WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE NEW BIRTH
When Jimmy Carter was elected to the presidency of the United States of America, he publicized that he was born again. The use of this term became rather common then and also rather popular. On the surface one would have thought that a great revival was sweeping across the country. Yet with closer observation it was to become apparent that many who professed the new birth were not really saved at all.
During this time, it was not uncommon to hear Roman Catholics using this "new birth" terminology, when previously it was practically unheard of. Any religious phenomena could be referred to as a new birth. Even dieters when being encouraged with their dramatic weight loss would exclaim, "Iíve been born again!"
The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (v. 3). With the Lord requiring the new birth as the means of being saved, certainly a doctrinal and theological understanding of this truth is imperative. The concept of something being wrong with the natural first birth of man was taught even in the Old Testament when the law was given (Leviticus 12).
Though the birth of a child was a joyful, glad occasion, it was also a reminder that another sinner had entered into the world. Leviticus 12 required that the mother be banned from performing religious duties for forty days with the birth of a baby boy. With the birth of a baby girl she was banned for eighty days. The difference could be to emphasize the idea that when a baby girl is born she too would one day bring a sinner or sinners into the world. After the ban was over the mother would then offer a burnt offering and sin offering unto the Lord. Mary had to make such an offering at her purification to meet the requirements of the Law, but not because she had given birth to a sinner. Of all women, she was the only women to give birth to a child who was not a sinner!
Excluding the Christ child, every other person born has been born into the world as a sinner. Romans 5:12 says, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" Because we all have sinned, we must be born again. While considering the doctrine of the new birth, may we look at the "man," the "mystery," and the "miracle."
I. THE MAN Ė Nicodemus illustrates our great need. vv. 1-7
The gospel narrative that is renown for its treatment and teachings concerning the new birth, begins with the man Nicodemus seeking after Jesus. The Scripture narrative does not answer all the questions that we might have concerning his motives and reasons for coming to Jesus. Nicodemus was described by Jesus as "the teacher of Israel," implying his training and proficiency in Old Testament law and tradition. Nicodemus, who was respected by his people and a descendant of the patriarch Abraham, was also a wealthy, educated, and powerful man. Nicodemus is much like those today who are religious and known for their moral piety, but do not know Christ as their Savior. There are those who spent a lifetime in pursuit of varied religious themes, only wishing deep down inside that there was some convincing religious leader like Jesus that they could approach while no one was looking. There is in this kind of person a mixture of "pride" and "searching," knowing that their religious system does not really satisfy their deep spiritual longings. Yet they, because of their pride, are reluctant to deal with their need and many will die in their sins.
Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night, began to commend Christ for those things that Christ had done saying, "no man can do miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (v. 2). But Christ did not entertain a discussion with him but immediately confronted Nicodemus with his great need.
NICODEMUS WAS CONFRONTED WITH HIS GREATEST NEED vv. 1-3
Nicodemus was confronted with his greatest need by the one who knew all about him. Christ knows each of us and our total need. The Bible tells us that He knows when the sparrow falls from the sky and that our very hairs are numbered.
The God of omniscience was standing before a "religious pharisee" not in the least impressed with his credentials, or in his heritage, but saw the transparency of Nicodemusí sinful heart. He was born wrong; Nicodemus needed to be born again. "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."
Not being born again prohibits one from seeing the kingdom of God. Paul in Romans tells us what the kingdom of God is not, as well as what it is. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17).
Many are disillusioned in thinking that being born again is having all your physical needs met, such as "meat and drink." But by definition, the kingdom of God is having the righteousness of God with a peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. When Jesus said, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again" He was referring to those spiritual benefits that cannot be understood or experienced by the unregenerate sinner (I Corinthians 2:14). The sinner in this condition is searching for some earthly gratification only to find that it is so temporal and fleeting. Men will build their empires and carve their statutes only to leave it all behind.
When Nicodemus was confronted with "truth in urgency," he began to consider his great need.
NICODEMUS THEN CONSIDERED HIS NEED vv. 4-7
The phenomena of being "born again" was new and radical to this religious practitioner. He was accustomed to performing all the external demands of his belief system but to no lasting satisfaction. Nicodemusí questions indicated that he was focusing on the physical birth, which is understandable realizing that the idea of being "born again" had never been introduced. But at least he was thinking in response to the urgent requirements of this "teacher come from God," when told that he must be born again.
The same is necessary today when men are converted to Christ. First, they must be confronted with their need. They must isolate the message to themselves. It is not a message in "general" but one in "particular." the requirements are particular to their own personal need. As the Negro spiritual goes, "Itís me, itís me, itís me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer."
Then they also must consider their need. They must consider that to be born again means both a physical and a spiritual birth. "That which is form of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (v. 6). To be born "again" is radically different from the physical birth. The new birth experience is not just an expression of echastary but an actual occurrence just as real as the first birth. To be born again certainly carries the requirement of being born from above. The change that occurs is just as obvious as a baby crying for the very first time.
