. Before the Divine intervention, we were the same as others, children of wrath. God's grace made a difference in us.
In order to appreciate the grace of God and the saving work of Christ, we must know what we would be without him and the intervention of his grace. In Ezekiel 16:3 God reminded Old Testament Israel of this same truth, "And say,
Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite." Who was the father and mother of the nation of Israel? Did you ever research the racial origins of Abraham and Sarah? God did not form the Jewish race by special creation, but by separating one family from their roots and building them into a nation by his providence and grace. By origin they were no better
than any other race. Only by God's favors did they become the special nation of his love. Some time along the way, the nation of Israel forgot their dependence on the grace of God, thinking that their special position with God related to their race, not his grace. Sadly, many children of God have followed the same deceptive pathway, believing that they caused their special position with God by their own works. This belief makes them and their actions more significant in the salvation formula than God himself!
The author of our salvation is God, not ourselves! The cause of grace is Jesus Christ, not our good works! Whether we find ourselves in the belly of the great fish with Jonah or under the indictment of sin, we must confess with Jonah, "Salvation is of the Lord." The Bible doctrine of the new birth holds such an important position in our experience and understanding of God's work. Before we will ever appreciate the profound significance of that work, we must know what we were by nature, what God did to extract us from that position,and how God's work in the new birth changed us.
A belief in salvation by the grace of God without works does not diminish the biblical example and command to good works. It accepts that God is on his throne, not man. It outlines the power and benevolence of God's grace in our salvation. Then it leads us to unselfish Christian obedience to the kind God who delivered us from the pit of sin. At its heart, a belief in salvation by works, mental or physical, represents a self-serving philosophy. Do we obey God out of love for him or because we fear punishment? Do we live a Christian life because of his goodness or to gain eternal security for ourselves? To be prepared fully for unselfish Christian service, we must understand the pit of sin from which God extracted us. Before we take up the cross of discipleship, God must impute the work of the cross of Christ into our souls. After we see his power in our salvation, we can sincerely take up the cross of self-denial and follow him.
The new birth changes the nature within. We were by nature children of wrath. In the new birth God's grace imputes a new nature within us. A new life with new convictions now resides within. We were children of wrath, drinking iniquity like water. Now we are children of his love, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The nature which loved sin now falls prey to the nature which loves God. The new birth did not simply deliver our minds to the light of truth. It delivered our souls from the pit of sin to the family of God!
For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared. Titus 3:3, 4.
Before concluding our study of the new birth, we will return to this verse again.
The Source Of The New Birth.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 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. John 1:11-13.
What forms the source, the cause, of the new birth? You will frequently hear a portion of our study lesson quoted, but rarely all of it. Why? From "But as many ...," to the end of the lesson is one sentence, one complete thought.
Any time you read or quote only part of a sentence, you fail to grasp the complete thought. Most Bible students accept that the first statement of the lesson refers to the Jews. Christ came to them, his own nation, and they refused him. He did not fit their image of the Messiah. They wanted a national Messiah who would drive out the Romans and restore them to a powerful nation, subject to no one. Their own prophets wrote often of the Messiah's coming in broader terms than to the Jews alone. He was to be a light to the Gentiles. His dominion would be from the river to the ends of the earth. He would receive prayer and worship from those who were not his people. Their rejection of him was without excuse!
Within the nation of Israel, and outside it, many saw Christ as the Messiah and worshipped him. They are the unique subjects of this lesson. Why did they receive him? What blessing attended their receiving him? What was the state of their soul? The lesson addresses all these questions and more. Receiving Christ meant accepting him as the Messiah, God's Son, believing everything he claimed to be.
