“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” (John 3:1-8).
There are many reasons why people turn to religion. When there is a loss of trust in public institutions, people turn to religion. When there is a general disgust with moral permissiveness, people turn to religion. When there is uncertainty about the future due to war, or rumors of war, people turn to religion. When there is the breakdown of the home, and hearts are full of pain, people turn to religion. A breakdown in world conditions will cause people to turn to religion. So will the rise of the occult.
There are many books today on the occult. The dark side of the soul, and the glorification of Satan is found in so many movies, television programs, and computer games. Satan worshippers are multiplying. There is widespread interest in demons, and the supernatural.
All of these factors cause individuals to become conscious of religion. Millions of Americans profess to believe in God. Millions also believe in a devil. And religion is prevalent in politics. Many of our presidents have confessed to be born again. Others have simply stated that God is important to them.
In sports, there are many prominent figures that profess to know Jesus Christ as personal Savior, and are not ashamed to testify to being born again.
But what does it mean to be born again? Only the Bible can give us that answer.
Certainly a new spiritual birth is needed. Uncivil discourse is tearing our society apart. People can hardly have a rational discussion about politics, religion, or ethics, without being labeled as xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, or a racist. There is no love. There are no social manners. But there needs to be, and there can be, by way of the new birth.
The new birth brings a person to Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can make us calm again, civil again, and love again. There is the need for a transformation of the spirit. That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again.”
In order to understand what it means to be born again, care must be taken to know what the new birth is not.
First, the new birth is not being religious. The people with whom Jesus lived in Jerusalem were religious, but they were not regenerated. They were religious, but they were not righteous before God. Nicodemus was a religious man. He was a ruler of the Jews. He was highly respected, but he knew there was something missing in his religion, and that was an authentic personal relationship with the living God.
Second, the new birth is not merely believing in Jesus. That is a shocking concept to some, but note the words of John 2:23. When Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, “many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.” But that is not the new birth, for we read, “Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men” (John 2:24). People believed in Jesus, but Jesus did not commit to, or believe in them. Why? Because Jesus knew their hearts.
It is easy to stand up and say, “I believe.” Individuals can learn the language of religion, and say, “I believe in the Bible, from cover to cover.” It is easy to say, “I am an evangelical believer.” It is easy to say, “I am an orthodox church member.” But the question is, “Have you been born again in your heart?”
Third, the new birth is not being a person of good moral character. Nicodemus was a man of good moral character. He was highly respected to the point he was a made a ruler of Jewish people. He was man of the Pharisees, and so was known to be pious and devout. He fasted two days a week. The Law required only one fast a year, on the Day of Atonement. Nicodemus prayed for hours in the temple. He tithed everything that he earned. Nicodemus was a respected teacher of the Law of Moses, but he was not born again. He was not a new creation in Christ Jesus. He had not said, “Lord, I am willing to deny myself, and follow you.”
It does not matter if any person is a religious leader, a theological professor, a member of congress, or a dignitary from some foreign nation. You must be born again. Power, position, privilege, prestige, and wealth, do not matter with God. All the outward trappings of religion are not enough. You must be born again. It is not an option. It is not a good idea. You must be born again. A new birth is required to enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is one thing to profess being a Christian. A person must know the Christ of Christianity personally.
When Nicodemus first went to Jesus, the best Nicodemus could do is call Jesus, “Rabbi.” That was a good start, but it was inadequate. Jesus is not just a great moral teacher. He is Lord of lords, and King of all kings. He is the Son of the Living God.
Now, why did Jesus tell Nicodemus he had to be born again? The answer is this. Jesus knows what is in every man. Jesus sees the heart of every person. Jesus sees your heart, and mine. He knows what is in us deep down.
Jesus knows when we struggle to be good, kind, decent, and holy. And the Lord knows when we fail, because temptation comes in like a flood to overwhelm the soul and sweep it away to embrace inappropriate behavior.
