“It is for this reason that Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). The spiritually dead cannot enter God’s holy presence. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In order to see God’s kingdom, then, the spiritually stillborn must be brought to life. There must be spiritual resurrection.
“There must be new life, eternal life. “You must be born again.” Jesus’ words befuddled Nicodemus. He said to Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). Here Nicodemus gives us a textbook example of missing the point.
“Nicodemus is not alone. There are a large number of professing Christians who miss the point. To hear some tell it, you would think Jesus merely said, “You must be well again.” According to many, we are not spiritually dead but are simply sick. We are on our death beds, and Jesus offers us the cure. All we have to do is reach out and take it. Or we are drowning and Jesus offers us a life buoy, and all we have to do is grab it to save our lives. The picture painted by Jesus and the apostles, however, is much more bleak. In our natural Adamic state, we are not on our sick beds. We are in the grave. We are not flailing about on the surface of the sea. We are lifeless at the bottom of the ocean. We are dead.
“This is the point that Nicodemus and we must understand. When Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again, He is indicating that this is not something Nicodemus can do himself. Just as we had no control over our physical birth, we do not control our spiritual birth. It is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Those who say that we are only spiritually wounded will say that we can be regenerated, born again, by placing our faith in Christ. This, however, puts everything precisely backwards. We do not believe in order to be regenerated; we must be regenerated in order that we might believe. Regeneration precedes faith.”
(Keith Mathison, “You Must Be Born Again”, Ligonier Ministries)