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What Does it Mean to be "Born Again?"
By David A. DePra
Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. (1 John 3:1)
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
Jesus is God -- THE Son of God. We are not, and never will BE, God. But we can become "sons or daughters" of God, by being born again IN and through THE Son of God. Herein we see the great destiny of those who are "born again."
Seeing that we are to become SONS of God, tells us that God wants to do more than just "get us saved." He wants a RELATIONSHIP – that of a Father to sons and daughters. And according to the above passage from I John, that relationship is based on His love. And it is to continue throughout the eternal ages.
The only way to become a "son of God" is to be born of God. Thus, it is vital that we understand what it means to be BORN AGAIN. It is a key Biblical Truth.
What does it mean to be "born again," according to the Bible? I say, "according to the Bible," because many people say things about being born again which do not agree with the Biblical definition. Some people say that we are born again because we are "elected" to be born again by God – and that this "new birth" actually happens long BEFORE we come to place our faith in Christ. Thus, to them the new birth happens only by God’s "election." To others, being born again means to merely agree with what the Bible says about being born again. In others words, if I agree with the doctrine of the new birth, somehow that means that I AM born again. Others say being "born again," means that we simply start living a cleaner, better life. Maybe we start going to church. Obviously, none of these opinions is the Truth.
The Greek makes it impossible to think of being "born again" in any other terms than a literal NEW BIRTH. The term "born again" is translated from "gennao," which means to "beget." It is the same word which is used in Matthew 1:20 for "conceived," referring to the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. In John 3, we have "gennao anothen," which means to be "born anew (from above.)" The word is used to denote both "from above," and "again." So the term "born again" actually refers to being BORN all over again.
Jesus used this term in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. There is no doubt about what Jesus meant there by the term, "born anew." The answer which Nicodemus gave to Jesus tells us how HE understood Jesus to be using the term:
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: forno man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 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. Nicodemus said unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? (John 3:1-4)
Nicodemus clearly understood that Jesus was talking about a NEW BIRTH – so much so that he wondered how to get back into the womb! Also note the phrases, "second time," and "when he is old." Nicodemus understood that Jesus was talking about being BORN AGAIN! And Jesus did not tell him that he was wrong to think this. No. Jesus simply corrected him as to what KIND of new birth.
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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)
Nicodemus had understandably jumped to the conclusion that Jesus was talking about a physical or fleshly new birth. Jesus told him NO. To enter the kingdom of God, you do have to be "born again." But not according to the flesh. No. You have to be born again by the Spirit. Jesus said, "For that which is flesh is flesh – and can give birth only TO that which is natural. Thus, you must be born again by the Spirit. The Spirit ONLY gives birth only TO Spirit. You can’t mix flesh and Spirit. You are born either of one or the other.
Paul the apostle taught the same thing. He wrote:
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:45-53)
Paul says, as did Jesus, that, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Instead, you have to be born again through a RESURRECTION. Then, and only then, can you see the kingdom of God, and enter therein.
So what we see here is that there are two "kinds" of human beings on this planet: Those born of the flesh, and those born of the Spirit. Those born of the flesh cannot see, enter, or inherit, the kingdom of God. In order to do those things, you must be born again of the Spirit of God.
Those who are born of the flesh are those who Paul says are, "in Adam." Those who are born again are "in Christ." Paul says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (I Cor. 15:22) You are either in Adam, or you are in Christ. You cannot be in both. You are born through natural birth "in Adam." You must be born again through the spiritual birth to be "in Christ." If you are, then you are a "new creation in Christ Jesus." (I Cor. 5:17)
Right now, you and I are either "in Adam," or "in Christ." We all start out "in Adam" through natural birth. At that point, we are dead spiritually. We must be born again to be "in Christ," and become alive to God.
But how do we do this? Read John 3:9. That is precisely what Nicodemus asked Jesus. He asked, "How can these things be?" Jesus’ answer, as to how to be "born of water and of Spirit" is found in the most famous verses of the Bible – John 3:14-21.
