By Billy Graham
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. --John 3:3
IF I could come and have a heart-to-heart chat with you in your living room, you perhaps would turn to me and confess, "I am perplexed, confused, and mixed up. I have transgressed God's laws. I have lived contrary to His commandments. I thought I could get along without God's help. I have tried to make up my own rules and I've failed. The bitter lessons that I've learned have come through suffering and tragic experience. What wouldn't I give to be born again! What wouldn't I give to be able to go back and start all over -- what a different road I'd travel if I could!"
If those words strike a familiar chord in your heart, if they echo the thoughts that have been moving through your mind. I want to tell you some glorious news. Jesus said you can be born anew! You can lose your despised and sinful self and step forth a new person, a clean and peaceful being from whom sin has been washed away.
A Way Out
No matter how soiled your past, no matter how snarled your present, no matter how hopeless your future seems to be -- there is a way out. There is a sure, safe, everlasting way out -- but there is only one! You have only one choice to make. You have only one path to follow, other than the torturous, unrewarding path you've been treading.
You can go on being miserable, discontented, frightened, unhappy, and disgusted with yourself and your life; or you can decide right now that you want to be born again. You can decide right now to wipe out your sinful past and make a new start, a fresh start, a right start. You can decide now to become the person that Jesus promised you could be.
How Do I Find It?
The next logical question that you may ask is, "How can I have this rebirth? How can I be born again? How can I start afresh?"
This is the question that Nicodemus asked Jesus that night two thousand years ago under an Oriental sky. Being born again, however, means a great deal more than just a fresh start, or turning over a new leaf, or reforming. As we have already seen, the Bible teaches that you were born the first time into the physical world but your spiritual nature was born in sin. The Bible declares that you are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
The Bible teaches that there is nothing in your dead and sinful nature that can originate life. Being dead in sin, you cannot produce a life of righteousness. Many people are trying to produce a good, holy and righteous life without being born again, but they can do nothing but fail. A corpse cannot reproduce. The Bible teaches that "sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:15). All of us are dead spiritually.
Your old nature cannot serve God. The Bible says, "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them" (1 Corinthians 2:14). In our natural state we are actually at enmity with God. We are not subject to the laws of God, neither indeed can we be, according to Romans 8:7.
The Bible also teaches that our old nature is totally corrupt. From its head to its feet "there is no soundness in it"; it is full of "wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores" (Isaiah 1:6). Its heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). It is corrupt, subject to deceitful lust.
The Bible also teaches that our old nature is a self-nature. It is incapable of being renovated. The Bible teaches that when we are born again, we put off the old man -- we do not patch him up. The old self is to be crucified, not cultivated. Jesus said the cleansing of the outside of the cup and the platter leaves the inside just as dirty as before.
You Must Be Born Again!
The Bible also teaches that unless we have experienced this new birth we cannot get into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus made it even stronger. He said, "You must be born again" (John 3:7). There is nothing indefinite, nothing optional about that. Whoever would enter the kingdom of God must be born again.
Salvation is not just repairing the original self. It is a new self created of God in righteousness and true holiness. Regeneration is not even a change of nature, or a change of heart. Being born again is not a change -- it is a regeneration, a new generation. It is a second birth. "You must be born again."
There is nothing about the old nature that God will accept. There is no soundness in it. The old nature is too weak to follow Christ. Paul said, "You do not do the things that you want" (Galatians 5:17). Those who are in the flesh cannot serve God. "Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?" asked James (James 3:11, 12).
The old man is described in Romans as "Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways:. . . There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:13-18).
How are you going to reform or patch up or change such throats and tongues and lips and feet and eyes as these? It is impossible. Jesus, knowing that it was impossible to change, patch up, and reform, said you must have a total new birth, "You must be born again." Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." On another occasion the Bible says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard change his spots?" (Jeremiah 13:23). Again in Romans the Bible says, "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." "In me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing" (Romans 7:18). Again the Bible says, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
The life that comes from the new birth cannot be obtained by natural development or self-effort. Man does not by nature have this holiness that God requires for heaven. In the new birth alone is the beginning of such a life to be found. To live the life of God we must have the nature of God.
