J N Darby – Being Born Again

being born again

It is a question of partaking in God’s holiness.  The world has rejected the Son of God.  Up to the cross it was proved that nothing could win man’s heart: he must be born again; and now, being born again, I am associated with Christ.  I am going to be in the same glory as He is in, and I am going on until I get there, purifying myself as He is pure.  Then I shall see Him as He is, and be like Him.  The world we are naturally of has rejected the Son of God, and the associations of the believer are with a glorified Christ, awaiting till He comes to take him home.  God has sanctified us to Himself by the blood of Christ.

(J N Darby, Collected Writings NS vol. 31 p177)

Golden Nugget Number 362 


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Man in God’s Image and Likeness

In this creation, man had the capability of voluntary thought, which put him into a position of responsibility. He could therefore obey or disobey. We know that he disobeyed, and the motivation was not the fruit, but ‘self’. The fall was total: man gave up God. In new creation it is different, man now has the knowledge of what God is, having been created ‘in righteousness and holiness of truth’ (Eph 4:24). We have a powerful, intimate relationship in communion with God, by the Holy Spirit. We have been redeemed.


A summary of J N Darby’s note on ‘Image and Likeness’ – Notes & Comments vol 1 p 178.

In Genesis 1 God created man in His image.  The Greek word used, according to Strong (1503) is εἰκών/eikṓn – a mirror-like, high-definition representation, very close in resemblance.  The word is used for ‘statue’.  See 1 Cor 11:7 , ‘a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God’ and other scriptures.

This is different from chapter 2 which concerns man’s relationship to God – like offspring (γένος/genos – Strong 1085) – see Acts 17:29we are the offspring of God’.

In this creation, man had the capability of voluntary thought, which put him into a position of responsibility.  He could therefore obey or disobey.  We know that he disobeyed, and the motivation was not the fruit, but ‘self’.  The fall was total: man gave up God.

Christ, the second Adam, gave up any thought of His own will – He did not use His liberty or power for His will.  He came to obey ‘Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.’( Heb 10:7 and Ps 40:7-8).  He renounced self.  In the midst of ruin, He bound the strong man, whereas in the place of blessing, Adam succumbed.  He bore the abandonment, into which man had voluntarily run, to his eternal ruin.

In new creation it is different, man now has the knowledge of what God is, having been created ‘in righteousness and holiness of truth’ (Eph 4:24).  We have a powerful, intimate relationship in communion with God, by the Holy Spirit.  We have been redeemed.  Because of the Lord’s perfect work of grace, we have been brought back, restored and reconciled to God. What a wondrous thing is redemption!



November 2016




Christ Lifted Up

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

In John 3, the Lord emphasises the fact that He came from heaven.  He works with men from that point of view.  He testifies to man as to what is of heaven, from heaven, and what is man needs to be fit for heaven.  That requires new birth.

John 3

New Birth

Nicodemus had a mere human conviction of Christ; he knew that He was a teacher come from God because of His miracles.  The Lord told him that he had to be born again.  Of course, as he looked on things according to man, albeit a religious man.  He did not understand what the Lord was talking about.

Being born again is not like some say, having a new nature.  That would again be human.  If a person has only a human conviction, his or her conscience is not affected, and has no desire to be with Jesus, because Jesus is not attractive to the natural man (see Isa. 53:2).  Indeed, he doesn’t even care; he is just interested in what is here – family, politics, sport etc.  Although he hopes to go to heaven when he dies, he does not find news from heaven interesting.  But how will he be in heaven if Christ, the very centre of heaven’s delight, has no attraction for his heart?  Unless, of course he has a totally wrong impression of heaven and thinks of it as a purely earthly paradise [Sosthenes’ addition].

On the other hand, the first thing that a person who has been born of the Spirit realises that he is lost and all wrong, like a bad tree which can never get better.  He will be very anxious about that: sin is pressing on his conscience and plaguing his heart.  But there is not a sin that Christ has not died for.  He has put Himself in the sinner’s place before God.  ‘He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21).  So the born again sinner sees Him on the cross, answering for him because he could not answer for himself.  Christ has done everything that could bar his access to God.


