The New Birth
Dr. Donald J. Ralston
We will not talk about it in its simple form of being converted to Jesus Christ but hopefully just reaching out a little beyond that.
John chapter 3 verse 3
We will begin at that point, Jesus answered and said unto him,"Nicodemus verily I say unto you, except a man be born again", I just have to stop there and say that the Greek word, Anathen, is not so much the word again, in the sense of the second time, although that is true, but that is not the meaning of the word here. The word Anathen, means from above. It must be a heavenly birth. It must have its source in God, that is the idea. "Nicodemus I say to you verily, verily", using verily, twice means, I' m putting tremendous emphasis on this. I want you to listen to me, "except a man", a woman, a boy or a girl "be born again", born from above, born from God, born by means of the Spirit, "they cannot see the kingdom of God". It is a Spiritual birth, Jesus himself said so. Jesus had said, "If my kingdom were of this world then you'd fight for me" but he said, "put up your sword Peter for my kingdom is not of this world." It's a Spiritual kingdom. "Nicodemus saith unto him, Lord, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born? He thought of it on the very elementary idea that Jesus had talked about. He says, can he enter his mothers' womb a second time? Jesus answered in verse 5, "verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water" and literally this is in the Greek a Henlyatus and I won't go into what that is, but simply to say it refers back to what is said before, it's not two different things, it's the same thing emphasized. Allow me is way; A man may be born of water, even the Spirit, in other words the Spirit is the cleansing agent. (Ezekiel 36:25-27) that is what a Henlyatus is. It refers back to this being born of water, even the spirit. The Spirit is that water that cleanses, that agent that does the inner work, that needs to be done to purify me within. "Except you be born of the water, even the spirit, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Why - because "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit". Two separate things altogether. "Marvel not that I say unto you that you must be born again. The wind bloweth where it willeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof but you canst not tell whence it cometh, and where it goeth"; there is a mystery to the wind. You hear it, you know it is blowing, we felt it yesterday. But you don't know where it comes from and you don't know where it goes. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit, there is a mystery to it. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, how, can these things be? I don't understand the process. You've mystified me. Jesus answered and said unto him, "Art thou a master of Israel", that is a teacher of Israel "and you know not these things? Verily, verily I say unto thee, we speak that which we do know and testify that what we have seen, and you received not our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you believe it not, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"
I will stop the reading at this point.
Jesus emphasized the necessity of the new birth. There are two facts about Christianity that are absolutely indisputable . Number one is, the person of Jesus Christ and what we know as Christianity as a result of Him, has revealed to the world, the highest ideals of human life. That is what we know of Him and if we just superficially look at His life, look at His teaching, read the four gospels, we know that this is the highest ideals ever presented to humanity. In Christianity we have those ideals.
Secondly, in the teachings of Christ, Christianity has given to the world the most perfect, ethical code ever enunciated. Can you think of any higher truth, more elevated teaching then what we find in the Sermon On the Mount? In the Beatitudes? The highest ethical code ever enunciated came through Christianity and Jesus Christ. In Him is a perfect pattern and by Him, a perfect law. Whatever opinion people may hold concerning the principles of Jesus Christ, I think everyone will agree His teachings in the Sermon On the Mount are superlative.
If everyone in this room, were to live His life, and His teaching, there would be an immediate solution to our problems and the righting of all wrongs. If somehow, His life, the principles, the character, the ethics enunciated by Christ could be experienced by all of us, what a transformation there would be in human relationships. Did you catch that simple little word IF -- IF I could obey His law, IF I could live as He lived, but do we?
I think the answer is obvious. I think all of us who are honest, need to look back to yesterday, maybe even this morning and would have to say I didn't live as He lived. I didn't speak as He would have spoken. I didn't act as He would have acted. If Jesus Christ gave us nothing more than the pattern of His life and a taste of His teaching -- He has succeeded, in that, by revealing the depth of human degradation and the impossibility of our ever attaining the best in life. If this is all He gave us, if all that we had before us, was what is written in these four gospels and those principles that He enunciated and then pointed to you and said Live Like This! What one of us would dare stand in this room and say, "I live like Jesus? I radiate and manifest His character, His qualities, in me can be seen," I Corinthians 13, the chapter on love. Which one would be so audacious as to stand this morning before this congregation and say I live like that.