What God Does
The whole matter of receiving new life is like a coin. A coin has two sides. The receiving of new life has a divine side and a human side. We have seen the human side in our chapter on conversion; we have seen what we must do. Now let's see what God does.
Being born again is altogether a work of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing we can do to obtain this new birth. The Bible says, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God -- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God" (John 1:12-13). In other words, we cannot be born of blood; that means we cannot inherit the new birth. God has no grandchildren.
We cannot inherit Christianity. We might have had a Christian father and mother, but that does not necessarily produce a Christian child. I could be born in a garage, but that doesn't make me an automobile! God has no grandchildren.
We cannot be born of the will of the flesh, the Scripture says. In other words, there is nothing we can do about it. The unbeliever is dead. A dead man has no life to do anything.
Nor can one be born of the will of man. This new birth cannot be produced by human devices or schemes. Many people think they are automatically born again when they join a church or go through some religious ritual or make some New Year's resolution or give a large gift to an outstanding charitable institution. All of these are fine and right, but they do not produce the new birth.
A Divine Work
Jesus told us we must be born again. The infinitive be is passive. It shows that it is something that must be done for us. No man can "born" himself. He must be born. The new birth is wholly foreign to our will. In other words, the new birth is a divine work -- we are born of God.
Nicodemus could not understand how he could be born the second time. In perplexity he asked twice, "How?"
Even though the new birth seems mysterious, that does not make it untrue. We may not understand the how of electricity, but we know that it lights our homes, runs our television and radio sets. We do not understand how the sheep grows wool, the cow grows hair, or the fowl grows feathers -- but we know they do. We do not understand many mysteries, but we accept by faith the fact that at the moment we repent of sin and turn by faith to Jesus Christ we are born again.
It is the infusion of divine life into the human soul. It is the implantation or impartation of divine nature into the human soul whereby we become the children of God. We receive the breath of God. Christ through the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. We are attached to God for eternity. That means that if you have been born again you will live as long as God lives, because you are now sharing His very life. The long lost fellowship man had with God in the Garden of Eden has been restored.
The Results of the New Birth
When you are born again several results follow: First, it will increase your vision and understanding. The Bible says, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Again the Bible says, "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened" (Ephesians 1:18). Things that you used to laugh at as foolishness you now accept by faith. Your whole mental process is changed. God becomes the hub of your intellectual thinking. He becomes the center. The ego has been dethroned.
Second, your heart undergoes a revolution. The Bible says, "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 a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).
Your affections have undergone a radical change. Your new nature loves God and the things pertaining to God. You love the finest and highest things in life. You reject the lower and baser. You discover a new appreciation for the social problems around you. Your heart beats with compassion for those who are less fortunate.
Third, your will undergoes a tremendous change. Your determinations are different. Your motives are changed. The Bible says, "Now the God of Peace . . . make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight" (Hebrews 13:20, 21).
This new nature that you receive from God is bent to the will of God. You will want to do only His will. You are utterly and completely devoted to Him. There is a new self-determination, inclination, disposition, a new principle of living, new choices. You seek to glorify God. You seek fellowship with other Christians in the church. You love the Bible. You love to spend time in prayer with God. Your whole disposition is changed. Whereas your life once was filled with unbelief, the root and foundation of all sin, and you once doubted God, now you believe Him. Now you have utmost confidence and faith in God and His Word.
There may have been a time when pride was the very center of your life. You had ambitious thoughts of yourself, your powers, desires, and aims; but now that will begin to change. There may have been a time when there was hatred in your life. Envy, discontent, and malice filled your thoughts toward others. That, too, will gradually change.
