The New Birth
John 3:1-8 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
I wonder why John tells us that Nicodemus came by night to the Lord Christ? Was it that he was afraid of his fellow Pharisees discovering his interest in Jesus of Nazareth and so he crept through dark streets hoping he would be unnoticed? Or was it that an evening would give him more time for an uninterrupted session with our Lord? Or could it simply have been that after all his rabbi’s duties for that day had been completed, Nicodemus, displaying that rabbinical energy that had made him famous, searched out Jesus to talk with him of Jesus’ new movement? Or is there something symbolic that John wants us to notice, that Nicodemus was himself in darkness about who Jesus was and the nature of his message, and that this visit to Christ was a kind of pilgrimage he was beginning from darkness to light – as all people need to make? Come out of your darkness, John is saying. Those are all possible explanations, but of course we don’t know why exactly he came by night.
What is more certain and fascinating is the man himself, and the things we know about Nicodemus. For example:
i] He was born into the right family, a son of Abraham, circumcised the eighth day, a member of the covenant people of God, to whom belong the prophets and the promises, yet he is the one told he has to be born again. Josephus, the Jewish historian, in fact tells us that Nicodemus had been born into one of the most distinguished families in the land, and yet his aristocratic blood did not deliver him from the need of the new birth.
ii] Again, he was a man of the Pharisees, a man of sterling religious background, upright in conduct, one of an estimated 6,000 men in the nation who were the chief exponents of high moral living. Nicodemus was serious about the law of God, he believed the Bible was the revealed Word of God; he literally applied the commandments of God to his own life day by day and urged others to do the same, and yet this was the man told by Jesus that he needed to be born again.
iii] Again, he had had the best education that the land had to offer; he was drilled in his knowledge of profound writings in Hebrew and Greek and many of the attacks from paganism and Greek philosophy on the truth, and yet this learned scholar, a Jew who had a Greek name, was told that he had to be born again to see the kingdom of God.
iv] Again, this man was a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, the highest legislative body in the nation – under Caesar of course – the chief authority in Israel for legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government, a nationally known politician, and yet this high-ranking official was told that he had to be born of water and of the Spirit.
v] Again, we are told by Christ that Nicodemus was ‘Israel’s teacher’ (v.10). In fact Jesus speaks of him as the teacher of Israel, as someone recognized from Dan to Beersheba for his teaching skills, listened to, followed and admired by many followers. You know that those of us who heard Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, and read his books, and attended his conferences referred to him as ‘the Doctor’, someone of outstanding ability, with a unique eloquence, simplicity and profundity. That is how we must think of Nicodemus, and yet Israel’s teacher was told that he needed to be born of God if he were to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Family privileges, religious commitment, educational attainment, political authority and teaching skills – qualities which are admired by our own fellow countrymen – were not enough to compensate for the absence in Nicodemus’ life of a radical new beginning wrought by God himself, a birth from above. Here was Nicodemus, in many ways so admirable, upright in conduct, mature in his experience of life, respected throughout the land and yet a stranger to a supernatural work of God in his life. He was great in the eyes of the people, but Nicodemus was an unconverted man.
John chapter two ends with the apostle telling us that Jesus ‘knew what was in man’ (John 2:25), and then notice that John’s next words are, ‘Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus . . . ‘ (v.1) and he is being brought to our attention as a representative of the human race, and not one of its most depraved examples. He is not picked out of the gutter, a common criminal, the sort of person you would think, ‘Yes, he’s the sort of man who needs to be born again,’ but Nicodemus was a man of many noble and enviable attainments, cultured and educated, ripe from his years hanging from one of the best family trees in the land, and yet Jesus says to this man, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (v.3). My point is this, that if a man like Nicodemus, with all his accomplishments, needed the new birth, every single person in the world is under a constraint to be born again.