Power to become the sons of God. Power, translated from a Greek word which denotes authority, right, or privilege, applies this thought to discipleship, not eternal life. The Geneva Bible, predecessor to the King James, defines power as privilege or dignity. Belief in Christ certainly empowers one to become what he was not before that belief. However, this becoming relates to his conduct, not his nature. Children of God possess the ability to become
sons of God in every facet of their conduct, but this ability only becomes energized by belief in Christ. This idea appears in a frequent quotation,
"Become the person you would like to be." Becoming the person of your dreams occurs by fully using your talents and energies. It has nothing to do with changing your nature, but with fully developing the abilities you presently possess. In this verse the power to become a son of God means exactly the same thing. Those who receive Christ, believing all that scripture teaches about him, receive the dynamic power, and enjoy the divine privilege, to develop the potential they possess as members of the family of God. Through this power, we receive the ability to dismiss worry, trusting Christ for every blessing of life. We receive the ability to worship God in adversity as readily as in fruitful blessings. We may not know where the next meal will come from, but we are rich with our king. Frustration and anger may overwhelm us, but through him we can dismiss it all and pray for our enemies.
A child of God in unbelief does not enjoy this same power. His ability to become everything which God would have him to be wilts in his unbelief and disobedience. Often people read the command to love and pray for their enemies with this response, "I can't do that. It's impossible!" As long as they think it impossible, to them it truly will be. However, to the child of God who believes that Christ is everything he claimed to be, the power of God enables him to pray sincerely for his worst enemy. He may as readily perform the other commandments of Christ from this position of belief in Christ. In that secure trusting relationship, he may become the godly person he wants to be. Paul warned the Hebrews that unbelief would prevent them from the spiritual milk and honey of Christian service, just as unbelief prevented Old Testament Israel from entering the land of Canaan for forty years.
What was the spiritual state of those who received Christ? They were born of God. John took exceptional pain to make the issue clear. Although we should not dwell excessively on the negative side of an issue, we must often present the negative with the positive to emphasize the truth in perspective. Of, translated from the Greek ek, out of, denotes source, cause or origin.
Not of blood. Family tree and blood relationship did not cause their birth. A praying mother is a supreme blessing, but her prayers cannot cause her child to be born of God. A family heritage of Christianity enriches the culture in which a child grows into adulthood, but it cannot cause the child to be born of God. The family tree of man does not define the family tree of God.
Nor of the will of the flesh. Nothing in the fleshly will or nature of man possesses the ability to cause the new birth. The sinful flesh of man, with its attendant corruption, demonstrates rebellion from God, not willing submission to him. Nothing in the will of the flesh can produce the new birth.
Nor of the will of man. These words destroy the whole concept that the sinner must exercise his will to be saved. According to scripture, God's will, not the sinner's, causes the new birth. No creature's will can reach outside it's nature. Will is a function, an attribute, of the nature each creature possesses. Within the nature of man, his will may function in many ways and do many things, but man's natural will does not possess the ability to reach outside his nature toward the divine. While many preachers tell the sinner that his will must embrace God to accomplish the new birth, this verse stands upon the mountain of God's grace and proclaims, "The new birth is not of the will of man!"
But of God. Now John reveals the source of the new birth. It comes from God! It did not come from their belief, from their receiving Christ, or from their obedience. It came from God. And, grand wonder of it all, this birth of God
formed the basis for their receiving him. It gave them the nature which belongs to the sons of God, including the potential to become, to live out the conduct of, God's sons.
The grand origin of the new birth is not in man, but in God himself. Gennao, the Greek word translated born, includes the whole process of procreation, not just the moment of delivery. From conception in the will of God before the world's creation to the grand experience which manifests itself in a particular individual, the whole process of spiritual procreation is of God!
Whether applied to the virgin birth of Christ, to his spiritual body, or to both, these words from David shed much light on the sovereignty of God in the new birth.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous
are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was
not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in
the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet
being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in
continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm
What Is The New Birth?
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. John 3:3.
Although such a common term should need no definition, Nicodemus certainly needed to know more about the idea of the new birth. Twenty centuries later, we need clarification, fully as much as Nicodemus! Is the new birth an
intellectual enlightenment? It surely effects the intellect, but its essential purpose impacts the person more profoundly than mere intellect. Is it conversion from error to truth? The person who experiences the new birth most definitely undergoes a momentous change, but scripture dedicates volumes to the correction of error within the family of God; errors of theology, of lifestyle, and of regard for our fellow-man. Apparently, the new birth and discipleship, though integrally related, are not synonymous.
When Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, Nicodemus should have known more than he acknowledged about the subject. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" John 3:10. According to Lightfoot and other Jewish historians, the Jews of Christ's day believed that Gentiles who converted to Judaism experienced a mysterious rebirth, altering their racial identity from Gentile to Jew.
However, they believed that Jews had no need of such a rebirth. When Jesus told Nicodemus that he, a Jewish leader, must be born again, he was probably shocked by the thought. He was already a Jew. Why should he need to be born again? Christ's question reveals that the conversion idea of the new birth held by Nicodemus was not correct. He led Nicodemus into a deeper truth than he had ever imagined before that moment. If Jesus rejected the conversion interpretation of the new birth with Nicodemus, we should reject the same opinion now.
What is the new birth? Let's return to the basics. Birth comes from the Greek, gennao, meaning to procreate. New Testament translators used such words as bear, beget, be born, conceive, gender, make, and spring to convey
the meaning of the word in English. To interpret this word only of the actual delivery is to miss its meaning entirely. From conception to final delivery, gennao represents the entire procreation process. The medical world debates
when life begins with much confusion. This word starts at the moment of conception and includes the entire procreation cycle.
In nature the unique genetic characteristics of a new offspring are determined at the moment of conception. When one particular sperm out of millions penetrates one particular female egg, the biological identity of the new life is established. What if another sperm had penetrated the egg? The genetic structure would be completely different. You see, this global incorporation of procreation in the word Jesus selected to instruct Nicodemus imposes an enormous theological truth upon us. In the spiritual truth represented by this term, when does conception begin? Where can we find the absolute origin of the process? Consider these words from the Psalms.
My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and
curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see
my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were
written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was
none of them. Psalm 139:15, 16.
Various writers interpret these words of the virgin birth of Christ, of God's marvelous creation of the human body within the womb, and of God's creation of the family of God, the symbolic body of Christ. Perhaps all three meanings
could find a home in the lesson. In the immediate context, David clearly applied the words to himself. He further applied them to more than the mere forming of his physical body. This psalm overflows with rich convictions of
the all-powerful nearness of God to his people. Consider the wonders of David's praise of his Creator God.
My substance was not hid from thee. David's conception, hidden from the eyes of mortal man, was not hidden from God. Thine eyes did see my substance. Whether a few microscopic cells or a grown body, God saw David. Applied, as it should be, to the spiritual creation, the lesson places God in a causative role. God did not simply look on in the operation; his creative force governed the entire process! Yet being unperfect. Unperfect means incomplete. Before David was formed in the womb, God's eyes saw him clearly. Before he received the saving essence of his Creator Savior, God knew every cell, spiritual and physical, which would make up this beloved David. In thy book all my members were written. Applied to the physical or the spiritual, every body part, every microscopic cell, was written in God's book. Which in continuance were fashioned. God's purposes, from his governance of the planets to his control of the genes within the womb, unfold under his divine order. They did not evolve. They did not decide to fashion themselves. They were fashioned! God, the creative agent of the universe, fashioned David's members, physical and spiritual. When as yet there was none of them. The whole transaction in this lesson unfolded before one single member of David's body existed, before a minuscule part of his spiritual being came to exist.
From the logical moment of conception in the womb of God's eternal love to the time when God implanted that eternal life within the being of David, or of you, gennao, spiritual, eternal procreation unfolds under God's loving eye and
control. His bringing of each member of his family into reality as a part of his spiritual family occurred within the carefully designed and securely governed womb of his loving purpose. God has no debate over when life begins or who will constitute his eternal family.
Every assurance of eternal security in scripture builds on this foundational truth. Knowing this truth, Paul could write to the Romans
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor
principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor
height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us
from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38,39.
Or to the Philippians
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work
in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6.
Or Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, could say
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the
Father knoweth me, even so I know the Father: and I lay down my life for
the sheep. John 10:14, 15.
In the symbolic richness of new birth truth, the child of God is as secure in the family of God as the fetus in the mother's womb. However, with God's family we find no abortions, no unwanted pregnancies, and no defective births. He forms each one of his own according to the purpose of his love, and he brings every one of them forth into a loving family, a family which knows no divorce, no separation, and no division. God's purpose will not be complete until all of those who were conceived in the womb of his love have been born of his spirit in time and finally resurrected to live for all eternity with him in the unbroken family circle of heaven's eternal glory.
