The New BirthPosted: October 18, 2006
The New Birth
Recap of Last Bible Study: Last time, we were finishing up John Chapter 2. We looked at a passage that talked about how many people were observing Jesus perform miracles, but Jesus did not commit himself to these people. Why didn’t Jesus commit himself to these people? Although the passage says that they “believed” in Jesus, He knew their hearts and knew they did not have true belief. What makes up true belief? True belief consists of commitment, “Denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus” and joy. We ended with a realization that we don’t have enough joy in God, and that we had to fight for joy. I gave the people who were here a copy of John Piper’s talk on How to fight for joy. I hope that you guys did the homework.
This week we will be starting in John 3. Before we start, has anyone heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? This is not something that I made up. There is an actual Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The guy who made up this religion is Bobby Henderson. The religion is satire and a parody of Christianity. However, there are people who claim to follow this so called FSM. So, what is the difference between someone who believe in the FSM or someone who believe in God? People argue that both are the same. But, what does the Bible say? Tonight, we will be talking about the new birth. As Christians, when we believe, something changes in our lives, and it is not just what we think. But we will look at that later. Let’s go ahead and turn to John 3:1-8. Read John 3:1-8.
Verse 1: So what do we know about Nicodemus? 1) Man of the Pharisees 2) He was a ruler of the Jews. Who were the Pharisees? The Pharisees were a very ritualistic and religious group, and had a great influence on the Jews. The verse also mentions that Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, which is probably a reference to his membership with the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the main ruling body of the Jews. John MacArthur says that it would be the equivalent of the “Jewish Supreme Court”.
Verse 2: Why do you think Nicodemus came at night? Not really sure. Maybe he was embarrassed to be seen with Jesus, since he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and Jesus wasn’t accepted by all the Jews. Whatever the reason, the important thing is that Nicodemus came to Jesus. Coming to Jesus did not always result in following Jesus, but it is where you must start. You can’t follow Jesus without first coming to him. So, Nicodemus comes to Jesus, and what does he say? “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.” Nicodemus is saying some good stuff about Jesus! First, he comes and he calls him “Rabbi” which is really good, because Nicodemus was a high profile religious leader, and he was calling Jesus a Rabbi, which would have made Jesus an equal, so that’s good. He tells Jesus that he is a teacher from God that is really good, because Jesus is from God, so it’s all good. And he also says that Jesus did all these signs that were good, and no one can do them unless God is with them. All good stuff! Good stuff right? If you guys remember from last week, when Jesus was performing the miracles and the people were amazed by what he did and “believed” in him, Jesus saw past their superficial faith. He saw right into their hearts, and he knew there was not a true commitment and true joy for God in their hearts. Nicodemus was probably one of the people in the crowd that was witnessing the wondrous signs that Jesus was performing. But Nicodemus wasn’t like the other people, who saw the great signs and went back their normal way of living. Nicodemus went and sought after Jesus. What was Jesus’ response?
Verse 3: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is a very interesting response, especially since it seems out of place. Nicodemus was complementing Jesus, and Jesus says you have to be born again. Something we have to understand about Jesus is that he is God. He can see what is in a person’s heart, he knows what the problem is even before Nicodemus realizes that it is a problem. Nicodemus was coming to Jesus for teaching, and Jesus was telling him that what he really needed was new birth. Basically, what Jesus was saying was, “There is no entrance into the Kingdom unless there is new birth.” First, let’s talk about what Jesus meant when he said, “kingdom.” The kingdom that Jesus was referring was the kingdom of salvation, the spiritual kingdom. According to John MacArthur, Nicodemus and the rest of the Jews were eagerly anticipating entering the spiritual realm. Unfortunately, they thought that you could enter the spiritual realm by being Jewish, observing the law, and performing religious rituals. So what was Jesus saying? He was saying that the way to enter into the kingdom of God was not by being Jewish, observing the law, or performing religious rituals. It was also not by being a Pharisee or being a member of the Sanhedrin. The only way to enter the kingdom of God was to be BORN AGAIN. In other words, Christ’s kingdom can only be entered by those who have been born again spiritually.
Verse 4: Before we move on, I want us to pause for a second. Look at Nicodemus’ response. He totally did not understand what Jesus was saying. I want you to think about the impossibility of what Jesus was asking from Nicodemus. You can’t cause yourself to be “born-again.” Other verses that talk about the impossibility of this:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard his spots?
Then also you can do good
who are accustomed to do evil. (Jer. 13:23)
Can a man in love with his money enter into the Kingdom of God? “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Mt. 19:24)
Everyone grab a needle. Take a look at the eye. How can a camel enter through the eye of the needle? How can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard his spots? How can a man be born again? Perhaps we are thinking, “Well, with God it is possible.” Maybe we are too quick to say that. Maybe we need to sit and be stunned at the impossibility of being born again. John Piper says this: We need to stop, and let ourselves feel the plight that Jesus said Nicodemus was in. He said Nicodemus was in a room where all the door handles were too high for him to reach. And then he said, “Come out. You must come out if you want to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
We need to feel that God is saying we need to do something that is impossible for us to do.
Let’s read verses 5-8 again, and we’ll try to unpack what Jesus says about the new birth.
