Being born again requires a complete overhaul of our nature.
John(82) (Part of the Believe(74) series)
by Stuart Johns(204) on June 23, 2019 (Sunday Morning(291))
Redemption(2), Salvation(68), Sin(6)
“London businessman Lindsay Clegg told the story of a warehouse property he was selling. The building had been empty for months and needed repairs. Vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and strewn trash around the interior. As he showed a prospective buyer the property, Clegg took pains to say that he would replace the broken windows, bring in a crew to correct any structural damage, and clean out the garbage. ‘Forget about the repairs,’ the buyer said. ‘When I buy this place, I'm going to build something completely different. I don't want the building; I want the site.’
Compared with the renovation God has in mind, our efforts to improve our own lives are as trivial as sweeping a warehouse slated for the wrecking ball. When we become God's, the old life is over (2 Corinthians 5:17). He makes all things new.”
Ian L. Wilson, Barrie, Ontario. Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 3.
Local Chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF)
When I started as the Local Director of the Hardin-Hancock Chapter of CEF they had been without a director for 6 months
Basically all ministry had stopped by this point
With the help of the Local Board, we were able to rebuild the local chapter from the ground up
When I was being asked to consider taking the State Director position for CEF of Ohio, my heart’s desire was to have another Local Director in place before I left, so that the ministry would not stop
God provided just the right person at the right time
The same Local Director is still there and he has taken the local ministry far beyond what I had envisioned
When we had cable or satellite television, one of the shows the boys and I liked to watch was Overhaulin’
They take a person’s vehicle and basically strip it down to nothing and then make it into their dream car
Basically everything is made new
Making things new
It doesn’t have to be a vehicle – it can anything
How many of us enjoy making things new?
There’s a level of satisfaction when something that’s old and perhaps isn’t working is made new and is working again
I’m always encouraged when someone believes in Jesus for the first time
It’s incredible to watch how God transforms them to make them new
Their attitudes and actions begin to change
Their desires and goals are renewed and refocused
Last week we saw in John 2:23-25 that Jesus had done miraculous signs in Jerusalem and some people believed in Him, but He would not entrust Himself to them because He knew their hearts and what was truly happening inside. The Evangelist now gives us an example of one such man that Jesus would not entrust Himself to. Through the encounter, with this one man, we will see that Jesus wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – Being born again requires a complete overhaul of our nature.
“. . . by the term born again He means not the amendment of a part but the renewal of the whole nature. Hence it follows that there is nothing in us that is not defective.” [Calvin cited by Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John, 190]
GOD (John 3:1-15)
The man (vv. 1-2)
Nicodemus (v. 1)
Connecting Greek word
The first word in this section in the Greek is de
It is commonly translated as “and” or “but”
The NIV translates it as “now,” which is also fine
I like the idea of “and” because of how it allows what John said in chapter 2 verse 25 to continue
He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man, and there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus . . . (John 2:25-3:1)
This lets us know that Jesus knew what was in Nicodemus’s heart and mind – what his true reason for coming to Jesus was (we’ll see this in just a moment)
“If some variation of ‘and’ is accepted, the idea is that Nicodemus exemplified those who in some sense believed in Jesus, but with a faith so inadequate that Jesus did not entrust himself to them (2:23-25).” [Carson, 185]
Nicodemus was zealous about his religion
As a Pharisee he was one of about six thousand men committed to following all of God’s laws
The Pharisees were serious about obeying all 613 commands found in the Old Testament (248 dos and 365 don’ts)
“When one became a Pharisee, he pledged in front of three witnesses to uphold every detail of the law for the rest of his life (Barclay, John, 1:140).” [Carter and Wredberg, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in John, 55]
