As with just about every other area of doctrine taught in the Bible, today we find a number of views concerning the new birth, of being born again, of regeneration. It seems that any area of teaching is open to being misunderstood or corrupted by man. And so it is with this teaching, of being born again.
In fact, being born again is seen today as almost a new category of Christian. I’m sure you have heard someone say, ‘Oh so and so is a born again Christian’, as though that were some other form of Christian, as though being born again was not the normal experience of a Christian. In fact, many of these so-called born again Christians are far from being so, and rather lead to the ridicule of Christianity because of their hypocrisy. And we seem to be seeing an increase in this sort of thing in those trying to get out of jail early for instance.
Then there is the idea that you are born again after you have come to faith and repentance, but surely if you have achieved this is there any real reason to be born again? Haven’t you already got what the new birth gives to you? Haven’t you already displayed spiritual life, so why would you need to be granted spiritual life?
Then there are those who preach as though they are telling you to be born again, as though the ability to do this rests with you – and so people attempt to perform this themselves.
What is this new birth all about? Where can we get the right answers concerning this much-abused doctrine – the answer of course is to go to the Bible. It is there that we will find the answers concerning the new birth, and it is this passage under consideration this morning that is the best place to begin.
John chapter three is an example of what we looked at last week, of Jesus knowing everything, even the hearts and minds of men. And in this chapter we see that Jesus knew just what it was that was so necessary in the life of Nicodemus. Throughout the Gospel of John there are various examples of Jesus knowing the hearts and mind of men, and these include the Samaritan woman at the well in the next chapter, and the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida in chapter 5.
And what we are going to see today is that the thing Jesus knew Nicodemus needed so much was this new birth, and so today we are going to consider ‘The Necessity of the New Birth.’
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a Scribe according to John 1:10 and 7:50. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus pressed the necessity of absolute conformity to the laws of God. So keen were these Pharisee’s on the law of God, that they added to these laws in an attempt to be more holy, more separated from the mass of humanity, to be the separated ones. In effect, these men taught and practised a form of legalism, a system of belief and life that in reality found salvation in the way of works or human merit.
In other words, they thought they would be saved on the basis of what they themselves achieved in their lives, based upon their ability to observe the Law of God with such preciseness.
The elite of the Pharisee’s sat on the religious committee known as the Sanhedrin, the religious leading body of the Jews, and Nicodemus sat on this board. Even a quick speed read through the Gospels will reveal that the Pharisees and the rest of the Sanhedrin were violently opposed to Jesus.
Could this then be the reason why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? Was he frightened of what the rest of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin would think of him? Perhaps he was frightened that he might loose his spot on the committee – whatever the reason, Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night.
And the fact that Nicodemus went to Jesus at all suggests that Nicodemus was very interested in hearing what Jesus had to say. In fact, by the way Jesus talks to Nicodemus, letting the questions of Nicodemus pass by and speaking to his real need, it would seem to imply that Nicodemus had a concern for his real state before God. It would seem from the whole flow and context of the passage that what Nicodemus was truly concerned about was the way into the Kingdom of God – and perhaps he himself was questioning the whole Pharisee way of doing it. Perhaps his conscience was striking out at him, with all his pent up self-righteousness, and he had come to know that before God all this was nothing.
Today some of you here might know this experience yourself – perhaps you are beginning to question your state before God. Maybe you are no longer confident that your coming into the kingdom was via the correct way, God’s way, and now are becoming convinced that it was no way, and therefore that you are still outside of the Kingdom of God.
Does your conscience concern you about such matters? Are you concerned that the religion and practices with which you have been associated for your whole life have deceived you? Well it would certainly seem that this was the case for Nicodemus, and his was surely the right action to take, for he went to Jesus about it.
When he goes to Jesus it seems as though he was representing not only himself but others also, ‘The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (3:2).’ Perhaps he knew of others among the Pharisee’s who were having the same doubts concerning their state before God, and on the evidence he had seen of Jesus, Jesus seemed to be the one to go to and discuss these things with. Clearly He stood in close relationship with God in some way, for He does what only God can do.
It doesn’t seem as though Nicodemus at this point thought of Jesus as any more than a teacher sent from God, perhaps a prophet. But he was fairly sure given what he had seen of Jesus, that He was certainly someone sent by God, and therefore the right one to direct his questions to.
