Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 20, 1953
NUMBER 14, PAGE 8-10a

"How Can A Man Be Born When He Is Old?"

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

While the Jews were under the hated yoke of the Roman government, they looked with bright hopes and eager anticipations for the coming of the Messiah who, they thought, would deliver them from the heathen sovereignty and restore the ancient kingdom of Israel to its Davidic splendor.

Jesus, a Nazarene of lowly birth, came to Jerusalem as, thousands of worshipers gathered for the Passover of the Jews. He entered the temple and there commercialism had taken possession of the house of God. With a scourge he drove out the sheep and the oxen; he poured out the changers' money and overthrew their tables; to them that sold doves he said: "Take these things hence; make not my Father's house a house of merchandise". The mighty wonders and signs which God did by him caused many to believe on his name.

"Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3 :1-2 ) .

Necessity Of The New Birth

Jesus knew the thoughts of Nicodemus' heart and why he had come to him (John 2:25). Therefore, waiving all this formality and round-about language, he went directly to the subject of the kingdom, and stated emphatically, "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

In the terms, "kingdom of God", Jesus referred to that kingdom to be established on the earth. Nothing indicates that Nicodemus came to inquire about heaven, the eternal home of the soul; he wanted to know about the kingdom foretold by the prophets and that would fill the whole earth.

The kingdom of God on earth is entered by the new birth; and since Jesus has said, "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God", he thereby has precluded the possibility of getting into that kingdom except by the new birth.

A man may be devout and fear God with all his house; he may give much alms to the people and pray to God always; his prayers and his alms may go up for a memorial before God; but he cannot see the kingdom of God, except he be born anew.

Cornelius was devout, feared God, gave much alms to the people, and prayed always; yet he was unsaved, because the new birth had not been made known to him — he had not been born anew. Therefore the angel said to him: "Send to Joppa, and fetch Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall speak unto thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house" (Acts 11:13-14). The good things Cornelius had done did not constitute the new birth.

If a man as moral, devout and religious as was Cornelius could not be saved without the new birth, no man has any ground for hope of salvation today, except by the new birth. All who are expecting to enter the kingdom of God by their alms-giving, prayers, and a devout and religious life, or who are thinking that these constitute the new birth, or will serve as a substitute for it, are dangerously deceived.

"Ye must be born anew". This truth was hard for Nicodemus to apprehend. By the natural birth he had become an Israelite, but now Jesus announces to him that his fleshly. Jewish birth will not avail in the kingdom of God — that another birth is necessary. Nicodemus, like many other Jews, was looking for a kingdom of this world exclusively Jewish in its nature, and since he was a Jew by birth he evidently thought he had every qualification for citizenship in that long-looked-for kingdom. But the kingdom that Jesus was about to establish was a spiritual kingdom, and the natural birth would not make even the descendants of Abraham citizens in it. John the Baptist had alluded to the same truth when he said, "And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father" (Matt. 3:9).

The natural birth can in no way make one a beneficiary of the blessings, privileges, or promises of the kingdom of God which is a spiritual kingdom. The Jewish blood coursing through the veins of Nicodemus counts for naught in the kingdom of God. If a Jew enters the kingdom, he must enter it by the new birth, just as a Gentile enters it. God is not a respecter of persons in this matter. If our Premillennial brethren could see this great truth which Jesus taught concerning the necessity of the new birth, then they would know that the Jews are not promised exclusive favors in the spiritual kingdom of God.

How Is One Born Anew

Having been told that the kingdom of God (which of course is the church of God, Matt. 16:18-19) could not be entered except by the new birth, another difficulty faces Nicodemus, as is expressed in John 3:4. "Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?"

That Nicodemus did not know what kind of a birth Jesus was talking about, is obvious from these questions. Therefore Jesus answered his questions by calling his attention to some things with which he doubtless was familiar. "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)

Nothing in this conversation indicates that Nicodemus did not understand what the Lord meant by the term "water." John, the messenger of the Christ, was baptizing in the wilderness and preaching the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins. All the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, including many of the Pharisees, the sect to which Nicodemus belonged, went out unto John and were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-6) The Spirit of God had given a heavenly demonstration of the divinity of Christ at His baptism. (Matthew 3:17) So many had been baptized, and John had said so much about baptism, that Nicodemus, though he had been "a wayfaring man, yea a fool," would have known what Jesus meant by the term "water."

*Nicodemus was not ignorant of the term "Spirit" as used by Jesus in John 3:5. As a teacher in Israel he had access to the Old Testament in which the Spirit is mentioned frequently. Also, he belonged to a religious sect that taught "the soul is ever immortal, and is a portion of the divinity that inhabits our bodies." The opposition of the Sadducees to the doctrine of the existence of spirits and angels, as held by the Pharisees, would make it necessary for the Pharisees to know what the Old Testament said about the Spirit of God.

As to what constitutes the new birth, God has not left us in doubt. If there be any uncertainty as to what Jesus meant when he said, "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," surely that doubt can be removed from every honest and good heart by the many examples of the new birth given in the Acts of the Apostles.