Nicodemus was morally upstanding, because he had committed to obeying all of the laws in Scripture, as well as, the man-made regulations to help protect himself from mistakenly disobeying one of the 613 laws
Part of the Sanhedrin
Most scholars agree that John’s description of Nicodemus as a member of the Jewish ruling council means that he was part of the 70 member Sanhedrin
They were the “highest national body in charge of Jewish affairs” [Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, John, 118]
The Sanhedrin was led by the High Priest and was made up both Pharisees and Sadducees
The Teacher of Israel
We also see in verse 10 that Nicodemus is extremely knowledgeable
Nicodemus in more than just “a teacher” of the Israelites
The Greek has the definite article before teacher
He is “the teacher” of Israel, not just another teacher of Israel
Perhaps he was the leading teacher of the Israelites
“If Nicodemus were around today, here’s what you would think: Man, I wish we had hired him instead of our pastor. He’s got much better credentials. He’s more serious about keeping the law. He’s made far fewer mistakes. He’s more humble. He knows the Bible better. He comes from a more prominent position. He’s everything a church would look for in a pastor and more.” [Carter and Wredberg, 56]
Nicodemus is a highly educated and knowledgeable Pharisee, Sanhedrin member, and teacher who is seeking the truth about Jesus
The meeting (v. 2)
There is a lot of discussion about why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night
Some believe it was a way for him to remain anonymous and unnoticed by the other Pharisees and religious leaders, so he wouldn’t come under scrutiny
Others simply state that Jesus was continually surrounded by people all day long and going at night allowed Nicodemus to have Jesus’ undivided attention
Still others cite the fact that Rabbi’s would study and/or teach late into the night
“The best clue lies in John’s use of ‘night’ elsewhere: in each instance (3:2; 9:4; 11:10; 13:30) the word is either used metaphorically for moral and spiritual darkness, or, if it refers to the night-time hour, it bears the same moral and spiritual symbolism. Doubtless Nicodemus approached Jesus at night, but his own ‘night’ was blacker than he knew (cf. Hengstenberg, 1. 157-158; Lightfoot, p. 116) [Carson, 186]
What we see here is a reference to Nicodemus’s spiritual state
He was walking in spiritual darkness even though he was well versed in the law and the Old Testament Scriptures
PRINCIPLE #1 – All of humanity is walking in spiritual darkness, because of sin.
Isaiah 53:6, We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Everyone is born a sinner, no one is exempt
Our sin separates us from God (Rom. 6:23)
We like to focus on God’s love to the exclusion of His justice
When that happens, we commonly hear statements like this: “I’m a good person, so God will certainly allow me into heaven.” “I haven’t done that many bad things.” “The good I’ve done outweighs the bad.”
What we see with Nicodemus is that anyone would have been hard pressed to find any skeletons in his closet
He was zealous and committed to obeying all of the laws
We would certainly characterize him as a good person
But the fact remains that he was walking in spiritual darkness
He may have believed in Jesus, but he wasn’t a follower or disciple of Jesus
We all have the same condition as Nicodemus
The difference between Nicodemus and some of us, is that he recognized something in Jesus that he didn’t see in any other prophet or teacher
What Nicodemus was seeing in Jesus was light and life
John 1:4-5, In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it
John 1:8, He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
He knew that Jesus was the light switch and so he wanted to meet with Him
He knew where to go to deal with his spiritual darkness
Nicodemus’s compliment of Jesus
The fact that Nicodemus addresses Jesus as Rabbi is significant
Jesus was a carpenter by trade and therefore didn’t have the time to dedicate to the study of the law, like the other Rabbis or their disciples
He would have been considered “ignorant” or “uneducated” by the religious elite
John 7:15, The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”
When Nicodemus uses the title of Rabbi for Jesus, he is placing Jesus on the same level as himself – the primary teacher of Israel
Nicodemus includes others in the private conversation with Jesus
The plural “we” is used in Nicodemus’s compliment of Jesus
It is generally agreed that Nicodemus is probably speaking for a group of Pharisees who were in agreement with him
They were confident about a few things
