Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“Don’t marvel that I told you, You must be born again.”
“You must be born again.” Listen to those words of our Lord Jesus. “You must be born again.” Tell it to sinful men as they struggle in their bondage and try to rise to better things. Proclaim the message to those who are proud of their achievements and who trust in their own strength. “You must be born again!”
Nicodemus, one of Israel’s elders, was greatly puzzled by our Lord’s words. When Jesus set before him the necessity of being born again, Nicodemus asked, “How can these things be?” This is a question many have asked, but there is a mystery concerning the new birth which finite minds cannot penetrate. There are some things that men obtain only by the obedience of faith.
Jesus acknowledged the mystery of the new birth when he described it to Nicodemus: “The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8).
The sound of the wind is the voice of the Spirit. When Jesus said that the sound of the wind accompanies every new birth, he was trying to communicate a spiritual truth to a carnally minded man. In reminding Nicodemus that winds produce sounds, Jesus was telling him that every person who is “born of the Spirit” is moved by the wind of God, the holy Spirit, to give forth a sound, just as it happened to the earliest followers of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:1–4).
At no time during Jesus’ earthly ministry did his disciples receive an experience such as Jesus described to Nicodemus. When did they receive it? Keep Jesus’ words, “the wind blows wherever it will,” in mind as you read from Acts 2:2–4: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues like fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit moved them to speak.” This blessing, which the disciples received on Pentecost morning, fits the description of the new birth that Jesus gave Nicodemus. Yes, the disciples were born again in Acts, chapter 2.
In this covenant, we live by the word of God, not by the word of man. Man’s own “sound”, his own confession of faith, bears no weight in heaven. Only the witness of the Spirit is always true. The apostle John wrote, “The Spirit is the witness because the Spirit is truth” (1Jn. 5:6b). Paul expressed the same truth in these words: “The Spirit itself bears witness, together with our spirit, that we are children of God ” (Rom. 8:16). Notice that both these apostles emphasize the necessity of the Spirit’s testimony (speaking in tongues). It is God’s peculiar way of declaring one to be His child. It is the voice of “the One who speaks from heaven”; a voice we must not refuse (Heb. 12:25). It is the sound of the ever-moving wind of God.
No man knows another’s heart; the testimony of God’s Spirit, speaking through someone, is the only reliable testimony of conversion. When the first Gentiles were born again, Peter described it to his fellow apostles: “God, who knows the heart, bore them witness, giving them the holy Spirit just as He gave it to us” (Acts 15:8). And what witness did God give so that Peter and his companions would know that those Gentiles were born again? We are told, “They heard them speaking in tongues and magnifying God ” (Acts 10:46).
Speaking in tongues when one receives the Spirit makes it possible for unbelievers to know who has received it. Because many people claim to be of God, those who are seeking God can become confused; therefore, “tongues are for a sign,” Paul affirmed, “to those who do not believe” (1Cor. 14:22). The love of God is revealed in this! He has given a sign for those outside His kingdom who want to find Him!
At the Last Supper, Jesus described the spiritual condition of those who followed him but had not yet received the Spirit: “When a woman gives birth, she has sorrow because her hour is come, but when the child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering because of joy that a man is born into the world. And so, you now have sorrow, too, but I’ll see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn. 16:21–22). By comparing his disciples’ spiritual condition with a woman in the pangs of childbirth, Jesus was telling them that the hour of their spiritual birth was near. The disciples had been conceived by the word of God that Jesus had sown into their hearts, and now they were nearing the hour of their spiritual birth. They were no longer of the world (Jn. 17:14); at the same time, they were not “in Christ” (Jn. 17:21). They were “clean” under the law (Jn. 15:3), but they were not yet sanctified (Jn. 17:17, 19). As much as their lives had been made better by following Jesus, their greatest transformation, the new birth, was yet to come.
