The Lord showed Nicodemus. a Jewish rabbi who should have understood new birth, that what was of the flesh could not inherit God’s kingdom. It was necessary to be born anew (from above). We learn that as having died, we are quickened. Our delight is in looking to the perfect Man, and being partakers of His own things. Our goodness is in desiring to be like Him.
There is a lot of erroneous teaching in the present day. The true believer’s safeguard is Christ and His work, together with the truth of the Holy Spirit. Satan is working, and his craft must be met by the truth of God.
In the early chapters of John’s gospel, people saw Jesus was the coming One sent from God. We have the work of the Spirit in quickening souls (ch. 3), and this contrasts with man’s mere recognition of the outward evidence. There might be a sincere profession of Christ, even as the Messiah, but without the quickening life it was nothing in the sight of God.
Mere professors wanted to have Christ on their own terms. There are none so hostile to truth as those who know what the truth is, but refuse it. The cross is not pleasant, of course, and it never was intended to be pleasant. When I see that Christ has a right and claim on my conscience, my nature rises to resist His power. He ought to have the first place, but other things get in the way. I do not like taking up the cross, though doing so is infinite gain.
Christ spoke to Nicodemus about the things that he, as a Jewish rabbi, ought to have understood. In Ezek 36:26 it says, ‘And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you’. That is why He says, ‘If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?’ (John 3:12). God’s earthly things were not evil or fleshly things, but the promised earthly portion which the Jews were looking for. In the latter day they Israel will have a new heart from the Spirit. Nicodemus should have known this.
The Lord then talked about heavenly things, which are better. He spoke about the wind blowing – the sovereign actions of God’s grace. God takes poor sinners, Jews and Gentiles, and blesses them. ‘For God so loved the world [not just Israel], that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (v. 16). For everybody, Christ was needed; for the best, the Son of man was lifted up; for the worst God gave His only-begotten Son.
So the Lord met Nicodemus with the declaration, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3 – Darby). The KJV says ‘born again’ but ‘anew’ is a stronger word, and is ‘from above‘ (ἄνωθεν – anothen). It is certainly not ‘renewed’. New birth is just that, totally new. You may find lovely qualities in human nature; but the natural man never loves Christ – it loves creation; it loves nature. One might have a very amiable disposition, but the most amiable person the can be last to turn to God. Christianity does not alter the flesh. To see the kingdom of God, we must have a nature altogether distinct from the one we have got – we must be born anew.
When we have been born of God, we can appreciate how the truth sanctifies and cleanses us –‘the washing of water by the word’ (Eph 5:26). But we must be born of the Spirit first. otherwise we would be washing man’s nature which is unwashable.
Man has fallen and creation is ruined. He proved what he was in the treatment he gave the Lord Jesus. Adam was innocent before the fall. He did not know good and evil, only that it was his duty to obey God. His sin was in trying to be like God. In sinning he got a conscience, and was ruined in getting it, because it was a bad conscience. Hence he was afraid of the God he wanted to be like.
By contrast, we are renewed after the last Adam – Christ. In Christ we have all that God delights in, displayed perfectly in a man. Man was created in the image of God, and Jesus expressed that perfectly. After the image of God, we are created in righteousness and true holiness, made partakers of the divine nature, learn to judge sin as God judges it, and to love holiness as He loves it. So we delight in what is of God, and are satisfied with Christ. Our goodness is in desiring to be like Him. We are ‘holy and without blame before Him in love’ (Eph 1:4).
Because sin is unchangeable, God has passed the sentence of death on all flesh. This is a positive blessing, for the flesh, the first man, has been condemned. But the condemnation was born by Christ, the second man (or last Adam). Now we can live in the power of that new Man. There is an important point as to this, which is often misunderstood: we must live that we might die – not die that we might live. Death, morally, is the consequence of having life. This is the difference between a monk and a true Christian. A monk mortifies himself in order to have life; a Christian, having life from from God, reckons himself dead unto sin (see Rom 6:11). This is liberty.
The woman at the well in John 4 received the living water. The Lord’s word had a cleansing power. It made her realise what was in herself, and she hated it. Instead she delighted in the Man who told her all things that she had done, and judged everything contrary to it. Similarly Christ said to His disciples, ‘Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you’ (John 15:3). The figure of this is in baptism – not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must not look at, or take pleasure, in ourselves. As renewed we need an object outside of ourselves – Christ Himself. This is perfection – to be so occupied with Christ, as to be forgetful of self.
Having been quickened by the Spirit, we see how God and man can be connected. There had been the inseparable barrier of man’s will on one side, and the power of death on the other. So in the blessings of Ephesians 1, those who were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (ch 2:1), have ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge … the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead .. And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.’ (ch 1:17-20 and ch 2:6-7. In the joy of resurrection we can be set together.
Here is the double revelation of God: Christ as a divine Person, and as a Man who had seen divine glory. ‘No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him’ (John 1:18). He knew, and saw, as was at ease with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And though we were fallen creatures outside of it all, as born of God we are brought into such wonderful blessings. We are one spirit with the Lord, having resurrection-life in Him. This is not a renewal of good qualities, but it is Christ, the Son, Himself making us partakers of His own things.
Summary by Sosthenes