Jesus was a teacher (Rabbi)
He had come from God
God was with Him as evidenced by His ability to do miraculous signs – “It was commonly held in Judaism that miracles attest to God’s presence.” [Köstenberger, 121]
What we see in Nicodemus’s compliment is some potentially unasked question(s)
The unasked question
“Who are you, then? We know you are a teacher from God, but are you more? Are you a prophet? Are you the Messiah?” [Carson, 187]
“Are you here to bring in the kingdom?” [Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary, John, 49]
Jesus knew what was really behind Nicodemus’s compliment and unasked question(s)
He’s not interested in authenticating Himself through signs, but rather getting to the heart of the individual and transforming their nature, completely
“The Lord answered not his words, but his thoughts. The Lord’s answers to questions will be found generally to reveal the true thought of the questioner, and to be fitted to guide him to the truth which he is seeking.” [Westcott cited by Köstenberger, 121]
That is exactly what Jesus is doing when replies to Nicodemus’s compliment – He goes straight to Nicodemus’s need
A little side note here – obviously Jesus and Nicodemus spent more time talking together than the 3-4 minutes it takes us to read this story in John’s Gospel (they probably spent a couple of hours talking)
John is summarizing the main points of what was said during their meeting
The need (vv. 3-15)
Jesus’ answer to the unasked questions (v. 3)
Whether the unasked question was about Jesus being the Messiah or if Jesus was here to bring in the kingdom of God, they are really the same question
Jesus begins His response with the authoritative and solemn formula of “I tell you the truth . . .”
This is designed to get the attention of the hearer – it’s like saying, “Listen up, this is important, don’t miss this”
It is used again in verses 5 and 11
In the Greek it is amēn, amēn (Truly, truly or Verily, verily)
Jesus’ response is that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again
This would have been news to Nicodemus, because as a very religious Jew he would have understood that seeing the kingdom of God meant participating in the kingdom when God established it at the end of time, meaning he was guaranteed eternal life [Carson, 188]
“Predominant religious thought in Jesus’ day affirmed that all Jews would be admitted to that kingdom apart from those guilty of deliberate apostasy or extraordinary wickedness (e.g. Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1).” [Carson, 189]
Jesus is basically telling Nicodemus that everything he has been doing, to be in a right relationship with God, is not sufficient
His religious zeal isn’t enough
His position with the Sanhedrin isn’t enough
His vast knowledge as “the Teacher” of Israel isn’t enough
Matthew 5:20, For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven
Jesus is saying that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven in our own strength or ability
Nicodemus cannot see (participate) in the kingdom of God in his own strength or ability
The only way is by being born again
Being born again requires a complete overhaul of our nature.
The Greek word for “again” is anōthen and can also be translated as “from above”
The two definitions are important in this passage, because Nicodemus understood it one way, while Jesus meant it another
That’s what we see when Nicodemus asks a clarifying question of Jesus
Physical versus spiritual (vv. 4-8)
PRINCIPLE #2 – The physical can sometimes keep us from understanding the spiritual.
Nicodemus is defining the Greek word as “again,” so he is focusing on the physical aspect of the word
How can a fully grown man/woman fit back into his/her mother’s womb to be born again?
Nicodemus is looking at the physical side and perhaps is thinking about how absurd it is to say that the only way to participate or see the kingdom of God is to be born again, physically
Burge brings out another aspect of the Greek word that Nicodemus may have been thinking – “Can human nature really be changed? Can we really start over?” [Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, John, 115]
Perhaps we’ve all felt that way at one point in our lives, prior to becoming a Christian
Maybe that’s where some of us are at today
“I’ve done too many bad things in my life, so there is no way that God will accept me.”
“God doesn’t want someone like me in His kingdom.”
“I’m damaged goods, I’m too far gone, and no one can help me now, not even God.”
“I’ve lived my life in rebellion against God for too long, there’s not hope for me.”