There was a time when you could easily tell a lie. There were falsehoods and hypocrisies in many of your thoughts, words, and deeds. That is now all changed. There was a time when you gave in to the lust of the flesh. That is now changed. You have been born again. You may stumble into some of these traps that the devil puts out for you, but immediately you will be sorry, confess your sins, and ask forgiveness, because you have been born again. Your very nature has changed.
The Pig and the Lamb
There is an old story about the pig and the lamb. The farmer brought the pig into the house. He gave him a bath, polished his hoofs, put some Chanel No. 5 on him, tied a ribbon around his neck, and placed him in the living room. The pig looked fine. He almost seemed to be acceptable to society and to friends who might come in, he was so fresh and clean. He made a very nice and companionable pet for a few minutes. But as soon as the door was opened, the pig left the living room and jumped into the first mud puddle he could find. Why? Because he was still a pig at heart. His nature had not been changed. He had been changed outwardly but not inwardly.
Take a lamb, on the other hand. Put a lamb in a living room and then turn him out into the yard, and he will try his best to avoid all mud puddles. Why? Because his nature is that of a lamb.
You can take a man -- dress him up, put him in the front row in church, and he almost looks like a saint. He may fool even his best friends for a while, but then put him in his office the next day, or put him at home or put him in the club on Saturday night, and you will see his true nature come out again. Why does he act that way? Because his nature has not been changed. He has not been born again.
The Meaning of Justification
Now the moment you receive the new birth, the moment you are born again, the moment you receive this divine impartation of a new nature, you are justified in the sight of God. By being justified is meant "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned. Justification is that act of God whereby He declares an ungodly man to be perfect while he is still ungodly. God places you before Him as though you had never committed a sin.
As Paul says, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God who justifies" (Romans 8:33). Your sins have been forgiven. God has buried them in the depths of the sea and placed them behind His back of forgetfulness. Every sin is completely wiped out. You stand before God as a debtor, and you have received your discharge, you have become reconciled to God. You were actually an enemy of God before. The Bible says, "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18).
But more than all of that, you have been adopted into the family of God. You are now a child of God. "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will" (Ephesians 1:5). You are now a member of the royal family of heaven. You have royal blood in your veins. You are a child of the King. Even your friends will begin to notice the change that has taken place in your life. You have now been born again.
The Old and the New
Certain changes will take place once you have been born again. First, there will be a different attitude toward sin. You will learn to hate sin as God hates it. You will detest it and abhor it.
Down in Houston, Texas, a man was born again in one of our meetings. He owned a liquor store. The next morning he had a sign on the front of his door saying, "Out of business."
I heard about a man some time ago who had been born again in an evangelistic service. He was known as the city drunk. He was called "Old John." Somebody spoke to him the next morning on the street and said, "Good morning, Old John."
He said, "Who are you talking to? My name is not Old John. I'm new John." A complete revolution had taken place in his life.
Second, you will know that you have been born again because you will want to obey God. "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3).
Third, you will be separated from the world. The Bible says, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). An unknown poet explains it this way:
All the water in the world,
However hard it tried,
Could never sink a ship
Unless it got inside.
All the evil in the world,
The wickedness and sin,
Could never sink the soul's craft
Unless it got inside.
Fourth, there will be a new love in your heart for other people. The Bible says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14).
Fifth, we will not practice sin. The Bible says, "We know that no one who is born of God sins" (1 John 5:18). We will not engage in sinful practices.
In Texas they tell a story about a man who used to hitch his horse every morning in front of the saloon. One morning the saloon-keeper came out and found that the horse was hitched in front of the Methodist Church. He saw the man walking down the street and called out, "Say, why is your horse hitched in front of the Methodist Church this morning?"
The man turned around and said, "Well, last night I was converted in the revival meeting, and I've changed hitching posts."
That's what it means to be born again. That's what it means to be converted. That's what it means to be separated from the world. It means that you change hitching posts.