This is part 3 of an ongoing blog-series on The New Birth
The IMPOSSIBILITY of the New Birth
Geoffrey R. Kirkland
Christ Fellowship Bible Church
The very fact that Jesus told Nicodemus that in order for him to enter the kingdom of God he must receive the new birth shows that it is utterly impossible for him (or, for any man) to bring about this new birth by his own powers. Nicodemus heard Jesus speak and stood baffled at what the Son of God said. He couldn’t wrap his self-righteous mind around this. How could a person be born again? In fact, Nicodemus asked the Savior: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he” (John 3:4). Nicodemus is not a fool. He is extremely smart as he is the teacher of Israel (John 3:10). He wasn’t being silly by asking how he could crawl back into his mother’s womb. As a Jew of Jews, he affirmed that from the very beginning of his life, he endeavored to be as righteous as he possibly could be and he wondered how he could start over again. In other words, he wondered how he, such an old man, could begin anew and try again.
But Jesus spoke to the absolute impossibility of this new birth in John 3:5 when he said that “unless you are born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This speaks to the utter inability of Nicodemus (and thus, any other religious person) to attain eternal life by their own merit. These words from Jesus allude back to Ezekiel 36 in the context of the New Covenant and the work of God that He, and He alone, would do to His people.
For instance, God promised glorious promises to His people by stating: “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean” (Ezek 36:25). Then he said: “I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols (Ezek 36:25b). Furthermore: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” (Ezek 36:26). Right after that he promised: “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26b). And finally: “I will put my Spirit within you and I will cause you to walk in my statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezek 36:27). When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, he alluded to these verses by affirming all of the divine promises of redemption for His people — all found in the phrases: “I will…” (Ezek 36:25-27). This underscores the impossibility of humans achieving the new birth. No man can ever attain this salvation on his own. Nor can be birth himself again spiritually.
Even the illustration that Christ used in speaking with Nicodemus emphasizes the impossibility of giving oneself spiritual life. Christ speaks of the birthing process. That is to say, as impossible as it is for a person to birth himself the first time physically, so absolutely incomprehensible that he would be able to birth himself a second time spiritually. Just as the person was passive in the physical birthing process so he is passive in the spiritual new-birth. When God grants new life from above, the sinner receives life as a gift of God. He cannot earn it. He does nothing to achieve or contribute to it even in the slightest. It is utterly an impossibility. Just as the birthing process happens to the person so the spiritual birth from above happens to the sinner. This all shows that the new birth is an absolute impossibility by human powers and capabilities. But God, however, can do the impossible and He, He alone, imparts new spiritual life to sinners by grace!