In this chapter Torrey 1 arrives at that glorious topic of the new birth and the verse above, to me, is the best introduction. Add to this all those fabulous verses in the Old Testament where the Lord says things like, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes.” (Ez. 36:27, compare Ez. 36:26, 37:14, Deut. 30:6, Ps. 51:10, Jer. 32:39, Joel 2:28). No wonder Jesus chides Nicodemus for being a Teacher in Israel and he doesn’t know of such things as the new birth. (John 3:10)
Torrey talks about the fact that this new birth involves a new creation. It comes not from the Law, comes not from circumcision, it is something new, we are new creatures. This involves passing from death to life. Once being dead in sin, now enjoying the newness of life. Actually, until this transition occurs one really doesn’t know enough to tell any difference between this death and life, living on Earth is just, well, life on Earth. A person never knows he is dead unless he get so sick and tired of the effects of the evil of sin he finally calls out to God for help and intercession. Like when disaster strikes, or life get out of control and you throw yourself on the mercy of God like Jairus to Jesus when his little little daughter was near death (Mark 5:22 ff). It’s usually at these points when you realize you really have no control over life you start to really evaluate your real needs of mind and spirit.
So with this new birth comes a renewing, a regenerating of the mind and spirit, and a new nature actually born of the Spirit of God. One’s eyes are open and you see reality as God intends we see it. We become a temple of the Lord because the Spirit of God dwells within us. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (1 Cor. 6:19) And with His Spirit we have the power to fight temptations and live a life pleasing to God, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16) Such is the power of the new birth. We have now the power whereas before we were merely dead, slaves and powerless to do anything but sin. We will still sin occasionally but we will not now practice a sinful life. Our faith will show fruit, we will increasingly grow a devoted heart to our Lord.
In some denominations the term “born again” is not discussed favorably. I can only assume that is because people do not understand what the term means. They must be like Nicodemus. They must think that Heaven is an objective gained after a life well lived. If they are good enough, if they do enough good works, if they say enough prayers, if they donate enough money to their church or good causes. If they belong to the right denomination then they get in.
But Jesus says “You must be born again.” There is no maybe this or that. There are no other options. There are no other plans. There is only one way (John 14:6). You must be born again.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and 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 3:3-6
Jesus uses the term “born again,” referring of course that man was born once from the womb (the water) and needed to be born the second time by the Spirit of God (revealed by “My Father who is in heaven”), as Nicodemus picked up on. He couldn’t crawl back into the womb, what is this “born again” business?
Jesus told him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Jesus explained elsewhere, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63) In other words the flesh can not inherit the kingdom of God. But to those to whom the Spirit gives life, who receives the second birth, they inherit the kingdom, and partake of eternal life, the power of life with which Jesus was raised from the dead.
This second birth was a puzzle to the people of Jesus’ day because up til then all the work was done by the individual. They performed the works of the Law every season and every year and their sins were covered by their sacrifices and offerings. But now all the work is done by God. Jesus’ sacrificial blood covers their sins for all time. The Father guides individuals to Jesus to be saved (John 6:65), the Father reveals the truth about who Jesus really is to the saved (Mat. 16:17), and the believer is given freely of the Holy Spirit to work in him (John 15:26). All the work is done by God, the believer just has to accept it, and bear the fruit of it. Of course, bearing fruit takes a bit of effort on the believers part. But all things are now possible by God. What are your possibilities with God?
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]
1 This the 35th chapter of 52 in RA Torrey’s 1898 publication What The Bible Teaches. We are reviewing them hoping you’ll join the conversation. See all of Lex’s posts here. A PDF copy of the book can be downloaded here. You are welcome and encouraged to join the discussion in your comments to these posts.