Christ lifted up

God gave His Son – this is the glad tidings of grace. ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. … For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:14,16.  Nothing but the crucifixion of the blessed Lord could meet the sinner’s case.

He had to be lifted up.  He knew everything that that would necessitate. He had came to do His Father’s will, and that will was our salvation.  Consequently He drank that cup of wrath in love and quietness in order that the sinner might not.  He made peace by the blood of His cross (see Col 1:20)

God set His seal in righteousness when He said, ‘Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool’ (Psalm 110:1Heb 1:13).  Grace now reigns through righteousness (see Rom 5:21) – righteousness having been made good before the whole universe.


Go in Peace

Let none of us doubt the efficacy of what Jesus has done.  Have we heard in His quiet voice that the ‘Son of man must be lifted up’ (John 3:14)?    Let Him tell us why.  Let us learn how blessed it is to live in the light of God, where light shows us (not just our sins) to be white as snow. (see Isa 1:18).  May we learn what it is to walk in the light of His countenance.


Summary by Sosthenes

Based on   ‘Notes of an Address on John 3’ – Collected Writings vol. 21 (Evangelic 2) page 127 ,

February 2016


Christ’s Coming into Manhood – Some Errors Exposed

Our life as Christians is a wholly new one; we have been born again. There is no renewing or ameliorating of the flesh; it is enmity against God and cannot be subject to His law. Our union is with Christ glorified, in a new life in Him, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, against whom the flesh always lusts. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, so also we shall bear the image of the Heavenly (1 Cor 15:48). And in the ages to come God will shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. May we know it, that through grace, we may be occupied with Christ instead of ourselves.

Based on J. N. Darby‘s

Union in Incarnation, the Root Error of Modern Theology.

JohnNelsonDarbyVery important questions surround the incoming of Christ.  Alas, the answers to them are beset by doctrinal errors – from infidelity to heresy.

The main question is this: Did Christ unite Himself to sinful humanity on earth to renew it?


Does the believer have a wholly new life, united by the Holy Spirit to Christ in heaven?

Traditional orthodox teaching looks only at the renewal of the first man; it maintains that Christ was united to fallen man. If Christ had entered into the state of fallen man before redemption, the last Adam would have been united with the first Adam in its sinful state.  For example, the  Wesleyan Methodists and many in Germany assert that there is some good in fallen man, and that what is wrought in salvation is the setting right the first Adam, as such there is a ‘point of connection’ with sinful man.  Edward Irving, a 19th century theologian who heavily influenced both Protestant and Catholic churches held that Christ had a sinful human nature – lust: but as He did not exercise His will, He did not sin.   He died because of what He was as a mortal man, not to atone for our sins. This is in spite of what is said in the tenth commandment (Thou shalt not covet [or desire, or lust] Ex 20:17). Paul made that clear in Romans 7:7.

The truth is that man in the flesh is utterly rejected and lost; that Christ stood alone, though a true man, till He had accomplished redemption. Having risen, ascended and having been glorified, the believer with the Holy Sprit has received by faith justification and life and been given a wholly new nature. Therefore he is united with a glorified Christ, by the Holy Spirit, and is a member of His body.

Christ’s union with sinful humanity is an anti-scriptural fable.

Here are a few more examples of this false doctrine:

‘We are renewed in the whole man after the image of God‘ (Dr. Moody Stuart, late moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland)  – false because in Ephesians 4:24, we have a new creation, where ‘Sin hath not dominion over us, because we are under grace’  Colossians 3:10 .

In regeneration the old nature remains the same, but a new one is also introduced: a new power (the Holy Spirit) enters  the soul.  The truth is new birth – the soul is born again, passing out of its former state of unbelief and darkness, and enters into a new state of faith and holiness.

Connected in every fibre of His nature with the common nature of mankind, He saw that He must suffer, the Just for the unjust. It could not be that human nature should fail of enduring the settled and necessary penalty of its sin, and He not only had a human nature, but in Him human nature was organically united, as it never had been before, except in Adam; if the members suffer, should not also the Head? ‘ (a president of a Baptist College).  If Jesus had no connection with a sinful and lost humanity, or if that connection with a sinful and lost humanity had been merely a factitious and forensic one, then it would have been the greatest breach of justice, and an absurdity, that the Lord Jesus should have submitted to an ordinance which was in effect a confession of sin, deserving nothing less than death.