You see I can't reproduce that life, in my own strength. I tried for years to be a Christian, to live as a Christian. I don't mean to just simply be saved from sin -- no I am not talking about that. I mean after my conversion to Jesus Christ, after His transformation of me - I really tried to live in my own strength His life. I tried to be a Christian. Very honestly, a lot of my friends thought I did. I put on a good show. I look back now with great sorrow upon my hypocrisy, not planned hypocrisy. I mean it was not something that I was putting on deliberately. All I have to do is go back in the yearbook and look at just one statement -- I was voted the most spiritual, along with one of the girls in the school. At that time, that was a great source of pride to me, but I look back now and see that was nothing more than an attempt on my part to be a Christian, in my own strength. I worked hard at it, I mean I wasn't a conscious reprobate, I wasn't trying to fake people out. I was really, really, trying to be a Christian. To live up to His teachings, to be spiritual. As I look back on it now, I look back and see that deep down when somebody said that I was -- I almost believed it, and I don't believe it anymore. I was trying to be a Christian, trying to obey His laws, trying to act like He acted, and speak like he spoke. I will tell you it is a tremendous burden! The sad thing is, when your alone with yourself -- you know that you didn't act that way. You knew when you lost your temper at your wife -- that wasn't Jesus. You knew when you were intemperate with your children -- that wasn't Jesus. Yet you still try to be spiritual, at least I did. Some people don't even try, that's the sad part. Some people don't even make a stab at walking with Jesus, living as He lived. I don't think it is that bad if somebody gets in the flesh trying to be a good Christian -- do you know why? Because in the end they will come to the end of themselves and realize they're not. The Holy Spirit will be gracious to show you that. I cannot obey His laws nor reproduce His life, unless in some way, He brings me the power with the pattern, and the dynamic with the ethic. I need a power beyond my own. I need a dynamic beyond the ethic that I find in this New Testament. That is what Jesus is talking about in John chapter three. He is talking about the deepest part of the new birth. All of this tells me that Christianity is a life communicated to me, and in that power I find myself being transformed in His likeness -- not trying to be a Christian anymore. It's just Jesus living out His life through me and then you are not conscious of being a Christian. You are not conscious of trying, you are not trying to put on anything -- you just are! That is what it means when you read such phrases as "Be filled with the Spirit" in the New Testament. "That the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in and through the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
When I read "I have been crucified with Christ nevertheless I live" Paul is saying, but wait a minute now, your conscious of your being alive but I want you to know that there is something beyond that consciousness -- "Christ liveth in me and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God". There is the power to follow the pattern. There is the dynamic to live the ethic so that you can be a person freely spontaneous, without any false face. You are able to say, I am a sinner.
Last night when I was praying for the services, I had to repent before I could even pray because I had spoken ill with my daughter. I had to repent; I see that I am still living and I don't like that sight. But I also praise God that I'm aware that there is another person living in me and I see that person coming through as well. When I see "me" coming through I repent and then I see Jesus coming through. This takes all the pride out. You don't have to worry about being the most spiritual. You don't have to worry about people talking about how Godly you are. You see the consciousness is, I'm not Godly. That is what I saw last night. I see it every day about myself. The only Godliness that is mine, is the person that is in me, who came into me at this new birth. The one who gives me the power for the pattern, to follow the pattern, who gives me the dynamic to live the ethic. I see that too. I rejoice in that, but not as a sense of pride or accomplishment. I simply rejoice that I see Jesus coming through me and I rejoice and I praise Him that He is that gracious that He would come through. We prayed this morning, Lord, speak -- through the pastor. You know we pray that, and somehow we have said that phrase over and over and we don't even know what we are saying. That's exactly what we desire -- right? If I get up and talk to you, all you will get is a few ethical niceties. But, if Jesus can somehow come through this weak vessel, He will communicate life to you and that is what I am looking for. Even this morning I tremble, I felt my hands trembling, as I sat over there, before I came over here to speak. I was aware I don't have anything! I look at my notes and I say -- Dry Bones -- Lord, make these words live. But it is wonderful when you put yourself at His disposal and as I walked to the pulpit, I said, Jesus, you and are I standing here together. Isn't that wonderful? You know that is what gives me peace or I would be trembling all the time, because I am not sufficient for this. No man alive is sufficient to speak to you, to give you admonition, to give you direction in life, only one -- Jesus. If somehow you can feel that it is the Lord speaking through my vessel, it may be my lips and my voice, but there is another voice coming through, as these words hit your ears and go into your mind. The voice of the precious Spirit of God, who is saying listen to this. Hear, having ears, hear what the Spirit saith unto you. That is it. It is a life communicated to me, to you, and in that power I find myself being transformed into His likeness.I hope before the Lord takes me home I can be increasingly transformed in that likeness, so that a lot of these ugly things I still see in me I won't see anymore. Do you see a lot of ugliness in you?
