Nicodemus

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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John 02:23-03:15, “You Must Be Born Again”

Question: What could be worse than having someone tell you that you would not be able to enter the kingdom of God?

Answer: The only thing worse than having someone tell you that you would not be able to enter into the kingdom of God is for that to come true. The only thing worse than being told that you could not enter God’s kingdom is to at the end of your life to hear those dreadful words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Most of us think that we are going to go to heaven when we die. We consider ourselves to be good people. The words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14 may come as a shock to us if we would consider them:

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT).

In today’s reading in John 3, we find a man named Nicodemus. He is very religious and very respected for his devotion to God. He thinks everything in his life is in order and that surely if anyone is able to enter the kingdom of God, he would be able to enter. But Jesus tells him that he is missing the one thing that God requires.

CHRIS TOMLIN: AWAKENING – 4:45

Subject: THE NEW BIRTH

Scripture: John 2:23-3:15

English: Jesus, on the left, instructing Nicod...

English: Jesus, on the left, instructing Nicodemus, on the right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

3:1 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).

George Whitefield was an English Anglican preacher who was born in 1714, 300 years ago this year. He was an astonishing instrument raised up by God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had a marvelous voice that was sometimes heard at a distance of two miles, about 3 kilometers. Crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 people would gather to hear him preach in the open air. For more than 30 years, until his death at the age of 55, he preached every day of the week and three times on Sundays. The passage that he preached perhaps more than any other passage was John 3:7,

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

One day a man asked him, “Mr. Whitefield, why do you preach so often on the passage that says that you must be born again?” Whitefield responded, “Because you must be born again!”

But it was not Whitefield who said that we must be born again. It was Jesus Christ who came down from heaven who declared, “You must be born again.” His conversation with Nicodemus shows us that nothing can replace the new birth. Nicodemus comes to Jesus and professes a certain knowledge about Jesus:

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” (John 3:1-2 ESV).

Like many at Jerusalem Nicodemus had seen the signs that Jesus had performed. He has come to a certain conclusion about Jesus. He must be from God, otherwise he would be unable to work the miracles that he worked. Jesus does not congratulate Nicodemus for his position as ruler of the Jews, or his interest or his understanding or his conclusion about who Jesus is. Rather, Jesus confronts him directly. In effect, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he is missing the one thing that God requires for entry into the kingdom of heaven: You must be born again. Three times in this passage, Jesus tells us that the new birth is absolutely necessary for entry into the kingdom of God:

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).

But Nicodemus is surprised. He is absolutely astounded. He can hardly believe his ears. Notice his response in verse 4:

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” (John 3:4 NLT).

Jesus gives him further explanation, but in verse 9, Nicodemus is still amazed:

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked (John 3:9 NLT).

YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!

I want to look at three questions:

  1. Why must we be born again?
  2. What does it mean to be born again?
  3. How is one to be born again?

So the first question is:

1. Why must we be born again? We must be born again…

Because nothing else will gain us entry into the kingdom of God.

A.  Belief in God is not enough. Notice that Nicodemus believed in God. Two times, Nicodemus mentions God in addressing Jesus.

“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” (John 3:2 ESV). Nicodemus did not believe in some false god. He believed in the God of the Bible. He believed in the God who created heaven and earth. He believed in the one true God. As a Jew, he would pronounce the declaration of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Jesus would later tell the Samaritan woman in John 4:22 that salvation is of the Jews. Nicodemus was following the religion that God had revealed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets. He believed in the one true God. But that was not enough. Jesus told him bluntly, “You must be born again.”

Many people believe in God. You most probably believe in God. And many people believe in the God of the Bible. But belief in God is not enough. Belief even in the God of the Bible is not enough. You must be born again.

B.  Knowing that Jesus was sent from God is not enough (v. 2).

“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” (John 3:2 ESV). In chapter 2:23, John says that “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”

And yet, he immediately tells us that signs are not an adequate basis for faith: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:24-25 ESV). Others would consider faith in signs to be adequate, but Jesus does not look on the outside appearance. He sees men as they really are. He knows all people, John says. Jesus “himself knew what was in man” (v. 25). As God manifested in the flesh, Jesus looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Nicodemus’ knowledge was based on signs: “we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” He was logical. He had seen the signs. He had come to the conclusion that Jesus was a teacher sent from God. He knew that God was with him. Jesus was performing miracles that no ordinary man could do. And yet, this was not enough.