In the practical experience of life the inward change that occurs after the new birth is manifested in its outward expressions. A drunk will become sober, a harlot will become pure, and a drug addict will loose its addiction. A prior proud religious person will have a deep sense of his unworthiness apart from Godís guiding presence.
After acquainting Nicodemus with the differences associated with being born again, Jesus then illustrates the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in oneís conversion. He uses the wind for this purpose.
II. THE MYSTERY Ė The wind likened unto the Holy Spirit. vv. 8-13
In many ways the wind is mysterious. The wind may be described easier than it may be explained. The Lord wisely used the wind to explain the working of His Spirit. The wind is an unpredictable phenomenon that everyone is acquainted with. It has the far reaching potential of affecting everyone that lives upon the earth. The wind blows everywhere, but everywhere it blows, it blows differently. The wind cannot be captured, or contained for it is sovereign. Just as the wind is sovereign, so is the Spirit of God.
THE WIND DEMONSTRATES THAT GOD IS SOVEREIGN. v. 8
The Greek word for wind is pneuma. Pneuma means both wind and spirit. And just as no one tells the wind when to blow, no one can tell the wind where to blow. The wind of Godís Spirit blows according to His purpose and plan. It most certainly is true that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But it is also true that Godís Spirit will not always strive with man (Gen. 6:3). As God blows His wind of conviction upon a person it is a very serious and precious occurrence. It is never to be lightly considered; One should never risk the chance of hardening his heart to the Spirit of God.
THE WIND DEMONSTRATES THAT GOD IS SAVIOR vv. 9-13
Early in my ministry I recall a man called "Red" who came to our church revival after several of his teenage daughters were saved. We were thrilled in knowing that "Red" was there and hoping that he would be saved. On the first night when the invitation was given "Red" was marked by Holy Ghost conviction. I remember that he was holding on to the pew in front of him so tightly his knuckles began to turn white. Yet he would not budge. The next night he came back, but as the invitation was given he held more loosely with less evidence of conviction. By weeks end he seemed to be "cool as a cucumber" with no indication of being under conviction. As far as I know, he never came to the Lord. It is a dangerous thing to lightly regard the wind of Holy Ghost conviction. It is the Lord that saves.
Just as the Holy Spirit is necessary for conviction and salvation, faith also must be present. The Lord Jesus Christ used a miracle in the wilderness to illustrate the value of faith or belief.
III. THE MIRACLE Ė The Wilderness miracle that illustrated faith vv. 14-16 (cf. Numbers 21:4-9)
Paul stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." The miracle in the wilderness illustrates very clearly these verses. The consistency of the Scriptures allows truth to never contradict itself. Everywhere you venture into the Word of God there is perfect harmony; not one Spiritual note is off key.
In Numbers 21 after the nation of Israel had experienced a military victory against King Arad the Canaanite, they began to embark on a journey that brought much discouragement (v. 4). With this discouragement they began to speak against God and against Moses (v. 5). This prompted God to send fiery serpents among the people. The people who were bitten began to die (v. 6). After this the people went to Moses admitting their sin, and requesting that Moses pray to God for their deliverance.
The Lord told Moses in verse 8 of Numbers 21, "Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." Moses did that and the people lived when they looked to the brazen serpent.
THE MIRACLE TESTIFIED OF THE PROVISIONS OF GOD THAT STRENGTHENS OUR FAITH v. 14
When we look back to this Old Testament miracle and rejoice in the way that God provided those rebels with mercy and grace it reminds us that we are no different. We are all benefactors of Godís mercy. His provisions are so adequate for all of our needs.
Can you image how those who were healed witnessed to others the miracle of looking at the "brazen serpent on a pole" and living after being bitten by the serpents? They testified of Godís graceful provision. The same way, we should witness of Godís saving mercy. We need to help people acknowledge that they have been bitten by Satan who is the serpent of sin. Let them know that God raised up His only begotten Son as a provision for their deliverance and salvation. Just as the brazen serpent on the lifted up pole was the object or provision for Israelís healing, the Son of God on the cross of Calvary is the provision for our salvation today.
THE MIRACLE TESTIFIES OF THE PERSON OF GOD WHO SAVES BY FAITH vv. 15-16
The brazen serpent was the focal point then, the Lord Jesus Christ is today. If men would but look to Jesus by faith they may live. Verse 15 tells us, "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." There is no greater good news gospel that what this is. Verse 16 has been reverently referred to as the "Gospel in a Nutshell."
"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."
Everything that the Lord Jesus Christ told Nicodemus was summarized in that great verse. The greatness of that verse has been extolled throughout all the centuries since then. No one has been able to fathom the depths of meaning that John 3:16 conveys. It is only when a poor lost sinner upon realizing his terrible wretched condition, is able to appreciate the fullness of John 3:16. When he believes upon the Lord and is converted to Christ, he then can appreciate the great doctrine of the new birth.
What you believe about the doctrine of the new birth will determine where you will spend your eternity.
Material From Dr. Max Alderman, Ph.D