0230d What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?
Tom: This segment of our program has been committed to addressing and discussing, wrestling over, and explaining—that is, where we can—the basic doctrines of the faith, for which the Epistle of Jude exhorts us to earnestly contend. Our current topic is the gospel of salvation, and, in particular, what the scriptures mean by being “born again.”
Dave, I'm going to start reading from John 3, starting with verse 1, and we'll see how far we get: “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came to Jesus by night and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no one can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him.”
"And Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Now, Dave, I want to get into this, obviously, and to the rest of the verses, but let’s look over those two. Here you have Nicodemus—he’s one of the teachers, one of the Pharisees of the Jews, and he had some interest in Jesus, maybe thinking that He’s the Messiah, but he comes to Him with some questions that are perplexing him, but also they perplex some people today. What is this “born again”?
Dave: Well, Tom, to understand the scripture, we really need to go back a few verses. There, of course, were no chapter divisions when it was written. John didn't divide up into chapters. So let’s go back a few verses: “Now, when he was [v 23 of chapter 2], when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover in the feast day, many believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did.” Now you get a strange expression: “But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”
So here were apparently a multitude of people who seemingly believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Now, then the next verse begins, “There was [in contrast to this multitude that believed—and Jesus didn't commit himself to them], “there was a man [another man] of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, and he comes to Jesus and...” Now, he obviously believes what these other people believe. He said, “We know you’re a teacher come from God. No one can do the miracles that you do except God be with Him.”
And Jesus didn't say—(Now, we’re going to learn an important lesson by this passage.) Jesus didn't say, “Oh that’s wonderful, Nicodemus! You believe I’m a teacher, you believe I do miracles. Well, you're in my kingdom! You’re on your way to heaven!” Jesus clearly says, “Nicodemus, that is not enough! Except you are born again, you cannot see, much less enter, the Kingdom of God.”
Tom: That was a little bit intolerant here.
Dave: Yes, Jesus is intolerant. No, it’s not a matter of being tolerant or intolerant, He simply...
Tom: ...as some would apply that, and that’s...maybe I was being a little too sarcastic.
Dave: He was simply stating the facts! When we’re born into this world. Tom, we’re the children of Adam through our earthly parents. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And “by one man sin entered into the world, and death passed upon all of us, because we’ve all sinned,” so we’re all the children of Adam and Eve by natural birth, and Jesus is saying, “You cannot be in the Kingdom of God until you become the children of God,” and that only takes place by a new birth. You must be born of the Spirit of God into the family of God.
There’s some people—for example, unity School of Christianity—and they have people, everybody that attends the meeting, will all repeat, “I am a child of God; I am a child of God,” and that supposedly makes it so. No, Jesus said, “You are of your father, the devil.” So He’s explaining to Nicodemus that something has to happen to move you out of the kingdom of Adam into the kingdom of God. And then He goes on,
He explains what it is, of course.
Tom: Well, Nicodemus—just picking up with verse 4, “Nicodemus saith unto him...” Now again, this is supposed to be a teacher, one of the religious—somebody who’s supposed to understand his theology and what God’s Word says and what we’re to do. “But Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born? And Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee....” He’s making a strong statement here, right?
Dave: Mm-hmm. Right.
Tom: “I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again.”
Dave: Well, what can I say? Jesus is explaining it very clearly: that which is born of the flesh is flesh with the children of Adam. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Now, we’re going to have to be born of the Spirit of God to be in the family of God, in order to be in the Kingdom of God. Well, then, what do I do? I just say “God, let me be born again of your Spirit?” No, Jesus says that only comes about when you come as a repentant sinner, and you acknowledge your guilt and your need, and you realize that “I have died in your place.”
And He goes on and explains—we talked about earlier in the program—“As Moses (v. 14)—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.”
Because we are the descendants of Adam, the sinner, we are under sin—under the penalty that God’s righteous judgment, His law, has prescribed for sin. And Jesus Christ is going to become the sin offering for us. He will be punished in our place! This is what He’s saying. Now, if you believe that, Jesus says you will be born of the Spirit of God into the family of God. That did not take place in the Old Testament, as far we know. The Old Testament saints, like David, for example—David prays, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Now, that’s—sometime I’m in a church where they sing that. It’s nice to sing a psalm, but don’t sing that, because if you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit has sealed you, and we are born in the Spirit of God into the family of God. He doesn’t leave us. So, this is something new. But now, to be born of water—
Tom: That’s been a verse that people have used to show the efficaciousness of baptism at baptismal regeneration, but that’s not what it’s teaching here.
Dave: I don't believe so. We’re born of the Word, Peter says—the incorruptible Word of God, and Jesus spoke [that] “You’re clean through the Word that I’ve spoken to you.” The Bible talks about the washing of water by the Word. Nicodemus, as a rabbi, would understand water. It meant to be cleansed—there was a ritual cleansing that they went through that had a spiritual significance. It didn’t cleanse them, but it spoke of a spiritual cleansing that God one day would perform, exactly as the Old Testament sacrifices. They were not efficacious. The writer to Hebrews says that—in Hebrews chapter 10, for example, they had to be repeated every day, and the fact that they had to be repeated every day proved that they couldn’t take away sin, because if they took away sin, they wouldn’t have to be repeated again. But they were a type, a picture, pointing to Christ.
Dave: Right. Looking forward to Christ. So, this water—the washing of water by the Word of God—we have to be cleansed by the Word of God. We have to be cleansed by putting our faith in what God has said, Romans:4:5: “Now, to him that worketh not but believeth on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
So Jesus is laying out something really wonderful here. He’s explaining that there is a sacrifice coming—that He is that sacrifice. There is a perfect cleansing from sin that comes about through faith in Him having died for our sins on the cross. “And, Nicodemus, when you believe this, you will be born of the Spirit of God into the family of God, and unless that happens to you, you cannot be in the Kingdom of God.” There are a lot of...
Tom: And it has to begin with birth, Dave. We can’t add... people are into adding moral works or this or that onto, really, an old nature—a sin-filled nature. It doesn't work! You have to be a new creature in Christ, and this is what being born again is all about.
Dave: It’s something that only God can do. I can’t “born-again” myself, right? But when I put my faith in Christ, a miracle happens! I’m born...a spiritual transformation takes place! I become a child of God. And so, Paul writes to the Galatians, “You are all the children of God—not everybody, but through faith in Christ Jesus.” So it’s through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross that I’m born of the Spirit of God into the family of God, and that’s wonderful! Then I become an heir of God through Christ, and of all the blessings that He promises and of eternity to be spent in His presence and in eternal joy, and that’s a wonderful promise. I just hope that everybody out there listening has believed this.