What does it mean to be born again? Purpose: How are we born of water and the Spirit? Plan: Let’s understand the newness of a life in the Holy Spirit from John 3:1-17.
John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
Nicodemus was a senator in the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He appears three times in the Gospel of John (John 3:1–2; 7:50-51; 19:38-39). Jesus explained to this wealthy and popular Jewish leader the mystery of regeneration as was taught in the prophets.
Nicodemus was not offended at Jesus’ teaching but received it in all humility. He later defended Jesus at His trial, and with Joseph of Arimathea, assisted at His burial. History reveals that he was eventually kicked out of the synagogue for believing in Christ, and then later retired to a country home where he died.
Come to the Light
John 3:2 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.”
In the dark of night Nicodemus came to the Light. Others also wanted to understand. He said, “we know.” God’s word is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105). It leads us from darkness to “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
Born from Above
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly [Amen, Amen], I say to you, unless one is born again [regenerated from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
To be “born again” also means “born from above,” from heaven. We have a similar expression in English when we practice a piece of music again, “from the top.” To be born from heaven above is to belong to heaven, as a child of God.
Whereas popular evangelists encourage saying a “sinner’s prayer,” which method is nowhere found in the Bible. It separates being born again from the sacraments or ordinances. But, Peter connects them, “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Paul connects them, “He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:3-7). Paul also wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Literal or Spiritual
John 3:4 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?”
Nicodemus heard “born again” instead of “born from above,” missing the spiritual meaning. Even in old age like Nicodemus, life in Christ is new. We have every reason to live with youthful joy.
Born of Water and the Spirit
John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly [Amen, Amen], I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Only those born of water and the spirit enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s very exclusive wording. Christian baptism is both the water and the Spirit. One part people perform, the other part God does. When we view baptism as a sacrament, a physical thing through which we receive a divine grace, we can understand why it’s called “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Each of us who is born flesh will die. Each of us who are born of water and the Spirit live forever. The Christian life is a spiritual life, is eternal. Only by being regenerated from above can we enter the hope of eternity.
Born of the Spirit
John 3:7-8 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again [from above].’ 8 The wind [or Spirit] blows [or breathes] where it [He] 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.”
The Spirit breathes where He wishes. Some Christians believe Paul, “all scripture is God-breathed” (1 Timothy 3:16 NIV). Some refuse to accept this. By the flesh, we cannot tell where the Holy Spirit comes from or where He is going. Christianity is a life of faith trusting where God’s Spirit breathes.
John 3:9-12 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.” 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
Do many of us in spiritual Israel also ask how can these things be, because we are more focused on physical than spiritual things? The discussion changed to “we speak.” Who are the “we”? All Christians can only testify to what they have known or seen, and no surprise, some will not believe.
Who is in Heaven
John 3:13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
The tense is not of Jesus future ascension into heaven after the resurrection, but present and completed, “has ascended.” This refers to Jesus “who is in heaven” even while He was on earth? Jesus has two natures, His divine nature which was in heaven, and His human nature which was on earth. Jesus reveals heavenly secrets to Nicodemus because he “has come down from heaven” and “is in heaven.”
Lifted Up on a Pole
John 3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
God punished Israel with poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9), then instructed them to look at a bronze snake on a pole and they would live, provoking them to repentance and faith. The wash basin in the Temple was bronze. The snake has symbolized sin since the garden. Jesus was lifted up on a pole to bear our sins and cleanse us. If we will keep our eyes on Jesus on the cross we will also live.
How God Loved the World
John 3:16 For God so [thus] loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes [has faith] in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The words “so loved the world” mean “in this way” or “in this manner” God loved the world. We could also say that God loved the world in this manner. How did God love the world? By lifting up his son on the cross as Moses lifted up a serpent.
We’ll leave out the centuries long argument over whether faith is a gift or a choice. One text often used is misunderstood. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it [being saved] is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Saving the World
John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Though we are called to recognize and overcome sin, we neither condemn nor condone sinners. Why? Jesus neither condemned a woman involved in sexual sin, nor condoned her sin. He simply said, go and sin no more.
Nicodemus learned about being born from above, a total change of character, lifestyle, affections, and goals. If any of us are still trapped in our old hateful and selfish ways, let’s come out of the dark and ask the Light of the world about being born again.
New King James Version (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.