“You must be born again.” John 3:7
You. This is personal. If I resent it as threatening, that could be evidence I have not been born again. If my heart welcomes the approach of this truth and waves the white flag of surrender, that could be evidence I have been born again.
Must. This is authoritative. If I take evasive action, that could be evidence I have not been born again. If I breathe a sigh of relief that finally Someone is telling me the truth and taking me in hand, that could be evidence I have been born again.
Be born again. This is passive. I need more than self-correction; I need a miracle deep within. I need God to call into existence within me a new aliveness to God, new tastes, new desires, new openness and humility and fears and hopes, such as I have never experienced before and cannot conjure up out of my admirable upbringing and good intentions. I need newness of Genesis 1-magnitude. 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.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)