Once you back up to the beginning of this chapter, and read it as a whole, you begin to see that Jesus was giving Nicodemus a description of how to be saved – how to be born again. Indeed, nothing could be more clear. Nicodemus asked, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him -- Jesus told Nicodemus HOW to be born again. He said, "You must be born of water and of the Spirit."
We must take this in two parts. Nicodemus wanted to know how to be "born of water and of Spirit." Let’s take the first part of that: To be born again, you must be born of WATER. What does that mean?
Paul tells us in Romans 6. He says:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:1-4)
Baptism ALWAYS signifies DEATH. Always. Even water baptism, which does not save anyone, but is a confession of faith in Christ, symbolizes death. Paul says that if we have received Christ, we have "been baptized" into His death. That is total immersion IN the death of Christ – a total surrender.
So if you and I want to know how to be born again – how to get free of our natural birth "in Adam," and how to become "born anew in Christ," we now know the first step. There is only one way to deal with Adam. Adam must DIE.
Do you see that? It is essential that you do. The problem with Adam cannot be solved by educating him, or rehabilitating him. Adam cannot be fixed by "getting religion." Adam is dead, and you and I must die TO him. That is the only solution. It is the only way in which we can be born again in Christ.
The way to NEW LIFE is always through DEATH. The old must die in order that the new might live. Just as Christ had to die on the Cross in order to be raised, so must our old life die IN HIM, so that we might be raised in Him to newness of life.
It is impossible for you and I to be born again unto newness of life, if our old life is still alive and well. We cannot be "in Adam" and "in Christ" at the same time. We cannot be "of the flesh" and "of the Spirit" at once. We must be BORN AGAIN – which necessitates the DEATH of the old.
This is precisely what Jesus was referring to when He told Nicodemus that we must be born of WATER. He was saying, "You must be born again. But there can be no new life unless the old dies. You must be born of water, which is the death of the old, and only then can you be born of Spirit, which is the resurrection from out of that water to newness of life."
Nicodemus would have understood this concept because the Pharisees were well acquainted with baptism. This is exactly why Jesus used baptism to explain the necessity of first dying. In Romans 6, quoted above, Paul says the same thing. He says, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Both Jesus and Paul point directly the necessity of DEATH as the pathway to new LIFE. They both tell us what baptism, and being "born of water," points to: The Cross. The Cross is always the first step in the new birth – for it is the means by which I die to the OLD. ONLY if I first come to the Cross of Jesus Christ can I be crucified with Him, and then raised with Him as a new creation, born anew.
It is absolutely vital that we see the necessity of the Cross. For it is the denial of the Cross, or the rendering of it as needless, or the hiding of it, that stands as one of the most common ploys of the enemy in deception. If we do not see that we must first DIE to the old, before we can be born again – or if we deny that we need to – we CANNOT be born again. Indeed, we cannot be saved.
When we speak of the Cross, we are, of course, talking about the means by which God deals with our SIN. Jesus bore all of our sin in His Body on the Cross, and shed His Blood. That is not only the payment for our sins, but it is also the means of OUR death to the old man in Adam – and thus, the means of our deliverance from the power of sin.
For affirmation of this Truth, we need only continue reading in Romans 6:
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom 6:5-7)
Jesus Christ was crucified FOR us. That is certain. But in a very real sense, we were crucified IN HIM. Our "old man" in Adam was. Jesus actually took upon Himself our "body of sin" – the nature of sin. Unless this is true, we have NO FREEDOM from sin.
Herein we see a vital component to the Redemption which many people miss. Jesus Christ did not merely provide God with a LEGAL means to forgive us. He DID do that. But if ALL Jesus accomplished on the Cross was to make it possible for God to legally imput His death to us as payment – such that God could then "rubber stamp" us "forgiven – then how does that change ME? We might say that such a legal imputation could set me free from the legal penalty for sin, but how about sin itself?
It is one thing to "forgive" the sinner. It is another thing entirely to deliver him from sin. A legal redemption might be said to remove the penalty for sin. But does it remove the sin from the sinner? Does it change HIM? No. The sinner is the same as before – only now things are worse. Why? Because under a purely legal redemption, the sinner is actually "forgiven" but still IN SIN!
