The New Birth

We have been studying the book of John for the past four weeks.In the first week, we looked at Who Is Jesus?  We treated various identities of Christ as addressed by John the apostle in John 1. Then in the second week, we studied The Essence Of Miracles from John 2:1-11 where we looked at Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine and the implications for miracles today. We also studied Christ Our Passover Lamb from John 2:13-23. In the most recent study, we treated True and False Conversion from John 2:22-25. Today, we will be looking at “The New Birth” from John 3:1-16 which is a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.

John 3 in my opinion is a goldmine of gospel truth. In John 3, we read of the most important tenet of the Christian faith-born again–without which no one can gain access into the Kingdom Of God. In John 3 also, we read of the most beloved text of Christianity: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (v.16). Martin Luther, the 16th Century Reformer called John 3:16 “The heart of the Bible–the gospel in miniature.”¹It has also been described as “The most famous summary of the gospel in the entire Bible.”² If I dare say, all of the teachings of gospel truth is here in John 3. Verse 3-8 speaks of regeneration. Verse 9 points us to the inability of the natural man to understand spiritual truth. Verse 16 also speaks of God’s love towards sinners and the necessity of faith in Christ for eternal life.

The Conversation

Now imagine this. You’re in a conversation with another person and the person suddenly switches the conversation to another topic. That is exactly what appears to be happening here in the opening words of John 3. Nicodemus comes to Jesus and starts by acknowledging who Jesus is: “Rabbi, 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 ”(v.2). The normal flow of conversation will be that, Christ will respond to Nicodemus’ praise (some have called it flattery) but no, rather, Jesus went on a different tangent totally unrelated to Nicodemus’ words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”(v.3). Here Jesus establishes a one necessary condition–sine qua non— the one and only condition by which human beings can be saved from their sins and gain access into God’s kingdom. I believe the reason for this switch of conversation is because Christ saw beyond Nicodemus’ praise and flattery. He saw the real need of Nicodemus’ heart. John’s description of the person of Nicodemus is instructive here.

He was a Pharisee

This presupposes he knew the laws of God and its requirements. Now, the Pharisees, because of their place in society in relation to the law of God were highly self-rigtheous and legalistic. Robert Hawker in his work, Poor Man’s commentary says this of the Pharisees: “A Pharisee, had all the high notions of self-righteousness; and considering himself as a true descendant of Abraham after the flesh, he concluded, that this gave a legal right to all the promises of God.”

He came by night.

This primarily is because of fear of been seen with Jesus. The Pharisees were Jesus’s no.1 critics who sought to kill him (John 7:45-53). To therefore risk his reputation to meet with Jesus surely meant that meeting was important. Another thing worth noting about the night, is its spiritual implication pointing to the darkness and gloom of Nicodemus’ soul. Though a Pharisee, there might have been a vacuum in his heart prompting him to seek Christ by night.

All these point us to the fact that what Nicodemus actually needed was salvation and Jesus will not waste time on the inconsequential reason for Nicodemus’ visit. He went straight into the main reason for the visit.

You Must Be Born Again

Just like Nicodemus, all of us–the whole human race–are sinners by virtue of our entering the human race. Without Christ, humanity is plagued by darkness in the soul. We were born as sinners brought on the human race by Adam’s disobedience (Psalm 51:5). We therefore bear a sinful nature which makes us all commit actual sins. This renders us dead in sin and separated from God (Ephesians 2:1, Romans 3:23).

Our situation is dire in that we cannot comprehend spiritual truth and the ramifications of our sinfulness until the Holy Spirit brings us to conviction and repentance. We are spiritually dead people without a new birth. Without the new birth, we will continue to grapple in darkness and die in our sins. We see this clearly in the conversation. While Jesus was speaking of a spiritual reality, Nicodemus was thinking of a natural birth:“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”(v.4). Paul says in 1Corinthians 2:14 that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”.

What Is The New Birth?

So far, we have only spoken about the new birth. But what is it? The new birth is from Jesus’ use of the word “Born Again”. The Greek word used as born again is anóthen, which means anew or born from above, that is, born from heaven. This distinguishes natural birth from spiritual birth considered a second birth. The natural birth brings us into the world. The spiritual birth puts us into the kingdom of God. Jesus clearly makes this distinction: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v.6).

The new birth is a spiritual birth where spiritually dead people are brought to life. Theologians call it regeneration. It is a spiritual circumcision of the heart where God breathes spiritual life into our dead heart and gives us a new heart to repent and believe in Him for salvation. The new birth is not character modification or an outward adjustment to bad behaviour. It is a work God does in a sinner’s life by bringing them to life.

Have you experienced this new birth?

Further reading:

Ezekiel 37, Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 31:33, John 1:12-13, 1Peter 1:23



2:  Notes on John 3:16, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Crossway: 2008).



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