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
You’re absolutely right, YOU can’t change yourself, but God can
God took the initiative to pursue you
Ezekiel 34:11, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”
Ezekiel 34:16a, I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak . . .
Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
God’s love for us draws us to Him
Jeremiah 31:3, The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
God’s desire is for us to be in a right relationship with Him
It’s not too late, you haven’t done too many bad things, you’re not damaged goods
God can change your nature, He can help you start over
Being born again requires a complete overhaul of our nature.
My Next Step Today Is To: Recognize that it’s not too late for me and that God can change my human nature.
Nicodemus is missing the point
Jesus wants Nicodemus to think beyond the physical to the spiritual
What Jesus means when He says that the only way to see the kingdom of God is to be born again, He means born from above
It’s a spiritual birth and not a physical birth
Born of water and the Spirit
Jesus uses the authoritative and solemn formula a second time, I tell you truth . . ., meaning once again that we need to pay attention to what He is about to say
Jesus changes from using “seeing the kingdom of God” to “entering the kingdom of God”
We defined “seeing” as participating in the kingdom of God
So, Jesus is simply saying the same thing but in a little different way
They both mean the same thing
A more literal translation of this phrase is born of water and spirit
Jesus uses the phrase born of water and spirit to mean the same thing as being born again or born from above
Jesus is not talking about baptism or two births here
Ezekiel 36:25-27, I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
“In essence God said, ‘You need to be clean on the inside – washed with water. You need your heart to come alive by my Spirit. Then, and only then, will you be able to obey me.” [Carter and Wredberg, 57]
Like gives birth to like
Flesh gives birth to flesh is simply referring to natural human birth – the physical
Spirit gives birth to spirit is the supernatural – the spiritual (born from above)
Wind as an example
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he should not be surprised by His saying
The first “you” in verse 7 is singular, so Jesus is speaking directly to Nicodemus
The second “you” in verse 7, found in Jesus saying, is plural, meaning specifically those whom Nicodemus was representing, and generally to all of humanity – it’s extended to us
As human beings we are unable to determine where the wind comes from and where it’s going
While we can’t determine those two things we are aware that wind exists, because we can feel and see its effects
We can see the trees and grass sway
We can feel the cool ocean breezes on our face during a hot summer day
We know to take shelter when strong winds and tornadoes are present or predicted
Born of the Spirit
The same is true of those born of the Spirit, a spiritual birth, a supernatural birth
Those who have not been born of the Spirit don’t understand how or why someone has become a Christian – it seems like foolishness to them
“In these characteristics of the wind there was provided to Nicodemus and to the reader of John an example of how believers in Christ appear to outsiders. First-century outside observers probably knew little of how Christians became followers of Jesus, and they understood little concerning their eschatological destinies. But what they could sense was the presence and work on these children of the Spirit in the midst of pagan and Jewish societies. What they saw and heard from the Christians who were present in their societies was telling as to how they formulated their understandings of Christianity (cf. John 13:35). Their lives were a witness to an unseen reality. Is this picture not also an appropriate word for today?” [Borchert, The New American Commentary, John 1-11, 177]
What a challenging word for us today
Does our life witness to an unseen reality of being transformed by Jesus Christ?
Do our family, friends, and coworkers see that our life (nature) has had a complete overhaul – that we are now controlled by the Spirit of God and not by our human nature?
Southern Baptist Memes – “When someone posts a Bible verse, then uses profanity in the next post.” [show the meme]
My Next Step Today Is To: Make sure that my life reflects a complete overhaul of my human nature.
Jesus makes it clear that the work of spiritual birth (being born from above) is not our work, but God’s work through the Holy Spirit
“If you have in your heart today any affection for Christ at all, it is because God the Holy Spirit in his sweetness, in his power, in his mercy, and in his grace has been to the cemetery of your soul and has raised you from the dead. (John, 40).” [R.C. Sproul cited by Carter and Wredberg, 58-59]
Seeing or entering the kingdom of God only comes through spiritual birth and not physical birth
Clarification (vv. 9-15)
Nicodemus needs clarification, because he is still struggling to understand the spiritual over the physical
A better translation of Nicodemus’s question may be, “How can these things happen?”
