ByCraig van Echten
August 29, 2018
Bible reading: John 1:1-10
Brothers and sisters,
Are you born again?
What do I mean by this question: are you born again? It’s another way of asking are you a Christian. But, this morning, I’m not asking if you are a Christian. Afterall, 52% of Australians would answer yes to that question. So, if I ask you, ‘are you a Christian’ you might be confused. Many people answer yes to Christianity, so that they can say no to Buddhism or Hinduism or some other religion. Many Australians still identify with a Christian heritage. So, I’m not going to ask you if you are a Christian this morning. As everyone here will say yes to that. I’m asking are you born again?
What do I mean by this question: are you born again? It’s also another way of asking are you Spiritual. For, genuine and Biblical Spirituality implies the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But, this morning, I’m not asking if you are Spiritual. Afterall, these days spirituality is pretty hip. The internet is full of retreat centres that you can go to experience the ‘spiritual side’ of life. There are lots of so called ‘spiritual’ gurus. And people use the term spiritual to refer to the non-physical side of life. And, a recent study by the University of Chicago showed that an increasing number of people are seeking spirituality, but fewer actually believe in God. So, I’m not going to ask you if you are spiritual. As everyone here will say yes to that. I’m asking are you born again?
What do I mean by this question: are you born again? It’s another way of asking do you belong to a church, have you professed your faith, did you repent and turn to Christ. But, I’m not going to ask those questions because the Bible speaks of weeds amongst the tears, fake professions, and those who turn away showing their repentance was fake. So, I’m asking are you born again?
It’s a very important question to look at from time to time. For, there are many people who think they are saved by Christ, but are not. Some of you here this morning may think you are going to heaven, but are not. I can assure you that there are plenty of people in the Christian church who do not have the Spirit of God in them. It’s no wonder we look so much like the world sometimes. So it’s crucial we understand this question this morning: Are you born again? As Jesus says, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Firstly, what does it take to enter the kingdom of God? A person must be born again.
The context to the passage we are looking at this morning is John 2:23-25. And in that little section we see a lot of fake news. To put it in today’s terms, churches were announcing all these conversions. And a whole lot of people professed faith in Jesus. But, in a nutshell, Jesus says, it’s all fake news. There’s a play on words to highlight the contrast. They trusted in him but Jesus does not entrust Himself to them. And the text highlights how Jesus can see into the heart.
What follows then, is a series of encounters with people like Nicodemus, the Women at the well, and the official. And in each case Jesus, the Son of God who knows all things, sees and reveals the heart. And in this first case, with Nicodemus, Jesus highlights what every heart needs: Every heart needs to be born again.
Let’s have a look at verses 1-3. Nicodemus is an intriguing character. He’s religious being a Pharisee. He has political influence being a Sadducee. The text alludes to this in verse 1 when it refers to him “a ruler of the Jews.” And it’s fair to say Nicodemus is wealthy. Along with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus paid for a big chunk of Jesus’ funeral costs (Jn. 19:39). Nicodemus is also respectful. He refers to Jesus as Rabbi. What is intriguing is that he visits Jesus “by night”? Maybe Nicodemus was afraid of what others thought? And maybe there’s a deeper meaning too, namely Nicodemus needs more Spiritual light in his darkness?
Whatever, the case he says, “we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Notice he says “we know” which may indicate his questions represent others?
Well, Nicodemus doesn’t get a chance to ask any questions. Jesus sees the heart, and cuts to the chase. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Why does Jesus say “truly, truly?” When Jesus uses “Truly, truly” he is emphasizing something. it means bold and underline.
This is the key point Nicodemus had to hear. It is the key point we need to hear this morning. “Truly, truly, Jesus says to you, unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Before these soul piercing words, Nicodemus probably thought he had a good chance. He was a Pharisee afterall. A good and moral person. But, as good as morality is, it does not pave a way to the kingdom of heaven.
Maybe you are here this morning thinking you have a good chance on the basis of your morality. Or maybe you point to your baptism or Christian upbringing, or profession of faith? Maybe you point to a time when you responded to an altar call?
As good as all these things are, “Unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.”
So secondly, why is it that a person must be born again?
Why do we need to be born again? Why does Jesus bold and underline this Biblical truth?
It is because we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Boys and girls what happens to your toys when the batteries go flat? What, they don’t work anymore. Don’t they make even a little bit of noise? No! Can’t you get the old batteries to work again? No! Much to mum and dad’s delight, the batteries are flat. Dead flat.