ALL MEN NEED TO BE BORN AGAIN
You notice how this theme is affirmed by the Lord Jesus repeatedly in their conversation. Nicodemus introduces the conversation by making some sincere observations about Christ. He tells him that he thinks Jesus is a teacher who has come from God, one who has done miraculous signs because God is with him. It is quite a compliment, coming from such a person. You would want to court the friendship and protection of such a man wouldn’t you? It is important to have such a man on your side if there’s a storm brewing. Yet the Lord Jesus is not bought by the words of men. He cuts across the sweet words, saying to Nicodemus bluntly in the third verse, ‘no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ Then our Lord repeats it in verse five, ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit’, but would you believe this, that once again he lays it on Nicodemus in verse seven, ‘You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”‘ Jesus is not making a generalized statement. He says so personally, ‘Marvel not that I say unto thee . . . Just to you Nicodemus I’m speaking about a new birth that you yourself must experience.’
You see how Christ underlines the importance of his words in this way, ‘I tell you the truth . . .’ (v.3). That was his famous verbal marker. Your mind might wander as you heard a long sermon of Jesus, and then there would be this phrase, ‘I tell you the truth’ and you would recall your thoughts back and give yourself to what he was saying. In other words, everything that Jesus said was true because he said of himself, ‘I am the truth,’ and yet amongst all that was necessarily mundane in his daily conversations and observations there were some words of outstanding significance which the whole world might ignore to its peril. ‘Prick up your ears and listen and heed these words. Amen, amen, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ No one born in the most primitive society, where they are still ignorant of the wheel, can escape by his rural simplicity from this need to be born again. Or the one who lives in Manhattan who is served by all the latest technology, able to purchase anything money can buy, he also needs to be born again. If he was born in the first century or if he lives in the 21st century he has to be born again to enter the kingdom of God.
Without the new birth we cannot see the kingdom of God. God is sovereign, but the natural man can’t see that. God does according to his own will in the armies of heaven and here on earth, but men can’t see it; ‘where is this mighty King you talk about? We can’t see him.’ The King has come in the flesh and showed his power over creation stilling the storm, over the devil, over disease and over death, but men still say, ‘Where is this King and his kingdom?’ He reigns in grace over his own people, keeping them trusting in him and doing his will, preserving them from unbelief and despair, sustaining them with every good and perfect gift, meeting all their needs according to his own glorious riches, keeping them seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness; that is their priority in life – of millions and millions of them who confess him as Lord and yet the un-born-again say, ‘we can’t see this kingdom.’ They are blind to the reality of kingdom matters. They don’t understand the nature of the kingdom of God, this reign of grace over individuals of all psychological types, languages, races and ages whereby the subjects of the kingdom all confess, ‘For us to live is Christ.’ Those who are not born again cannot see the influence of God in Christians’ lives. They cannot enjoy an experience of being under the reign of the King of love. They are strangers to its glory and its blessings.
Nicodemus himself could not see it. He is quite startled by these strange words, ‘born again.’ ‘”How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”‘ (v.4). He couldn’t see the meaning of Jesus’ words. How can anyone be born all over again? You cannot rewind your life and live it backwards, getting younger and younger with each frame until finally you are a baby lying on the maternity bed and then disappearing feet first back into your mother’s womb to later emerge, and start your life all over again. Surely that cannot be done! Of course it cannot be done. There is a ratchet on the wheel of time so that it can move only one way, each day getting older and older, each day getting nearer death and a meeting with the living God. No, Jesus is not speaking about a physical and biological rebirth.
See our Lord’s response, how affirmatory and earnest it is; ‘I tell you the truth . . .’ (v.5). Again! There he is repeating what he said in the third verse but now underlining this, ‘ . . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit’ (v.5). ‘You are surprised Nicodemus that I talk to you of a birth from above?’ ‘You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again”‘ (v.7). Why shouldn’t Nicodemus have been surprised at Jesus’ words? ‘You are Israel’s teacher . . . and do you not understand these things?’ (v.10). You know the Scriptures Nicodemus, and you know two great truths are taught there.
i] You must be born of water.
