About New Birth – John 3:1-21
A summary in the same conversational style of John Nelson Darby’s article The New Birth – click for original. Collected Writings Volume 10 (Doctrinal 3).
I have written this summary of one of JND’s articles, because there is so much confusion as to what it is to be ‘born again.’ A believer will talk of him or herself as a ‘born again Christian’, as if he or she were something special. New birth is what is effected by God in the soul, and every believer must be born again, or they would not be a believer. The confusion is often with the reception of the Holy Spirit, and the certainty of His work in the soul. But that is not new birth. – Sosthenes.
Why the Lord did not Trust Man
When Jesus was here, many people believed in Him when they saw the miracles that He did. Howeve Jesus did not commit Himself to them. That was because He knew what was in man. (Chap. 2:23-25.). They may have come to a right conclusion about Him, but it was a perfectly worthless human conclusion. It left a man or woman in his or her own nature, and subject to the same motives, influences, and passions as before. It did not take him out of the domain of Satan, who had power over the flesh and the world. His conclusion may have been right; but it was only a conclusion: the man remained unchanged. Jesus, who knew what flesh was could have no confidence in it.
What Nicodemus should have Known
Nicodemus in John 3, goes a step further. The Spirit of God was at work, producing a craving and desire after God, and he had a sense of his own deficiency. He wanted something better for his soul. He came by night: being a ruler and especially an ecclesiastical ruler, it was difficult for him. He said, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (Ver. 2.) It was a conclusion drawn from proofs, perfectly correct, but that was all. Still he wanted something from Jesus, but he took for granted that, as a Jew, he was a child of the kingdom, and would know the teaching. Knowing Nicodemus to be sincere, the Lord meets him at once, declaring that the whole ground that he was on was wrong. God was setting up a kingdom of His own. To see this, a man must be born again, completely born anew. The kingdom had not yet come visibly, so to see it a man must have a wholly new nature. Nicodemus, arrested by the language, does not understand how this could be; he reasons humanly.
Jesus had brought out great truths already:
- First God is not teaching and improving man. He sets up a kingdom of His own: a sphere of power and blessing, and He acts there.
- Secondly, man must have a new nature or life. He must be born again. Flesh cannot even perceive the kingdom.
The Lord does not leave Nicodemus here. He shows the way of entering into the kingdom: “a man must be born of water and of the Spirit” (ver. 5). The word of God — the revelation of God’s thoughts — must operate in the power of the Spirit, judging all in man, and bring in God’s mind instead of his own. It is not two births, but two important aspects of being born again. The water acts on man as man, his person is not changed; but the Spirit communicates a new life of itself — just as flesh’s nature is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (ver. 6).
There is blessing to the Gentiles. Jesus says , “Ye must be born again”. That is the Jews. Now, every one that is born of the Spirit, applies to both Jew and Gentile. The new nature given is as applicable to a Gentile as to a Jew.
Now Nicodemus doesn’t say, “We know” again: he must learn. He ought to have understood that Israel had to be born again, born of water and of the Spirit. “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezek 36:25-27).
But the Lord knew the very nature of things themselves. He could tell absolutely what was needful for God, because He was God and came from God. He shows what is needful for God and tells us what a Christian is. The Lord testified that which He had seen. He could tell of the heavenly glory and what was needed to have a part in it. Man did not receive this testimony. That which was heavenly and spiritual was darkness and foolishness to man in the flesh. Those who received this witness were born again.
Let us reflect on this. In Christ we have One fully revealing God Himself. His words told man His nature, the nature of God Himself; so as to reveal what was needed in man in order to have to do with God in blessing. No prophet could say “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” (Ver. 11.). He connects man with heaven. He could tell perfectly what was there, and was ever there, for He was God. But this divine knowledge was knowledge for man; for it was the Son of man had it. Heaven and man were connected in the person of Christ. How could man, even a teacher of Israel, who thought according to the old nature, understand the reality of the new nature, and hence understand heavenly things? But this brought out another truth: the door to what was heavenly – an open door to every believer.
Christ Lifted up
There are further counsels of God. The Son of man — for Jesus was more than Messiah — must, in the counsels of God and in the need of man, be lifted up, rejected from this earth. Christ could not (for man was a sinner) take His place as Messiah in blessing to Israel. It says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” (ver. 14). The Son of man must be lifted up, like the serpent in the wilderness, and made sin for us, that men may look on Him and live Instead of a living Messiah, the Jews were to have a rejected, dying Son of man. The cross was healing saving power for man. Whoever believed in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life; for God so loved the world. This immense truth opened the way to the fullest display of God and His grace. As well as new birth, atonement must be made, and redemption must be accomplished, if sinful man was to have to say to a holy God.