How does this life begin? In John chapter three, we have some plain truth revealed concerning the beginning of this life. Nicodemus said when he was talking to Jesus, "How can these things be?" Jesus said, "are you a teacher of Israel and you don't know what I'm saying? If I told you earthly things and you don't understand, how can I communicate heavenly things to you?" At the heart of this conversation, is what Jesus said in verse 6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" now in this verse He gives us both truths. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh", simple statement. Second statement, "That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit". Why the necessity of the spiritual birth, that Jesus is talking about? Why - because Jesus says "That which is born of the flesh is flesh". When you came forth from your mother's womb you carried all the baggage of the sin nature of Adam and Eve with you. He said, that which is "born of the flesh" can arise no higher than what it is -- flesh. No one had to teach you to lie when you were four years old. No one had to teach you how to do the wrong thing. Your parents had to teach you how to do the right thing. Why -- Because that which is "born of the flesh is flesh". Because you are born with a sin nature, you are born to do things wrong. To lie, to seek your own good at the expense of others. Do you see the nature of this new life that Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus when He said, "That which was born of the spirit is spirit". You have to have a spiritual birth Nicodemus because that is a total separate and different birth from that which you received.
I've had people say to me -- you know I was born a Christian. You were never born a Christian! You were born anti-Christian. When I say that I don't mean necessarily anti-Christ, but you did everything that violates spiritual principles. That is what you are by your first birth. It took a second birth for me to even be interested in doing those things that Jesus wanted me to do. You see there are a great many people who know a great deal about God but they do not personally know God, there is a world of difference between knowing about God and personally knowing God. You see I grew up in a Christian home, my mother and dad prayed with me, they read the Bible to me. They talked to me about God. That is wonderful but all you know -- is about God. One of the greatest and most insidious things in all of the world is growing up in a Christian home and knowing all about God and not really knowing Him personally. Then you bring into the world a third generation that doesn't even know God at all.
I heard the president of a major Christian College speaking in reference to the great, great grandaughter of a famed preacher, he said "I went back, to the home town of this great preacher and I talked with his great, great granddaughter". He stated, "I don't even think she was saved. She had nothing about her that would communicate any knowledge of a personal relationship with Christ". Now this is from a descendent of a spiritual giant. By the third generation -- we have a near descendent who had no personal knowledge of Christ, that is what can happen. It isn't sufficient to know about God, that will not get you to heaven. You have to know God personally, a personal relationship. Jesus said, "This is life eternal, that you might know God the Father ." None of us can really know God by means of our first birth. In order to really know God you must experience the second birth that Jesus talked to Nicodemus about. Here is how you can know if you are without God, ask yourself this question -- Am I born of God or do I just know about God? Where do I really stand with God? Do I just think I'm a Christian and I'm really not? Here is how you can make that determination. You remember Jesus said these words about the flesh person. The philosophy of the world of the person without God, can be expressed in these words. "What shall we eat, what shall we drink and wherewithal shall we be clothed?" Jesus said those are the words of the Godless. That is all they think about. Eating, drinking, in other words, materialism. Their whole world revolves around themselves. What do I have? Am I protected? Have I got all that's necessary for me? That is the sum and substance of the life that does not know God. The whole thought life is concerned with material things. That which is born of flesh is flesh. If all that you have is the first birth, I guarantee you that is what you will think about. How can I get along better, how can I get more, how can I get a better car, how can I get a better home, how can I get better clothes, how can I have a bigger bank account, how can I get this new thing that I desire? Your whole life will revolve around things! That is the life that does not know God intimately. I am not saying you do not know things about God, that is not it. I am saying knowing God, being born of God, takes you from the realm of the flesh to the realm of the Spirit, so that you can begin to think spiritually. That is why Jesus said "How can I talk to you of heavenly things if you can't even understand earthly things." You see the man or woman born of the Spirit knows the eternal God, and you become His friend. That's the first thing that happens when you are converted to Jesus Christ, you have a spiritual birth. God becomes your friend.
