It has been said that you cannot change human nature. We cannot, but God can! That is what Christianity teaches. No other religion in the world makes such a tremendous claim. The best they can do is to tell us how we ought to live. They give us rules and precepts to follow, but not the power to put them into practice. The Christian faith offers that power, a supernatural power, because human nature, being what it is, is unable to carry out its own best intentions.
Some think they are able to live a perfect life, but the Old Testament is a historical demonstration that we cannot. Adam, in a perfect environment, was given one simple instruction which he very soon disobeyed. The nation of Israel, descended from a divinely selected stock, was given a perfect code of laws at Sinai. The whole nation accepted these laws, and promised to live by them, saying, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do.’ (Exod. 24:3). Nevertheless, the Old Testament is one long record of how they repeatedly failed to keep those laws, and as a consequence were sent into exile.
The Old Testament is so called because it is an account of how the Israel people had failed under this Old Covenant of the Law that they had accepted at Sinai. The New Testament is an account of how a new relationship with God is made available to all who will accept it. Speaking through Ezekiel God said: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws’ (Ezek. 36:26-27).
God’s Spirit, often called the Holy Spirit, is that supernatural Power that can change human nature, and enable a man to overcome his sinful desires and live according to God’s will. This is explained by Paul in Romans 8: he says, ‘Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace, because the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.’ (v.5-9).
Paul then goes on, ‘Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’ (v.12-16).
So, all who receive the indwelling Spirit of God are called sons of God, and recognize God in a special way as spiritual Father. As John wrote of Christ in his Gospel, ‘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).
Jesus also explained to Nicodemus that being born of God meant a spiritual birth different from natural birth: ‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water (that is natural birth) and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You must not be surprised at my saying, You must be born again.’ (John 3:5-7).
It is true, as some have pointed out, that the Greek word translated ‘again’ can mean ‘from above’. That can also be the meaning here, seeing that this birth is from God as Father. But Jesus would not have spoken to Nicodemus in Greek. Whatever Aramaic word Jesus used, Nicodemus understood it to mean being born a second time, for he asked, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ (John 3:4).
Clearly, this second birth cannot take place at the same time as natural birth, because it was only ‘to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ The natural child must first grow and have time to mature before he can have the necessary faith.
But there are some who think they know better than Nicodemus what Jesus meant when He spoke in his native tongue. Not only do they teach that Jesus meant ‘born from above’, but, without any reasoned argument, they make the astounding assertion that Abraham and all Jacob’s descendants were so begotten from above. One thing, however, is quite certain: this supposed spiritual birth did them no good, for they were the very people who were manifestly incapable of keeping God’s Law. It was for the specific purpose of enabling man to keep the Law, that the Holy Spirit was promised, though not given until New Testament times.
The terms of the New Covenant were not even made known until Israel was already in exile. It was then that Jeremiah prophesied, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declared the Lord, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”‘ (Jer. 31:33).
As with every other covenant, this Covenant had to be ratified by a blood sacrifice before it could be made operative (Hebrews 9:1820). Jesus Himself performed that sacrifice when He died on the Cross. So, before the Crucifixion, the Holy Spirit could not be given. Immediately after His Resurrection Jesus met with His disciples and `He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”‘ (John 20:22). Previous to that ‘the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified,’ that is raised from the dead (John 7:39).
Those who strive by their own unaided efforts to serve God will always fail: ‘Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3).
Written by: By W.E. Filmer