I must die to sin, by having Jesus’ death reproduced in me. I must rise to a new life, by having Jesus’ resurrection reproduced in me. … The putting away of the sin and guilt of humanity, which was the essential feature of Christ’s work, must take place in me, and this I must do by having my life incorporated with His life.‘ (Dr Strong)  This really denies the atonement.  He puts our death and resurrection as a result of His death to sin and resurrection to holiness. It does not accept our evil nature.

The above is all based on reforming the old man.

How different is the beautiful simplicity of the scriptural account of Christ’s life!  Let us see how Scripture speaks about the incarnation.  After stating what Christ was ‘The Word was God’ (John 1:1), John tells us in verse 14 what He became: ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us‘.  So in Hebrews 2:14: “As the children were partakers [κεκοινώνηκεν – kekoinoneken – shared in the same way] of flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner took part [μετέσχεν – meteschen – He shared the same thing, but in a different way] that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death.”  As a man, He was made a little lower than the angels, but His birth was by Holy Spirit, so He was born holy (see Heb 2:9 and Luke 1:35). This was not sinful flesh.  He was not united with sinful humanity; but was a wholly unique, a sinless Man, born holy in a miraculous way.

Does Hebrews 2 lead to any other thought? ‘Behold I, and the children which God has given me‘ (v.13).  The children were in flesh and blood – so He took part in that. In His death He drew men to Him; He had to draw them because they were not united to Him, they were in fact far from Him. That is not union with humanity.  People speak of His being bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, but that is not scriptural.   Eph 5:30 (we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones) relates to Christ glorified.  [Note that the expression ‘of his flesh, and of his bones’ is of dubious authority.  JND puts it in brackets, most modern translations omit it.].  Setting union before Christ’s redemptive work falsifies Christianity and the state of men.

An alleged connection with men is in 1 Corinthians 11:3, ‘The head of every man is Christ‘; but that is not union, it is a relative position of dignity.  Also sometimes quoted is that we are ‘crucified with him‘ (Rom 6:6).  This applies to believers only, and is faith’s apprehension.  It is also God’s apprehension of us as looked at as in Christ, inasmuch as He died for us. But this only confirms the distinctiveness of Christ’s manhood. Ungodly sinners who die in their sins could never be viewed as crucified with Christ.  Furthermore, His being a propitiation (1 John 2:2) has nothing to do with union with the race – it was for, not with men.

The Lord was Son of God and King of Israel according to Psalm 2:7, but according to Psalm 8:4 He was Son of man. He was that in regard to the race, because of His death:  ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit‘ (John 12:24)  but to take His place, according to that title, He had to die.  “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:23)  For in truth men were far away. So far was were they from union, that they rejected from the earth, lifting Him. When man had rejected Him utterly, and the world was judged in consequence (John 12:31), lifted up out of it, He, the crucified Jesus became the attractive point to all men in grace.

Before there could be any bond between man and God, God’s love and the redeeming power of Christ’s blood had be known. The sin of man, in total alienation from God and the love of God could only be met by redemption.

The living Saviour was, when in the world, Son of God, Messiah, and entitled to be King of Israel. As the risen Son of man, he could take the world, as Redeemer and Saviour. ‘He who descended into the lower parts of the earth is the same that is ascended far above all heavens, that He might fill all things’ (Eph. 4:10). It is in that character that He takes His place and power in grace and glory.

Before His resurrection God dealt with men in various ways, or dispensations:

  • Innocence in the garden of Eden, where they fell,
  • Up to the flood without any special institution, though not without God’s testimony. The world became so bad, that it was destroyed by the flood.
  • In the new world came government in Noah.
  • God’s promise to Abraham when he was called out from the midst of universal idolatry.
  • The law which would be transgressed, and the prophets, who recalled the people to the law and testified of Christ.

Then God said, ‘I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him‘.. And when they saw Him they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.(See Luke 20:13-15).  Not only was man lawless (without law), and a transgressor (under law), but when grace came in the Person of the blessed Son of God, he refused it. The presence of a divine Person drew out the enmity of the heart of man against God: ‘Now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24).  So far from their being a link with humanity, the entire race of man had been exposed.  God had come in grace – a man in their midst, and He was cast out. Consequently the Lord had to say, Now is the judgment of this world’ (John 12:31).

