“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)
Theologian J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Are you born again? This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
No one is physically born a Christian. We must never have the idea that just because we, or our children, are born into a Christian family that this means we, or they, are automatically Christians. What is necessary is for a person, even one born into a Christian environment, is to be born again. What does it mean to be born again?
The phrase “born again” comes from the Greek words γεννάω ἄνωθεν (gennao; anothen) meaning to experience a new birth or a rebirth, to be born from above, and/or to be born or God. The verb form in the Greek indicates that this rebirth consumes the entire person and is an event or action which happens upon the individual. The person who is born again is a passive recipient of an act of God.
The phrase “born again” refers to the biblical doctrine of Monergistic Regeneration. Monergistic Regeneration is the new birth or rebirth. This compound word contains the root word “generation” meaning creation, invention, initiation and origination. The prefix “re” means once more, afresh or anew. Therefore, regeneration refers to an afresh or new creation or origination.
Pertaining to a sinner’s relationship to the holy God of the Bible, it is a new birth resulting in justification and reconciliation with God. Where once God was the sinner’s enemy (Romans 5:10) through regeneration the sinner becomes a child of God.
The noun regeneration occurs only twice in the Scriptures: in Matthew 19:28 regarding the renewal of the world immediately prior to the return of Christ and in Titus 3:5 where baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration. However, there are numerous texts which refer to regeneration by using various images and expressions. One such description is the new birth.
Ezekiel 36:25-26 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness’s, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This is what Jesus was referring to in John 3:3 when He said, “…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Notice that Jesus said that if the new birth does not occur, the sinner in question cannot see or understand the rule of God over man. In other words, unless the new birth occurs first in the sinner’s soul, they cannot trust, depend, commit and worship God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
It is not that they “will not” exercise faith in Christ, but it is that they “cannot” exercise faith in Christ. The order of the language surmises the new birth or regeneration occurs prior to one’s placing faith in Christ. Only when an individual is born again, or regenerated, can that individual exercise repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and therefore be justified.
As Dr. R. C. Sproul recalls, “One of the most dramatic moments in my life for the shaping of my theology took place in a seminary classroom. One of my professors went to the blackboard and wrote these words in bold letters: “Regeneration Precedes Faith.” These words were a shock to my system. I had entered seminary believing that the key work of man to effect rebirth was faith. I thought that we first had to believe in Christ in order to be born again. I use the words in order here for a reason. I was thinking in terms of steps that must be taken in a certain sequence. I had put faith at the beginning.”
Regeneration is called “renewal of the Holy Spirit” in Titus 3:5. It results in sinners becoming “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), being commanded to put on the “new self” because of Christ (Ephesians 4:24) and to being referred to as “newborn babies” through Christ (I Peter 2:2).
Dr. John MacArthur explains, “The phrase (born again) lit. means “born from above.” Jesus answered a question that Nicodemus does not even ask. He read Nicodemus’s heart and came to the very core of his problem, i.e., the need for spiritual transformation or regeneration produced by the Holy Spirit. New birth is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the believer (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). John 1:12–13 indicates that “born again” also carries the idea “to become children of God” through trust in the name of the incarnate Word.”
Is this new birth necessary? It is not only necessary but occurs only through the means and methods God has appointed resulting in a new pattern of living.
What was Nicodemas’ response to this statement by Jesus? What is yours? Are you born again? Unless you are, you cannot be converted and be justified.
Soli deo Gloria!