Many people believe that Jesus was sent from God, that he performed miracles because God was with him, but that is not enough. You must be born again.

C.  Respect toward Jesus is not enough (v. 3).

Notice that Nicodemus addresses Jesus as “Rabbi.” This is a title for a respected teacher. Jesus is much more than a rabbi, but Nicodemus addresses him respectfully. Addressing Jesus with respect and reverence is not enough to gain entry into the kingdom of God. You must be born again.

Many people speak respectfully of Jesus. They may revere him as a great teacher or a prophet or a man sent from God. They may even know that he is the Son of God, but even that is not enough to gain entry into the God’s kingdom. Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”

D. Being religious is not enough (v. 1).

Nicodemus was a religious man. John tells us that he was a Pharisee. We may not like Pharisees today, but the Pharisees were respected by ordinary Jews for their devotion to God. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus

  • Believed that the Scriptures were given by God.
  • He read and studied the Scriptures.
  • He fasted two times each week (cf. Luke 18:12).
  • He gave a tenth of everything that he earned (cf. Luke 18:12).
  • He was careful to follow the commandments and laws of God.
  • Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews. He was so committed, that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, that group which decided what they were going to do with Jesus (cf. 7:50). You are also a member of that group: each of us has to decide what we will do with Christ Jesus.

Nicodemus had so much going for him:

  • Belief in God
  • Knowing that God was with Jesus
  • Respect toward Jesus
  • Being committed and religious

But that was not enough. Nicodemus uses the word “unless”:

“…no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2 ESV).

Jesus responds by using the word “unless”:

“…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV).

Jesus is not saying that being born again is good, or desirable, or advisable. He does not say that being born again is for some Christians but not others. What Jesus says does not apply only to Nicodemus. He tells us in the most serious of terms that only those who have been born again can enter into the kingdom of God. All others will be excluded.

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

“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).

And once again, in verse 7,

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

He says that you and I cannot get into the kingdom of God without being born again.

Notice that Jesus says, “Truly, truly.” This is his formula for introducing a solemn and most important declaration: “I tell you the solemn truth.” This is a most serious word from the Lord.

That being the case, you and I need to know what it means to be born again. The second question is this:

2. What does the new birth mean? What does it mean to be born again?

What is this? How are we to understand being born again? Nicodemus clearly had a hard time with this idea:

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” (John 3:4 NLT).

What are we to understand of being born again? Jesus not only tells us that we must be born again, he tells us what it means to be born again.

Verse 5 has troubled some Christians.In verse 5, Jesus says,

“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).

What does it mean to be born of water and the Spirit? Different interpretations have been offered.

  1. Some people think that Jesus is talking about two different kinds of birth: natural physical birth on the one hand, and spiritual birth on the other hand, so that being born of water is natural physical birth, and being born of the Spirit is spiritual birth. According to this interpretation, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that two things are necessary to enter into the kingdom of God. He must first be born physically, and he must also be born spiritually.

But that interpretation does not make a lot of sense. Jesus does not need to tell a man who is standing before him physically that he needs to be born physically. Jesus is certainly not saying, “Unless one is born physically, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

2.  Some people think that Jesus is talking about water baptism and baptism into the Holy Spirit which the Bible also speaks of. According to this interpretation, if you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, put your trust in him, and followed him in water baptism, but have not yet been baptized into the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus would never have imagined that Jesus was talking about speaking in tongues. Does Jesus really mean that speaking in tongues is essential to salvation? Are we to believe that the person who has come to Christ, trusted in Christ for his salvation, experienced the joy of having his sins forgiven, loves God with all his heart, studies God’s Word, has had his life changed by the power of the gospel – are we to believe that that person will be excluded from the kingdom of God because he has not spoken in tongues?

No. Jesus is not talking about the baptism in the Holy Spirit in this passage. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a biblical experience available for all believers, but that is not what Jesus is talking about here.

We need to consider three things in trying to understand verse 5.

  1. In speaking of being born of water and the Spirit, Jesus is explaining the nature of the new birth. He is explaining what it means to be born again.
  2. The birth that Jesus is talking about in verse 5 is one birth, not two.
  3. Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand what he meant by being born again.

