John 03:01-15 “The Purpose of the New Birth”

Last week we considered Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and the necessity of the new birth. Three times in the passage Jesus tells us that we must be born again. Why must we be born again? Jesus tells us that without the new birth, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God. No one will ever enter God’s kingdom without having been born again. All those who have not been born again will be excluded and as Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:30, they will be cast into “the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Mat 25:30 ESV).

So Jesus clearly tells us that we must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. But we must ask a more fundamental question: Why must we be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God? Why does God require the new birth? Why must you and I be born again to enter God’s kingdom? What is fundamentally wrong with us as we are that would prevent us from entering into the very presence of God? Why can’t God just let us in without the new birth?

Today we want to consider the purpose of the new birth.

Jesus and Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, 1616–1645.

Jesus and Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, 1616–1645. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you travel from one country to another, you have to carry certain travel documents. You need an airplane ticket to be able to board the plane. But you also need a passport that identifies who you are and your country of origin. Frequently you need a visa to be able to enter the other country. When you are checking in for your flight, an airline agent verifies that your documents are in order. If they are in order, you are permitted to travel. If your documents are not in order, you are not granted permission to board the airplane.

Now I want to say that flying from one country to another is quite different from the new birth. You may carry your travel documents with you without any fundamental change in your character. You may even carry your passport, visa, and airline ticket in your shirt pocket, close to your heart, but those documents do not indicate that there has been any change of heart. The airplane ticket is utterly incapable of changing your character.

We want to see that the new birth is not simply some airplane ticket, or passport, or visa that we carry in our pockets that will allow us to enter into the kingdom of God. The new birth brings with it a fundamental change in our identity – who we are – and a fundamental change in our character.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who 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 ESV).

The new birth is absolutely necessary because without it, we are not fit for the kingdom of God. Our character is fundamentally different from God himself. Without the new birth, there can be no real transformation of our character. The new birth begins a process that changes our identity, our nature, and our character.

So let us read again this most important conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Scripture: John 3:1-15

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 2:23-15 ESV).

Why do we need to be born again?

SONG: Save Me from Myself, Michael W. Smith

John 3 contains some of the best-known passages in the Bible. It is here in John 3:16 that we read of God’s great love for the world:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 ESV).

And yet, we rip this verse out of context without understanding the danger that we are in and the warnings that are given in this chapter and throughout the Bible.

Jesus tells us three times that we cannot enter His Father’s kingdom without being born again:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV).

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5 ESV).

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:7 ESV).

Jesus tells Nicodemus, in effect, that he is on the road to destruction. The only way to avoid that is the new birth.

John 3:16 speaks not only of the Father’s love, but also of the necessity of believing on his only Son so that we should not perish. The next two verses show us the terrible consequences of not receiving Christ:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:17-18 ESV).

How is it that we are on the road to destruction? Why do we need a Savior? The next verses tell us why:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (John 3:19-20 ESV).

We like to think of ourselves as basically good. We are good people.

1. Just How Good Are We?

A ruler came to Jesus and asked him,

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone (Luke 18:18-19 ESV).

Jesus was not saying that he was not good; he was asking the ruler if he recognized that Jesus was God. But the point I want to make is that Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” We think of ourselves as good. Ask anyone how they are, and as likely as not, their response will be, “I’m good!” Not “I’m fine.” Or “I’m doing well.” But “I’m good.” I will grant you that they are probably not trying to make a statement about their character, but when you ask someone if he thinks he is a good person, he will most likely say that he is. What about you? Are you a good person? If you died right now, do you think that you would go to heaven?

Most of us think that we are good enough to go to heaven! But what does God’s Word say?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Consider the Ten Commandments. Do you know them? How many of them can you say? Let’s just consider a few of them to evaluate just how good we are. Evangelist Ray Comfort often asks these questions of people.

Have you ever taken the Lord’s name in vain? Have you used his name without talking about him or talking to him? The exclamation, “Oh my God!” reduces the most holy name of God to the common and trivial. “Mon Dieu !” does the same thing in French. Ever said it? You broke the third commandment. That’s blasphemy. What does that make you? It makes you a blasphemer.

Have you ever lied? You broke the ninth commandment. What does that make you? It makes you a liar.

Ever stolen anything? Music or software off the Internet? You broke the eight commandment. What does that make you? It makes you a thief.

Ever looked on a woman to lust after her? Jesus says that you have already committed adultery with her in your heart. You broke the seventh commandment. What does that make you? It makes you an adulterer.

Ever hated anyone? Jesus said that if you hate anyone, you have already committed murder in your heart. You broke the sixth commandment. What does that make you? It makes you a murderer.

Are we really good enough to go to heaven?

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18 ESV).

Do you think that God is going to let blasphemers and liars and thieves and adulterers and murderers into heaven?

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8 ESV).

This is why we must be born again:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36 ESV).

As Pastor John Piper says,

Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He was speaking to all of us when he said that. Nicodemus was not a special case. You and I must be born again, or we will not see the kingdom of God. That means we will not be saved; we will not be part of God’s family, and we will not go to heaven. Instead, we will go to hell if we are not born again. That’s what Jesus says later in this chapter about the person who does not believe on Christ: “The wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). This is no joking matter. Jesus uses hard words for hard realities. That is what love does. The opposite is called pandering.

