We all, I hope, have heard the story of Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee. A Pharisee was one of the most religious Jewish leaders then. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In John 3:7, Jesus says, “You must be born again.”
Jesus was speaking to all of us when he said that. This is not a suggestion that Jesus gives Nicodemus but a command, notice the use of the word must, if at all he wants to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was not a special case. You and I must be born again, or we will not see the kingdom of God. That means we will not be saved; we will not be part of God’s family; we will not be among the forgiven, chosen and redeemed; and we will not go to heaven.
Instead, we will go to hell if we are not born again. Later on in this chapter, this is what Jesus says about the person who does not believe in Christ for salvation: “The wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Why does Jesus say that we MUST be born again? Why is the new birth so necessary? What is wrong with us that requires us to be born again? The answer to this is that we are DEAD!!!
WE ARE SPIRITUALLY DEAD
“1And you who were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
From the above scripture (Eph. 2:1-3), we can see the diagnosis of our condition: we are dead in our sins and trespasses. This death is not necessarily physical but spiritual. Death implies lifeless. We are unresponsive to God and Christ and His word.
Verse 2: we have “passions” of the flesh, and we carry out the “desires of the body and the mind.” So we are not dead in the sense that we cannot sin. We are dead in the sense that we cannot see or savor the glory of Christ.
Romans 8:7-9 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
This means that we are either in the flesh or in the Spirit. There is no middle ground or sitting on the fence. Verse 8 says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The bad news is that by nature, we are in the flesh- we are dead and cannot please God. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Ephesians 2:3: “we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” This shows us that our problem is not just in what we do but in what we are. Paul describes our nature before the new birth as “children of wrath.”
In other words, the wrath of God belongs to us the way a parent belongs to a child. Our nature is so rebellious and so selfish and so callous toward the majesty of God that His holy anger is a natural and right response to us. Now that we know the diagnosis of our condition, let us find out the cure or in other words- the remedy.
THE REMEDY- THE GOOD NEWS
“4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).
So far we have seen our condition apart from God- we are DEAD. The remedy for this is in verse 5: “God made us alive.” This is because of the riches of God’s mercy and the great love with which He loves us such that He wants to make us alive. This miracle of being made alive is the new birth or in other words, being born again or if you like- being regenerated.
Unless we see the reality of our former deadness, we will never experience the fullness of the greatness of God’s love for us. Verse 4 says that the fullness of His love is shown precisely in this: that it makes us alive when we were dead in our trespasses. If we don’t know that we are dead, we will not know of the fullness of the love of God.
In summary, our condition is that we are dead and the only remedy is to be “made alive.” All other forms of remedies are only temporary and short lived. For example, we cannot say that we will change our moral behavior- we will still not go to heaven. For us to go see the kingdom of God we must be born again; we must experience a new birth.
In John 3:7, Jesus says that you and I MUST be born again. In other words, He means that we must experience a new birth; we must be regenerated; we must be saved. How then is this possible? How does this come about? What happens in the new birth?
THE NEW BIRTH
24I will take you and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And 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. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:24-28).
From the scripture passage above we are going to see what happens when one is born again. In verse 25: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your cleanliness”- this signifies the forgiveness and cleansing from all our sin. When one is born again, their sins are forgiven- both past, present and future.
In verse 26:”I will give you a new heart… a new spirit… and a heart of flesh.” Being forgiven and cleansed is not enough. That is why God gives us a new heart, spirit and a heart of flesh. The verse goes on to say that I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh.
The heart of stone means the dead heart that was unfeeling and unresponsive to spiritual reality- the heart you had before the new birth. It could respond with passion and desire to lots of things. However, it was a stone toward the spiritual truth and beauty of Jesus Christ and the glory of God and the path of holiness. This is what has to change if we are to see the kingdom of God.
The heart of flesh means soft and living and responsive and feeling, instead of being a lifeless stone. In the new birth, our dead, stony boredom with Christ is replaced by a heart that senses the worth of Jesus.
Now that we have found out what makes the new birth possible, the following questions then arise: what changes during the new birth? Does the person become different? The answer to this is that you are still you but new.
YOU ARE STILL YOU BUT NEW
This supernatural encounter with God produces a new creation. In 2 Corinthians 5: 17, it is written, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We therefore see that the new birth produces a new nature.
It is not the improvement of your old human nature but the creation of a new human nature- a nature that is really you, forgiven and cleansed; and a nature that is really new, formed in you by the indwelling Spirit of God.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and had lots of religion but he had no spiritual life. He saw the supernatural work of God in Jesus, but he did not experience the supernatural work of God in himself. What Nicodemus needed (and what you and I need), is a new spiritual life imparted supernaturally through the Holy Spirit. Being born again does not mean getting new religion but getting new life.
In John 3:6, Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” What this means is that every human being is living flesh but not every human being is living spirit. To be a living spirit, or to have a spiritual life, Jesus says, we must be “born of the Spirit.” Flesh gives rise to one kind of life; the Spirit gives rise to another kind of life. If we do not have this second kind of life, we will not see the kingdom of God.
The new birth is made possible by the fact that God sent His only begotten son to die on the cross for our sins. We are by nature children of wrath and Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (John 2:2). Propitiation here means the appeasement of wrath. God’s holy anger against us needed to be appeased before our sin could be forgiven. This happened through His Son Jesus Christ- He bore God’s wrath for our sake by being crucified.
When we are made alive by being born again, we are given the life of Christ. 1 john 5:11-12 says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
To sum up it all up, in the new birth the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives us new spiritual life by connecting us with Jesus Christ through faith. Or, to say it in another way, He (the Holy Spirit) unites us to Christ where there is cleansing for our sins (pictured by water), and He replaces our hard, unresponsive heart with a soft heart that treasures Jesus above all things and is being transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit into the kind of heart that loves to do the will of God (Ezekiel 36:27).
What makes the new life spiritual and what makes it supernatural is that it is the work of God the Spirit. It is something above the life of our physical hearts and brains. It is God who causes the new birth. No pastor, prophet, blogger, preacher or writer causes the new birth. It is not done by us but to us. It is purely the work of God the spirit through His word. However, we have a part to play- to respond by becoming alive.
HAVE YOU RESPONDED?
We all have a duty to respond to the amazing grace of the Lord. If you are born again, you should know that it is not because of any good works that you have done. Ephesians 2:8 says, “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” no one deserves to be born again but it is only by the rich mercies of God that we are born again.
You should therefore thank God for this gift and pray that your friends, relatives, family members, neighbors and everyone else who is not a believer may see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2Cor. 4:4). That they may see the danger and ugliness of sin and the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ.
To those who have not received this gift, there is hope. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. In Joel 2:32 it is written that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
As I come to a close, 1 John 3:9 says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” True followers of Christ do not continue in sin but confess their sins every time they fall short of God’s standards.