This is essentially the same question that Nicodemus, the great Jewish teacher, asked Jesus one night long ago. Jesus had just said: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus replied: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”
Jesus, of course, was referring to a spiritual birth, and He made this clear by saying: “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). This can better be translated “water, even the Spirit.” That is, the waters of baptism, which symbolize the entrance of a believer into the Christian life, are representative of the spiritual birth that takes place when a person passes out of the old life, and is baptized by the Spirit of God into a new life in Christ.
Every individual, once he reaches an age where he knows right from wrong, soon becomes a conscious sinner, and therefore a guilty sinner, in the sight of an all-holy God. Although he may do many good things and may even be a religious person, he is nevertheless a sinner. Both Scripture and universal experience unite in their testimony that “there is not a just man upon earth, that does good, and sins not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
God’s moral law is a unit and is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). To break any part of His law is to break all of it. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). A man who is proud, or selfish, or who distorts the truth, or neglects the Sabbath, or uses profanity or vulgarity in his speech, is as much a lost sinner in God’s sight as the thief, or adulterer, or murderer. Sins of omission also are evil. “Whosoever, therefore, knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
The Bible, in fact, teaches that all men are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Since men are all in a state of spiritual death in their natural condition, separated from God and out of fellowship with Him, it is no wonder that Jesus said: “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
The Bible also teaches that men, in their natural state, are “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). They are “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10) and “children of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6). The popular notion that all men are fundamentally “children of God” is an utterly false and dangerous idea, completely without any basis in Scripture.
It is therefore clear that every man urgently needs to be born again to become a “child of God” rather than a “child of the wicked one,” to have spiritual life rather than to continue in a state of spiritual death. But the great question is still, as Nicodemus asked: “How can these things be?”
The only solution is found in Christ Himself. Since each ordinary man is already dead in sins, he cannot bring himself to spiritual life by his own power. He must receive such regenerative power from the Holy Spirit, and this can only be given if his sins are first forgiven and washed away. But “without shedding of blood is no remission” of sins (Hebrews 9:22), for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Jesus Christ is the sacrificial “Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He was offered up for our sins, “that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). He explained it thus to Nicodemus: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” That is, He must be lifted up to die on the cross. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14, 16).
Now, therefore, when an individual sees the sinfulness of his own life for what it really is, deserving nothing from God but eternal separation in hell, but then also truly sees and believes that Christ loved him and suffered and died to save him from his sins, his heart is thereby made ready for the marvelous miracle of regeneration. In response to his repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit—that is, God Himself—enters his heart and imparts His own eternal spiritual life to the new believer. His sins are charged to Christ’s account, and Christ’s perfect righteousness is placed to his own account (2 Corinthians 5:21). The indwelling Holy Spirit gives him a new nature, new motives, new goals, new understanding, and new power. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them who believe on His name” (John 1:12).
Henry M. Morris and Martin E. Clark