Verse 5: This has been somewhat of a controversial verse, with some saying that it is referring to water baptism. It doesn’t seem likely that it is referring to water baptism, but rather to spiritual cleansing, brought by the Holy Spirit.
Verse 6: Jesus then moves on to the reason for a new spiritual birth. Why do we need to have a new birth by the Spirit? Because, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” What is Jesus meaning when he says “flesh”? Jesus is referring to human nature. Now, this makes sense, humans, give birth to humans, that which is born of flesh is flesh. But, by human nature, Jesus was also referring to something else. He was speaking of our condition.
As humans, when we are born, we are born with a nature that is sinful, also known as sin nature. Now of course, we weren’t created like this. God didn’t create us sinful. But, when God created Adam and Eve, and they disobeyed God and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became corrupt. And ever since then, when we were born, we were born with a nature to sin. Think about this: Did someone ever have to teach you to sin? Some of you might answer yes, but I am not talking about if someone taught you a particular way to sin, like how to cheat on a test, but just in sinning in general. Did anyone have to teach us to sin? The answer is no. You see a little baby, and you might say, “Ray, that baby is not sinful, that baby is innocent. How can you say we are all born with a nature to sin?” Well think about this. When the baby gets a bit older, and is able to understand what mommy and daddy are saying, and they disobey, where did they learn that? You don’t ever have to teach a kid to disobey. You don’t ever have to teach kids to be mean to each other. Did anyone teach you to lie? Steal? No one teaches us these things, because we know how to do it already. It is in our nature. Jesus said, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15:18-19) As humans, as flesh, we are totally corrupt. So, flesh only gives birth to flesh, humans only give birth to humans, and corruption only gives birth to corruption.
The only way to enter into God’s kingdom, into a kingdom that has no corruption, and is righteous is by being born of the Spirit. This is what we call “regeneration”. It’s taking our sin nature, our corruption, and changing it so that it is no longer sin nature, but a new spiritual nature. Remember last time when we were talking about true belief, and how true belief involves commitment and joy? How do you think that happens? No one on their own is going to say, “I want to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus,” without being born again by the Holy Spirit. No one is going to give up everything they have WITH JOY and follow Jesus, without being born again by the Holy Spirit. When we are born-again by the Holy Spirit, it is like we are given new taste buds, and we only want to taste things that are good in God’s eyes. We don’t want to taste sin anymore.
Verse 7-8: We need to understand that being born again is something that must happen if we are to enter God’s kingdom. We also need to understand that it is not something that we can do. Then Jesus says this: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Can anyone control the wind? No. No one can control the wind. Just look at a hurricane and you will see that no one can control the wind. The wind blows where it wishes. You might be able to tell the general direction of the wind, but you cannot tell where it is coming from, and where it is going. So, what are we supposed to do? We need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, but that is impossible for us to do. It is dependant on the Holy Spirit, which blows like the wind, wherever it pleases. What are we supposed to do? We need to be desperate. We need to cry out that there is no hope for us, and that the only way we can be saved is God gracious mercy to us. I guess it is not surprising that the last words we hear from Nicodemus in this passage are, “How can this be?”
John Piper did a message on this passage, and he closed with three brief application, which I would like for us to close with as well.
1. First, since religion is a common cover for not being born again (Mt. 7:21), each of us churchgoers should examine ourselves to see if we are truly born of God (2 Cor. 13:5). The New Testament gives us many tests to apply to ourselves. Here are five: 1) Romans 8:7-9, “The mind of the flesh does not submit to God’s law … but you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit if the Spirit dwells in you.” The test: do you have a submissive spirit to God’s commands or are you rebellious? 2) 1 Cor. 12:3, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. ” The test: Is Jesus really your Lord? Do you key off of him each day? Do you seek his will in all things and subordinate your will to his? 3) Romans 8:15-16, “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear but you have received the Spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” The test: do you have a humble confidence before God that casts out fear and fills you with a childlike delight in knowing God as your loving Father? Do you cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’? 4) 1 Cor. 2:14, “The natural man does not welcome the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him …” The test: Do the things of the Spirit attract you? Are you hungry for his truth and his fellowship and his power in your life? Or do they seem silly and unattractive compared to other things? (cf. 1 Peter 2:2). 5) 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves has been born of God.” The test: Do you love people? Do you have good will toward them in your heart? Do you find fulfillment in working for the joy of their faith? (cf. Gal. 5:22).
2. After testing ourselves for the evidences of the Spirit’s presence, the second application to make of Jesus’ words is a deep humbling of ourselves. How lowly and meek and broken and contrite will be the joy of a believer who realizes how desperate and helpless he was and is apart from the life-giving work of God’s Spirit! What a difference it will make in our fellowship if we approached every gathering with this thought: except for the mercy of God’s Spirit I am a dead man.
3. Finally, realize that when Jesus calls us at Bethlehem to join him in making disciples of all nations, he is calling us to raise the dead. But only the Holy Spirit can do that. Do you see what that means? It means that we will be weak and ineffective in our witness until the Holy Spirit comes upon us with power. And when he does, we will say with Paul, “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”