The first example of the new birth after the church was established, recorded in Acts 2, illustrates it in full. Peter said, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words." (Acts 2:22) Why does he tell them to "hear these words"? Because the word is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11), and one cannot be a citizen in that kingdom except the seed first be planted in the heart; for he has said: "Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God." (1 Peter 1:23) In that same discourse (Acts 2:36) he said to them, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified." Why did he want them thus to believe with all the heart that this crucified. Jesus had been raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ? Because faith is a part of the new birth and one who does not have it has no right to become a child of God. (1 John 1:12)

Having heard the word and having believed it, they asked for further instructions, and Peter said, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins." (Acts 2:38) Why did Peter tell them to repent? Because repentance is a part of the new birth; and did not Jesus himself say, "Except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish"? (Luke 13:3)

Why did Peter tell them to be baptized? Because it is a part of the new birth; and did not Jesus himself say, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), and "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"?

Hearing the gospel, believing it, repenting of sins and being baptized in the name of the Lord upon a confession of his name constitutes the new birth. When a man does these things he is born into the family of God; he is a member of the church of God; he is a citizen in God's kingdom.

What Is Born Anew?

By way of impressing Nicodemus with the nature of this new birth, Jesus continued: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knoweth not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:6-8)

The illustration of the blowing wind shows that the kingdom contemplated in the Savior's statement is a spiritual kingdom, and that it is the spirit or inner man that enters it. A kingdom in which flesh and blood are given pre-eminence cannot be illustrated by this figure. A spiritual kingdom cannot be entered by the natural birth; nor can a fleshly kingdom — a kingdom of this world — be entered by a spiritual birth.

We can hear the wind as it rushes over land and sea; we can feel its pressure upon our bodies; we can see the oak of huge stature uprooted by it; but no man knows "whence it cometh and whiter it goeth." So is every one born of the Spirit. We can see the body (that which is born of the flesh) during the whole process of the spiritual birth. We can see the body as it bows in humble submission to the dictates of the inner man; in fruits of righteousness we can see the effects of the new birth; but no man can see the inner man which is translated from the power of darkness by the Almighty God into the kingdom of the Son of love. (Colossians 1:13)

The body is subject to the spirit that is in man before the new birth. "For out of the heart come forth, evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings." (Matthew 15:19) It is subject to the spirit that is in man after the new birth. (1 Corinthians 9:27) The word of God is not addressed to "the mind of the flesh," or man's animal propensities. (Romans 8:7-10) It is addressed to the inner man, or man's spiritual faculties. (Acts 16:14)

It is the spirit of man that is born anew, or changed, in conversion: "For that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The body, including the physical heart and all other fleshly organs, is the same after the new birth as before. No change at all takes place in it. If the body were changed in the spiritual birth, there would be no more warring between the flesh and the "inward man." (Romans 7:15-26) These bodies will not be changed and this warfare will not cease till this life is over. But as the body of Jesus was born from the dead (Colossians 1:18), we may expect our bodies also to be "born from the dead." In the resurrection our bodies will experience a new birth; natural bodies will become spiritual bodies; mortal bodies will become immortal; corruptible bodies will become incorruptible. Thus our bodies will be born from the dead into the kingdom of God, for "flesh and blood cannot inherit" it. (I Corinthians 15:12-58)

The Nature Of The Kingdom

Having been told that God's spiritual kingdom on earth could not be entered except by a birth "of water and the Spirit," and that it is the spirit of man that enters the kingdom, or is born anew, Nicodemus had only one question: "How can these things be?" (v. 9) That is, how can a birth of water and the Spirit make one a member of the kingdom of God? His difficulty obviously is due to his misunderstanding of the nature of the kingdom.

In answer to the question: "How can these things be?" Jesus went to the heart of the trouble in the twelve verses that follow by telling Nicodemus of the nature of the kingdom. But he did not do so without a rebuke for his unbelief. After being told what to do, for one to hesitate and question a plain statement, because one does not understand how God will bring about the promised results is to receive not his witness. So Jesus said to him: "We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things?" (vs. 11, 12)

Many today are much like Nicodemus. They are still asking, "How can these things be?" "How can a birth of water and the Spirit make me a member of God's family?" "How can water have anything to do with this new birth?" and that right in the face of the Lord's statement that one must be born of water and the Spirit. In reply to such, Jesus said: "Ye receive not our witness"; "ye believe not."

Jesus told Nicodemus that this kingdom would be established by the supreme sacrifice in which the Son of man would be lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness was lifted up (v. 14); therefore, clanging of swords and shining helmets would not mark his inauguration. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son"; therefore, the Jewish hatred of the Romans was not characteristic of the kingdom of God. The right to citizenship in that kingdom is limited to "whosoever believeth on him," and not merely to Jewish blood and to Jewish proselytes. "God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world"; therefore, all who are expecting God's kingdom on earth to crush the kingdoms of the world with an iron heel will be disappointed.

John 3:1-21 is a plain and forceful refutation of the conception of the kingdom, which commonly was entertained during the personal ministry of Christ, and which is now entertained by some who think the Jews were right in their conception of the kind of kingdom promised by the prophets.