Summary: "You must be born again," is a life or death statement. But What does it mean? We explore this in John 3.
Water or the Spirit, Which Birth?
Text: John 3:1-17
When Johnny Foust and I were 16 years old, I spent the night at his house and we got out our Bibles and the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and looked up every verse that had the words saved, forgiven, redeemed, justified, sanctified, born again, or any other word that had to do with being ready to meet God. We figured we would make up a Bible study that would be air tight. We wanted it to show everything the Bible said about salvation. What we were specifically looking for were scriptures that stated what God wanted us to do to be saved.
In this lesson we will consider the teaching of Jesus on salvation in John 3. What we discover here takes pride out of the picture.
Believe it or not, at that time, we were both somewhat disappointed to find that most of the verses that talk about salvation don’t tell you what you and I are supposed to do, they tell you what God has done and is doing. We weren’t looking for that. We wanted to know what was required of us, what’s our part. Our key question was, "What must I do to be saved," not, "What has God done and what can He do to save us."
It has been a long time since those days. Today, I’ve come to appreciate more and more what I discovered back then. Salvation is a work of God for us, not the other way around. While we are certainly active in the process, salvation is clearly a work of God.
It is so easy to get all locked up in what is our part, that we can’t see the gospel and the kingdom of God grows dim. This seems to be part of Nicodemus’ problem. Jesus words to him are both radical and revolutionary. The gospel is about what God did and does. Believing and obeying the gospel is the proper response to God and what he did and does, but it doesn’t start there, and it doesn’t end there either.
Today’s lesson is about salvation, and Jesus says it involves being born again. That’s what Jesus teaches Nicodemus in John 3, seeing the kingdom, entering the kingdom, starts with being born again. That image of being born again gave Nicodemus a mental picture of returning to your mother’s womb and being reborn. When Nicodemus said that I can’t help but wonder if Jesus laughed. Jesus used word pictures that had to be interpreted spiritually. From a fleshly perspective, Jesus words don’t make much sense. But from a spiritual perspective Jesus words are clear. Being born again is something only God can do for you. It is a water and Spirit experience that centers on the working of God.
Listen to Paul as he describes communicating the gospel in spiritual words to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 2:1-5, 10-14. Notice that Paul says I don’t want you to rely on men’s wisdom or words but on God’s power by the Spirit. Then he explains that the message of God is only understood from a spiritual perspective. Listen to Jesus in John 3:11-12. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “If you can’t understand and accept this when I use human terms, how will you ever get it if I use heavenly terms?”
God’s ways don’t make sense to the fleshly minded. What in the world does “born again” mean? It is foolishness to give up everything and start all over for Jesus from the world’s perspective. It is crazy for 2 sixteen year olds to set up all night excitedly searching the Word of God for what it says about salvation. Someone might ask, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” I would still answer. No! The only thing I regret is the poisonous thinking that kept us from reveling and rejoicing in all that the scriptures said about what God had done for us! We would have fallen on our faces in worship. Instead we had been trained to think more about our responsibility than about God’s glorious grace. We needed both. I loved Jesus then, and now that I’ve grown to know him better through the years, and I love him more and more as I grow to know him better. Jesus was and is and I hope always will be the very center of my life… No, he is my life! He has given me new birth, eternal hope, mercy, grace and forgiveness… he saved me, redeemed me, justified me, called me, sanctified me, renewed my heart and mind, restored my soul… and he continues to do all that and more. All I do is listen to Him, believe, submit, and follow.