Ye Must Be Born Again
What a sorrowful picture the Word of God presents to us in regard to man as he is by nature. We recall that in the beginning, everything was perfect. God created man in His own image, after His likeness. This, of course, does not mean that man looked like God, because God is a Spirit, a Being with a mind and a will but without a body. The image of God in which man was created was simply this: that man was like God in as much as he was perfectly holy and righteous. He knew God and was happy in his knowledge of God. This image of God was lost when man fell into sin by yielding to the temptation of Satan. We, therefore, read the sad words in Genesis, chapter 5, that Adam “begat a son in his own likeness, after his image,” namely, in sin. And so it has been down through the ages that all people are born and conceived in sin. The notion that little babies are innocent, in the sense that they have no sin, is a false notion that cannot stand in the light of such clear passages in Scripture as the one from the book of the Psalms: “Behold I was shapen in inquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” As it is impossible for a ferocious lion to give birth to a meek lamb, or a black crow to produce a white dove, so also it is impossible for sinful human parents to bring forth a sinless child. From the very moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, we are sinners.
And such original sin is this: that all people, since the fall of Adam, are without true fear, love and trust in God; without righteousness; inclined only to evil; spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Original sin makes all men guilty of eternal condemnation; it causes all men to commit all manner of actual sins in thought, word, and deed; it makes the best deeds of men as filthy rags in the sight of God; it leads all men away from God into the pit of Hell. That is the sad condition of all people as they are born into this world.
And this sinful nature of man cannot be changed, converted, or reformed. It must be killed, or, as Luther says, it must be “drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts.” Jesus, therefore, said to Nicodemus: “Ye must be born again,” and “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God, that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which born of the Spirit is Spirit.” We are all born of the flesh and of the flesh we are totally corrupt and sinful. We must, therefore, be born again; we must be born of the Spirit; and we must be brought to faith in Jesus as our Savior; we must become children of God and heirs of salvation. This new birth is called REGENERATION.
There are those who say that regeneration is entirely up to man’s own free will. They claim that it is up to the choice of every individual whether or not he wants to believe and thus be born again. But such a notion is not true because man has no freedom of his will, no choice, in spiritual matters, since he is spiritually dead, blind, and inclined only to will and to do that which is evil. Man cannot cause himself to come to faith in Jesus as his Savior, and thus to be born again or regenerated.
Again, there are those who declare that regeneration depends on something good in man. They say that in order to be born again, a person must have the right disposition, he must have a lesser guilt than others, or he must refrain from wilfully resisting the Holy Ghost. But such teaching is also contrary to God’s Word which places all people, as they are by nature, into the category: they all have an evil and perverted disposition toward God and spiritual things, for the Bible states that “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them”; they are all guilty of eternal condemnation in the sight of God, for the Bible makes it clear that if anyone could keep the whole Law (all the commandments) and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, and again the Bible tells us that “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.“; and all men wilfully resist the Holy Ghost, for the Bible plainly tells us that “the carnal ( fleshly) mind is enmity against God.” Man, by nature, is God’s enemy.
Our regeneration is alone and entirely the Work of God. He alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith. James writes: “Of His own will begat He us.” Of His own will He made us His children; He caused us to, be born again; He brought us to faith in Jesus, our Savior; He is the only Author of our regeneration. Thus, Jesus says: “No, man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” John 6:44. And again, St. Paul writes: “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.”
The means which God uses to regenerate us or to bring us to faith is “the Word of Truth.” That Word of Truth is the Gospel of which St. Paul says that it “is the power of God unto salvation.” Thus also, St. Peter writes that we are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” Through the power of the written or spoken Word of the Gospel, God has taken us out of our natural sinful life and has placed us in a new, spiritual life. Through the means of the Gospel, we have been regenerated; we have been born again; we have become the children of God.
It is the Word of the Gospel in Holy Baptism which makes that Sacrament what Paul calls it “a washing of regeneration and renewing in the Holy Ghost.” Through Baptism, little children are born again. They are brought to faith in Jesus as their Savior.
And this faith is nourished and kept alive by that Word. Through our daily reading and studying of God’s Word; through our hearing of the preaching of God’s Word; through our further study of God’s Word in Sunday School and Bible Class; and through the power of the Gospel in the Lord’s Supper, our new spiritual life is fed and built up. And thus we are caused to grow, as St. Paul writes, “in the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
We are born again not to live as we please or act as we please – for then our faith would be a dead faith and our spiritual life itself would be dead. We are born again not to a life of ease, of joy and pleasure, but to a life of trial and tribulation for the sake of the Gospel. We are born again in order that we might break from the companionship of the world and flee from its lusts and temptations. We are born again that we might resist the allurements and deception of Satan. We are born again that we might patiently bear our crosses and burdens, and daily crucify our old sinful flesh with its evil lusts and desires. We are born again that we might be a light in the World; that we might confess our faith before high and low, great and small, rich and poor, by word and by deed. We are born again to fight the good fight of and in the end receive the salvation of our souls, not as something earned and merited, but as the free gift of God’s grace to us who are by nature lost and condemned sinners, but who have been begotten by God, regenerated, born again, with the Word of Truth. -P R.B.
The Concordia Lutheran, June 1958. Paul.R. Bloedel