The notion of a legal redemption ONLY is equal to pardoning a murderer and releasing him from prison, all the while doing nothing to change HIM. This would be worse than providing no redemption at all, and really make God responsible for it.
Do you see this? If the "forgiveness" Jesus won on the Cross was merely the legal justification for God to impute to me HIS DEATH, then how does this crucify my "old man?" How is the "body of sin" destroyed? How is there any freedom from ADAM -- NOW? There would be none!
The Redemption of Jesus Christ satisfied every legal demand of perfect, Divine justice. But it did MORE. It satisfied the very righteousness and holiness of God by setting us free from sin itself, and then raising us up to newness of life.
In Jesus Christ, we are set free from "our Adam." In Christ, our "old man in Adam" dies, so that through His resurrection, we might be born anew.
Jesus said to his disciples:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
If we have embraced Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we have ALREADY passed from the condition of death we acquired by natural birth in Adam, over to life through the new birth in Jesus Christ. We have passed from death to life, because we have been both crucified with Christ, and raised with Him. Adam is dead and Christ is alive.
Embracing the Cross is the first step. I must come to the Cross and not only embrace the fact that Jesus was crucified FOR me, but I must surrender myself to being crucified WITH Him. THAT is the doorway unto freedom from sin, and newness of life.
No where is this made more clear than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
Paul knew Christ died for him. But notice how he states the Truth: I am crucified WITH Christ. Just like he told the Romans: We are planted into His death. Our "old man" is crucified with Him.
So what we see in all of this is that any suggestion of the Redemption which limits what Jesus did on the Cross to merely a legal imputation is error. By the Cross, we DIE in Christ. That is the only way in which we can then LIVE in Him.Paul said that, "Christ lives IN ME." He told the Romans they also had the power to grow to live in the freedom which Christ provided through the Cross and resurrection:
Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 6:8-11)
Can we see that unless our "body of sin" died in the Christ who took our sins upon Himself – truly and in a real sense, rather than merely in a legal sense -- is there any power whatsoever over sin? Paul says, if you really are dead to sin because it’s power has been broken by the Cross you can do the following:
Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:11-14)
Is it any wonder that the enemy of our souls wants to hide, deny, or distort the Truth of the Cross? It is his DEFEAT. It is our freedom – the doorway and first step out of the old creation into the new. You cannot be born again unless you first come to the Cross.
Come to the Cross
Today, as never before, churches are denying the Cross. Indeed, they are denying that we must come to Jesus as sinners in need of Redemption. Instead, we offer people a "religion" about Jesus which preaches "love," and "tolerance," and "acceptance" -- but without the need to confess that we have been wrong with God. Without dealing with sin.
This is not only unacceptable, but it is something out of hell. It is rank heresy and the very demise of the church. If we deny the need for the personal application of the Cross, and deny the need for personal repentance, we are denying the need for Christ Himself. Indeed, if we deny the Cross, it is PROOF that we are, right now, perishing. (see I Cor. 1:18)
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that I am saying that all we need to do is acknowledge that there IS a Cross, or merely agree that Jesus died on it. No. That is NOT enough. Rather, we must personally embrace the Cross as a sinner. We must come to the Cross of Jesus Christ as needy sinners or we cannot be saved; cannot be born again.
The reality is, unless I FIRST come to Jesus Christ as a sinner, there is no salvation, forgiveness, or new birth. Unless I personally relinquish myself to Christ, through a voluntary surrender by faith, there is no moral basis upon which the Cross will mean anything to me. No wonder Satan has cleverly devised ways in which to side-step the Cross and made it seem to be a "good thing." He knows that the Cross is his defeat.
Note the phrase: Voluntary surrender. If you want to know the ONE THING you can do, and the ONE THING you must do, in order to be saved, here it is. You must voluntarily relinquish your old life to Jesus Christ. You must be crucified in Him. That is the only way to be set free from the natural birth in Adam, and to be born anew in Christ through the resurrection.