But before he can say anything else, Jesus cuts to the chase, ‘Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3).’ ‘Don’t beat around the bush Nicodemus, I know why your here and this is what you need – you need to be born again.’ What is the way of salvation, well this is what is necessary Nicodemus – you need to be born again.
Well this was just confusion to Nicodemus, ‘Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born (Jn 3:4)?’ He had no idea what Jesus was talking about, it just seemed an impossibility that someone could be born again.
‘Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5).’
In the Greek, the text reads as, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you’. The idea of the double amen is to draw attention to what He says, and to emphasis what He says; in other words what Jesus goes on to say is of great importance, and is not to be missed – It is so, it is so.
Jesus as the Son of God, as God Himself, emphasises to Nicodemus the absolute necessity of the new birth, not only to him, but also to all people, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’
It matters not whether one is a Pharisee, whether one takes seriously what the Pharisee’s say, whether one is a member of the Sanhedrin – you must be born again, or you have no part in the Kingdom of God. That is absolutely certain.
Whether you be a preacher or pastor, a newsletter folder or door keeper, an organ player, a church goer, or whatever you might be in the church – this is an absolute essential, you must be born again – the Son of God has said it. Without this new birth, you have no place in the Kingdom.
Jesus describes the way of entrance into the spiritual Kingdom of God by using a scene that Nicodemus is used to, that of birth. To be born is the way of entrance into the physical world; there is no other way to enter into life at the physical level. To be part of an earthly family you need to enter it by natural birth.
And so too you need to be born in order to enter the spiritual – you need to be born again, to be spiritually born. Something must happen to a person that is similar to physical birth, except it is in the spiritual realm.
Do you see what this is saying to Nicodemus – you have come under the cloak of darkness for fear of loosing your position on the Sanhedrin, yet as far as entrance into the Kingdom of God is concerned, that position counts for nothing. All that you currently have is of no help to you in entering the Kingdom of God.
All of your self-righteous Pharisaic law keeping and legalism is vanity and useless. All earthly things, whether it be of a religious nature or not, all such things are useless as far as entering into the Kingdom of God is concerned – you need to be born again. And this is the point of verse 6, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’
No matter what you have or do here on this earth, all is pointless if all you have is your physical birth, for all that comes from your nature is fleshy – that is, corrupted by sin, and is therefore pointless and useless as far as entrance into the Kingdom of God is concerned. Bad trees can only bear bad fruit, like produces like, and because you are sinfully corrupt, all you can produce is sinful corruption.
‘…a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Mt 7:17,18).’
Have you considered that? Do you realise, that without the new birth, no matter what religious things you do, whether it be going to Church, being baptised, reading the Bible, praying, trying to believe in Jesus – all that is useless. Do you realise that? You cannot bear anything that is spiritually good.
For Nicodemus it meant that even being born a Jew meant nothing without the new birth – because in Adam he was outside the Kingdom, having no spiritual life.
There’s no point arguing about it, Jesus has said ‘It is so, It is so…’ You don’t agree? Well your argument is not with me, it is with Jesus, with God Himself – for He has said it.
Because of the Fall, every person is born a sinner and is totally corrupted by sin. Every part of your being is corrupted, so that everything you are, do, say, etc is also corrupted by sin – and is therefore unacceptable to God. You have no spiritual life, for spiritual life was lost as a result of the Fall in Adam, ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned … Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come … For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (Romans 5:12,14,19).’
Sinful man is described as being spiritually dead, spiritually blind, spiritually deaf, and so on, totally incapable of doing anything that can be considered good in God’s eyes. So a person needs to get right away from that state in which he was born if he is to enter into the Kingdom. And a dead person can not do that himself. If not, ‘Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Mt 7:19).’
In fact without this new birth you cannot even see the Kingdom of God. That is, you cannot even begin to perceive it or understand it, let alone enter it.
You may continue to proclaim your right to the Kingdom because you don’t consider yourself too bad, or because you go to Church, or even because you profess to be a Christian – but, if you have not experienced the new birth you will not truly understand that the Kingdom of God is so much more than these things. Why? Because these things are beyond you, impossible to you, ‘ In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Corinthians 4:4).’
