Born Again: What’s That All About?

An old sermon I felt I should post

JOHN 3:1-18

I read an article in one the newspapers recently about how people were so desperate to get interviews for jobs that they were grossly exaggerating their qualifications and experiences on job applications . One of the HR managers talked about how the personnel department had a sort of competition to see who could find the biggest lie each month in the application forms and there were some whoppers.

Back in Jerusalem 2000 years ago it would have been hard, if not impossible, for Nicodemus, the central character, of that story we read together earlier, to exaggerate his qualifications or abilities. From the evidence we have in the Bible it is clear that Nicodemus was a success story in almost every area of his life.

He was a success story in politics and power, he is called by John a “ruler of the Jews.” That means he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the sort of parliament that ruled all Jewish people. He was what the press would call today a power broker.

From what we are told elsewhere in John’s gospel it is clear that he was also an extremely wealthy man. So it seems like he was a financial success.

Nicodemus was also a success in his religious life. He was a Pharisee. We tend to think of Pharisees very negatively as religious nitpickers, which is true in part. But the other side of that coin was that the Pharisees were serious about their religion. Today we complain a lot about once a week Christians, the one thing you could never have said about a pharisee was that he was a once a week Jew. Nicodemus rose through the ranks of the Pharisees right to the very top. Look at verse 10, Jesus calls him “Israel’s teacher.” It seems that Nicodemus was the Billy Graham or the John Stott of Jerusalem. He must have been among the most popular preachers in Israel in Jesus day. From what the Bible tells us it seems that Nicodemus’ CV must have been quite a read.

What impresses me more about Nicodemus than his CV was that he was also open to God. He recognised that God was doing something extraordinary through Jesus and so he came to find out more. I don’t think it is fair to say that he came at night because he was afraid. I think the timing of the visit was more to do with the fact that it was the only time two busy men had time for a serious talk.

So this wealthy man, who was a pillar of society, and a top religious leader came to Jesus to hear what he had to say to him. But when Jesus did speak to him his words stopped him in his tracks. “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And just in case Nicodemus hadn’t quite grasped it Jesus repeats his uncompromising words in v7 “You should not be surprised at my saying you must be born again.”

Think about what Jesus is saying here. He is saying that one of the top religious leader in Israel, a man who is absolutely serious about his religion can’t have a real relationship with God unless he is born again. What Jesus says in a nutshell here is that being born again is a not optional but essential.

Bruce Milne has said of Nicodemus “There could have been few Jews, if any, in the
entire city of Jerusalem, whose credentials were more impressive as far as acceptance with God was concerned.”
Yet it was to that man that Jesus said being born again was a must not an option. Even he must have a spiritual transformation.

I can remember during my days at Bible College in Glasgow taking part in an evangelistic mission in a Church of Scotland in Glasgow having a conversation with a man who told me that he had been a member of the church for 30 years and was an elder and that we needn’t start any of this “born again” nonsense with him. That man was voicing a wide spread belief that you can some how be a Christian without being born again. I wonder if there is anyone here who secretly agrees with him. You come along to Church week by week and you think that you can rely on that. You think that church attendance and trying to be as good as the next person and not as bad as others is what makes you a Christian. I have to tell you this morning that you are wrong. In fact it is Jesus who points out that you are wrong. Jesus is absolutely emphatic that you must be born again, he says there is no such thing as a Christian who has not been born again.

It would be like calling someone a musician who couldn’t play any instrument, or someone who couldn’t swim a swimmer. Think about the implications of what Jesus is saying, if Jesus told a man as serious about religion as Nicodemus that he needed a radical spiritual transformation then he is saying exactly the same thing to everyone of us this morning.

At that Bible college I went to in Glasgow they had a tradition on the first day of every new term. All the new students had to give their testimony about they came to become Christians. I remember vividly those who gave their testimony the day I started. There were ex drug addicts, alcoholics, and violent criminals and there were people who had been bank clerks and nurses and had been brought in Christian homes and probably had never even knowingly dropped litter.

Yet everyone of them told how they came to a point in their lives when they realised that Jesus was saying to them that being born again was a must not an option.

I have to ask again have you come to that point?

Jesus goes on from telling Nicodemus that the new birth is not an optional extra to explaining to him that it is a New Life not a New Leaf. Being born again Jesus says isn’t the spiritual equivalent of making an enormous New Years resolution.