God’s Word says that before we loved Jesus, our Spiritual batteries were dead flat. And when our Spiritual batteries are dead flat, do we want to go to church? No. Do we want to read our Bibles? No. Do we want to love one another? No. We can certainly force ourselves to do these things, but we won’t want to!
In a nutshell our Spiritual batteries are dead flat. Ephesians 2:1 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”
In theology we refer to this condition as total depravity. Total depravity doesn’t mean we are as bad as we could be. However, it does mean no part of our being is left unaffected by sin. Including our hearts. Our hearts are not an oasis of life in an otherwise dead Spiritual being. There’s no freewill to follow Jesus. Rather, the Bible shows the very core of our being is dead. Our hearts are in bondage to sin. Romans 8:7 “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot.”
In this state of affairs we are deaf, blind, and have hearts of stone, spiritually speaking. To put it differently, we go around with fingers in our ears, hands over our eyes, and rocks in our head.
Doesn’t that explain why many who saw the miracles of Jesus didn’t believe? Doesn’t it explain why people don’t believe today. Even though, you answer all their questions. And even though the Bible proves itself to be true.
Why must a person be born again? They will simply not understand true Christianity if they are not. We see this a little bit in verse 4. Nicodemus says, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the womb a second time and be born.” And in verse 10 we read, “Jesus answered him, Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things.” Even Pastors like Nicodemus don’t get it, unless they are born again!
Sometimes people ask the question: does faith come before or after regeneration. (Regeneration is the term that refers to being born again). Does faith come before or after being born again? After of course! New Birth or Regeneration is the first step towards heaven. And once, we are born again, then we can respond in faith and repentance. And then we are justified and adopted. And then the process of sanctification begins.
Remember Lydia in Acts 16:14? We read “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
Sometimes people talk about seekers. The term has been used in the past to describe those like Nicodemus who are inquiring. The better term is inquirers. Why? As Romans 3:10-11 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” The only seeker in the Bible is God. And He needs to open our heart, so that we will seek Him.
Finally, how is a person born again? They are born again by God Himself. The new birth is a sovereign act of God.
In verse 5 Jesus expands a little on what He says before. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Scholars continue to debate what water might refer to. Is it the water of the womb in contrast to a Spiritual rebirth? Is it the water referring to baptism which is the sign of rebirth and what must be accompanied with the spiritual reality? Or is water just another way of describing rebirth and it’s cleansing? I won’t bore you with the details of the debate. The point is still clear. The Spirit of God must do something. God must sovereignly intervene!
Boys and girls can you give birth to yourself? No, of course not! Who gave birth to you? Your mum! So you had no control over when you were born did you? It’s the same with Spiritual things.
This is why the Bible refers to new birth in passive terms. Passive, meaning it’s something that happens to us. It’s not something we do.
1Peter 1:3 “…He has caused us to be born again to a living hope…”
Titus 3:5 “…He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
Can you see it? New birth, regeneration, being born again is God’s business. In theology it’s called a monogistic work. Meaning to ‘work alone.’As opposed to synergistic. Sanctification is synergistic because we cooperate with the Spirit’s work. But, regeneration is monogistic. Like the wind (v8), God will come and go as He pleases.
So then, why do Christians not reflect this theology in their evangelism? At the end of an evangelistic talk people will say things like ‘ask Jesus into your heart.’ ‘begin a personal relationship with Jesus.’ But, do we think we can control Jesus? I don’t think so. The Bible never uses this language. Because we can’t conjure up a relationship with Jesus. How does the Bible call sinners? Repent and Believe. On the day of Pentecost, Repent and believe. And if God has opened heart, then we will repent and believe. And, Jesus will be our Saviour.
Please don’t take the shine off the gospel with this language. The gospel is beautiful, why? Because ‘I was lost, but now I am found.’ ‘I was blind, but now I see.’ As the song goes, ‘I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by you.’ All glory and praise be to God!
So in conclusion let me ask you. Are you born again? I’m not asking for a date and a time. Some, like the Apostle Paul, many come to faith in dramatic ways. But, like Timothy, many have had the blessing of a Christian upbringing. Like many of us. Over time our faith has grown and developed.
What I’m asking this morning is whether the Spirit of God is at work in your heart? You’ll know, because if it’s happened, our lives have been changed forever. You’ll know because the life of heaven is rising up within you. As our hearts have begun to change, and so what we love has begun to change. Through the new birth we have come to know Jesus, love Jesus, serve Jesus and more and more give our all for Jesus. Living in communion with Him. Not perfectly, of course, but the desire will be there.
John Newton said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am”
If you are not born again this morning, pray for it. If your kids are not born again, pray for them. Call them to repentance and faith in Christ. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”