Before the new birth, a sinner finds it impossible to get a Biblical view of the Kingdom of God, it is beyond their grasp, because they are in bondage to an understanding that is void of spiritual perception, they have no capacity for spiritual thinking and understanding.
So you see the futility of the belief that one first exercises faith and repentance, and then is born again – for without the new birth you cannot see, you cannot understand the Kingdom, and therefore there is no way you can enter, or you can believe. You don’t even know that there is a Kingdom to enter, and that there is a way to enter – you need to be born again.
And so you see, if you have not experienced this new birth then there is only one possibility for you in the world to come – death. Without being born again you will perish, for without the new birth you cannot believe, which is the way of entrance into the Kingdom.
But this text also tells us something more, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ The word again also contains the thought of ‘from above’. In other words, not only does a person need to be born again, but a person needs to be born from above, a reference to being born of God, ‘born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13).’ So you see, the new birth that you are to experience is not something that is human in origin.
This new life that is so necessary for entrance into the Kingdom comes not from anything on earth, but from God. It is clearly not something that you yourself are able to do – only God can grant you this new life. He alone is the Source of all life, and this is especially so as regards the spiritual.
And this point is further strengthened by verse 5, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ Here the reference is clearly to the work of the Spirit as being the active force in the new birth – clearly then it is God who must perform this work if we are to live.
No amount of self-will will do. No amount of moral reform, no amount of self-determined will power to produce change in problem areas, in fact, nothing short of a spiritual birth wrought within the sinner from above is sufficient to bring about this new life that is so necessary unto salvation.
What about the water in verse 5, surely that points to baptism being somehow involved in the new birth? Well, no it doesn’t, no matter how much crowing Roman Catholicism does about it.
It is not talking about the Spirit and baptism, as though new life is received from the Spirit through the ritual of baptism – as is taught in Roman Catholicism and baptismal regeneration. This is simply to point to the cleansing and renewing work of the Spirit in the new birth, or regeneration. This is just to further explain the Spirit’s work in the new birth.
You see verse 5 is a further expansion of verse 3, further explaining what was said there. Nothing new is added as to the means of the new birth, just further explanation in order to make it clearer to Nicodemus. It is designed to take this teacher of the Old Testament back into the Old Testament, to remind him of what was said in the Old Testament.
‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezekiel 36:25-27).’
What a wonderful description of the new birth that is from the Old Testament.
Therefore the introduction of ‘water’ into the passage here is not out of place, for it is used to explain the significance of the Spirit’s work, and that of cleansing. His work is like water, cleansing, washing away the sin and corruption, thereby pointing to the renewing and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
And as a teacher of the Old Testament Nicodemus should of recognized this, ‘Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things (John 3:10)? ’ But he didn’t, because ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).’
So you see, before you can do anything remotely spiritual, you need to be born again, to be granted spiritual life. Before you can believe and repent, you must be born again – because without this new life, you have no ability to believe and repent, because spiritually you’re dead. There is nothing spiritual about us at all; ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’. You need the life that only God can give, for ‘ that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’
But I decided to follow Jesus, I believed – do you believe the Bible, it tells you this morning that you could not do this unless you were born again. Salvation is of the Lord; it’s not something you can achieve. Such is human pride, that it will not let go of self but claims even the most obvious of God’s works as its own, ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?’
You did not choose to enter into spiritual life, God granted it to you as His gift to you. It’s grace, not your work at all. How can a spiritually dead person give himself or herself spiritual life? Simply put, you can’t.
As a person has no say about his physical birth, so it is with the spiritual birth – it happens without input from you. And isn’t this the point of verse 8, ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’
This earthy illustration gets across an important point as regards the new birth. Wind cannot be controlled by anyone, yet we can see its effects all around us. You have no idea where it came from, you have no idea where it is going, but you can sure tell where it’s been – and that’s the way of the Spirit in the new birth.
The Holy Spirit works as He see’s fit, doing as He pleases. You don’t know where He will work, when He will work, etc – but when He has it will be clearly evident, for He works new life in sinners, bringing them out of darkness and into light; from death to life; from blindness to sight.
The possession of new life from the inner workings of the Spirit of God results in the bearing of spiritual fruit that is clear evidence that the Spirit has come calling.
Remember this when you next pray, in fact whenever you pray – it is God who has brought you into possession of your spiritual life; don’t forget to thank Him for it always.