The Christian is not someone who thinks himself better than others. He has come to know just how sinful he is. Paul said it like this,

I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Romans 7:18 ESV).

Created in the image of God, we are capable of doing good things, but because of Adam’s sin, we have a fallen nature so that even the good that we do is tainted by our sinful nature.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags… (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

2. Our Condition Apart from the New Birth

“Do we really need to be changed? Can’t we just be forgiven and justified? Wouldn’t that get us to heaven?”[1]

2.1.Apart from the new birth, we are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2).

Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Ephesians.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked,

We need the new birth because without it, we are the walking dead, walking around dead in our trespasses and sins. We are spiritual zombies, “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul tells us that we were under the control of three forces.

2.1.1.     We were following the course of this world.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world… (Ephesians 2:1-2 ESV).

We were following the course of this world. We were going the same way that everyone else was going. We were going with the flow. We were walking the same path as everyone else. This is the way the world wants us to go. It is our culture and our customs telling us that it is okay to take drugs, and get drunk, and sleep around, and cheat on our wives, and serve ourselves. It’s okay to abort our babies, to divorce and remarry, or to marry someone of the same sex. It’s the new wave. It’s the way the world is going.

Our rivers flow to the ocean. It is easy to go with the flow. It is easy to float downstream with everyone else. Dead fish flow downstream, but fish that are alive swim against the current. If you are following the course of this world, you are still dead in your trespasses and sins. You must be born again if you ever hope to enter heaven.

2.1.2.     We were following the prince of the power of the air.

…following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– (Ephesians 2:2 ESV).

This is why Jesus says to the Jews, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires… (John 8:44 ESV). We were dead in our trespasses and sins, just doing the will of the devil.

2.1.3.     We were following the passions of our flesh.

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:3 ESV).

We offered little or no resistance to society around us or to the devil because of the passions of our flesh and the desires of the body and the mind. We were dead. Once again in verse 5, Paul says that “we were dead in our trespasses.”

2.2.       Apart from the new birth, we are by nature children of wrath.

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:3 ESV).

By nature we are the children of wrath. It is not that we were good and then did some bad things that made us bad.

For I was born a sinner– yes, from the moment my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5 NLT).

I am selfish and self-centered and demanding by nature. I am sinful and I justify my sin. I take my sin and say that this is natural for me. I resist change and repentance and sorrow over my sin and accuse God of making me this way.

As long as I cling to my sin, it is only right that I should be an object of the wrath of God. Again, John 3 speaks not only of the God who loved us so much that he gave his only Son that we might not perish, it also speaks of his wrath toward those who do not obey him.

2.3.Apart from the new birth, we love darkness and hate the light.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (John 3:19-20 ESV).

We are not by nature lovers of light. We resist the light because the light exposes our evil deeds. We resist the Word of God because is reveals our sinfulness. We resist the Holy Spirit because he convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8-10). All around us in the world today, we see that people and nations are fleeing from the light and are embracing darkness.

We need the new birth to change our inclinations.

2.4.Apart from the new birth, our hearts are hard like stone.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV).

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18 ESV).

Paul says that we are strangers from the life of God because of ignorance. But is it not an innocent ignorant. It is an ignorance “do to their hardness of heart.” Romans 1 says that we suppress or hold down the truth by our wickedness. We don’t want to know the truth, so we traded it for a lie.

One of the biggest lies around the world today is the lie of evolution. We are all the result of a cosmic accident. There was nothing that magically became this vast universe of incredible order and complexity and balance and beauty, but it just happened all by itself. So your life has not meaning. You are just an accident. There is no God. So live however you want to.

People like believing that lie! If this is all an accident and there is no God, then there is no Judge. There is no one to answer to. I can do whatever I want. I can feed my sinful nature until the monster is so big that it destroys me.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

Willful ignorance covered up by a hard heart. That’s why we need the new birth.

2.5.       Apart from the new birth, we are unable to submit to God or please God.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8 ESV).

The New Living Translation says it like this:

For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

That’s why we must be born again. Our old sinful nature is hostile to God! Do you imagine that people who are hostile to God and his laws will ever be allowed into the kingdom of heaven? Paul continues, drawing a powerful contrast between those who are not born again and those who are:

9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) (Romans 8:7-9 NLT).

2.6.Apart from the new birth, we are unable to accept the gospel.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV).

This does not mean that the unbeliever cannot understand the things of God, but rather that “they are folly to him.” He thinks the things of God are foolishness.

Paul cries in Romans 7:24,

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

Paul answers his own question:

25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord… (Romans 7:24-25 NLT).

As Laura Story sings in this song, Our God is mighty to save! Forever author of salvation, Jesus rose and conquered the grave (3:50).

3. The new birth is the beginning of new life. It is the infusion of God’s life into us.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4 ESV).

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-16 ESV).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

As we saw in Romans 7:24, Paul cries out,

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

He immediately answers,

25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord… (Romans 7:25 NLT).

Paul picks up this theme in the next chapter, one of the glorious chapters in the Bible, Romans 8.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:1-11 ESV).

SONG: Matt Maher – I Am Alive Again

This is the promise of the new birth. Life now, and life eternal.

[1]John Piper, Finally Alive, 48.

See also “Gospel of John”:

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