So John says, ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of man…He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not(John 1:4, 5).  In general His own did not receive Him, ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (v. 12-13).

In John 3:3, ‘Except a man be born again [ἄνωθεν – anothen]‘,  ‘anothen’ means ‘from the very beginning or starting-point’, as in Luke 1:3.   Nicodemus, thought he was well-taught, but he did not see how a totally new life could be possible ‘can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?’ (John 3:4).  As ‘born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever’ (1 Pet. 1:23), we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus; (see Gal. 3:26). The Lord declares that that which is born of the flesh is flesh.  It is of an animal nature, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Scripture states distinctly that divine life is a wholly new thing given of God: it is in absolute contrast with the flesh, for which death is the only remedy.  So along with the error as to Christ’s humanity is that of what happens in man.  Generally Presbyterians and Baptists hold that man is given nothing new; there is simply a renewal of man as he is, in his affections, thoughts, and in his whole soul. The Wesleyans go further in the doctrine of perfectionism: man, (body, soul, and spirit), was in a good state before the fall, and in a bad state after it, then, by the operation of the Spirit, in a good state again. Thus, they hold that a man may be born again ten times a week, and also be perfect; but it is the perfection of the first man.  As a result they are exalting the first man, and losing of the full and blessed truth of grace in the Second.  There can be no mixing the Last and first Adam, no renewing of the latter by the former, but the utter rejection of the former by the latter. The world is convicted of sin by His rejection, and judged. Union in incarnation is a mystical and mystifying fable. Man must be born again

In the nature and standing of the first Adam, we are said to be in the flesh.  Now ‘the carnal [or fleshly] mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.  But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.‘ (Rom 8:7-9).  The flesh, or the old man, is an evil thing, rejected by God and reckoned to be accounted dead (because of  Christ’s death).  It is never renewed; it is never changed; it is hopelessly bad. It cannot be improved; it cannot be forgiven. When left to itself it is lawless, rejecting Christ when He came in grace. Even in the believer it is said to be lusting against the indwelling Spirit. We are by nature the children of wrath.


Having the Son is a new thing to us sinners.  Our affections and thoughts have been changed, and having the Son we have life.  Hence Christ says, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’  (John 14:19).  It is life which is given us, life in Christ in the power of the Spirit; ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ (v. 3).” We have everlasting life now, and the prospect of eternal glory. When we understand the full Christian place, we enjoy a life of which God is the source. We have been born of God through the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in us. We have been given power and liberty, living by every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth (See Matt. 4:4).

God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh (see Rom. 8:3).  It was condemned in Christ’s death, He having been made made sin for us.  Now he that has died is justified from sin; (Rom. 6:7 Darby). I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: but not I, but Christ liveth in me; (Gal. 2:20). They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts; (Gal. 5:24). Knowing that our old man is crucified with Him; (Rom. 6:6). If ye be dead with Christ; (Rom. 6:8). Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; (Col. 3:3). Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:11), Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body; (2 Cor. 4:10. Christ having died, it is as if we had died, and we reckon ourselves dead, crucified with Him. We are dead to sin, dead to the law, crucified to the world, and the world to us, Christ lives in us, alive to God — not in Adam, for our old man with his deeds; is crucified with Christ.

So we have a new life communicated to us; the old man has been crucified.  Our privilege and duty being like Christ – and He is in glory.  So ‘Christ in us’ is the hope of glory: this is something wholly new. We are accepted in Him. Read Colossians 3:5-17.  In chapter 3:1, we associated in life with Christ risen and glorified.  Christ is our life, we belong to heaven where He is, though of course we are not yet there physically.