Again, Nicodemus thought only of the natural birth process, returning to the mother's womb and repeating the natural cycle. This word did not infer, even remotely,the repetition of the natural cycle of birth.
Again, from the Greek anothen, means from above. Luke used the same word in Luke 1:3 to define the source of his understanding and authority to write the gospel of Luke.
It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all
things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent
Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things,
wherein thou hast been instructed.
Historical and scriptural evidence strongly indicates that Luke did not become a disciple until sometime near the middle of the Apostolic Age. He could not claim perfect understanding from the first moment of the Gospel. Even if he had been a disciple from that time, that position would not automatically qualify him to write a book of the Bible. Only one fact imparted such knowledge and the authority to write such an account of his Lord's life, perfect understanding from the very first Authority, from above.
In Chapter 3 we investigated the source of the new birth, concluding with John that it was of God, not of human origin. This word, again, from above, drives that truth to the depth of our souls. What Jesus taught Nicodemus in
this lesson had to do with a work of God. It defined a creative process whose origin was neither in a Jewish or a Gentile intellectual decision to adopt any code of living or belief. It defined the life principle itself! The origin of this birth was not the convincing instruction of a rabbi. It was not the pliable will of the rabbi's student or disciple. It was from above! The conception, the invisible development of the being, and the bringing forth of the new life were all from above.
Long ere the sun began his days,
Or moon shot forth her silver rays,
Salvation's scheme was fixed, 'twas done
In cov'nant by the Three In One.
The Father spake, the Son replied,
The Spirit with them both complied;
Grace moved the cause for saving man,
And wisdom drew the noble plan.
The Father chose his only Son
To die for sins that man had done;
Emmanuel to the choice agreed,
And thus secured a num'rous seed.
He sends his Spirit from above,
To call the objects of his love;
Not one shall perish or be lost,
His blood has bought them--dear they cost.
What high displays of sovereign grace!
What love to save a ruined race!
My soul, adore his lovely name,
By whom thy free salvation came.
From The Primitive Hymns,
By Benjamin Lloyd
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the
Spirit is spirit. John 3:6.
God's procreation process systematically, intelligently reproduces each species. Genetic structure is determined by the genetic code of the particular egg and sperm which join to produce a new life. The life produced will belong to the same species as the parents. It will also possess other specific characteristics transmitted from its parents through that genetic heritage. Color of the eyes, the skin, potential height, bone structure, weight disposition, and hundreds of other characteristics were determined at the moment of conception by the joining of one particular egg and one particular sperm.
This marvelous, though invisible, transmission of nature and being was determined by God in the beginning. Genesis 1:24, "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so." The Creator's order directed that cattle bring forth cattle, not creeping things, that creeping things bring forth creeping things, not cattle. In procreation the will of the parents and the laws of nature govern the outcome. The pre-conception cells are not consulted and asked if they would like to get together. They are not instructed to develop the potential of their future being. They are not encouraged to become willing participants in the process.
And they are not told that they must work harder than other similar cells if they want to be successful. Do you see the simple instruction Jesus presented to Nicodemus? That which is born of flesh is flesh. Jesus applied the original law of basic procreation to this lesson on the new birth, "After his kind." Remember the study of John 1:12, 13. Those who received Christ and believed on his name were born of God, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man. They were born of God. Blood can only produce similar blood, flesh can only produce like flesh, and the will of the flesh can only reproduce more flesh.
That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Two logical cause/effect conclusions may be gleaned from these words. Being born of the Spirit means that the Spirit of God is the energizing causative agent in the process. Such
a birth can only occur by the intelligent work of the Spirit. We also learn that the offspring of the Spirit's procreation possesses the nature of its parent, spirit, the Spirit of God, the effect.