Our first need is that our souls and hearts and consciences are washed and sprinkled of their defilement so that they are like new. Who can do that but God only? What will the Messiah promised by Isaiah in chapters 52 and 53 of his prophecy do when he comes? ‘He will sprinkle many nations’ (Isa. 52:15). Gentiles everywhere are going to be cleaned by the Christ. Or what does Ezekiel prophesy of the new covenant age? ‘Nicodemus are you Israel’s teacher and you are ignorant of that? Surely not; “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols” [Ezek. 36:25).’ A young mother picks up her little girl at the end of the afternoon and carries her to the bathroom. Her daughter has been playing in the mud and she is black from head to foot, but Mom puts her in the warm bubbly water and washes her all over and picks her up wrapping her in a fluffy soft towel and drying her. ‘Now you are like new,’ she says as she hugs her again.
What can wash away your sin, Nicodemus? Only God can do it, and the youngest believer in the world today knows more about this cleansing than Nicodemus did with all his religious upbringing, even when he stood in the presence of Jesus. If I should ask the newest Welsh convert, ‘What can wash away your sin?’, she would say to me, ‘Nothing but the blood of Jesus.’ The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world, and so ‘Nicodemus you need to be born of water, in other words, your heart needs to be cleansed and washed of your sin. Dirty men and women who wallow like pigs in the mire need to be washed before they are fit to enter the kingdom of God. Isn’t that the great blessing Ezekiel prophesies will characterize the age of the new covenant. Everyone in the kingdom will be washed from the stain of their sin. You are Israel’s teacher and you don’t understand being born of water?’
ii] More than that, you must be born of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the agent in this birth. He has access to our inmost being, to the dispositional complex which is the control centre of our lives, out of which come all the issues of life. He effects a spiritual birth because he is its source and he is the agent of change. He effects it by regenerating the heart of man. He goes in and in and in and in and transforms us from within. You know of the little girl who picked up a rose bud and tried to open it up, pulling away the green outer leaves and then pulling open the petals on the bud. In the end she destroyed the flower. She cried to her mother about it, showing her the ruined bud and pointing to all the other roses in the vase. Why wasn’t her rose like them? ‘They were opened from the inside,’ said her mother. ‘Nicodemus, you are the teacher in Israel, and are you ignorant of the work of the Spirit in the heart. What does Ezekiel say, “I will put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26)? Nicodemus you are ignorant of the first principles of the blessings that will come from the new covenant, the washing of the heart – a birth of water – and the removal of the heart of stone – a birth of the Spirit. This is the work of God the Holy Spirit and without that you cannot see and you cannot enter the kingdom of God.’
Ezekiel had the Scriptures and the teaching of Christ. He understood everything but he understood nothing. I have an acquaintance who as a small boy read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. He loved the story of imaginary animals taking over their farm. George Orwell’s prose is so direct and clear that he missed nothing . . . except the political allegory. It is a great story and a gripping read but the application came later on. So it was with the teaching of Ezekiel and the Lord Jesus about the coming of the new Spirit into our own hearts. Nicodemus knew Ezekiel’s words by heart, but not until Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit would Nicodemus understand the power of what Joel and Isaiah and Jesus had been talking about.
So our Saviour declares the absolute necessity of the new birth. Settle it today. Say to yourself now that unless you are born anew you cannot see and you will not enter the kingdom of God. For ever blind to its reality; for ever a stranger outside the kingdom. When George Whitefield was asked why he preached so often on the words, ‘Ye must be born again,’ (and he was said to have done so about 300 times), Whitefield simply said, ‘Because you must be born again.’ Without the new birth there will be no heaven; there will only be hell.
THE FEARFUL LIMITATIONS OF THE UN-BORN-AGAIN LIFE
The Lord Jesus lays out two alternatives to Nicodemus; ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (v.6). Here the word ‘flesh’ stands for sinful fallen human nature, and all it is able to produce is sinful fallen human nature. Mother and father can give you much, but they cannot give you a divine birth, one that is from above. What is begotten by procreation, and what emerges from the womb every time is a baby under the influence of sinful human nature. ‘I was born in sin, and shapen in iniquity,’ says David. Job raises and answers this famous question, ‘Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No-one!’” (Job 14:4). Even so it is through a birth by the Spirit alone that can create the Spirit in man. Men are not born into God’s family ‘of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1:13). The only change that transforms a man, and enables a man to please and glorify God is a change which God the Holy Spirit can accomplish. Other than that, all you have is the flesh. It might be well bred and nicely accented flesh; it can be washed and perfumed and well-dressed flesh; it seems to be well educated and scholarly flesh; it is religious and ethical flesh; it is politically important flesh; it is eloquent and authoritative flesh, but in the end it is flesh! Nicodemus was all those things, but Nicodemus was born of the flesh, and so we do know three facts about him, which facts we also know about all who are born of the flesh, and so we know them incontrovertibly about you.