The positive testimony that our union is as believers with Christ in glory is the gift of the Comforter.  The Lord said,  ‘In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you‘ (John 14:20). Who? Humanity? No, the disciples only. The Comforter was not for the world — ‘whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you,’ (John 14:17). This is a present experience

In Romans 8 there is no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus; but this is through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, consequent on the death of Christ.  So in 1 Corinthians 6:17, ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.‘   We are members of the body of Christ, who was raised from the dead by God’s power.  We have been ‘raised together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Him‘ (Eph 2:6). God has given Him ‘to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who filleth all in all‘(Eph 1:22) . It is compared with the husband and wife, Eve’s union with Adam, and further developed in 1 Corinthians 12 as a system established here on earth, that it is by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body, united to Christ by the Spirit. The whole groundwork of the New Testament, and the truth taught in it, is that Christ, though a true man, was alone until He had accomplished redemption. Now as glorified, He is the Head and we the members.

Our life as Christians is a wholly new one; we have been born again. There is no renewing or ameliorating of the flesh; it is enmity against God and cannot be subject to His law.  Our union is with Christ glorified, in a new life in Him, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit,  against whom the flesh always lusts.  And as we have borne the image of the earthy, so also we shall bear the image of the Heavenly (1 Cor 15:48). And in the ages to come God will shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.  May we know it, that through grace, we may be occupied with Christ instead of ourselves.


June 2015

For original see  Union in Incarnation, the Root Error of Modern Theology



Darby on Romans 5:1-11 – The Result and Effect of Grace in our present Standing under that Grace

Baptism with the Holy Spirit was one of the two great acts ascribed to the Lord in John 1. It is consequent on the value and efficacy of His blood, that the sins of those who believe are put away. In the Old Testament, the leper was washed with water, sprinkled with blood, then anointed with oil. We are washed with the word, sprinkled with Christ’s blood, then anointed with the Holy Spirit. That is not being ‘born again’: new birth applies to the Holy Spirit’s work in unbelievers: it is after we believe that we are sealed.



We are brought to the separation of our hearts from the world, and a clearer consciousness of what God is as we pass through the world. We hope, and we are weaned from the world which tends to shut Christ glorified out of sight. Our hope is clearer. Though we may have tribulations, we have both the key and the power to bear them.   In grace, as God does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous, He watches over us in blessing, making everything work together for our good. The love of God [what He is in His nature] is shed abroad in our hearts. (v.5)   It is God’s love, known by the Holy Spirit’s presence, bringing in what God is in His nature to our hearts.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit was one of the two great acts ascribed to the Lord in John 1. It is consequent on the value and efficacy of His blood, that the sins of those who believe are put away. In the Old Testament, the leper was washed with water, sprinkled with blood, then anointed with oil. We are washed with the word, sprinkled with Christ’s blood, then anointed with the Holy Spirit. That is not being ‘born again’: new birth applies to the Holy Spirit’s work in unbelievers: it is after we believe that we are sealed.

This has practical importance. We are accepted, forgiven and sealed. God’s perfect love to us when we were sinners, is not a matter of experience. Being accepted, we are sealed. Experience has its place, and some Christians would even oblige souls to have the experience of Romans 7, in order for the salvation of Romans 5 to be true.

While we enjoy God’s sovereign, causeless love by the indwelling Holy Spirit, the knowledge and proof of that love is in a work outside and independent of us. ‘For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly’ and, God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:6,8) – such was our state.

The Holy Spirit reveals the truth; he does not reason it. be. Man is always reasoning naturally, with a vague thought of mercy. Even when repentant he carries on reasoning till he has really met God, and known His grace. (The prodigal talked of being made a hired servant before he met his father.) The Holy Spirit makes us see clearly that we are lost, but then we reason about God, and what He has done for us. Whilst this is going on, we are still in a legal state. When we reason naturally there is either carelessness and self-delusion, or a mixture of law and grace. With the Holy Spirit, there is no mixture: just clear condemnation on the ground of responsibility, or salvation and blessing on the ground of grace.

Hence we have hope. ‘And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us’ (v.5). Then we reason from the starting point of divine grace –

  • We glory in God Himself
  • We are reconciled
  • We rejoice in salvation and in the God who has made Himself known through it
  • We learn to joy in God.

This closes the first part of the epistle. Justified, having glory in hope, and joy in Him whom we have known through this great salvation.

A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s  Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans

What does it Mean to be ‘Born Again’

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.

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).

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

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).

Another Life

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.

Christ Risen

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.


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