You MUST be born again

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

We should notice what a mighty change our Lord declares to be needful to salvation, and what a remarkable expression He uses in describing it. He speaks of a new birth. He says to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He announces the same truth in other words, in order to make it more plain to his hearer’s mind–“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” By this expression He meant Nicodemus to understand that “no one could become His disciple, unless his inward man was as thoroughly cleansed and renewed by the Spirit, as the outward man is cleansed by water.” To possess the privileges of Judaism a man only needed to be born of the seed of Abraham after the flesh. To possess the privileges of Christ’s kingdom, a man must be born again of the Holy Spirit.

The change which our Lord here declares needful to salvation is evidently no slight or superficial one. It is not merely reformation, or amendment, or moral change, or outward alteration of life. It is a thorough change of heart, will, and character. It is a resurrection. It is a new creation. It is a passing from death to life. It is the implanting in our dead hearts of a new principle from above. It is the calling into existence of a new creature, with a new nature, new habits of life, new tastes, new desires, new appetites, new judgments, new opinions, new hopes, and new fears. All this, and nothing less than this is implied, when our Lord declares that we all need a “new birth.”

This change of heart is rendered absolutely necessary to salvation by the corrupt condition in which we are all, without exception, born. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Our nature is thoroughly fallen. The carnal mind is enmity against God. (Rom. 8:7.) We come into the world without faith, or love, or fear toward God. We have no natural inclination to serve Him or obey Him, and no natural pleasure in doing His will. Left to himself, no child of Adam would ever turn to God. The truest description of the change which we all need in order to make us real Christians, is the expression, “new birth.”

This mighty change, it must never be forgotten, we cannot give to ourselves. The very name which our Lord gives to it is a convincing proof of this. He calls it “a birth.” No man is the author of his own existence, and no man can quicken his own soul. We might as well expect a dead man to give himself life, as expect a natural man to make himself spiritual. A power from above must be put in exercise, even that same power which created the world. (2 Cor. 4:6.) Man can do many things; but he cannot give life either to himself or to others. To give life is the peculiar prerogative of God. Well may our Lord declare that we need to be “born again!”

This mighty change, we must, above all, remember, is a thing without which we cannot go to heaven, and could not enjoy heaven if we went there. Our Lord’s words on this point are distinct and express. “Except a man be born again, he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God.” Heaven may be reached without money, or rank, or learning. But it is clear as daylight, if words have any meaning, that nobody can enter heaven without a “new birth.”

– J. C. Ryle, (1816 – 1900), Commentary on the Book of Matthew

Knowing our spiritual disease is the first step towards the cure

Shall I say what seems to me to be the clearest proof that man is a fallen and corrupt creature?

It is not open vice, or unblushing profligacy.

It is not the crowded ale-house, or the murderer’s cell in a jail.

It is not avowed infidelity, or gross and despicable idolatry.

All these are proofs, and convincing proofs indeed, that man is fallen. But there is to my mind a stronger proof still–that proof is the wide-spread “spirit of slumber” about their souls, in which most men lie chained and bound. When I see that multitudes of sensible men, and intelligent men, and decent-living men–can travel quietly towards the grave, and feel no concern about their sins, I need no more convincing evidence that man is “born in sin,” and that his heart is alienated from God. There is no avoiding the conclusion.

Man is naturally asleep–and must be awakened.
He is blind–and must be made to see.
He is dead–and must be made alive.

No heart is in so bad a state, as the heart that does not feel sin!

Light was the first thing called into being. When God created the world, He said, “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3) In the same way, light is the first thing that the Holy Spirit creates in a man’s heart, when He awakens, converts, and makes him a true Christian. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

For lack of seeing sin–men do not value salvation. Once let a man get a sight of his own heart, and he will begin to cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”

To know our spiritual disease–is one step towards a cure. To feel bad and wicked and Hell-deserving–is the first beginning of being really holy.

What though we are humbled to the dust, and cry, “Lord, I am vile! Lord, I am the very chief of sinners!” It is better a thousand times to have these feelings and be miserable under them–than to have no feelings at all. Anything is better than a dead conscience, and a cold heart, and a prayer-less tongue!

Ignorance of self and sin are the root of all mischief to the soul!

J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied, 1896)