. The meaning of the New Birth (Part 2)


John 3:1-7 (ESV) 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.’”



Let me just do a very short recap before we march on in this text. John 2 teaches us that many people wanted to follow Jesus Christ simply because they saw miracles, but Jesus would not enjoin Himself to them because He knew their hearts. He actually did not need anybody’s opinion about these people, because He is not fooled by exterior facades, as He knows the heart of man, as He is our creator and He knows the creatures that He made. So you can claim that you are a Christian because you were born into the life of the church, you can claim that you are a Christian because you have a membership certificate, you can claim you are a Christian because you were baptised either as a baby or an adult, you can claim you are a Christian because you invited Jesus into your heart, or prayed a sinners prayer or walked an aisle, or whatever ritual or ceremony you went through. Christ is not fooled by any of this as He knows the heart of man. Christ knows that everybody who are Christians are part of His church,  but not everybody in the organised church are Christians. Now in John 3, we find a man, like those men in John 2. Nicodemus is a representative man. He was a religious man, He was a gifted man, He was a man of great integrity and honesty, he was a man with great views about Jesus, but at the same time he was a man in a dilemma because he was a natural man, and as a natural man he was dead in his trespasses and sins, in spite of all his human goodness and Jesus says that unless he was born again, he would not see the Kingdom of heaven and he would not enter the Kingdom of heaven.


So to be born again is the key that unlocks our vision of the Kingdom, without which we will not see the door through which we need to enter. Standing right before Nicodemus was the way, the truth, the light, the living bread, the living water  and the only door through which one can enter into the Kingdom, but because Nicodemus was spiritually dead, and spiritually blind he could not see Christ for who He really is and he could not enter.


So, last week we eventually got to the meaning of the New Birth.


We saw the nature of the New Birth and understood that unless we are ‘born of the Spirit’ you simply do not have eternal life. The problem why so many people including Nicodemus do not understand this is so well explained by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV) 14 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. (He does not have the necessary spiritual equipment.) It is not that Nicodemus or we do not have the intellectual capacity to process the information correctly, we just do not have the spiritual capacity to do so.


We then looked at the source of the New Birth which is simply the fact that you must be born from above. The same God who breathed breath into man’s nostrils at creation, must now breathe Spiritual life into those who by nature are spiritually dead. To be born again is to be born from above.


We then looked at the means of the New Birth. Verse 5 says that unless he is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The Spirit part is easy to understand, but there are various views regarding the ‘water’. Some say it refers to physical birth, some say that it refers to baptism, others say it is simply symbolism,


There are two more views which I believe are more accurate and sustainable in the greater Biblical theology which is presented by Christ and the apostles, and which clearly is depicted in the Old Testament. So we ended last week with the view held by others that the water refers to spiritual renewal and cleansing as depicted in Ezekiel 36:24-27 (ESV)24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 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.” It is quite probable that Jesus had this very section in mind when He made this statement. Nicodemus as ‘the teacher of Israel’ would have been familiar with it especially as it relates to the careful obedience to the laws.


We then get to the last view and I will continue my numbering as a follow on from the last sermon.

1.3.5 Some say that the water here refers to the Word of God.

In one sense this one cannot be separated from the previous one, which is why I say that both views are plausible. This spiritual birth is brought about through the washing of the Word of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. I believe that it is the best understanding because when you look at the other references to the New Birth there is this connection with the Word of God.


For example; Peter writes about this New Birth and the first thing he tells us is that this is a birth that God causes. Again this is not explained by the will of man or the efforts of the flesh but it is explained by God. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again (some translations like the NIV says that He has given us a new birth) to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Not only are we saved by God we are kept by God. That is why true believers never lose their salvation. Those who bail out according to 1 John prove that they have never been saved. So according to Peter this new birth is given by God, but how did He do it? 1 Peter 1:23 (ESV) 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”


I want to share something of vital importance now, which I believe is of critical importance to understand in the doctrine of salvation and in particular when it comes to New Birth. I have grown up in a denomination namely the Baptists where a lot of emphasis was placed on the New Birth, and the way you received this new birth was that you had to listen to the preaching of God’s word, and then in your spirit agree with it, and then you decide to give Jesus a chance and you take the initiative and you invite Him into your heart and into your life, and then you get off the throne of your life and allow Jesus to sit on the throne of your life. This same kind of thinking is taught by many denominations. Do it was faith first, and based on that faith a decision and based on that decision you experience regeneration. Something I have never understood in my early years is that regeneration or the New Birth precedes faith. That is the necessary order. Man has to be made alive before he can understand and believe the Scriptures, and he must be made alive before he can see the Kingdom, and he must be made alive before he can run to Jesus for salvation.


Let me illustrate this in a schematic form.


I was always taught that believing and receiving plus a decision was the key to unlocking the privilege of being born again. So being born again is your ultimate aim.



When you look at John 3 however, being born again is not the aim but being born again from above is the key that unlocks the ability to believe and receive through which we enter the Kingdom of God.




The Kingdom here by the way is not the universal kingdom where God rules over all His creation in the broadest sense. Everyone is part of that kingdom, saved or unsaved. This kingdom in John 3 is the kingdom of salvation where those who are born again by divine power through faith now live under the rule of God mediated through Christ. Now, why do we say that born again is the key to the kingdom? Why is it not just faith and a decision that put me into a state of being born again? Well the structure of the text is clear in itself, but also of critical importance is to understand that dead men cannot believe and receive the gospel. Dead men won’t repent. We have to die to the old nature to believe the gospel and this death cannot happen out of ourselves, it must be from above through Christ and in Christ.