Christ’s propitiatory work met the need of man, but it did not give full liberty to the soul. The holiness of God’s nature, and His righteous judgment were maintained as regards sin – and all in love. The object was that sinful man, whosoever believed in Jesus, should have eternal life. The gift of eternal life maintained and displayed the love, holiness and righteousness of God.
If the Son of man was lifted up, and died to bring us to God, where and how is life? It is in resurrection. This leads us to another important element of truth. I am risen with Him Our deliverance requires the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We receive Him as our life. He is a life-giving Spirit. Because He lives, we live. He is our life — that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us. He died to sin once; and now, alive in resurrection, lives to God. We receive Him into our hearts by the Spirit, and have life. “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life: and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (1 John 5:11, 12.). This is the life of Christ in us, as risen from the dead. The power of life is in resurrection, so we can say, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20).
What we are taught in the Epistles
Man may be viewed either as alive in sin (Romans); or as dead in sin (Ephesians). His flesh is alive and active as regards evil; it is utterly dead as regards God.
The Ephesians saw Christ as dead, and the sinner dead in sin (ch. 2:1);. Because of the great love wherewith he loved us, we have been raised up together, and “quickened us together with Christ” (ver.2:5) Thus we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (Ver. 10).
In the epistle to the Romans, Christ is seen risen from the dead, but not ascended. We are not said to be risen with Him. The object is to show the putting away of the old state, and the introduction in life and justification into the new. Man’s guilt is proved; Christ has died for us; but He is also risen for our justification. So we are justified — dead to sin and alive to God — and delivered from the law.
Colossians is between the two in doctrine. It views the Christian as having died and now quickened with Christ. Our new nature, as born of God, takes the character of our having died and risen again with Christ – where He is.
Had Christ not been raised, no sinner could have been united with Him and He could not have given anybody life according to God. The corn of wheat would have abode alone. Life and the power of life would have been in Him, but the righteousness of God would have been in abeyance. But He accomplished the work. Now Christ, not the first Adam, is my life as a believer. I can say, “I was in the flesh; I am now in the Spirit. I have died to sin; I am crucified with Christ; I am alive to God through Jesus Christ.” “In that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves.” (Rom 6:10-11). We are alive in Christ, who has died, and we view ourselves as dead, because Christ who is our life has died. So “Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20.). “The Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Rom. 8:10). We have died in Christ: this is the doctrine of scripture.
The epistles to the Galatians, Romans, and Colossians all teach this. I am wholly delivered from the system in which I lived as alive in the flesh. Ephesians goes a step farther. It does not view Christ as alive and man in sin; but man as dead in sin, and Christ is seen first as dead. Then having put away sin as guilt, and redeemed us out of that condition, God raised Him up, and raises us by the same power. “What is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe . . . which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.” (Eph 1:19-20).
What we are taught in John 3
John 3 teaches us the nature of the life which we receive (i.e. born of the Spirit). The epistles show us the position that this new life places us. It is the life of Christ risen, after being delivered for our offences and having died to sin once. We are in Christ, and Christ is our life: alive in Him and alive in what He is alive to — to God. Consequently our standing is not in the first Adam at all. We have died as in the first Adam and to all that he is; we are alive in the last Adam, the Lord Jesus, according to all the acceptance in which He now lives before God.
So we also have in John 3, the intrinsic excellency of the life that we receive from God. Christ spoke what He knew, showing that we must have a nature from God, fit for God Himself. This life is contrasted with flesh. In John we see its proper character and excellency. Ephesians confirms this: “That we should be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Chap. 1:4). In the epistles, we are looked at as dead to sin, with a new life wholly distinct from the old man, and we as alive in Christ. We are not in the flesh; we have died and are risen again. We have left Adam behind with his nature, fruits, condemnation, death, and judgment. We are in necessary and righteous acceptance, according to Christ’s acceptance before God. I am not in the flesh; I have died; I am risen again; I am accepted in Christ risen; I am a partaker of the divine nature and to enjoy its fullness in God.
© Sosthenes – April 2014 – May be reproduced acknowledging source, and where appropriate a link to http://www.adayofsmallthings.com. Unless the original is being quoted, J N Darby must not be cited as the author. “Summary by Sosthenes of Article by John Nelson Darby” – is recommended.