i] Nicodemus’ mind was hostile to God and could not please God while he was in the flesh.
I am referring to Paul’s words to the Romans, that ‘the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God’ (Rom. 8:7,8). Paul uses the same word as Jesus does here. The sinful nature can be educated, and well bred, and eloquent, and rise to power in society, and become religious and important in this world, as Nicodemus had, but it cannot please God. Nothing it does while in the flesh can please God. It is hostile to God. It will cry out, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ It will say, ‘We will not have this man rule over us.’ It will declare, ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?’ It will affirm, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ The mind of the flesh is a clenched fist shaken at God.
ii] Nicodemus had no ability to come to the King of this kingdom while he was in the flesh.
I am thinking of those words of the Lord Jesus, ‘No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (John 6:44). Here is the journey to Jesus and the first step means moving out from your guilt, and away from any confidence in yourself, with an awareness of your own shame and poverty and you are going to go to Jesus and find your salvation that it is all in him. Your only acceptance by God is through the Lord Jesus Christ, but the Saviour says that no-one can come to him while he is in the flesh. Men are impotent to make such a life-transforming change by their own wits, deploring the proud thoughts they once had, turning their back on all that and going to Jesus Christ, ‘Wash me Saviour, or I die.’ No man can make that journey from the flesh to Christ the Saviour unless the Spirit of God works a great change in his heart, unless the Father who sent the Son draws the sinner to Christ. The flesh is impotent.
iii] Nicodemus could produce only the works of the flesh while he was in the flesh.
I am thinking of Paul’s words to the Galatians after he has listed the beautiful fruit that the indwelling of the Spirit produces: ‘The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Gal. 5:19-21). Of course the influence of an earlier grace in Israel, and a wise upbringing in a nuclear family, and the knowledge of the Scriptures and the restraints of society will all act together to clamp down on the wilder expressions of the flesh, but they are there – they are always lurking there in seed and bud in all men’s hearts. The flesh will produce them as it did one day in the life of the man who wrote Psalm 23 when he was walking on the roof of his palace and saw a woman washing herself. What evil actions of the sinful nature came from David’s heart then!
It is all so utterly humbling, this terribly pessimistic view of the natural man left to himself, and his only hope a birth from above if he is to see or enter the kingdom.
HOW THE SPIRIT GIVES BIRTH TO SPIRIT
In some places in the Bible the language of regeneration is about taking away the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. Sometimes the terminology employed is one of making a new creation by the same divine power that made the heavens and the earth. If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. Sometimes the image used is one of resurrection by the power that raised Christ from the dead. You have been made alive by God, you who once were dead in trespasses and sins.
In our passage in John 3 the image that Jesus uses is one of being begotten by the Spirit or being born of the Spirit. No one can be certain which one is used, being conceived and begotten or being given birth. Whatever it is, one thing is clear – that both usages mean just one thing, that we are wholly dependent upon the Spirit for the incredible and eternal transformation that takes place in the new birth.
i] The new birth is a sovereign work of the Spirit.
The Lord said, ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit’ (v.8). The Hebrew word for spirit is ruah and that is also the word for the wind blowing or for the breath of God. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and a sign of his work was the sound of a rushing mighty wind. ‘The wind blows where it pleases,’ says the Lord. If you own a windfarm on a Welsh mountain you would like the wind to blow steadily, not too strongly and not to weakly, and upon every single day in order for an electrical current to be generated. You want to sell that electricity to Scottish Power or one such company. But you have no power over the wind whatsoever. You may rise early and stand in your yard and cry to the wind like the prophets of Baal cried to their god. You may shout, ‘East wind blow at thirty miles per hour!’ You can look at the weathercock and see where the wind is blowing from, and you can guess its speed or read its velocity on a wind gauge, but you have no power over the wind at all. ‘So it is with everyone born of the Spirit’ (v.8).