We must be perfectly clear about this. If all you do is assent to the fact that Jesus died for you, that is NOT faith. You cannot be saved. If all you do is say you believe that Jesus died for your sins, and was raised, it will do nothing for you. Indeed, because you acknowledge these facts, you may be condemning yourself out of your own mouth. Rather, you must not only believe Jesus died for you, but you must embrace His Cross as your own. You must come to Him as a sinner who voluntarily relinquishes his life. In short, rather than merely believe the facts about what Jesus did for you, you must be crucified with Christ and be raised with Him. Otherwise, you have no salvation.
Read Paul’s words to the Colossians:
In whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who has raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Col 2:9-13)
This passages echoes all that we have seen from Romans. You must no only believe the FACT that Jesus died for you, you must be crucified with Him and be buried with Him. You must be raised with Him. Otherwise, there is NO salvation.
So we see that FAITH is not a mere assent to the facts of the Redemption. Faith is a surrender TO the reality of it. Faith involves an unconditional surrender of my life to the One who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I must relinquish my old life to the Cross or I cannot be saved.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The new birth cannot happen except it come FIRST through the means of "water," which speaks of death. It cannot. But if I first DIE to Adam, then I can be birthed by the "Spirit," which speaks of resurrection unto newness of life in Christ.
But how are we to come to this place? We have already said that we must relinquish our old life to Christ. How do we do this?
Christian teaching for centuries has rightly stated that a dead man cannot gender life in himself. That is true. If you are "dead in Adam," you cannot so much as start the process of life. You cannot initiate your own salvation or new birth. You have nothing to work with. Death cannot gender life.
This is why Jesus said, "No one can come to Me except the Father who sent me draw him." (John 6:44) God must take the initiative.
But it is important to be clear about what Jesus is saying in this passage. Jesus said, "No MAN can come to Me -- unless the Father draw Him." Or, "Unless the Father draw him, no man can come to Me." Notice that this is a two-part Truth. God takes the initiative – He does the "drawing." Without the "drawing," "the coming" is impossible. But once God does draw a person to Christ, the person does the "coming" – by faith. The persons must COME. God doesn’t do the "coming." God doesn’t make us come to Jesus. That is our choice – our only choice – but the one choice WE must make.
So here we see the HOW of coming to Christ. God draws us to Christ – brings the Light necessary for us to see enough Truth to be able to choose. But WE must choose to surrender to Christ. And that we CAN do. Each of us have a free will.
If you and I have a free will, then by definition, there is one thing we CAN do: Surrender our free will. And that is ALL God requires of us. He shows us how BAD and needy we are, and shows us the Cross of Jesus Christ. There we are able to choose to relinquish our old life to Jesus. If we do, the rest of what happens – namely our resurrection – is in HIS hands.
Herein we see the conversion process. It is a fact that none of us can possibly initiate our own conversion. In other words, a "bad man" cannot make himself "good." He has only his "badness" to work with – which means he won’t even WANT to make himself good, simply because he won’t be conscious of how bad he is! BUT – and this is the whole point -- a BAD man can be shown how BAD he is! Absolutely. God can do that. God knows exactly how to take each one of us and to show us how BAD we are – to show us our need for Christ. God can reveal to a BAD man how bad he is, and likewise reveal to a BAD man how GOOD Christ is. And God can point to the Cross and say, "Surrender your sin here. THAT you can do." This is what it means for God to draw us TO Christ.
Thus, despite the fact that you and I cannot gender in ourselves new life, we CAN surrender ourselves to HIS death. Despite the fact that there is nothing at all which we can do to initiate the process of the new birth, God can and does initiate it by showing us how bad and needy we are. Then He says, "All I require is that you confess your condition, and by faith, voluntarily relinquish yourself to My Son." If we will do that, then we will not only be set free from sin by the death of Christ, we will be raised with Him unto newness of life. We will be born of water and Spirit!
Coming to Christ
Salvation through faith in Christ is amazingly simple. We voluntarily relinquish ourselves to Him. We cannot get to that choice unless God Himself takes the initiative to draw us there, for, as mentioned, a bad man cannot make himself good. But God can show a bad man how bad he is, and give him the choice to be saved.
This, of course, speaks of repentance. But more specifically, does this mean that before we can come to Christ, we must see and confess every sin we have ever committed?
No. To come to Christ, we need repent of only one sin: Unbelief.
