Man By Nature Dead to God
But the Bible goes further still. It says that man by natural birth is lacking in yet another thing, which corresponds to his - may I use the phrase? - biological existence, his life. We have a biological existence which we call life. Now it is a very significant thing that the New Testament puts two different words over two different classes of people. It uses one word (bios) for natural life, but it never use that word of the life of the Christian. For that it uses an entirely different word, with an altogether different meaning. What the Bible says is that man by nature not only lacks the functions of his spiritual senses, but even lacks that which corresponds to his natural existence - life. In a word, the Bible says that man is dead; not only blind and deaf and insensitive to God, but dead. "Death passed upon all men" (Romans 5:12), says the Word of God. By nature man is dead to God.
Dead to the Meaning of His Own Existence
And he is dead to the true meaning of his own existence. Man by nature does not know why he was born, why he has a being. We have all sorts of accounts of his being - wild explanations and excuses, shelving responsibility, and so on, all proving that he is entirely dead to the real meaning of his own existence. He makes the best of it - and sometimes it is quite a good best that a man makes of his life; but, after all, when set in relation to God and in relation to eternity, he does not know why he is alive, why he has a being. He is dead to that. He is dead to eternal and heavenly things and values. What a futile and hopeless thing it is to talk to man by nature about the things of Heaven and the things of God! He looks at you, he gapes at you, he does not know what you are talking about. That belongs to a world with which he is just not acquainted. It is something foreign, far off, and he is utterly bored.
He may be a very good man from certain standpoints, a very educated man. He may be occupying a position of high esteem and respect among men - he may even be a very religious man. There was such a man who came to Jesus, an outstanding specimen of the best product of humanity outside of Christ; but over him was suspended one big question mark. He was full of interrogations - 'How...? How...? How...' And Jesus said, in effect: "Well, it is no use talking to you about heavenly things at all. You do not belong to that realm; you are just dead to that."
Now, is that true? I said at the beginning that you can put everything to the test. This is not just a statement of abstract Christian doctrine. This is a statement of fact which is verifiable. Some of you may be actually knowing the truth of it now, in your own experience. Many of you did know it in time past, but thank God, you know it no longer. According to the Bible, man is dead. It is useless to speak to a corpse - you will get nothing back. As far as the things of God are concerned, man makes no response. There is no correspondence, no interchange, no communion, no fellowship possible. That is what the Bible and human experience say as to man's condition by nature.
What Happens When We Become Christians
That brings us to a very practical point in approaching this question: What exactly happens when we become Christians? There are two fragments of New Testament Scripture which I think sum this up for us very concisely and very fully. The on is that statement, so familiar and yet so little understood even by Christians, the statement made to the man to whom I referred just now, who came with his big question - his multiple "How ...?" Jesus simply looked at him, and did not try to answer his question at all, because He knew how hopeless a thing it is to talk to a dead man. He looked at him, and said: "Ye must be born anew," or "Ye must be born from above" (John 3:7). The other passage, from one of Paul's letters, is also very well known: "Wherefore it any man is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those two words sum up what happens: "born anew", "a new creation."
(a.) A New Aliveness
I said I would keep off negative ground and on positive, but let me say here in parenthesis that it is not becoming a Christian just to accept, or give a mental assent to, the tenets of the Christian religion, or to join some society which has the name of being a Christian institution, even though it may go by the name of "church". That is not becoming a Christian in the New Testament sense. The only true "becoming a Christian" is by way of being born anew, becoming a new creation: which means you become a different species from what you were before, and from what all other people are who have not had that experience.
But when we so become Christians, what happens? Our state of death gives place to a state of live. This other life, this resurrection life, which no man by nature has ever yet had, excepting Jesus Christ; this life - which we will not even refer to in the New Testament terminology - is given in the day of our faith-exercise toward the Lord Jesus as Lord and Saviour. A new aliveness takes place. It is the first wonderful basic experience of the Christian. The Christian at that time leaps into life: he immediately begins to talk a new language about now knowing what it is to live, knowing the meaning of life, and so on. What happens when we become Christians? Well, we are alive from the dead! We become alive.
But that is not just the resuscitation of something. It is the impartation of what was never there before - a new life, belonging to a new creation: that is, a new order, which is a heavenly order. For this is birth "from above." Jesus never said a truer thing than that. "Ye must be born again." If there is someone reading these lines who has not had that experience, you know, after what we have said about the natural condition, that, if you are going to see God and hear God and feel and sense God, in the way of which we have spoken, something has got to happen to you which is as radical as being born all over again in another realm. Jesus is right at any rate on that, is He not? It is true. "You must ...". It is not just as imperative of command , it is not just a declaration that you have got to become a Christian to be accepted with God. It is the statement of a fundamental and inescapable fact: that you can never, never know God in a real way, far less have living fellowship with God, until something has happened IN you that is absolutely constitutional. You have got to have a new life, which is God's own life, to enable you to understand what God is, to know him.
(continued with # 8)