Nature itself teaches us that no birth can occur without a seed first being sown. This is true whether one is speaking naturally or spiritually. Nowhere is there a birth without the sowing of a seed. Spiritually, “the seed is the word of God ” (Lk. 8:11), and one must receive this seed in order for the process of new birth to begin. Nature also teaches us that relatively few of the seeds sown actually produce life, and that even fewer mature and bear fruit. According to Jesus, only a portion of the seeds of the kingdom of God that are sown into human hearts actually sprout, or produce righteousness in the life. Sometimes, he said, when one hears the word (seed), “the Evil One comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Mt. 13:19). The word of God was sown into the hearts of many thousands during Jesus’ earthly ministry, yet only about one hundred twenty followers continued in his word and were born again at the first outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
The receiving of the seed is not the new birth. Receiving the word of God and being convicted of sin is not the same as being born again. Cessation from evil, good as that is, is not the new birth. Repentance does not wash away sins; sins are washed away only when the Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ (1Cor. 12:13; Acts 22:16).
The Samaritans gladly received the word of God that Philip preached (Acts 8:5–8); still, the washing away of their sins was not accomplished until later, after news of Philip’s preaching reached Jerusalem: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the holy Spirit (for as yet, it had fallen on none of them). Then they began laying hands on them, and they started receiving the holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14–17). As the Samaritans’ experience demonstrates, being convicted of sin and turning from it is only the first step toward the new birth. One must receive the baptism of the Spirit, and when he does, God will give the sign!
Many fail to continue in the word after it has been sown into their hearts. Consequently, they never receive the baptism of the holy Ghost; they are never born again. Such people must be warned that incomplete surrender is no better than none at all. Regardless of one’s reputation, he has no part in God’s kingdom without the holy Spirit. Paul said, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9).
God gives His Spirit only to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32); therefore, our first priority must be to hear God’s word and obey it, not only to receive the baptism of Christ, but to obtain the promised salvation at the end of the way. “Let no one mislead you by any means”, my friend; no one will be saved without receiving the Spirit and then obeying it (1Pet. 3:21; Mk. 16:16; Rom. 8:14).
When a truly hungry soul hears the word of God, a wonderful change begins to take place, a change wrought by the love and power of God. As one begins to feel the life of the Spirit, his countenance and behavior is altered. And if he continues in the word, not allowing the Wicked One to steal the seed from his heart, the day will certainly come when the Lord will baptize him with the holy Spirit. He will come out of the womb to be numbered among the saints! Jesus encouraged us not to doubt this when he said, “They who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled” (Mt. 5:6). The only way we can know that someone has repented is if he receives the baptism of the holy Ghost from Jesus.
Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you all will perish!” (Lk. 13:3). No one who believes the true gospel denies this. If one does not repent, he will perish. On the other hand, “Peter started telling them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit’ ” (Acts 2:38). No one who believes the true gospel denies this, either. Everyone who truly repents receives the Spirit. Despite these two irrefutable truths, multitudes claim that they have repented, and yet, they have not received the baptism of the Spirit. How can that be? If one can repent, yet not receive the Spirit (contrary to the word by Peter), then one can refuse to repent, yet be saved in the end (contrary to the word by Jesus). If God’s word in Luke 13:3 to all who do not repent stands sure, then God’s word in Acts 2:38 to all who do repent stands sure. Everyone who repents will receive the Spirit. Everyone who does not repent will not receive the Spirit and will perish. That is the simple truth, my friend; and the truth is destined to prevail over all the doctrines of man.
by Joseph H. Murray
Ignorance cannot bear to be ignored,
But wisdom stands through trials on its own.
The scorners have to lean on one another,
The wise are taught by God to stand alone.
Jesus is the Rock of our salvation;
Our hope is One, and certain is his throne.
And with the strength we find in this foundation,
The winds which blow against us vainly moan.
Abandon every prop and vain ambition,
Communion thus with Jesus to begin.
How sweet the joy and blessed consolation,
To drink the cup of liberty from sin!
A taste of glory sent in peace from heaven
Will fill the soul who stands alone with him.
How sweet the life dependent on the Master,
And sweeter yet the judgment by a Friend.