Unbelief is independence from God. It is a condition of being wrong with God – out of which many sins emerge. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. Faith is surrender and dependence upon God. Unbelief is rebellion and Independence from God.
Now notice: If I repent of unbelief, I will do what? Believe! I will surrender myself to Christ for the forgiveness and redemption of ALL my sins.
The first gospel message was, "Repent and believe." That is really simple. But repent of what? Repent of NOT believing. Repent of not coming to Jesus. In other words, repent of being WRONG with God – of living in unbelief. Then -- turn and become RIGHT with Him through faith in Christ Jesus.
We need to see that we have been terribly WRONG with God – have been living independent of Him. We have done this even if we are nice people who may have never hurt a fly. What we have done is not the issue. What we have been towards God IS. We have been wrong with God and must return to Him through Christ.
The issue here is who I belong to: Myself or God. Belonging to myself is sin. It is unbelief. Belonging to God is faith. I must repent of belonging to myself by surrendering to God through faith in Jesus Christ. THAT is what is necessary for salvation. THAT self-ownership is what Adam is all about!
This is really THE SIN God shows us. Unbelief – being wrong with God – is what God shows a "bad man," for once he sees that, he does begin to see just how bad he is! It is one thing to acknowledge all of the bad things we have done. It is another to see that we have been wrong towards God Himself. Repent of THAT SIN, and the rest will easily follow.
Now, once God does bring us to the place where we see that we have been wrong towards Him, notice ALL that God requires: Surrender of the old life by faith. Surrender of sin. That is all. THAT is how, by faith, we are able to be made RIGHT with Him.
It is really so simple. The moment we surrender to Christ, we are right with God. For by surrendering, we are forsaking our unbelief and BELIEVING! We are then RIGHT with Him.
Note that God does not require that we understand all kinds of theology in order to be saved. He does not require a comprehensive and exhaustive review of every single sin I’ve ever committed. No. To be saved, I need only relinquish my life to Christ – in an attitude of repentance of unbelief. Once I do that, God will be able to convict me of specific sins. He’ll have something to work with.
So we see that God doesn’t ask us to "birth ourselves" to newness of life. He simply tells us to surrender the OLD. To DIE. And while He will bring us to the place where we can see and know enough to make this choice, WE must make it. God will not make it for us.
Jesus did not leave us on our own to guess as to what He meant when He said we must be born anew of first, WATER, and then, of Spirit. He meant the way of the CROSS. The rest of what He said to Nicodemus absolutely confirmed this entire Truth about the Cross. Jesus continued by saying:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Jesus was referring to an Old Testament account from Numbers 21:
And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Num 21:5-9)
The brazen serpent, hung on a pole, forms a CROSS – brass always symbolizing judgment upon sin. When Moses lifted it up, it was able to be seen by ALL – showing that Jesus died for the sin of ALL, not just a few. But ONLY THOSE who believed – who looked upon it – were saved. This account is therefore a perfect summary of the first step to salvation.
Jesus said, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so must I be lifted up. And just as whoever looked upon the serpent were saved, so will everyone who believes not perish, but have everlasting life."
Now, the point here is this: None of this happens without the CROSS. You cannot by-pass the Cross. You cannot deny it, hide it, distort it, or change the order in which things must happen if you are to be saved. You must be born "of water" – baptized into the death of Christ by surrendering to the Cross – first. Then, and only then, have you died in Christ. Nothing else can result in resurrection in Christ.
Jesus wasn’t finished explaining. He goes on with Nicodemus:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:14-19)
Here we see Jesus further explaining how the serpent in the wilderness stands as a type of Himself crucified. And here we see the MOTIVES of God in lifting Him up in that way. "For God so loved the world….." – not – for God was so angry with the world that He send Jesus to appease His wrath. No. "For God so LOVED the world – the whole world – not just a few.
In order to be born again, I must come to Jesus Christ crucified. I must embrace His Cross. In other worlds, I must relinquish my old life, through repentance, by saying, "Into Your hands I commit my spirit." There is no other path to the new birth.
