Today: [John 3:1-16] Must You Be Born Again? In John 3 we find in the words of Jesus to Nicodemas, the basis of our belief in the born again experience. What does it mean to be born again? Can a person outside of Christ have any hope of clemency before God’s throne on the basis of good works or moral character? Shouldn’t God accept us if we are generally good people who never tried to hurt anyone? Is Jesus really the ONLY way to salvation, leaving all others to the flames of an eternal hell? These beliefs are heavily under assault in our culture today and are addressed clearly in the words of Jesus in John chapter 3.
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[Jhn 3:1-17 KJV] 1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 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 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. 4 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? 5 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. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 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. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you [of] heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, [even] the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
In John chapter 3 we meet Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews and a member of the sect of the Pharisees. Nicodemas appears three times in the narrative of the scripture, all in the Gospel of John:
- In this chapter when he comes to Jesus by night.
- In John 7:50-51, when he intercedes for Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and;
- In John 19:39-42 when he assists in the preparation of Jesus body for burial.
There is also an apocryphal book originating from the 4th century that bears his name, that is very close in comparison to another apocryphal book under the name of the Acts of Pilate. Nothing more is said about Nicodemas in scripture but there are references to him found in the histories of Josephus, and in the Talmud, mention is made of a Nicodemas of who lived in the first century and performed miracles.
Nicodemas approaches Jesus in privacy, acknowledging Him as coming from God in the light of the amazing miracles that He was performing. This begs the question, are miracles and the supernatural signs of that which originates in God? Not necessarily. Not everything that is spiritual is godly. With the advent of New Thought in the 1800’s and New Age philosophies, mysticism and spiritualism outside the parameters of Christian faith are quite common. As Jesus says elsewhere, the Jews were sign seekers who would be convinced by little else. Having been asked the question, Jesus simply responds “except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…” Elaborating on the statement in v. 5 Jesus said except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What does this statement mean? Does being born of water imply natural birth through the womb of a woman, or is Jesus referring to water baptism? Water baptism is conducted under the auspices of the institutional church, therefore Evangelical thought recoils at the suggestion that water baptism (while necessary) would be in any way a condition of saving grace.
This discussion of the New Birth is a great line of demarcation in western society. It delineates the difference between Christianity as a cultural and institutional matter, or making it a personal and very intimate spiritual experience. Churches not requiring the New Birth as a requisite for salvation generally admit any who are of reasonable good moral character, whereas the condition of New Birth accepts no man’s person or good works with the insistence as Jesus says here “you must be born again…”
Nicodemas asks the question that we might ask as well: how can a man be born when he is old…” Jesus doesn’t actually answer the question put to Him here, but simply restates the original statement that a man must be born again and if otherwise he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Many will split hairs here saying that entering the kingdom of God and going to heaven are two different things, implying that morally good people, not receiving the New Birth could yet enter heaven, but only those receiving the deeper experience of being born again would enter into the kingdom of God or the purposes of God in a broader sense.
Jesus goes on to elaborate, but still not answer the question as to how one becomes born again. He says that which is born of the flesh is flesh, speaking of the natural man, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. He sees Nicodemas amazement and says “marvel not” and goes on to say that being born again is a matter that defies easy definition or explanation. The wind blows where it will and you hear the sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes, so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. Are you willing to embrace this aspect of the born again experience? The way being born again is dumbed down in our religious traditions is contradictory to the mysterious, ineffable (unknowable) matter that Jesus is describing in John 3. We tend to want the New Birth to be some so simple even a child could understand and grasp it. Pray the prayer, sign the decision card, maybe get baptized (or maybe not) and voila! you are on the way to heaven! Is it really all that simple? Just extrapolating from the words of Jesus here in John 3 we must pause and consider just how cheaply we have sold the idea of being born again to the masses and how disparate our ideas of the New Birth are from what Jesus actually teaches. To be sure the writers of the remainder of the New Testament address this issue (as though to clear up the mystery that Jesus compounded so heavily in this chapter we are studying today). Regardless of how ponderous the idea of New Birth may be in the words of Jesus, nonetheless the insistent truth is in Jesus own words:
YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!
Nicodemas remains confused and asks “how can these things be?” Jesus, although seemingly being deliberately obtuse, chastises the man saying “are you a master in Israel and knows not these things…” That should indicate to us that the New Birth should be found clearly and strongly in the canonical writings of the Old Testament because the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets were all that Nicodemas had to go by whereby Jesus might have expected him to not only an inkling but a full understanding of what being born again was all about. In fact, in verse 12 Jesus clearly thinks that His discussion of New Birth is an earthly thing that causes Him to be hesitate to discuss other, “heavenly things”. He is holding out on Nicodemas in other words because in Jesus view this is a most simple matter yet Nicodemas is completely without understanding.
Verse 13 gives us a sense of what the New Birth facilitates. Jesus states that no man has ascended into heaven. The Jews believed in three realms, heaven, earth and hell. The afterlife was a matter of consignment to everlasting punishment or eternal reward. Nicodemas surely believed along with 10’s of 1000’s before him that many righteous Jews were in heaven. Jesus is saying no, no man has ever made it to heaven, in fact only one man, Jesus Himself, the son of man has been in heaven and has come down from heaven to be lifted up for the salvation of man as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. Jesus expects Nicodemas to have already known this. When the plague of serpents were killing the people, Moses said “look and live” and all who looked upon the serpent (representing Jesus, made sin, dying in our place) all who looked, or relied upon Him should live. What does it mean to “look” and be saved? Verse 15 indicates that to BELIEVE in Jesus is to look and live, to receive eternal life. We are born again by BELIEVING (accepting and leaning upon Jesus with our whole heart and life in a full and complete commitment, not just mental assent). In being born again we receive ETERNAL LIFE and escape its opposite, eternal damnation.
Still looking Nicodemas full on in the face Jesus answers the question as to why all this is necessary by saying in v. 16:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (v. 17) For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world THROUGH HIM might be saved.
There we have stated the full and final basis upon which man can address the sin condition. Sin exists. We are born as enemies of God and not all the good works in the world can give us entrance into heaven or cause us to escape eternal damnation. Likewise there is only ONE begotten son of God and that is Jesus. There is no other redeemer or savior upon whom we can rely to secure our eternity. By that we understand that faith alone does not save us if it happens to be misplaced. Therefore faith in Buddha, or Mohammed, or faith in our own western values and being a good person will not secure your eternity. You must fully and completely come to an abandoned faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the sole and only means by which salvation (escape from eternal damnation) might be secured. To believe any other way is to exclude yourself from biblically authenticated belief. If the bible and the scriptures mean anything to you then you can only conclude that you must be born again, and the New Birth can only be brought about by a personal acceptance of and surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ who will then come to you and make Himself known to you in a way so mystical and profound as to defy easy explanation, even by the son of God Himself.
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