“You must be born again.”  John 3:7

You.  This is personal.  If I change the subject to someone else’s need, that could be evidence I have not been born again.  If I confess my own desperate need for God, that could be evidence I have been born again.

Must.  This is authoritative.  If I resent the must, that could be evidence I have not been born again.  If I rejoice that God is actually opening a door for me, that could be evidence I have been born again.

Be born again.  This is passive.  I need a miracle.  I need God to call into existence within me a new aliveness to God, such as I cannot conjure up out of my own good intentions.  In fact, my eternal destiny hangs on something only God can do for me.

“It is a noteworthy and striking fact that no doctrine has excited such surprise in every age of the Church and has called forth so much opposition from the great and learned as this very doctrine of the new birth.  The men of the present day who sneer at conversions and revivals as fanaticism are no better than Nicodemus.  Like him, they expose their own entire ignorance of the work of the Holy Spirit.”

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John 1:1-10:9 (Grand Rapids, n.d.), page 139.  Style updated.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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