So first, Jesus is explaining what he has already said. He is explaining the nature of the new birth. Verses 3, 5, and 7 mean the very same thing:

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

“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).

So as Jesus speaks of being born of water and the Spirit, he is simply responding to Nicodemus’ question and explaining to him the nature of the new birth. We will see that more clearly in the third point.

But secondly, the preposition “of” is not repeated before “the Spirit.” Jesus does not say that we must be born of water and of the Spirit as if he were speaking of two separate experiences. He says that we must be born of water-and-the-Spirit: (ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος ex hudatos kai pneumatos). The word “of” (ex) is used one time to show that the new birth is one single experience that has two characteristics. We will look at that in a moment.

Thirdly, Jesus says that Nicodemus should understand the nature of the new birth. Notice verse 10:

Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? (John 3:10 NLT).

Jesus is saying that Nicodemus should have understood the nature of the new birth. Why should Nicodemus have understood? Because he was a respected Jewish teacher. He was a teacher of the Old Testament Scriptures. The Old Testament clearly spoke of the new birth and it spoke of this experience of being born again in terms of water and the Spirit.

The key Old Testament background passage for understanding the new birth is found in Ezekiel 36:25-27,

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV).

The water speaks of being cleansed of our sins, and the Spirit speaks of the new life that is within us. To be born again is to be born of water and the Spirit. To be born again is to be cleansed of our sins and uncleannesses and idols, and it is to be made alive by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus who lives in us from the moment we are born again.

Born again means that we are clean and alive to God.

And the third question is:

3. How are we to be born again?

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6 ESV).

A.  The new birth is not the result of a gradual process of bettering ourselves (v. 6).

We cannot make ourselves be born again by a long process of improving ourselves. While we are to grow and cultivate the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we cannot make ourselves be born again. We cannot give birth to ourselves. There is no way that we can improve the flesh until it becomes spirit. The New Living Translation puts it this way:

Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life (John 3:6 NLT).

B.  The new birth is the work of the Spirit of God (v. 8).

Jesus has emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. In verse 5

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5 NLT).

Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life (John 3:6 NLT).

The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NLT).

Birth is not something that you do; it is something that happens to you. You were born. You did not decide to be born. You do not give birth to yourself. Your mother gave birth to you.

In the same way, the new birth is not something you do. It is not something that you do by getting baptized in water or by deciding to become a member of a church. The new birth is something that happens to you. That is what the Apostle Peter says in his first letter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3 ESV).

you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1 Peter 1:23 ESV).

The new birth is not our work. It is not something that we do. It is God’s work. It is something that he does. Now let’s go back to John 1.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 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 1:9-13 ESV).

John tells us that the new birth is

  • “not of blood.” That means that it is not a matter of ethnic descent or race. You do not have to be Jewish to be born again. And being Jewish will not make you born again.
  • “nor of the will of the flesh” – The new birth is not a matter of heritage. You cannot inherit the new birth from your parents.
  • “nor of the will of man” – The new birth is not the result of human effort.

Being born again is not a matter of being a white man or a black man. It is not a matter of being part of the right tribe or race or language or nation. You cannot get the new birth from your parents. And there is nothing that you can do to birth yourself spiritually.

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).

How can you be born again?

God takes the initiative. Jesus came to his own. He comes to you. He comes to you through the life-giving word that is preached. If you will receive him, he will give you the right to become children of God, born of God as God himself cleanses your sin, washes you clean, and puts His life-giving Spirit in you that you may live in obedience to him.

Sixty-five years ago, my father was 18 years old. By his own confession, he had what he called a “foul mouth” that he could not control. He had grown up in a Christian home, but had never been born again. A friend invited hi to a series of meetings where the gospel was preached. My father became desperate for God to intervene in his life. God met hi. He was born again, cleansed form his sin, given a new heart and a new Spirit. The foul mouth was gone forever. For 65 years, my father was faithful to God. On January 31, 2014, he entered into the kingdom of God because he had been born again, born of water and of the Spirit.

Won’t you receive Christ? You must be born again. There is no other way. You needed a way to God.

KRISTYN GETTY – HEAR THE CALL OF THE KINGDOM – 2:36 (8second lead)