THE word “must” is surely unpopular nowadays. Neither children nor adults like to be told what they must do. Yet there are certain compulsions in God’s Word, and there is no way around them. They must be met if we are going to obey God!
Three of these “musts” occur in John 3. There is one for the sinner, one for the Savior, and one for the saint.
There is first the compulsion of conversion: “Ye must be born again” (v. 7). There must be a new life if we are to be saved, for the old life ends in physical and—worst case—spiritual death. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God,” for “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” The only way to get into the kingdom of God is to be born into it. One cannot merely take naturalization papers and get in! One may learn French, live in France, speak French and still not be a Frenchman. So one may know doctrine and even work in the church, but not be a Christian! It takes more than knowing the Constitution to make one an American, and it takes more than knowing theology to be a Christian.
The new birth is mysterious (John 3:7-8); it is the work of the Holy Spirit using the Word (Tit. 3:5; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). On our part, the means is faith (Gal. 3:26). The new birth is manifested in a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17); in love (1 John 3:14; 4:7); in victory over sin (1 John 3:9; 5:18); in righteous living (1 John 2:29); in overcoming the world (1 John 5:4).
Then there is the compulsion of Calvary: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (v. 14). If we must be born again, there must be a way provided by which to receive eternal life. So God sent His only begotten Son. If there could have been salvation some other way, God would have been cruel to choose the way of the cross. But it behooved Christ to suffer, and He Himself said, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things?” (Luke 24:26). If it was so important that Christ had to die, then woe unto us if we disregard it!
Finally, there is the compulsion of consecration: John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30). The believer must die to self, reckon himself dead indeed unto sin, deny himself, count himself crucified with Christ that Christ may fill his life and be all in all. The Christian is only the friend of the Bridegroom, and his delight is in hearing the Bridegrooms voice. This means more than the mere giving up of amusements, money, time: it means renouncing one’s own will and self. Peter forsook his nets and boat on his first call; it was quite a while before he gave up himself.
Said George Müller: “There was a day when I died—utterly died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, will; died to the world, its approval or censure.” Luther used to smite his breast and say, “Martin Luther does not live here: Jesus Christ lives here.”
These are God’s compulsions. Between conversion and consecration stands Christ, and He is the key to both. We are saved by simply believing and receiving Him; we are consecrated as we yield to Him and are able to say, “Not I, but Christ.”