If not the most popular, John 3:3 is one of the most popular teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. What is taught by the Lord in that text is indeed a core doctrine of Christianity. You have to experience the teachings of John 3:3 before you can be called a Christian. It is a sine qua non of Christianity. By now you may be wondering (if you don’t know the text) what does John 3:3 say or teach?
“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV).
Who is Jesus speaking to? John 3 records a conversation between Jesus Christ and Nicodemus, described as a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews. This means he was an influential person in 1st century Palestine. Not only was he influential, but as a Pharisee, he held to a high moral code. He was religious.
If he was religious, isn’t it, therefore, true he was already a member of God’s kingdom? Especially also because he is a Jew. The conversation doesn’t indicate so. Rather, it indicates a man outside the Kingdom of God who needs to have the experience of born again to be a member of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is that spiritual realm where God is King and rules over his people. God’s kingdom is manifested in our age in the lives and hearts of God’s people and in the age to come. Everyone who has a relationship with God through Christ is a member of this Kingdom. The kingdom of God simply is God’s rule over his people.
The words “cannot see the Kingdom of God” points to spiritual blindness. To be able to see the kingdom of God is to be able to believe and receive its teachings. However, Nicodemus was spiritually blind and needs the born again experience before he can receive or believe in the teachings of the kingdom of God. This state of spiritual blindness is not only true of Nicodemus but true of everyone who has no relationship with Jesus. A man without Christ is a natural man and everyone born into this world is a natural man in a state of sin And whenever the Bible describes the natural state of man, we are described as dead in sin, spiritually blind and separated from God (Eph. 2:1). This state is because we have a sin nature that was inherited from the fall of Adam in the garden of Eden. So everyone apart from Christ who enters this world enters as a sinner (Psalm 51:5; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23).
This natural state of humankind is theologically called Original sin and we all possess it. It is a state that has blinded us to spiritual realities to the extent we cannot understand spiritual things. And we see this clearly in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. While Jesus was speaking about spiritual realities, Nicodemus was still thinking earthly (John 3:4; 9-10). This is the true state of all human beings. In our natural– unregenerate state; we have no appreciation of spiritual truth.
The New Birth— Born Again
Because of the unregenerate’s spiritual blindness, the only way to see the Kingdom of God and becomes members of it is to be Born Again. The question naturally will be that, what is Born Again? The phrase born again in the original Greek is anothen which means “Born from above.” Just as our natural birth brings us into the earthly natural world, there is a spiritual birth required to enter the spiritual world— Kingdom of Godin the natural world, when you want to enter any country, the country gives you access. To be born again is a spiritual rebirth that brings us into union with Christ. We are transferred from the Kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). The idea of a new birth appears in various places in the new testament: 1 Peter 1:23, 1 John 3:9, 1 John 5:18
The new birth is a spiritual work of God. As we have no hand in our natural birth, our spiritual birth is also solely a work of God we have no hand in. In the new birth, God removes our spiritual inability, he opens our eyes to spiritual truth, changes our hearts and gives us a desire to love, have faith and obey him. When the new birth happens, our hearts are changed. The sign that a new birth has taken place in our heart is that we place our faith in Jesus Christ. Christ was sent into the world to reconcile sinners to God. He died and resurrected so that those who believe in him will have eternal life (John 3:4-16).