Look at Ephesians 2:1-9 (ESV) 1 And you were dead (dead) in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world (deviant), following the prince of the power of the air (demonized), the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (disobedient)3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (deranged – passionately pursuing our rebel desires), and were by nature children of wrath (damned), like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (delivered) —by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (da kingdom living – had to get a D in there), 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (destiny). 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.


So all of us were dead, deviant, demonized, disobedient, deranged and damned. Do you notice that by nature we are dead, not sick? We are also not dead in degrees. You cannot be 75% dead. We are fallen, we are not hanging on half way between life and death. Some theologians claimed that while we are dead we are not fully dead, but the fallen man has found a branch to hang on to on the side of a cliff, simply waiting for Jesus to reach out his hand. If man then chooses to take the hand of Christ he lives, and if he chooses not to then he dies completely. That does not make biological sense and it does not make theological sense. If you are dead in your trespasses and sins, you are dead, finish and klaar, and only Christ by His Spirit can pour life into that dead spirit.


So what makes the difference between you as a saved person and your neighbour who is not saved? Why were you delivered? Were you smarter or more intelligent than your neighbour therefore you understood the Word of God better and you figured out all the mysteries of the Kingdom and wham you decided to be Born Again and you were? Or were you just more desperate than your neighbour or more afraid of hell and you were saved? Or did something happen in your heart that you cannot explain, but it changed you forever? Suddenly or over time you believed, you had faith and you placed your trust in Jesus, why? It is because God made you alive in Christ through His Word while you were dead and you were born of the Spirit.


So in terms of time the two are indistinguishable. You might have heard the gospel a thousand times before you were born again but on that day when God granted me the New Birth the word of God was there in an effectual way. So if a man has to be alive to believe, if the new Birth cannot be given to a man still dead then why does the Bible say that it is through the living and enduring Word of God that we are born again? Because I say again that in terms of time it is indistinguishable. God did this work in us through His gospel. Look at James 1:18 (ESV) 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. I like the NIV as well that says: “18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” How did God give us New Birth? It is through the living and enduring Word of God. Wherever you have a spiritual birth you have the Word of God and the Spirit of God.


There is another place in Scripture where there is reference to this. Ephesians 5:25-26 (ESV) 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” This is another reason why I believe that the reference to water is a reference to the word of God.




So Jesus has told us about this New Birth. He has told us about the nature of this birth. It is a spiritual birth and not a physical birth. He has told us about the source of this birth. The source of this birth is God; it is a birth from the same source that gave Adam life. What does man do to make himself alive? Nothing. He cannot make himself alive and cannot convince God to do so.


How does God make man alive? Jesus tells us of the means of this New Birth. It is by His Spirit through His Word. There is the preaching of the gospel, the message of the cross, and then God through His own sovereign good will causes a belief and a faith in Christ to stir up in you that which causes you to receive Christ. This regeneration that is worked in a man’s heart is from the Spirit of God alone. And through this process, man is made alive forever. This can be evidenced through instant change, and for that reason some people have a date, like Paul had a date, but I guess with most people there is not a date. All they can tell you is that they do not know how, they do not know why, but man I am alive in Christ and His Spirit lives in me, and my greatest joy is to walk in the Sprit and to live by the Spirit who enables me to say with Paul that for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. How it happened, when it happened I don’t know, but I know in whom I believe and I am persuaded that He is able to keep me until that day.


What is our part? John 1:12 (ESV) 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Aha, but doesn’t this verse contradict today’s sermon. Does it not say that receiving and believing unlocked the door? No, all that we can we say this morning about everyone who believes in the Son of God with genuine faith, the kind of faith that Jesus would entrust Himself to is that any such person is a child of God. They have been forgiven. They are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. They are reconciled with Holy God, adopted into God’s family, they are children of God. I grew up with this verse, but I was never taught verse 13. So, before we think that receiving and believing can happen without the New Birth, John reminds us in verse 13: John 1:13 (ESV) 13 who were born, (so birth preceded receiving and believing) not of blood (you are not a Christian because your ancestors were. The only thing you inherit from your ancestors is a sinful nature) nor of the will of the flesh (it is not something you work for) nor of the will of man (it is not something you decided, and God responded), but of God. (Some translations say, born of God, because they have correctly joined the first three words ‘who were born’ and the last two words ‘of God’ together.


So, does the blood of man explain the New Birth? No. Does human effort in the flesh explain the New Birth? No. Does the will of man or human decision explain the New Birth? No. Then what explains it. And so to all the Nicodemuses of the world there is only one thing that explains it. You must be born from above, you must be born of God. So to believe and receive requires a birth from above. This is a gift given by God by His own free gracious, merciful will.


I want to ask you today. Are you born again? Have you had a spiritual birth? Are you born from above? Has the same God who breathed life into Adam breathed new life into you?


How do I become born again? You have heard the preaching of God’s Word. Humanly speaking you have to be saved by your good looks.  You need to take a good look at the glory of God in the face of His Son. You see that Jesus is God incarnate; you see that He is the only Saviour given to man who dies on the cross as your substitute; you see that He is the only hope for the forgiveness of your sins. You see that He is the way the truth and the life and no man or woman comes to the Father but by Him. And you need to take a good look at yourself and see that you are a sinner, that you are lost and undone and deserve nothing.  You don’t deserve for God to save you. You deserve for God to damn you forever. But God has made the way for you to be reconciled. I’ll tell you when you have been born again. You run, you flee from the wrath that is coming and you run to the Son of God. Nothing will keep you from doing that if you have been born again. Are you born again?



Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church – 22 June 2014