Jesus to Nicodemus
“You Must Be Born Again”
When Jesus made that statement, Nicodemus didn’t understand what He meant. I offer the following as an illustration of what it means and why it is so.
Sow’s Ears and Silk Purses
My mother said it, your mother said it and anyone with common sense knows the following statement is true…
You cannot turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
This maxim is recognized universally and is usually interpreted to mean:
- Inferior materials can’t be used to make superior products.
But it also implies that…
- The nature of two vastly different materials can never be the same.
One thing cannot become another: water can’t become oil, salt can’t become sugar, tree trunks don’t become steel, fat doesn’t convert to protein and so on.
And in the case of a sow’s ear there are no conditions under which that principle doesn’t apply:
It has nothing to do with age. Even the ear of a new born piglet, though fresh and tender, is still a sow’s ear and will never be a silk purse.
It has nothing to do with blemishes. The nature of an unblemished sow’s ear is no different biologically than any other sow’s ear and will never be a silk purse.
It has nothing to do with diet, breeding, domestication or training. These things can produce a stronger, healthier, more superior breed of sow but none of them separately or all together can produce silk instead of a sow.
A sow’s ear does serve useful purposes: hearing for pigs, food in many cultures and is even used decoratively but becoming a silk purse is not a possibility and every sensible person knows that.
The idea that a sow’s ear can never become a silk purse is a simple and easy concept to understand but when it comes to the question of “moral nature” we trade common sense for delusion.
Instead of accepting the words of Jesus and believing we must be born again – by which we receive a new nature – we think that somehow we can convert our first-birth nature into one that is considerably more different than even a silk purse is to a sow’s ear. Rational that idea is not.
Fact: Even if possible, it would be immeasurably more difficult to convert a sinful nature – the kind with which every person is born – into one that is saintly than it would be to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
And comparing yourself to other humans, though a popular approach, is not the answer either. It is no better than comparing one sow’s ear to another. One ear may, in fact, be better than others but they are still fundamentally the same. A sow’s ear is always a sow’s ear and a sinful nature is always a sinful nature.
The Bible actually has something to say to those who would assess their nature based on how favorably they compare to others:
There isn’t a righteous person on earth who does only good and never sins. (Solomon, Eccelsiastes 7:20)
And in the New Testament Paul verified that:
For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Paul, Romans 3:23)
And for those who insist they can transform into a state that is not by nature sinful Jeremiah rhetorically asks:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? (Jeremiah 13:23)
The answer in both cases is obvious and a reasonable person has no problem admitting to that. The only solution is a completely separate and new nature, which is why Jesus insisted we be born again.
So, like the sow, your age, apparent perfection, diet, breeding or discipline will not convert your sinful nature into something akin to a saint. Even John the Baptist made the same point:
He (Jesus) came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Yes, people in their first-birth state are capable of doing good things and serving many useful purposes just like a sow’s ear but, also like the sow’s ear, their basic nature will never be transformed.
An even worse delusion occurs when a person refuses to admit they have a sinful nature, when they think they are above it or beyond it. To that person we say:
“Be careful! It may take a moral catastrophe for the penny to drop.”
And we encourage you NOT to wait until you fall completely and publicly out of the moral saddle before you accept this basic truth. That was exactly what happened to David who after committing adultery and murder in a rare moment of lucidity, as if seeing an obvious fact for the first time, said:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)
The sinful nature with which we are born and the saintly nature we desperately need are completely different and totally incompatible. One cannot be molded into the other. They cannot be combined to form a composite whole and neither will ever serve the purpose of the other.
The obvious conclusion? There will be no sow’s ears in heaven, metaphorically speaking.
This is a challenging truth for everyone. I admit that any person who says they have a new nature and will definitely go to heaven can develop a self satisfied attitude and can seem smug to others. That isn’t a very nice picture.
And I also admit that telling people they are basically nothing but a sow’s ear can seem harsh and judgmental. Equally offensive.
But challenging or not each person stands on one or the other side of the issue and both have responsibilities. Those with the new nature must find a way to humbly share this truth with others? Those still musing the idea must realize they can’t make alone.
It is only fitting that we end with a quote from Jesus:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
What do you THINK!AboutIt?