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Sermon 2019-10-06 Ross Woodhouse

BORN AGAIN

We’re beginning a new series this morning we’ve titled Knowing Christ. Knowing Christ, as in knowing the person Christ. Who is he, this person Jesus, what is required of me in following this person Jesus, what did he do for me, what do I need to do in serving him.

Paul, the apostle said – “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection, and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10) and, “for me to live is Christ, and die is gain” (Philippians. 1:21). This forms the basis for this series, and a summary of precisely what knowing Christ entails. By the end of this series we will have a greater understanding of what Paul meant and what the priority of the person of Jesus looks like for us today.

As this message today is all about being born again I want us to properly understand what this means biblically. The story today will confront us – just like Jesus did that day with Nicodemus – with the truth about our own spiritual condition. I am not coming from a place of assuming that everyone here today is born again. Born Again not just been a decision made at some point in our lives[1], but a life lived, as well, that bears the fruit of that decision and the work of the Spirit in our lives.

If we think about new birth in the natural, a baby is born into the world, that life comes into being for the first time. It is not a baby born being born for the second time, it is a new birth. Born Again (new birth) therefore in the spiritual is a new and transformed (and being transformed) life in this world.

John 3:1-21.

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.”“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

1 Peter 1:23, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

[2]I recently viewed an interview between talk show host Larry King and a well-known TV evangelist in the US. And when pressed by a series questions around what the truth is and who heaven will be populated by, the person’s response was “it’s not for him to say”, as if the bible is not clear on such matters. I don’t mention this at all to criticise the evangelist (not cool), rather to speak of something I observe; a ‘greying’ of the truth and a pervasive reluctance (perhaps fear?) to speak of God as he actually is!

The Bible is not a book about mediocrity. Yet it has become fashionable to make it say something God never intended. Some parts are hard to understand but it is not ambiguous. What is least ambiguous is the truth of Christ, and the holiness of God and what is required of any human being – all of whom he loves – to be, right with God and to spend eternity with him – you/we MUST be born again!

Jesus’ message here is simple: Belief in Christ, being born again is the only way any of us will see the kingdom of God and anyone of us will receive eternal life. Writer R C Sproul suggests that the phrase “born-again Christian,” in a narrow, technical sense, is a redundancy. Because, according to the New Testament, in order to become a Christian, one must first be born again (John 3:3–5). Therefore, if a person is born again, he or she is a Christian. So to call somebody a “born-again Christian” is like saying that such a person is a Christian Christian. The New Testament knows of no other kind of Christian.[3]

Nicodemus, who up until Jesus gave him something different to think about, for me, represents the religious and giving the appearance of being good with God, doing the all the right stuff including church service and attendance. He represents the many people today who might call themselves Born Again when sadly…?? You say, Ross, only God can judge, yes very true, in the end God is the final judge on a person’s soul, we’re not to do that.

However, Jesus says there’s lost and found. He says there’s a narrow and a broad road. The Bible says “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” which also means whoever doesn’t believe, perishes! Let’s not confuse judging for urging others[4] with the truth to be born again if they want eternal life through Christ.[5]

John was a pastor, and the premise of his entire gospel teaching is chapter 20:31, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name”.  His desire was to lead people to Christ but more than that to help them understand that in Jesus, is “life”, true life…abundant life!

His gospel is like the explanation of what Paul said with the words “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16)

Jesus came to bring hope, and life and renewal, and this account with Nicodemus is what was part of the message that was on John’s heart.  Let’s look at why we must be born again; the evidence of being born again and the reason we can be born again…

  1. Why we must be Born Again

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, these were people who led synagogue worship, they served as spiritual guides, were the “theologians” of the day specialising in knowing the law.

What was the decision that Nicodemus was being confronted with here? A completely different way of seeing and entering the kingdom of God than his current belief and practice. His issue was not through a lack of knowledge about God. But, that same knowledge was also a religious barrier.

Knowing the law, the word, will not admit one freely into the kingdom, having confidence in words and works to save, in the end, will not amount to salvation in Christ.

no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law, we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:20-22)

“How can someone be born when they are old?”, “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”, “How can this be?” …Nicodemus asked.

Jesus says, “no one can enter…see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…unless they are born of water and the spirit”.

In other words, it makes no difference how religious you are or how close to God you think you are, or how well you have kept Gods laws, how morally and ethically upright you’ve been or being a lovely person[6]…there is only one way that any/every human being can see and enter the Kingdom of God, and that, is through Jesus. 

What did Jesus mean with the terms “enter”[7] or “see”[8] the Kingdom of God? When we build a picture of the Greek here it seems to be saying that unless you are born again you will not experience the full benefits and blessings of and purposes for the kingdom of God. So it follows, that to be born again is to enter, see or be in the Kingdom of God. A spiritual kingdom, of which Jesus is the King. 

This whole conversation with Nicodemus, of course, is about the fact he is spiritually dead, outside the kingdom. Spiritually he is unborn. To help us, here’s what John says in 1 John 5:11–12: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

We might be physically living and breathing, but if we are outside of Christ we are spiritually dead and there is no hope of eternal life – this why we must be born again. In Christ, we are spiritually alive and there is certainty of eternal life.

