How Important Is It to Be Born Again?
Tom: In this segment of Understanding the Scriptures, we’ve been going through the book of John, and particularly chapter three. Last week we discussed being born again, and I just want to keep rolling on the third chapter of John, Dave. John 3, starting with verse 14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” And, of course, this leads us to a verse that I’m sure most people know: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And, Dave, our issue for these many weeks has been the Gospel, and here is laying out the Gospel for all of us to understand better.
Dave: Well, we discussed, I believe, in a previous program, this serpent, a brazen serpent, that was lifted up. It was a symbol of sin—that sin that had brought death, the serpent that bit them—and Jesus is saying that He would have to be lifted up. And, by the way, the people understood what He meant when He said, “lifted up.” In John 12, He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” And the question is, “Well what is this? Why would He be lifted up?” That indicated He would die, and they didn’t think the Messiah would die. And, of course, that’s exactly what Jesus is laying out for Nicodemus. Nicodemus is in an interesting person. Chapter 2 ends like this: “When He was in Jerusalem on the feast day, many, seeing the miracles that He did, believed in His name, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, [and] He needed not that any should tell Him of man, for He knew what was in man.”
So here are people who apparently believed that He was the Messiah when they saw the miracles, but Jesus knew—and we get that very clearly in chapter eight, where, again, it says, “Many believed on Him.” He knew their hearts, and He knew that they would not accept the true Messiah, who would die for their sins. They wanted a Messiah who would conquer the Romans and set them free.
Tom: Even the disciples had trouble with that. Peter did.
Dave: Right. There are no chapter divisions in the original, and in contrast to those who believed on Him when they saw the miracles to whom Jesus did not commit himself, then it says, “and there was a man...[chapter three begins] and there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews,” and so forth. So now we see a man who comes to Jesus—he believes the same thing that those people believed. He says, “Rabbi, we know you’re a teacher come from God. Nobody could do the miracles that you do, except God is with him.” And Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, that’s wonderful, Nicodemus. You believe that, you're okay.” He says, “Nicodemus, you’re going to have to go beyond that—believing that I’m a great teacher and a miracle worker. You’re going to have to believe that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, I must be lifted up too, upon the cross, because I’m going have to die for your sins so that you can be forgiven and that you could be born again of the Spirit of God into the family of God.” This is absolutely essential for salvation. Some people think God can just kind of... “Well, okay, I forgive you, and everything will be all right from now on.” But we’ve been talking about it a lot, and I know you’ve got more you want to say, so I'll shut up here. But it’s a matter of justice. It’s a matter of God’s justice. The penalty had to be paid.
Tom: Right. And the penalty was paid for, it says, “Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.” I mean, here is a free gift at the expense of God.
Tom: A free gift for all who will cry out to Him for His salvation.
Dave: And who believe that he has provided it, He offers it. So salvation is by faith. And again, I guess, Tom, we’ve been over this so often—but it’s very difficult to get it across. It’s very difficult for any of us to believe that there’s nothing I have to do—in fact, there’s nothing that I can do—to please God and to merit His salvation. All I must do is believe. But when I believe, I’m believing that I’m a hopeless sinner, that I can’t save myself, and that Christ is the Savior and He paid the penalty for my sins. And when I believe that, I receive the gift of eternal life! And I guess we’ve been over that a few times, too.
Tom: Dave, we can’t hear it enough. This is the most profound act of love…I mean, it’s incomprehensible to us, but it’s absolutely incredibly wonderful and we—I want to keep talking about it.
Dave: And you cannot pay for a gift.
Dave: I was just in Florida. I was illustrating it, I know, to somebody sitting on the front row in where I was speaking in this church and I said, “If I have a painting worth let's say, millions of dollars, and I give it to this person, and he insists on paying a penny—he’s going to give me a penny in exchange.”
And I said, “You know, logically he’s done a couple of things. Number one, he’s insulted me—he has lowered the value of this priceless painting to one penny, and anybody that offers God anything, they have insulted God—they’ve lowered the value of salvation, which was purchased at infinite cost—the blood Christ and the suffering of Christ—to endure the penalty God’s justice required. That’s infinite. And yet, somebody’s going to offer his good works, or church membership, or penance, or whatever, it is. So “Number one,” I said, “This young man has insulted me. Number two—and I challenged the audience: “Correct me if I'm wrong—he has rejected the gift. Even to offer one penny, he has rejected the gift. If you offer to pay God anything for His salvation, you have refused to accept it as a free gift of His grace. That goes for church membership, gifts to charity, good deeds, prayers, penance, whatever I think I’m going to offer to God in exchange for salvation, I have refused to accept the gift.” But the Bible says, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Tom: Right. Now, that's not to be confused—it’s not that those things are not good. The Bible says that we are saved unto good works, but it’s in appreciation, its in thankfulness, and it’s “Not by might nor by power, but it’s by God’s Spirit.” As people say, “It’s by grace that we do these things in thankfulness to Christ.”
Dave: But let me emphasize again what you just said. The good works do not come in order to pay for salvation. They come as a result of salvation out of gratitude to the one who gave us the free gift.
Tom: Right. I want to pick up with verse 17, because now we have another issue: “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Verse 18: “He that believeth on Him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son, God.” Now, there's a condition…
Dave: The only deliverance from the condemnation that we deserve is believing. We’ve quoted—probably a number of times, but again, this is the Bible— we read it over and over and over—and Paul says it very precisely in Romans:4:5. He says, “Now to him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” There are no good deeds I can do. I can only be made righteous in God’s eyes and fit for heaven by believing in the One who justifies the ungodly. Some people think they’ve got to clean their lives up; they've got to become righteous enough or good enough to merit God’s salvation. No, Jesus said, “I came, not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance,” and salvation is only for sinners, and if you don't acknowledge that you’re a sinner and you deserve eternal hell, there’s no salvation for you. What would you be getting saved from? We’re being saved from the judgment of God’s wrath against sin. And unless I see my need of that, unless I see that it would be just for God to send me to eternal hell, separated from him forever, then I really don’t have anything to be saved from. And, as you said, this is the most wonderful gift of love and of grace that could be given.