This is a total change from what Nicodemus had been teaching his disciples for years
He taught that entrance into God’s kingdom came through obeying God’s commands, being zealous for Judaism, submitting to God’s will, etc.
Now he is being told that none of that guarantees entrance into heaven (the outward, physical works of man are a result of a human nature that has been completely overhauled by the Spirit of God)
The only condition, which is new to Nicodemus, is being born from above
Jesus is patient with him
He says that as Israel’s preeminent teacher, he should understand these things
Jesus won’t go any further in His teaching of Nicodemus or any other person until they believe the earthly things He has been telling them
Telling them about heavenly things (miraculous signs) will not convince them to believe in Him (Jesus)
Jesus explains His divinity and reason for His authority
Jesus could certain tell them about heavenly things, because He has been there
He can speak with authority about heavenly things, unlike any one else on earth (no one else had ever gone to heaven and returned to earth to tell about it)
Answer to Nicodemus’s question
Jesus answers Nicodemus’s question from verse 9, “How can these things happen?” (regeneration, entering the kingdom of God)
He first gives an example from Numbers 21:4-9
This was probably a familiar story for Nicodemus
Jesus was taking him from something that he knew to something that he didn’t know
He was using the familiar to explain a new concept to Nicodemus
Nicodemus would have recalled that the Israelites, who trusted Moses by faith and looked at the bronze snake in the wilderness, did not die from the poisonous snake bite
It required the Israelites to do something by faith
For some it probably meant turning completely around and facing the bronze snake
Jesus then explains that He would have to be lifted up in a similar way
He is alluding to His perfect sacrifice on the cross
John 12:32-33, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
PRINCIPLE #3 – Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection provides eternal life.
Out of God’s great love for us, He provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sins
He provided Jesus, who was perfect without sin, to take our place on the cross
He was the only One who could satisfy God’s perfect standard
Eternal life is for everyone, but it requires that we repent (turn from our sin) and turn to Jesus
We have to trust God by faith
We have to believe in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for us on the cross
My Next Step Today Is To: Receive God’s eternal life by believing in Jesus and His perfect sacrifice for me on the cross.
You and I are walking in spiritual darkness, because of our sin
Sometimes the physical realm (what we can see and touch) can keep us from understanding the spiritual realm (what is invisible)
God is able to change our human nature through His Holy Spirit, so it’s not too late for you
Today is the day of salvation!
These are incredible principles and truths that we should be sharing with our family, friends, and coworkers
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few
“Stephen Baldwin is one of the famous Baldwin brothers, a family of Hollywood actors.
Referring to his newfound faith in Christ, Stephen said, ‘I've never been as excited or happy about where I am in my life. There's no one I know in Hollywood who can say that.’
Stephen's wife came to Christ in 2000 and announced to Stephen, ‘I'm going to be serving Jesus now.’ Baffled at her conversion, Stephen thought, Who does this Jesus dude think he is coming around here?
The events of September 11 were pivotal in his change of mind as he realized that the impossible was possible. As Stephen describes it, ‘It made me say the Bible is true, and Jesus Christ could come back tomorrow.’
How has his life changed? Stephen's work as an actor ‘has largely dried up.’ He won't work in a film that includes adultery, violence, or profanity.
He's traded his Porsche for a Chevy Malibu.
Stephen spends his available time preaching the gospel. He directs and hosts a DVD project aimed at reaching young people through extreme sports.
As for his marriage, Stephen and his wife are now ‘as one.’ Stephen truly is a new creation.
"Baldwin's Great Awakening," The Week (11-5-04), p. 12; submitted by Ted De Hass, Bedford, Iowa