I recently read an account of a speech given by the president of a well-known university to a group of influential businessmen and civic leaders. The president spoke of an experience which he and his audience found humorous. The president was shopping during the Christmas season and happened to pass by a Salvation Army volunteer, standing by a “donation bucket” and ringing a bell. As he paused to make a donation, the woman volunteer asked the president: “Sir, are you Born Again?” When he replied that he ‘supposed he was’, she was not satisfied, and so pursued the matter further: “I mean, have you ever given your full life to the Lord?” At this point, the president told his audience, he thought he should enlighten this persistent woman concerning his identity: “I am the president of such and such university, and as such, I am also president of its school of theology.” The Sally Army volunteer considered his response for a moment, and then replied, “It doesn’t matter wherever you’ve been, or whatever you are, you can still be Born Again.”[9]

The new birth Jesus spoke of with Nicodemus can only take place when you embrace the new life he offers by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10) New birth becomes a reality when Jesus is your Lord and Saviour.

2. The Evidence of Being Born Again

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

The evidence of being born again is that, though we remain sinful, life is now lived in worship and service to God. But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. (Romans 6:17)

As we’ve heard, we cannot have salvation, unless we are born again.  Being born again is my response to the good news of Christ, it is my response to God willing to forgive my sin and make a place for me in eternity with Him (1 Peter 1:3). The event of being born again is a work of God, a work of his grace and mercy (see Titus 3:4-7), it is a supernatural life exchange: the old life gone, for a new life in Christ. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).[10]  

Utilising Paul’s teaching here: when we experience new birth it is a not a renovation of our old nature, character, and values, rather it is the creation of a whole new human nature and character and value base. One has replaced the other. We are forgiven and purified; a work of the Holy Spirit. So the person who is born again, therefore, produces fruit as an evidence of being born again, if in fact there has been true repentance and acceptance of Christ’s forgiveness and baptism in the Spirit take place.

When Jesus talks about being “born of water and the Spirit” he’s referring to a cleaning and cleansing that needs to take place in the transformation of being made new. I think the prophet Ezekiel helps us here Ezekiel 36:24-27. “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 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. 26 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. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Paul also says in Ephesians 5 (v.26) Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.

Linking these with Jesus’ words in John, the message is those who will enter (experience) the kingdom of heaven are those cleansed from the old, who have a new heart of flesh (not of the flesh) that is God-directed, and his Spirit is in them/us.

Therefore, the evidence of being born again is that our character is new and changed and changing; our values are Christ-directed and Christ-honouring; I’m being transformed by the renewing of my mind – my mind dwells and thinks on Jesus; sin is not my master, I master sin…

The Bible says, “no one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (1 John 3:9) Does this mean that we’re expected to be sinless when Born Again? No, there’s no notion of sinlessness here. It does mean however if we’re truly born again, there will be no habitual, constant sin because the life we live born again is evidence of being born again.[11] 

3. The Reason We Can Be Born Again

16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

We are not required to understand the depths of how sinful and in need of God we are, only that we are sinful and in need of God and his grace and his mercy[12]. Jeremiah (17:9) said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Knowing that we need him, begins with knowing we are completely and utterly lost without and outside of him.

When Jesus speaks here of loving the world[13], he is, in fact, talking about a humanity he loves and wants and wills to save but who is opposed to God and his truths (John 3:19-21). A world when faced with the truth of Jesus, if they/we do not believe in him, who are not born again, will perish, and stand condemned already. This is serious business and is a hard and stark message.  God is love, he loves, loved us so much he gave his only son – this is the reason we can be born again – but not believing in the person of Jesus means we are condemned to be separated from God for eternity.

Our choices don’t change that God loves us. Jesus did not come to condemn the world. Ultimately our choice to be born again or not determines our eternity. What will it be?

The love of God John speaks of here is best told in the story of the lost son (Luke 15). The love of the Father for his son never changed despite the decision the son made with his share of the inheritance; demonstrated in the embrace of the Father when the son recognised his lostness and sinful ways and need of the Father. In a different ending the son could have chosen to never return, the father would still have loved him.

 

4. What will it be? 

Conclusion

The Bible’s quite clear, to have eternal life we must be born again. We’re either spiritually dead or alive to the things of God, there is no in-between state. It’s like pregnancy; no one is almost pregnant. Likewise, no one is almost born again.[14]

So to conclude, with all that being said, we come around this table of grace. This bread and cup remind us of the body given and the bloodshed of Jesus. This man, God’s only son, who came to earth, his body beaten, died a brutal death on the cross, died and rose again, that today, you, can be forgiven of your sin, you can have the opportunity to believe, and say I don’t want another moment of doubt, I want to be born again and know where I’ll spend eternity. Don’t do as Nicodemus did and walk away from the opportunity to be in arelationship with him.

What is our response to Jesus’ invitation today?

 

[1] Although that’s obviously important

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwL1DThtxYg

[3] Sproul, R. C. (2010). What Does It Mean to be Born Again? (Vol. 6, pp. 2–3). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

[4] By following biblical premise and truth

[5] Pharisees placing a final verdict on people’s souls is the context for what Jesus said about judging others. This judgment is not made from the opinion of the Christian who is presenting the gospel but rather by what the Bible clearly declares. It is always God’s Word that makes the judgment on morality and truth, not our own opinions or theories. See https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/does-the-bible-tell-christians-to-judge-not/

[6] See Matthew 5:17-20

[7] eiserchomai

[8] horaó

[9] https://bible.org/seriespage/8-jesus-and-nicodemus-john-31-21

[10] See also Col. 3:3. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God

[11] See 1 John 3:7

[12] See Titus 3:4-7

[13] He is not talking about trees, animals and plants

[14] Adapted from: Sproul, R. C. (2010). What Does It Mean to be Born Again? (Vol. 6, p. 49). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.