So what exactly does it mean to be born again? If we had a couple of translation of the bible in front of us this morning we would see that some translate Jesus’ words as “born from above” and some as the NIV does as “born again”. The difference is because the Greek word that is used after born can mean either. Great debates have gone on as to which should be used here, “again”, or “from above”. I have come to the conclusion it means both.

When we use Born Again it helps us understand the nature of the experience Jesus was talking about. It tells us that this spiritual experience is a crisis event. It is like a physical birth.

Born from above” on the other hand points to the origin of experience , its from above, from heaven, its God’s work not ours. It is not us turning over a new leaf but God giving us a new life. The birth of every child is a miracle.In the same way when someone is born again, born from above, that birth is equally miraculous.

That is why Jesus uses the blowing of the wind as an illustration. “The wind blows wherever it pleases You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. SO it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Being born again He says is like the wind, it is beyond human control yet we can experience it’s effects first hand.

Jesus tells Nicodemus he should have known what the new birth was all about. He should have realised that even someone like himself needed to be born of water and the Spirit. Those words “water and the Spirit” would have taken someone like Nicodemus who knew the Old Testament like the back of his hand straight to the book of Ezekiel chp 36. There God had made an amazing promise of spiritual transformation “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.”

That is a description of the new life that the new birth brings The water is a promise of cleansing. Do you feel dirty, ashamed guilty over things you have done? Well here Jesus says being born again means completely cleansed and forgiven by God. John puts it like this in his first letter “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus also says that by placing His Spirit in us he will empower us to do what we could never do before, serve God instead of serving ourselves. We come alive to God. A prisoner in Strangeways in Manchester who had tried to go straight umpteen time wrote recently in the chaplains newsletter “Christ has changed my whole life. He has made me a new person out of me. I may be behind bars now but I am clean and free in my heart.”

If you are fed up turning over new leaves in your life Jesus is saying that it is time that you allowed God to give you a new life.

Jesus has one last important point to make to Nicodemus. He says that if being born again is about God giving us a new life and not about us turning over a new leaf then being born again is a gift not a wage. We can’t ever earn it as our right, we can’t demand all we can do is accept it or reject it as a gift.

Like every gift, the new birth has been bought for us. Jesus in this passage uses a famous incident from the OT to help Nicodemus understand how he was going to pay the price of his salvation. He retells the story of the snakes and the children of Israel from the book of numbers. The children of Israel had been disobedient and rebellious so the Lord sent a plague of poisonous snakes into the camp and soon the people who had been bitten realised they were going to die unless a miracle happened. The people turned to God and repented of their sins and he told Moses to a bronze serpent on a pole and hold it up whoever looked at would be saved.

Jesus said he was going to be lifted up so that people could look to him and be saved not from the poison of snakes and its effects but from the poison of sin and its consequences. He told Nicodemus that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son Of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” It would only be later that Nicodemus would realise that Jesus when he spoke of being lifted up meant dying on a cross.

Writing years later John takes over from Jesus and writes probably the most well known verse in the Bible to describe why Jesus was lifted up, why he died for us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”

God because of his love for you gave his most precious possession, the life of his own son, to save you from the consequences of your sin John says. But like any gift you are offered you can open our hands to receive it or fold and arms and reject it.

That choice is confronting you, you have been shown you need to be born again, you have been shown that it is not something you can do for yourself but something the love of God in the death of Christ has done for you.
Will you believe that?

John puts it like this “Whoever believes in him is not condemned but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only son.”

I don’t know how to do it. But I have to try and get over to you that no decision that you will ever make will be as important as the response you make to this offer. God’s word here warns you that your decision will affect your life in this life and in the next.

If you choose to believe. If you choose to trust Jesus that you need to be born, that he died so that you could be born again, God’s Words says you will receive eternal life. Eternal life is about a new quality of life here and now and new quantity of life in the here after. It is about having God involved in your life here on earth and spending eternity with God in the future.

Rejecting Christ, not believing in him, rejecting what we have been talking about this morning is an option open to you. God will not force you to give your life to him. He gives you the choice but he also warns that not believing in Jesus has consequences. It will mean “perishing” It may not be popular today. It may not be politically correct to talk about, but the truth is that there is place of eternal punishment for those who sin and reject God’s offer of forgiveness and a new life. If you refuse his offer then God will condemn you to eternity there.

Its time for you to make up your mind, will you believe, be born again and receive eternal life or will you refuse to believe, be condemned and perish?

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