John F. Thornbury
It should not be hard for us to comprehend the fact that spiritual life, just like physical life, must come from the Creator himself. I ask you today, who is the source of our physical life? Who gives us the power to live and breath and go about our daily routine of living?
Obviously, the answer is God Almighty. As Paul preached to the Athenians long ago: ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).
It is God who created us in the first place. He planned our lives. He drew the blueprint for our existence even before he created the earth, the sun the moon and the stars. It was God who breathed into Adam the breath of life so that he became a living soul.
The same is true of the ‘new creation’. By nature we were all dead in trespasses in sins. We were children of the devil, slaves to the passions and lusts of our flesh. ‘We were by nature the children of wrath, even as others’ (Ephesians 2:3).
We who are now Christians were once selfish, proud, unbelieving and rebellious. But by grace alone, and through the power of God alone, we were awakened to see our lost condition and brought to repentance and faith.
It was the Lord who convicted us of our sins and opened our eyes so we could behold the greatness and glory of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. In short, he created spiritual life in us just as he caused light to shine out of darkness when the universe was made (2 Corinthians 4:6).
He has raised us from spiritual death and made us ‘sit together in heavenly places in Christ’ (Ephesians 2:6).
I make no attempt to explain how God did the work I am describing, for I do not know. The work of the new birth is a mystery, because it is a work of God and because the human personality is itself a mystery.
Man is fearfully and wonderfully made. The soul of man is a depth of conflicting emotions, motives and desires. But this I know: God can change the heart, God can make a sinner into a saint, God can transform a life by the power of his Holy Spirit.
You must be born again
I hope that what I have written above (and in December’s ET ) has helped you understand in some general way what happens when a person is regenerated or ‘born again’. I hope you have seen clearly that this is a work that God alone can accomplish.
But now let me try to show you why the new birth is necessary. Jesus said in John 3:7: ‘marvel not that I said to you, “You must be born again”‘. Please look at this word ‘must’.
Being born again is not simply one possible way of getting to heaven, or one optional way; it is the only way. It is absolutely necessary that you be born again if you are to enter the kingdom of God.
We have it on the authority of Jesus Christ the Son of God, who is the Head of the Church, and the true Messiah of Israel, that no one will go to heaven who has not been born again.
The necessity of the new birth arises out of the sinful, lost and hopeless state in which men have been left through the ‘Fall’. The Bible tells us that we are sinners by nature, by choice, and by habit.
Let me repeat this because it is extremely important. All who are members of the human family, all who have descended from Adam, all who are born of woman, are sinners by nature, by choice, and by habit.
Why do we sin?
Above all, we are sinners by nature. A common mistake made by those who think they know a little about religion is to think that people are sinners because they sin. Now, that may be true in one sense, for whenever we break the laws of God we become ‘transgressors’ and aggravate our guilt.
But the reality is the other way around; we sin because we are sinners.The Bible makes this point very clear. Jesus says: ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh’. And what do we find about this ‘flesh’ in the Bible? We find that man’s ‘flesh’ (his innate human nature) is sinful. He is born that way.
David said in Psalm 58:3: ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born speaking lies’. There you have what we call in theologyoriginal sin.
Dear friends, make no mistake about it. The evil nature of man, his tendency to openly choose wickedness, is something that is passed on through the natural birth.
The water that flows in a mountain stream has the same quality as the spring from which it rises. In the same way, the Bible tells us that human nature is poisoned at the very fountainhead of his existence.
Confirmed by experience
Paul puts it this way: ‘by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners’ (Romans 5:19). In other words, Adam’s sin was not just something that affected him – it affected us all. His sin affects usactually by passing on to us a sinful nature, and legallybecause we sinned in him as the representative head of the human race.
Notice that Paul says in Ephesians 2:3 that we were all ‘children of wrath’bynature. The evil choices we make, the evil words we speak, the evil actions we perpetrate, all spring from a heart that is innately evil.
Experience confirms this, doesn’t it? We do not need to teach little children to be selfish, arrogant and deceitful. They do it naturally. I hate to say it, but for fallen nature sinning is as natural as breathing.
Let us face it; we are degenerate, lost and hopeless without the intervention of God. We must be born of the Spirit.
Seeing the kingdom
Just one more thought about the necessity of the new birth. Jesus taught Nicodemus that the new birth was necessary for anyone to ‘see’ the kingdom of God. Jesus is using ‘see’ here to signify a mental and spiritual apprehension.
We often use ‘seeing’ to express our discernment of some matter or truth. I have often heard a person respond to a point made by a speaker or a teacher by saying: ‘I just don’t see it’. He means that he does not accept or does not understand the point being made.
Now Jesus tells us that without a spiritual birth from God, we cannot understand or perceive the realities of Christ or his kingdom. A person who has not been born again (a ‘natural man’) has no faculty with which to understand the truth about God.
Of course, anyone with a normal brain can understand the history of the Bible. He can know that God created the world, that Noah built an ark, or that Solomon built a temple. But he cannot understand the glory of the gospel, or relish the things of the Spirit of God.
He hears with the outward ear, but not with the inner one. He can know facts about Christ but cannot appreciate the truth in a saving way.
Without life from God, without a supernatural change, without the power of the Holy Spirit, no one can be saved. Are you born again?
If not, do not try to be a Christian by doing good works or reforming your way of life. Turn to God. Ask him to change your heart and create within you a mind to love God and trust in Jesus alone.