Except a Man Be Born Again

By R. J. Rushdoony
April 01, 2003
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 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. 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. (John 3:1-3)

These three verses are amazing. A ruler, an intellectual man and a scholar, comes to Jesus at night to make a startling confession. "We know," he says flatly, "that your miraculous power comes from God." By we, he meant the Sanhedrin, the ruling body. These were the men who later crucified Christ, and they knew what they were doing. Their problem was not a lack of knowledge but a lack of faith and character. They preferred their way to God's way, and their government to God's government.

Our Lord does not allow Nicodemus to raise the theological and practical questions he no doubt had in mind. He at once answers Nicodemus that, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven." The issue is brought at once to the fore: rebirth is necessary. Moreover, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:5). Our Lord forces the basic issue to the forefront: regeneration and baptism, the Holy Spirit at work in us, and the open act of baptism.

Osterhaven wrote of the meaning of baptism:

Baptism has no meaning apart from the fact of human sin. Christianity in all of its branches holds that something tragic has happened to mankind, that the race of men has been morally and spiritually affected with a disease called sin. Because God is holy and just and cannot, because of His nature, "whitewash" sin we need cleansing if we are to see him.1

The whole human race, men, women, and children, has a problem: it is born with a tendency to sin; this means self-will and self-centerdness; it means the will to be one's own god and determiner of good and evil (Gen. 3:5); it means, my will be done, come what may. The natural man naturally wants his own way: his life's goal is self-fulfillment, not the kingdom of God and His justice (Mt. 6:33).

As long as men are like this, history offers us no hope. Whatever material progress is made only gives sin more scope to work its will, and sin becomes more dangerous and more powerful.

The solution, our Lord says, is, you must be born again. Natural man must be replaced by supernatural man. We are in Christ all of us a new human race, the Christian race, a supernatural people with unexpected powers and reserves.

And this is what we want for our children, our grandchildren, and our progeny to the end of time. We want them to be Christians, members of Christ's new humanity, a people of grace and power.

The tired old round of natural man is sin and death, pretensions, false fronts, cowardice, and defeat. But we as Christians have a different calling; it is to life and justice (or, righteousness); it is to victory, for "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 Jn. 5:4).

We give our children to Christ in a great hope, that He will make them His, and that they will be another step forward in the conquest of all things for Christ's kingdom. The hope of Christian parents is beautifully expressed in a fifteenth century hymn by Heinrich von Laufenberg, as translated by Catherine Winkworth perhaps a century and a half ago:

Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord most dear,
As Thou wast once an infant here,
So give this child of Thine, we pray,
Thy grace and blessing day by day.
Oh holy Jesus, Lord Divine,
We pray Thee guard this child of Thine.
As in Thy heavenly Kingdom, Lord,
All things obey Thy sacred word,
Do Thou Thy mighty succor give,
And shield this child by morn and even.
Oh holy Jesus, Lord Divine,
We pray Thee guard this child of Thine.
Their watch let angels around him keep
Where're he be, awake asleep;
Thy holy Cross now let him bear,
That he Thy crown with saints may bear.
Oh holy Jesus, Lord Divine,
We pray Thee guard this child of Thine.

Baptisms are therefore joyful occasions, because they are evidence of the extension of Christ's kingdom into the future, into the lives of our children. We give our children to Christ to make them His new human race, the people of grace and power, the people who are the only good future this world has.


1. Eugene M. Osterhaven. The Meaning of Baptism (Grand Rapids, MI: Society for Reformed Publications, 1951), 17.

Topics: Biblical Law, Reformed Thought

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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