Think of it, most of the time before we were converted to Christ, most of us thought about God as our judge. That is why you feared to die, because you have to meet God as your judge. That's why the Bible says "Therefore there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." There is a quieting of your conscience toward God. You and God are not at odds anymore, you and God are friends. When you first become a friend of God you want to get to know Him a little better, as you do any friend. You want to be with Him. The Bible will be meaningful to you. That is what I mean by being a friend of God. This is God's book, your God's friend, you want to know God's book. You will want to go to Bible studies. That is one of the first things that happened to me when I was converted to Christ in 1954. I put the New Testament in my pocket and read it, and read it, and read it. That is why I went away to Bible school. I didn't go to be a preacher, I never wanted to be a preacher, I hated preaching! I didn't like preachers. So I don't feel bad if you don't like me now and then, because I didn't like them either. I never did like preaching. I used to sneak out of church and go and drink Cokes and malts in the pharmacy across the street from the church. Then I would run back and stand by the door and make out like I had been in church. I didn't go to Bible school to be a preacher, God did that! I didn't have anything to do with it. Maybe you are saying -- God must have made a mistake, when you hear me sometimes. The whole thing is, I wanted to know Him, He became my friend. That is the very first thing that is established in your conscience -- you and God are not at odds anymore -- you are friends. The second thing that happens beyond that friendship -- I begin to love God. The very thought of how much he loves me at times can bring tears to my eyes. Why? Because I've begun to love Him. I first became His friend, as a result of that spiritual birth from above -- I began to love him. I've given this illustration but it warrants a second run. I'll never forget Angelo Carrapelli, my Italian friend who is a beautiful Christian brother. While walking half drunk down the street, he heard singing coming from a little basement church, and it drew him in. He loved classical music, being Italian, he loved to sing. He heard this marvelous singing coming from down in the basement of a church. He was not aware at the time it was a church. He went to the big Roman Catholic Cathedral. He went down into this little basement church drawn by the music and sat down. He said I was a religious man who attended church. He said they had a testimony meeting and people got up and some of them began to say "Oh, I just want to tell you I love the Lord". He said they began to talk about loving the Lord. He sat there and thought "Oh God, these people have something that I don't have. I know about you, I go to church to worship you but I can't say I love you. I don't know what loving you is all about." That night Angelo Carrapelli went to that little alter of that little Nazarene church and knelt down and cried out to Jesus Christ. All of us who remember Angelo Carrapelli knew there was no man that loved God more and radiated Jesus more than Angelo Carrapelli. His prayers were enough just to bring revival into a church.
Loving God, that is what this spiritual birth will do to you. It will make you God's friend and will bring you the spiritual birth. The person that is born of God no longer is just filled with selfish motives and aims. You begin to love others as you never loved them. You begin to think about how others might know the Lord like you. You want to share your faith, as best as you can, with what little you know. Our actions are no longer constrained by fleshly desires. That is what Jesus is talking about, "that which is born of flesh is flesh" BUT "that which is born of the spirit is spirit".
Have you only had the first birth? You can have the second birth. What is the second birth? The second birth is the birth that is born from above. It is a birth that God communicates to your spirit, the very life of Jesus Christ himself. Then He begins to take up residence inside of you. That is what being born again means. Jesus Christ actually begins to take up residence in you to live His quality of life through you, so that you have the dynamic and the ethics and the pattern lived out in your human experience. NOT by you -- but through you, by Him. Using your personality and your personhood to demonstrate His life to a needy world. How can you begin this life today? You can do it without a sound. Without an audible word. You can just say to Him this day and I'd like for you to bow your head right now and pray this prayer if you mean it.
Oh Lord Jesus, revealer of God, redeemer of sinners, by the mystery of your death and the glory of your resurrection; in obedience to the call of your love for me I put my faith and my trust in Jesus alone as my Savior. Lord Jesus, by the power of your Spirit come into me and change my life. I want your Spiritual birth. I want to know you as my friend. I want to love you, that's my desire this very day.