We might profess with our heart that we love the Bible, we love the Church, we love God, and we love Jesus, but our heart can also love something else. Our heart can love the world. Our heart can love the flesh. Our heart can even love the things of the devil. When we love the world, the flesh, or the devil, and still profess to be a Christian, we degrade the name of Jesus. We take His name in vain. And that is wrong. Such a person needs to be born again.
A new birth is needed, because the source for all lies, murders, and immoral acts comes from the heart. Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). These are the things which defile a person.
No preacher, no priest, and no scientist can get rid of the evil within the heart. Only a new birth can change a person. Even if you put man in Paradise, he would still have an evil heart. Adam and Eve testify to that truth.
Even if you put man in a state of Utopia, evil would prevail and manifest itself. Many people today live under a dictatorship, or its equivalent. The result is inequality. A small segment of society lives in luxury, and the rest live in poverty. Many lies are told of a better tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. Why? Because those in power want to remain in power, and the way for a government to remain in power is to keep people dependent on the goods and services government can provide. So it does not matter what form of government there is. Jesus said, “You must be born again.”
“Have you been born again?”
The need to be born again came about because sin entered into the world. God never meant for man to sin. God intended for man to live in Paradise, and enjoy fellowship with Him each day in the cool of the evening. But sin came into the world, by one man, and so death passed upon all people, for all have now sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Because of our sins we die. There is a physical death, and then, if we are not born again, there is a spiritual death, or separation from God. The Bible calls this the Second Death in Revelation 20:14.
Rather than experience the Second Death, God gives individuals a new birth. So what is this new birth?
First, the new birth is a mystery. Jesus told Nicodemus that the new birth was like the wind. You cannot see the wind, but you can see the effects of it. Nicodemus wanted to understand the new birth intellectually. He wanted to understand the physical dynamics of the new birth. Jesus said, “Nicodemus, that is impossible.” The new birth is a great mystery produced by the Holy Spirit.
Second, the new birth is personal. “Nicodemus, you must be born again.” Christianity is not something inherited. As much as godly parents want their children to love Jesus and be born again, the new birth cannot be inherited. It is personal. Each person must receive Christ as their own Lord and Saviour. No act of baptism, no membership in a local church, and no amount of good works can produce the new birth. The new birth must be produced in an individual’s heart personally, by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
Third, the new birth is a work of God’s mercy. The Bible says that it is, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). A person is saved by grace through faith, and not of themselves lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). God is not going to share His glory with anyone. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is not a combination of man doing something, and God doing something. That is called synergism (Gk. “to work together”). No, no. Salvation is of the Lord.
Jonah recognized this truth, and said, “I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).
The Psalmist understood this gospel truth and said, “The salvation of the righteous is of the LORD” (Psalm 37:39).
The password to heaven is this: Grace. When I get to heaven I will say, “I am a sinner saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”
Grace means unmerited favor. It is given to the underserving. That is why we must come to Jesus just as we are, without one plea except that His blood was shed for me.
Fourth, the new birth is a compelling message of hope that must be preached, and preached again. George Whitefield was a great evangelist in England and in America. He lived from 1714 – 1770, dying at the age of 55.
“I am now fifty-five years of age,” he said in one of his final addresses, “and I am more than ever convinced that the truth of the new birth is a revelation from God Himself, and that without it you can never be saved.”
“Why, Mr. Whitefield,” inquired a friend one day, “why do you so often preach on ‘Ye must be born again?'”
“Because,” replied Mr. Whitefield, looking solemnly into the face of his questioner, “Ye must be born again!”
How is a person born again?
First, a person is born again by hearing the Word of God. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).
Second, a person is born again by assenting to the gospel. A person must be convinced of the truth of what is heard.
Third, a person is born again by trusting what is heard. There is a commitment to Christ and His work at Calvary. The sinner comes to Calvary and says to Jesus, by faith:
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
It is a great mystery how faith in Christ can save a person, but it happens, and a person is born again to walk in newness of life.
I say unto you, “You must be born again.” May the Spirit produce that new birth in you in this very hour. Amen.