Everyone who sees the kingdom of God is born of a sovereign work of God. The Lord does not put that work in anyone else’s hands. It is his divine prerogative and in that honour none shall share. You are completely in God’s hands if you are to be born again. God does not give an evangelist a ‘Spirit-switch’ to turn on at the end of his message as he begins his appeal. No such ‘Spirit-switch’ ever existed or ever will. The work of the new birth is not a human work. Consider those plain words of James, ‘He chose to give us birth through the word of truth’ (James 1:18). James says that the choice of giving birth to believers was God’s. For our entry into the kingdom of God we are wholly dependent upon an action of the Holy Spirit. This birth is compared to that on the part of our parents by which we were born into the world. We were not begotten by our parents because we decided to be. We were not a living, active thought clamouring away in the mind of one of our parents saying, ‘I want life, I want to be a girl five feet eight inches, blond, blue eyes, high I.Q., musical and good sense of humour.’ We did not send in the prescription because we did not exist! Our parents begat and conceived us and so we were born. So too the Holy Spirit willed our new birth. The wind blows with certainty and efficacy. It blows where it wills, with sovereignty. The wind is not at our beck and call and neither is the regenerative power of the Spirit.
You say, ‘So if the Spirit moves I shall be saved and if he does not move I will not be saved?’ Yes. ‘So I will do nothing and wait for him?’ No, that is fatalism. I will tell you what fatalism is. A fisherman in a sailing boat says, ‘If I am to go out and catch fish today the wind must blow.’ True; but then he refuses to let out his sails. False. God’s wind must blow, yes, but you must pull up your sails. You must come here and turn every one of my sermons into a prayer. Cry to God, ‘Create in me a clean heart O Lord.’ Men and women are born of the Spirit; we are told this in verse eight, but we are told in verse sixteen, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. You must believe on Jesus Christ, and whether you feel anything or not you must entrust yourself to him and cry to him for help to do so. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!
Here is an unborn baby with spina bifida and it is advisable to perform a pre-natal operation to change that baby. A parent can say, ‘I don’t know. I feel that if he is going to get better he’ll get better without the operation.’ That is fatalism. Someone who believes in the sovereignty of God will go ahead and arrange for the operation, and of course at the same time will cry mightily to God for the baby to be healed through the extraordinary skill of the surgeon. So Ezekiel saw a valley full of dry bones and when he was asked if they could live the prophet put his trust in God. ‘You know,’ he said to God. ‘Prophesy to them,’ said the Lord and Ezekiel spoke to the bones and they came together and lived. Cry to the God who can make dead bones live. It is a sovereign work of the Spirit.
ii] The new birth is an effective work of the Spirit.
‘You hear its sound’ (v.8), says Jesus. ‘Look at the wind,’ we say as we see trees bending over to the ground, or the flags on the promenade fluttering horizontally, or the clothes on the washing line straining at the clothes pegs. But that is not the wind; that is the effect the wind is having. The sound of the wind howling is not the wind itself. It is an evidence that this is a strong wind. So if you are born of the wind of the Spirit we shan’t see the Spirit himself but we must hear his presence in your speech if he is in you, and we’ll see him in your daily living, if he is indeed working in you. You remember how John in his letter returns to this theme and lists the evidences for the Spirit’s activities. ‘Everyone who does what is right has been born of him’” (1 John 2:29). You see one particular Christian man who as a father, and as a husband, and as a workman, and as a neighbour, and as a church member, by the strength of the indwelling Spirit he does what is right. John returns to this theme again when he says, ‘No-one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God’ (1 John 3:9). He is the Spirit of holiness and so the fruit he produces is holy fruit. He makes his people fruitful in this sinful hostile world where they are so encouraged to abandon the Lord. Yet God keeps all who are born of him from the world’s allurements, as John says, ‘everyone born of God overcomes the world’ (1 John 5:4). Again, John is eager to remind us of the vertical and divine dimension of the life of the Spirit. It is good to do right and not to continue in sin, but that is not good enough for the children of God. They also will know and love their heavenly Father, and so John says this, ‘Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God’ (1 John 4:7). Again he says, ‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’ (1 John 5:1). A person says, ‘I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.’ We say, ‘Then you have been born of God.’ The birth by the Spirit is extremely effectual because it produces this great change in those who once were dominated by the ‘flesh’ and so were hostile men, impotent men and carnal men.