When God created Adam, he assessed the outcome of his creation with "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them," Genesis 1:27. In Genesis, Chapter 3, we read of the most disastrous event in the history of mankind, man's rebellion and sin against God. The penalty of violation included both a physical death and an internal death. It is not logical to hold that Adam was a spiritual being, but in his state of creature innocence he enjoyed a friendly open relationship with his Creator God. When God said, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," Genesis 2:17, he meant what he said. In the day suggested an immediate death, one which would occur the very instant man ate the forbidden fruit. Adam lived some 900 years before his physical death, but the penalty God defined for sin was imposed on the same day Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Something inside him, something related to that open friendly relationship with God, died on that day.
Later, the birth of Adam and Eve's son Seth prompted these words from scripture, "And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth," Genesis 5:3. Adam's
likeness, his image, was no longer that image of open innocence he enjoyed in Eden; it had changed because of his sin and the Divine penalty. Adam could not pass on the innocent image of Eden to his son Seth. He gave him that tarnished image of corruption.
These two parallel statements Jesus gave to Nicodemus force the application of the doctrine of the new birth to the most elemental level of a person's being. When a child is born to natural parents, he inherits their nature and characteristics. As they are members of the human species, so is the child.
The child will display many distinctive traits of his parents. We describe a child as having "His mother's eyes," "His father's chin," in order to equate the apparent genetic influence each parent contributed to the child.
Can we not see the Lord's intent with these words? That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The new birth does not represent a simple change in philosophy or a revised opinion of God. Both of these issues may well result from the new birth, but the new birth itself deals with a profound change in the nature of the person who is born again. Sociologists constantly divide the family of man into countless artificial groups. They separate us by race, continent, culture, nation, education, profession, intellect, neighborhood, and by many other factors. All of these classifications are superficial! The race of mankind is actually divided into only two essential groups. Those who are born of the flesh, but experience no subsequent birth, make up the first classification Jesus listed in our study verse. Those who are born of the flesh, but are subsequently also born of the Spirit, make up the second classification. Within the single race of man two unique species exist, one only born of the flesh and the other born of God. Consider this thought in
relation to Genesis 6:2, the "Sons of God" and the "Daughters of men."
Jesus applied the symbol of being born again to the essential nature of man, not to his intellect or his philosophy. What implications do this doctrine carry? Consider Paul's teaching to the Corinthian Christians.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have
entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for
them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit:
for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For
what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in
him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which
is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of
God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom
teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things
with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the
Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know
them, because they are spiritually discerned. I Corinthians 2:9-14.
These two lessons, Jesus's instructions to Nicodemus and Paul's words to the Corinthians, share the same theological foundation. The nature of man as it comes from the womb cannot comprehend the spirituality of God, including the things God has prepared for them that love him. In the new birth God sends his Spirit to dwell within his child. Only by that Spirit of God within can anyone perceive the things of God. Otherwise, everything which relates to the spirituality of God is foolishness.
An Incorruptible Seed.
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. I Peter 1:22, 23.
How secure is the life produced by the new birth? Can it be lost? What is the correlation between the new birth and obedience? This lesson is rich with instructions. God's child certainly may purify himself by Christian obedience, but this obedience is not to obtain the Spirit, for the very work of obedience itself is through the Spirit which already resides within.
Consider the law of cause and effect to clarify this lesson beautifully. In most theological circles man alleges that the sinner obeys the truth to obtain the Spirit. In this verse we learn that we obey the truth through the Spirit. At the time of obedience, the Spirit already dwells within. It is indeed faulty logic to suggest that you obey the truth to obtain the Spirit which you already possess.
Our purification in obeying the truth falls under the heading of discipleship. Under the Old Testament form of worship, the high priest always washed and purified himself before performing his priestly work. That purification did not make him the priest. It prepared him to perform the work of his office successfully. In the New Testament under the superior priesthood of believers we, too, must purify ourselves by sincere obedience and love of the brethren.
We do not become priests or children of God by this work, but we effectively prepare ourselves for the work of service which Christ has assigned to us.
