“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:1-8).
One of the great privileges of the Christian is to be able to walk with God. The Bible tells us that Enoch walked with God, as did Noah. Acts 9:31 speaks of “those walking in the fear of God.” To walk with God means to have fellowship with Him. But there is a potential problem. The prophet Amos asks the question, “Can two walk together except they agree?”
The answer is, “No!” The strongest relationships are built upon a common heart. Mark Twain used to say he put a dog and a cat in a cage together as an experiment, to see if they could get along. They did, so he put in a bird, pig and goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, Presbyterian, and Catholic; soon there was not a living thing left.
The best way to have fellowship is to agree on a particular subject. Therefore, if we want to walk with God, we must agree with Him. This is not always easy to do because God says many things that the heart of individuals finds repulsive, offensive and against natural reason.
Nothing crystallizes the chasm between the mind of the natural person and the mind of God more quickly than the subject of salvation. For instance. While most people want to go to heaven, they do not always agree with God’s plan of salvation which is to believe in His Son Jesus Christ. Out of six billion people on earth, only a very small percentage walk with God when He says of Christ, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.”
As soon as God told individuals two thousand years ago to listen to Jesus and follow Him, the fellowship was broken. People went their separate way saying of Christ, “We will not have this Man to rule over us.”
By rejecting Divine instructions, individuals act as God telling the Lord when they will be saved and even if they will be saved. Individuals dare to tell God how they will be saved, if they so choose.
In the end, individuals have come to think they can bring about their own salvation by good deeds, or at the very least by a personal decision for Christ. Theologians call this mindset auto-soterianism or self-salvation. In essence a person becomes his own Savior.
In the religious world in which we live, salvation has been taken over by self. One religious organization says that good works saves the soul.
It is sincerely believed that if a person will raise their hand, walk an aisle, join a church, be baptized, or unite with a noble organization known for good deeds, they will be saved.
Another religious organization insists that individuals are saved by their will. If a person will only make a decision for Christ all shall be well with the soul.
The Bible condemns both by saying that salvation is “not of him that worketh nor of him that willeth but of God that showeth mercy”. The Bible still teaches salvation is of the Lord.
In the discussion what is most often forgotten is the true desperate condition of the natural heart. Here is the root of the problem. Individuals do not think they are in a desperate condition at all. People believe they have freedom of the will and sovereignty as well. They believe they can convert themselves. John Ruskin has said that people are determined to merit salvation rather than receive it. Such thinking flies in the face of revealed revelation.
As we go to the Scriptures we discover the total inability of the natural person to be converted for, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
We also discover that the natural person does not want to be converted. “There is none who seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11) for, “All we like sheep have gone astray we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). The will wills not to believe, or at least, not to believe in Christ alone for salvation. The mind of the natural person is unable to accept any other concept such as grace freely bestowed.
Once this inability of the natural condition of the spiritual heart is firmly grasped, then the parallel between the natural birth and the new birth becomes understandable.
If I were to ask you, “What part did you have in your natural birth?”, you would have to honestly answer, “I had no part whatsoever.” That would be true.
You did not choose your parents.
You did not plan the moment of conception.
You did not select your gender.
You did not have any decision as to natural characteristics of height, hair color, eye color etc.
You had no part in determining your intelligence.
No one asked if you wanted to be born in the 21st century or the first century. In other words, you were created.
A sovereign God made you and gave you life and placed you in the world today.
The Bible teaches that the new birth is exactly like our physical birth. It is a secret, sovereign work of God apart from human merit or ability. In John 3:8 Jesus said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
This concept does challenge the popular presentation of the gospel because, like the Rich Young Ruler of Matthew 19, individuals are always asking what they must do in order to be saved.
However, when a person is told what they really must do to be saved and that is be perfect, like the Rich Young Ruler, they walk away. The truth remains. Individuals have no desire to be saved. They have no ability to stop sinning. They love sin. Sin has enslaved the will. Sin is his master.
This is not a flattering picture of the human heart but it is the truth.