iii] The new birth is a mysterious work of the Spirit.
The people of the British Isles still speak of a great wind that began to blew on October 15 1987. It was on my birthday and so that is how I remember the date. The wind blew at 106 knots in Norfolk and 83 knots at the London Weather Centre. The temperature rose almost ten degrees centigrade in 20 minutes, something that happens just once in 200 years. Hundreds of thousands of trees were blown down and thousands of homes lost their roofs and chimneys. Now I would be a fool to believe that my special birthday this year is going to be celebrated by another mighty wind from heaven. There is nothing I can do to achieve this, because God is utterly sovereign in sending a hurricane or not. However, I do ask that God will send the gale of his Spirit on our land as he did when Spurgeon preached in London in the 1850s and 1860s and when a century earlier Whitefield and Wesley and Hywel Harris preached across England and Wales.
I don’t know why God favoured the land with a great awakening in the 18th and also in the 19th centuries but not in the 20th century. Even so Father for so it seemed good in thy sight. I don’t know why one sister in a family is regenerated and another sister has not been – as yet – though both have come under equal godly, prayerful influences at home and at church. What a mystery regeneration is. It is a mystery in the choice of the recipients it favours, and it is a mystery in how the Spirit operates within these men and women. The hymnists comment well on these mysteries; first on the choice:
Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?
(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).
Then on the method:
I know not how the Spirit moves
Convincing men of sin;
Revealing Jesus through the word,
creating faith in him.
(Daniel W. Whittle, 1840-1901)
With some people a tiny part of truth was all they had and that was all that God used to save them, while others had truth filling their minds and coming out of their ears and mouths for years before they were regenerate. What a mystery! I know there are some like Peter of whom it would be quite hard to say confidently at what precise time the Spirit of God gave him a birth from heaven. Was it when Jesus said to him, ‘Come follow me’ and the fisherman followed? Or was it when Peter said at Caesarea Philippi, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ or was it when the Spirit came upon him at Pentecost? Whereas we know that with Saul of Tarsus it was on the Damascus Road that the Lord met with him. Some of you know the day you were born again, while others of you are not sure even of the year, but all of you who are true children of God are able to say today, ‘But I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.’ That is enough; to know the one you believe in. You know you cannot go to heaven without a new birth. You know you cannot claim the new birth without the evidence of it in a life of holiness and of love for God. That is enough. Then cleave to the Lord!
We are not to trouble ourselves that we did not have a crisis experience, or that our conviction of sin came in the years following our conversion, not leading up to it. What you must do is to read these great words that come a little later in this mighty chapter, the most familiar words in the Bible, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ (John 3:16) and you must entrust yourself, just as you are, to the Lord Jesus. You must put yourself in his hands because he has commanded you to do so. When you do that then you can be encouraged to know that the Spirit of God has been at work in your life giving you a new birth and making everything new.
Bannerman’s The Church of Christ: The Power of the Church March 23, 2018
The previous article, in February, discussed some ‘aspects of the Church’: its twofold character as visible and invisible, and its twofold character as catholic and local. All references in the text are to James Bannerman, The Church of Christ, Banner of Truth Trust reprint, 2015. * * * When we come to discuss the actual […]
‘God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.’ — Acts 17:30 A few weeks ago I raised the question of why there is so little preaching of repentance in the modern, western church when the Scriptures are replete with references to it. I suggest three reasons for this. The first has […]