What is the state of the person who obeys the truth through the Spirit? Being born again defines a completed process and a state of life which that process caused. It does not describe an ongoing or incomplete process, nor does it offer a possibility. It describes a completed work. According to A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures In The Greek New Testament, these words are perfect passive. Perfect tense applies to something which has been completed in the
past with continuing results. Passive means that the object was not active or causative in the verb action. What does this all mean to us? It means that those who obey the truth through the Spirit have already been born again. It
further means that they were passive, not active or causative, in the action which produced their new birth.
Not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible. The seed, the genetic foundation, of this new life is neither corrupt, nor corruptible. It cannot be corrupted. The word translated incorruptible identifies something which cannot perish. In this context corruptible suggests a "Here today, gone tomorrow" condition. To suggest that a person can be saved today, but lost tomorrow, yet the actual seed of the life he possessed remains incorruptible, imposes a violent contradiction upon this word. God does not impart eternal life on a whim, only to snuff it out. Could we call such a matter eternal life? If this were true, a man could be saved, only to fall away a year later so as to loose that life. Eternal life lasted one year? Such theological folly builds itself on the premise of corruptible seed. If the seed of
eternal life is incorruptible, those who possess it cannot lose it. Most of the scriptures which are used to suggest a corruptible eternal life actually apply to faltering discipleship, subject to Divine chastening, not loss of eternal life. Loss of viable discipleship and the joy of salvation which accompanies it truly represents a tragedy, but it does not corrupt the seed of eternal life which God planted in the soul at the new birth.
By the word of God. Word comes from the same Greek word which John used in John, Chapter 1, to present Jesus as the Divine expression, the Logos.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made
by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3.
Can we doubt that this Word which shared vital essence with God, indeed was God, is anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ? By the word of God leads us to the cause of the new birth, not a message preached to the lost, but Christ, God's Son, commanding life to the sinner who is dead to God and separated from God by the load of his sins.
Which liveth and abideth for ever. The gospel message is dynamic and energized, but it does not live. Jesus Christ, God's Word, lives and abides for ever. Two verses often are presented to defend this unusual position that
the gospel is alive. This verse speaks of Christ, not the preached word. The other verse is
For the word of God is quick (alive), and powerful, and sharper than any
two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and
spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the
thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that
is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto
the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a
great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of
God, let us hold fast our profession. Hebrews 4:12-14.
Several verses were included for the sake of context. The word of God who is quick and powerful is the same being whose eyes see all things. He is our great high priest, Jesus the Son of God. Only by ignoring and violating the context can any interpret the word of God in this lesson as anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ, our great high priest.
Jesus Christ, our priest and mediator, is the causative agent in the new birth. The incorruptible seed of the life produced in us by the new birth is his life. Like his life which lives and abides for ever, that life in us will live and abide for ever. It cannot die, nor otherwise be corrupted.
What have we learned from this lesson?
- That the causative agent in the new birth is Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who lives and abides for ever.
- That the life imparted in the new birth is eternal incorruptible life, like his.
- That the Holy Spirit which energizes Christian obedience is implanted at the new birth.
- That our obedience and love of the brotherhood is through the indwelling Spirit, not causative in procuring the Spirit.
- That at the time of our obedience we are already born again of Christ's incorruptible seed.
The New Birth And The Kingdom Of God.
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. 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. John 3:3,5.
What is the correlation between the new birth and the kingdom of God? What is the kingdom of God in this lesson? Likely, Nicodemus held to the common opinion of his day that the kingdom of God was national and racial, applicable to the Jews. As an Israelite by race and a Jew by profession, he felt secure with his position in God's kingdom. Then Jesus startled him with these words which ignored both his race and his religious profession. Nicodemus stands before us as a perfect example that external conditions, be they race or religious ritual, cannot buy for us what only the grace of God can impute.
According to Christ's words, without the new birth a man can neither see, nor enter, the kingdom of God. The new birth must precede both relationships to God's spirituality, summed up by the term kingdom of God.
Although the dominion of God holds clear biblical support, both in time and eternity, let's give the benefit of the doubt and suppose that this lesson primarily applies to the timely aspects of the kingdom of God. What is the significance of the kingdom?
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Romans 14:17.