And thankfully, God will bring me to that place of choice. He won’t make the choice for me, and He won’t force me to make the choice. Just as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness to people that were more than aware that death was the consequence for their sin, so God will lift up Jesus Christ crucified to us, that we might be able to make the choice to believe and therefore be saved.
This IS the Condemnation
We have seen that the first gospel message was, "Repent and believe." That is really simple. But repent of what? Repent of NOT believing. Repent of not coming to Jesus. In other words, repent of being WRONG with God – turn and become RIGHT with Him through faith in Christ Jesus.
All you need to do to be saved is to know that you are WRONG with God, and want to be right with Him. God will bring you there. And He will show you Jesus Christ as THE WAY to be saved from your sin. He will show you the Cross. You then surrender, by faith, to Christ.
As mentioned, we must repent of not believing – of unbelief. Unbelief is not necessarily expressed by openly and defiantly telling God you reject Christ. Neither is unbelief necessarily exhibited through a morally unclean lifestyle. Unbelief is independence from God – living on my own terms. I can do that in an upright, civil, respectable way. I can be a nice person; one who does nice things for people. A can be a good family person with friends, and have lived a life outside of much trouble. None of that, however is the question. The question is whether I have come to Christ and embraced the Cross. The question is whether I am born again.
Most people who are living in unbelief do so through neglect, indifference, and willful ignorance. They don’t defy God. They just ignore Him because they are caught up with other things that are presently more important to them. But they are still "in Adam." They must come to Christ. God wants to bring them to the place where they will see their need and embrace the Truth.
Now, this is gloriously easy. But precisely because it is free and easy, you have no excuse, once God brings you into this Light, for refusing. Indeed, if you refuse once you see the Light, and continue doing so for the rest of your life, you will be condemned.
Jesus continued with Nicodemus:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)
Without LIGHT, I cannot choose LIGHT, for I have only darkness. But once God brings Light into my world, I have a choice that I never had before. There is, at that point, no possibility of going back, for I have now SEEN and must choose. I am accountable.
If I were in darkness ONLY, it could not be said that I loved darkness RATHER than light. But once Light is introduced by God INTO my darkness, then I do have a choice to either love darkness rather than Light, or love Light rather than darkness. And I MUST make that choice. I will make the choice, one way or another.
It is here that I am totally accountable before God, for HE has taken the initiative to bring Light into my world. HE has taken the initiative to reveal Christ to me. I have now seen. I must now choose: Light or darkness. To embrace Christ or reject Him.
Some choose to reject Christ. Jesus said, "THIS IS condemnation, that men loved darkness rather than Light." And WHY do they make this choice? "Because their deeds were evil."
Notice, first of all, that at the point where God brings light, I am not yet regenerated or born again. Nope. God drawing me to Christ is NOT, in and of itself, the new birth or regeneration. It is just God giving light. We can know this for sure because Jesus is here clearly saying that it is my embracing OF the Light by faith that results in eternal life. And He is saying that my refusal to come into the Light will condemn me – not possible if at this point I am already born again.
Seeing Light is not the new birth. Surrendering to Christ – the Light – by faith, is necessary for salvation. And the terrible possibility does exist that I will reject Christ, love darkness RATHER than Light, and keeping rejecting Him.
Can we see that refusing the Light is what it means to refuse to come to the Cross? I won’t come to the Cross if I refuse to allow my sin to be exposed by the Light. I won’t come if I continue to hide back in the darkness. I am only coming to the Cross if I am coming with my confession of sin.
Some people think they can "come to the Cross" by simply agreeing that there IS one. They agree that Jesus died for them. But they don’t COME TO JESUS and relinquish their life TO His Cross. But unless we do, we cannot be saved. We cannot be born again. For coming to the Cross is how we are baptized into the death of Jesus, and thus, "born of water."
This IS condemnation: That Light is come into MY world, and I chose to love darkness RATHER than the Light which God brought me. Such a condemnation is not the product of a one-time emotional reaction. It is not even the product of a one-time willful rejection of Christ. Condemnation is the product of a LIFETIME rejection of Christ – through rebellion, neglect, and willful ignorance. God is a just God. If I end up condemned, I can be sure it was MY choice.
