You must be born again!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again
to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1Peter 1:3)
“You have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable,
that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1Peter 1:23)
“You must be born again!” A famous line often quoted, spoken by Jesus to “the teacher of Israel” named Nicodemus. The story can be found in the third chapter of John. (Take a moment and read John, chapter 3, and meditate on what this chapter really says.) Nicodemus whose name means victory of the people, is the one who is supposed to know what “being born again” is all about. He was a main teacher of the people of God. Yet in this interaction with Jesus, he is completely lost and confused. He really cannot comprehend what Jesus is trying to say, which emphasizes his need for the new birth in his life. According to his religion, Nicodemus had reached the top of the pyramid, the pinnacle of religious existence. He had climbed the corporate ladder and was now the leader of the people, and that victory had come through his own religiosity – obeying the law “to a t” - study; education; obedience; acceptance by peers; promoted to Pharisee; and part of the ruling 70 of Israel, the Sanhedrin. Yet, it was his own religion and achievements that blinded him from receiving the truth of what Jesus was saying. His carnal mind could not grab the spiritual truth that even a lowly fisherman like Peter could comprehend. Nicodemus, who knew the scriptures, could not relate Jesus’ words with passages he knew well like Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 – passages that speak of God doing a new thing in the hearts of His people. Spiritual blindness is the worst kind of blindness.
Peter had his eyes opened. He had experienced the “new birth” of which Jesus speaks in John 3. Nicodemus understood Jesus’ words as literal birth (John 3:4). Jesus quickly corrects him and instructs him that the new birth is a work of the Spirt of God. Just as a baby has nothing to do with his own conception, so a person has nothing to do with her own spiritual birth. It is an act of God as Peter so clearly states, “[God] has caused us to be born again”. The agent through which the new birth happens is the “word of God”, the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Faith comes by hearing the good news of Jesus (Rom. 10:5-16): the crucifixion of Christ for our sins, the death and resurrection of Jesus for our life. We are dead in our sins according to scripture! Dead people can’t come to life on their own! They need some special, miraculous, hard to believe act of God upon their life, to cause dead to come alive. It is the seed of the word of God planted in our heart, and an infusion of life from Holy Spirit, that causes that incredible reaction called “new birth”. That word must include the gospel – the death and resurrection of Jesus. Oh, how we need to preach the gospel truth if we want to see people truly born again!
The phrase “born again” is actually “born from above”. There is a birth we all receive at birth – an earthly birth - a birth of flesh that brings us into the kingdom of darkness upon planet Earth. That’s what our parents give us that we do not partake in. The birth Jesus speaks of is a heavenly birth, that comes from our heavenly Father, and His Spirit, and brings us into the Kingdom of God, which no one can see unless they experience this heavenly birth (John 3:3-8). This birth is of water and Spirit (John 3:5), not the waters of baptism, but a spiritual cleansing that God does in us at the moment of birth (Ezekiel 36:25, 33; Titus 3:5). Titus calls it the “washing of regeneration” – a rebirth, a new life generated in a dead body. And a “renewing by the Holy Spirit” – a making new of something that is old and decayed. Think of Lazarus in John 11, who was in the grave for 4 days, where decomposition had already started. At the words of Jesus, Lazarus was brought back to life, grave clothes removed, and life began again. That is a picture of which we speak – dead men brought back to life (Ezekiel 37), by the power of God, not themselves. We have nothing to do with our new birth….except believe and receive.
So Nicodemus is not getting it – he just cannot comprehend what Jesus is saying because his religious blindness, pride and theology won’t let him believe and receive what Jesus is saying (John 3:12) – he lives a works based religion. So, he turns to a really familiar story, found in Numbers 21, and the most important person in the Jewish faith – Moses. Remember those Israelites who complained and grumbled against God, and God sent fiery serpents to bite them. How were they healed? By looking to the snake Moses raised on a stick. Only God could cause the healing that they needed because of their sickness brought on by their own sins. Their sins produced death. Only God could give them life and supply the healing and deliverance they needed. It is from this story that Jesus teaches about Himself – the gospel to Nicodemus. The conclusion of the chapter is the key to the whole of what we are saying, “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life; but the one who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). It is because of God’s love and His mercy (John 3:16; 1Peter 1:3) that we are offered new life, regeneration, new birth, salvation, deliverance from death and the grave, and eternal life, true life in Christ. It is a free gift that needs to be received and believed.
As much as we can discern, Nicodemus finally got the message of what Jesus was trying to say. We see him at the burial of Jesus (John 19:39), laying his Savior in the tomb. Friends, there are a myriad of people like Nicodemus who think their religion will save them, and who feel that their works are sufficient for entrance into the Kingdom of God. I pray you are not one of them! I pray that your spiritual eyes have been opened and you have believed the truth and received the new birth that God in His great mercy has caused by His word and resurrection of His Son, in those who believe. If so, there are only two responses. Number one, Bless God for so great a salvation! Number two, tell others about the one and only true way into the Kingdom – you must be born again!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation;
the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.