This verse appears in one of the most practical lessons of the New Testament. In context Paul advised that the Roman Christians should receive those who were weak in the faith, but that they should not exercise an arrogant
superiority attitude toward them. Then he defined weakness in the faith by two examples, religious vegetarianism and observance of days, both typical of external religious ceremony. By establishing that Christ is judge, not another Christian, Paul logically placed Christ on the throne in his kingdom.
What business does one citizen have pretending to be lord over another citizen's conduct? Yes, vegetarianism and observance of days is external, ritualistic, and indicative of a weak faith, but that matter belongs to the king, not to a fellow-citizen. Neither diet nor a legalistic demand for worship on a certain day of the week have anything to do with true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let that weak servant stand before his Judge who is quite capable of determining the proper course of treatment.
What is the essence of the kingdom of God? Diet and days? No! God's kingdom is realized and demonstrated in matters much more essential, righteousness, the way we live every day of the week. It is characterized by a peaceful, loving spirit, not by what we eat. And abundant joy, not scrutiny of diet and days, accompanies its dominion in the faithful citizen. While true Christianity certainly imposes itself on external actions, its vital reality must exist in the heart, the invisible temple of God. Righteousness, peace, and joy characterize the lordship of Christ in a person's life. God's kingdom is a beautiful experience, not a legalistic burden.
As with territorial borders in natural kingdoms, the borders of God's spiritual kingdom are guarded by his forces. He determines the rules of access to his kingdom. From a purely natural perspective, before a man considers a visit to a country, he must know of that country. He must further know of something in that country which attracts his interest, making him desire to enter that country. As a foreigner, he may visit that country only by use of a visa or a passport. As a citizen, he may enter and exit the borders of the country by showing proof of that citizenship. A person may be born in a foreign country, but hold citizenship through his parents, if they are citizens of that country.
As we study the kingdom of God, these same conditions richly instruct us. Jesus told Nicodemus that a man could neither see, nor enter the kingdom of God without the new birth. Do these words offer any clue of our citizenship?
If the new birth forms an absolute prerequisite to seeing or entering the kingdom of God, it stands to reason that our spiritual parent holds citizenship in the kingdom of God, making us citizens through him. "For our conversation (Translated from a Greek word which means citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ," Philippians 3:20.
By the authority of our heavenly citizenship we enjoy free access to the kingdom of God. "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture," John 10:9. The borders of this kingdom are fully protected by the king himself. "I am the door." God's kingdom is not invaded by illegal aliens. All who walk the streets of his kingdom do so by virtue of their citizenship. They need not look over their shoulders in fear of being discovered and deported. On occasion they find it necessary to leave the kingdom, not for sinful cause, but for legitimate reasons, to find pasture. Perhaps this symbolizes the requirement to provide for our families and accommodate the necessities of our earthly lives. Yet we need not fear the end of days or seasons, when our tired souls seek to return to our homeland and warm safety. Our Good Shepherd who knows us intimately stands guard at the border and will immediately welcome us home.
We should remember that our relationship with Christ makes us more than ordinary citizens of his heavenly kingdom. We are children of the king himself! God's kingdom knows no caste system which divides the citizenry into
the elite and the destitute. All the heavenly citizens may equally access the blessings of the kingdom. All are children of the king.
According to Jesus, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Such a man doesn't even know that the kingdom of God exists. If you told this man of the kingdom, he would respond that your imagination is too active. He would suggest that you believe in an empty fable, a myth. He might ask if you know of anyone who ever physically visited that kingdom and returned to witness its reality. He might insist that you show him your birth
certificate or some other physical proof of your claim of citizenship. If you described the culture of that country, he would laugh you to scorn (Mark 5:40) and tell you that such a country holds no appeal to him. To his taste, this country seems altogether repulsive. When you told him that your Father and King plans to come back to earth to claim every one of his citizens, he would remind you that thousands of years have passed without his return. He would probably ask you, "Where is the promise of his coming? All things continue as they have always been," II Peter 3:4.
My dear friend, if you have seen this heavenly kingdom, and the king on his glorious throne, rejoice. Your sight witnesses that you have been born of God, that this country is your homeland. Your King is your Father, and he has
promised that you will finally enjoy the full blessings of your citizenship!