You Must Be Born Again
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)
A phrase often spoken when people become unhappy with their life is “I’d give anything if I could just start over.” We all know that humanly speaking starting over is impossible. We can make a change of direction and change our future to one degree or another—but the past is set. It has shaped us into who we are. We may be able to break a few old habits, move to another town, or even change our physical appearance. But whatever we did in the past remains true, and the consequences of our past will continue to affect our future. It’s not within our power to truly change who we are.
But God has made available to us the impossible! He literally offers us the opportunity to “start over!” He has offered humanity one, and only one, opportunity to change who we are! The change is so drastic that God calls it a new birth. It’s free of charge. We receive it through faith by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
In order to receive this new birth we must be willing to let our old “self” die. If not, we’d only be fooling ourselves about truly starting over. Old habits die hard, and the consequences of our past may linger on for generations to come. But the new birth is nonetheless real! “Therefore, IF anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2Cor. 5:17) (Emphasis mine)
For some reason people seem to be under the impression that when we are born again we are born full-grown. This is not true. Like a child, we must grow up again. When a person truly receives the new birth, they must begin their life over again. Just as they spent their previous life learning the ways of the sinful nature, they must now spend their new life learning the ways of God.
If you are not to the point of being willing to give up your old life then you don’t really mean, “I wish I could start over.” After all, the old life has brought you to the point of dissatisfaction that caused you to want to start over, so why hold on to it. “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Rom. 6:21) Any attempt to retain some of our old life only hinders the growth of our new life.
Many today have the idea that they are not that bad. They are willing to admit a few weaknesses and failures, but nothing bad enough to require such a radical change as being born again. The idea seems to be that all we need for acceptance into the kingdom of God is forgiveness for a few mistakes we may have made and to break a few bad habits. This line of thinking is a deception. It is rooted in self-righteousness and works based salvation. This lie fails to recognize that God says we are born into the fallen human race. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their nature became defiled—they became sinners. All people born after them were by nature sinners. This created an impassible chasm between God and humanity—a chasm that only God himself can overcome. God is the source of our physical life (our first birth) and He is the source of our spiritual life (our second birth).
God speaks plainly concerning what we are before our new birth. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Eph. 2:1-3) And Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Our problem is not simply the bad things we do. We must ask why we do bad things. Our real problem is that we are born with a sinful nature—that is a nature prone to do bad things. We are all natural born sinners who in a matter of time will begin expressing ourselves in sinful acts. This sinful nature cannot be “repaired.” We must receive a new nature—a nature bent on righteousness rather than sin. We must be born again. We inherit our sinful nature by virtue of being human. But God makes it possible for us to be partakers of the divine nature through regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Once we are born again we begin the process of learning the ways of God in keeping with the new nature He has given us.
You may ask, “Is anyone exempt from this?” No, not according to Rom. 3:9-18. What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This describes the sad truth of the pitifully helpless condition in which humanity finds itself. That is why we call the message of Jesus Christ “the Gospel,” which means “Good News!”
Jesus told a very religious man named Nicodemus that one could not even see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. The new birth does cost one thing—death of the old self. Have you truly begun your new life in Christ yet? Or have you simply tried to patch up the old one?