The penalty for refusing Christ is that I don’t have Him! God gives me exactly what I choose. Jesus Christ died for ALL the sin of ALL people who ever lived. But once I see Light, I must believe. There is no chance, at that point, of saying that I did not see. I DID see. There is no going back. God beckons us to come to the Cross with our sin, and to surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ. It is the only way unto salvation and new birth God offers.
Born of Spirit
What is salvation? Many Christians think that salvation is merely "getting your sins forgiven." But if that were the case, then we would be totally saved by death of Jesus Christ – for it is by His death that our sins are forgiven. Thus, we would not really need NEW life, would we? The old life, only now pronounced "forgiven," would suffice.
The problem here is that the "old life," only now pronounced "forgiven," would not be a CHANGED life. In fact, it might be a life which is free from the penalty for sin, but it would not be a life which is freed from sin itself. It would therefore not be a new life at all.
Salvation is not merely a condition of forgiveness. More than that, salvation is NEW LIFE. Get that: NEW life. Not the old life stamped, "forgiven." No. NEW life.
Remember what we saw about the absolutely necessity of coming to the Cross of Christ? You come to the Cross, not only to receive forgiveness, but to DIE – to be crucified with Christ! But if that death is REAL, then through the resurrection, what we are is a NEW CREATURE, not the same old one, only stamped, "forgiven."
Salvation is LIFE – new life. Jesus came to die, yes, but ultimately that we might have LIFE. (see Jn. 10:10) This new life is through His resurrection.
Paul made it clear that we are not saved merely by the death of Christ, but are, in fact, saved by His resurrection:
But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Rom 5:8-10)
We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, while we were yet sinners. This historical event does not save us. Otherwise there would be such a thing a "universal salvation" – without the necessity of faith. But no. It is only if we surrender to Christ by faith – surrender to the Cross – that we are both set free from sin and raised unto newness of life – WHICH IS SALVATION.
This is what is means to be born anew by water and Spirit. We must first DIE in Christ, and then be RAISED. Then we are saved.
Here we can once again point to a physical birth. Before a baby is BORN, he is in the womb of the mother, in WATER. Imagine trying to be born WITHOUT bursting out of that water! You cannot be born. Indeed, the birth takes place once the "water breaks." The point is, you must be born "of water." You must relinquish, forsake, and come OUT of the place of that old birth in Adam – and be birthed into the fresh air of the Spirit of God.
Again – there is no other order possible. You cannot be born again by God through some "election," only to later "come to the Cross." Neither can you be born again through some legal imputation applied to you by God, only to later wake up to it. No. You must be brought to the Cross by God, and then by your choice to surrender, embrace the Cross. Relinquish the old life. Then, and only then, is a new birth possible.
Saying that the new birth is nothing more than a legal imputation, rather than an actual infusion of the life of Christ, is equal to saying that a physical birth is nothing more than the birth certificate! Nonsense. You DO need to have a baby! An actual new life. Then you have a new birth.
Death and Resurrection
The new birth is "Christ in us," and "us in Christ." It is being "planted together" in His death and resurrection, such that we are now the branches, and He is the Vine. It is union with Christ such that we can be called HIS BODY. "Legal imputation only" denies the very essence of Christianity on all levels. We will not experience the fullness of His life here and now. But we are given to experience as much of it as is possible in a body of flesh and Blood.
Christianity is life from death. It is a new birth from the death of the old. Paul says these things best:
For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (II Cor 5:14-21)
To be a "son or daughter of God" means that I am no longer a child of Adam. I have seen that old life crucified with Christ. I am now a new creation – in Christ Jesus. That is the reason, and the only reason why, when Jesus comes, that we will "be like Him." We shall, if you will, bear a family resemblance to Christ. We will know Him and He will know us. This is the end unto which we are BORN AGAIN.
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: (John 1:11-12)
John the apostle says that if we really believe these things, we will be "purifying ourselves even as He is pure." This is not merely a matter of cleaning up one’s life. It is a matter of growing to live for God in the here and now with a focus and motivation which is single and pure. We know we don’t belong here, or belong to ourselves. We have been bought with a price. *
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