There is something else. So painful is the truth people do not like to talk about the spiritual condition of their heart. It makes them angry or at least sad.
The Rich Young Ruler did not bother to discuss the problem of his heart and will with Jesus. He simply walked away.
While kneeling before the Lord, he could have confessed. “Master, you are asking too much. I have no ability to convert this covetous heart of mind.” Had the Rich Young Ruler even said that, Jesus would have taken him to be the next level of truth. Jesus would have said, “Young man, you are right. You cannot do what the gospel demands to be done. You are without ability.”
The Rich Young Ruler of Matthew 19 is the perfect example of all people who want to be saved by works. They want to do something for salvation but when told what to do they find no ability to obey. Their “will” has no power or inclination to chose correctly. It is not free. It is in bondage.
The emotions then find the gospel demands repulsive.
The intellect decides that it is better to lose the soul if the world can be enjoyed.
No one should be shocked at the decision of the Rich Young Ruler. He was only acting according to his nature. His nature was not just weak. It was helpless. The Bible calls this inability of man, death. In Ephesians 2:1 Paul speaks to those who “were dead in trespasses and sins.”
From Genesis to Revelation man’s helpless condition before God is set forth because the soul is in bondage to sin. As the result of the fall, men are blind and deaf to spiritual truth. Their natural minds are darkened by sin; their hearts are corrupt and evil.
“…the hearts of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live…” (Eccl. 9:3).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
“For from within, out of the heart of man, cometh evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23).
Before any one is converted to Christ, that person is declared to be a child of the devil and under his control; they are slaves to sin. Susan Atkins would agree that this is true as she did in her book Child of Satan, Child of God. Susan Atkins was so devilish in her participation in the Sharon Tate murders on August 9, 1969 she dipped her finger to taste Sharon’s blood. She was also devilish during the trial, and showed no remorse and laughed about her killings. Such is the natural heart.
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44).
There are reasons why people do not accept the biblical revelation of the total inability of man to come to God for salvation in and of themselves.
First, it is a very humbling doctrine. The heart rebels and declares, “If I had no part in my original creation, I can certainly determine my future destination. I am the Captain of my Soul! I am the Master of my Fate!” Such words are appealing to the natural pride of the heart.
Second, the biblical doctrine of total inability seems to be contrary to reason. We all live life as if we were in total control. But we are not, and on occasions we are made to realize this fact. Christopher Reeves was a superb horseman. Then, in a terrible moment, the horse he was riding one day stumbled and Christopher Reeves broke his neck. His life was changed. He became totally dependent on someone else for life. The only difference between Christopher Reeves physically and others spiritually is that he knew just how dependent he was. James reminds us to be just as humble and rational in our thinking (James 4:13-15).
Third, the biblical doctrine of man’s total inability to save himself, or to have any part in his own salvation is rejected, because it is simply not taught today by and large. I am careful to qualify this because hundreds of thousands of Christians do believe in the total inability of the natural heart.
Some are Baptist.
Others are Presbyterians.
Some are Pentecostals.
Others are Independents.
This doctrine is also clearly taught in the historic confessions of faith that once guided the church such as
the Westminster Confession,
the Savory Confession,
the Belgic Confession and the Thirty-Nine Articles.
If the concept is new for many today, it is because the church has forgotten the faith of its forefathers. Of course, regardless of the creeds of Christendom, and regardless of popular preaching, the ultimate question is,
“What does God’s Word say.”
We know for we read John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
The real questions we should be asking are these.
“Have I been born of the Spirit?”
“Has God worked His sovereign grace in my soul?”
“Has God quickened me who was dead in trespasses?”
“Has the Lord drawn me with cords of everlasting love?”
“Has God said, ‘Dead person live!’ as He commanded Lazarus, ‘Come forth!’”
“In have I ever realized my true state of helplessness before God.”
Once a person realizes their utterly helpless condition before God, they will want to cry out to Him to have mercy. And God will have mercy! The promise is given, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!”