Jesus answered him, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless a person is born again [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, sanctified], he cannot [ever] see and experience the kingdom of God.”(John 3:3)
No one can be saved unless he is born again by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” The necessity is absolute. He did not merely say, “You may be born again if you think that you want to be,” but “You must be born again.”
Nothing else will take the place of the new birth. Neither baptism nor confirmation an be substituted for it. Simon, in the eighth chapter of Acts, was baptized and taken into the early church. But when Peter and John came down and saw his heart, Peter said to him, “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God…For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”(Acts 8:21,23) He was a baptized, lost sinner!
I often ask people to come to Christ, but they say, “I have been baptized; I have been confirmed.” Have you been born again? “You must be born again.”
No performance of religious duties will take the place of the new birth. Many people are depending on the fact that they say their prayers, read their Bible, go to church, receive Communion, and perform other duties. It all of that will not take the place of the new birth. “You must be born again.”
The simplicity of the gospel lies in the statement by Jesus to Nicodemus. Nicodemus was one of the Jewish religious leaders and as such there’s no question that he performed those duties and observances with diligence. Yet he became aware that something was missing so he came to Jesus by night with an important question. He begins by saying to Jesus that he knows that Christ come from God. Jesus’ reply catches him off guard. I’m sure he’s expecting Jesus to give him praise for all his works but instead Jesus says, “You must be born again.” Nicodemus ponders the question and asks, “How can one as old as I enter his mother’s womb again?” So Jesus says the following:
“Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot [ever] enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh [the physical is merely physical], and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be surprised that I have told you, ‘You must be born again [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, sanctified].’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it is coming from and where it is going; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
So this brings us to our first question. Have you experienced the transformative power of the Holy Spirit as He changes you from the old you to the “new creature in Christ Jesus? It can be easy to go to church and even become involved in its activities without ever being born again. I remember preaching a revival some years ago and having a gentleman come forward and asked me to lead him in a prayer for salvation. It seems that when he began dating his wife that he started going to church with her. After they were married he was asked by the church to get involved in its activities and he did so. As time progressed he was asked to be a deacon and he agreed to do so. At the time of the revival he had been serving as a deacon for 40 years. I assumed when he came forward that evening that he was coming for prayer for someone else. With tears in his eyes, he said, “I realized tonight that though I’ve been working in the church all these years, I’ve never been born again.” What a glorious moment that was!
As I worked in hospice care, I found that to often be true. I met some dear people who had gone to church and worked in the church for years who had never been born again. When they were facing the end of life and death they became aware that they had never been born again. What power that simple prayer of salvation brought. The fears and anxieties they had been experiencing melted into incredible peace and when the end came they were at rest and peace. I just heard recently the story told by a pastor who said that he had actually been a pastor for years and one day realized that he knew about God but didn’t know God in salvation. He described the wonderful sense of joy and peace he had never felt as he was born again. Many have said to me that they don’t remember the day they were born again and I’m not going to question that but I want to ask whether you’ve had the experience of being born again? For those who grow up in the church, it’s easy to become part of the church without becoming part of the kingdom of God. In a recent conversation with my children, they talked about the fact that their faith in God had been under the shadow of my and Sherry’s faith. Thankfully they have realized that they must have their own walk with God independent of mom and dad’s.
God has no grandchildren. Every generation and every individual must come to the place of being born again. Nothing can take the place of it. Merely believing in God is not enough for the Bible says that even the demons believe.
“You believe that God is one; you do well [to believe that]. The demons also believe [that], and shudder and bristle [in awe-filled terror—they have seen His wrath]!”
Yet those demons will not inherit heaven for their eternal destiny but rather will suffer eternal punishment.
Torrey says, “You can be orthodox regarding every doctrine and still be lost forever. The Devil is as orthodox a person as there is. The Devil knows the truth about the Bible. He hates it, and loves to get others to believe something else, but he believes it himself. The Devil knows the truth about Christ. He believes in the divinity of Christ. He tries to keep others from believing in it, but he believes in it himself. The Devil believes the truth about hell. No one knows better than the Devil that there is an everlasting hell. The Devil is perfectly orthodox, but he is lost. “You must be born again.” Culture, refinement, and outward morality will not take the place of the new birth. The trouble with us is not merely in our outward lives. The trouble is in the heart. The corruption is in the heart, in the very depths of our inner lives. Evelyn to reform your outward life will not save you. The change does not go deep enough.”
So then what does it mean to be born again? If going to church and becoming a better moral person and being involved in the church and its work is insufficient, then what is the proof or evidence of being born again?
2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”
Torrey says, “The new birth is a new creation. It involves a radical transformation by the power of the Spirit of God in the depths of our beings. We receive a new will, new desires, and new thoughts. We were born with a perverted will, corrupted affections, and a blinded mind. By the power of the Holy Spirit, in regeneration, God transforms our wills, our affections, and our tastes. He transforms our way of looking at things.”
Paul sums up this transformation this way in Philippians:
“But whatever former things were gains to me [as I thought then], these things [once regarded as advancements in merit] I have come to consider as loss [absolutely worthless] for the sake of Christ [and the purpose which He has given my life]. But more than that, I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [and of growing more deeply and thoroughly acquainted with Him—a joy unequaled]. For His sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all garbage, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him [believing and relying on Him], not having any righteousness of my own derived from [my obedience to] the Law and its rituals, but [possessing] that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. And this, so that I may know Him [experientially, becoming more thoroughly acquainted with Him, understanding the remarkable wonders of His Person more completely] and [in that same way experience] the power of His resurrection [which overflows and is active in believers], and [that I may share] the fellowship of His sufferings, by being continually conformed [inwardly into His likeness even] to His death [dying as He did]; so that I may attain to the resurrection [that will raise me] from the dead.”
If this doesn’t describe you, may I invite you to be born again? Just bow before God, confess to Him that you are a sinner. Repent of those sins, ask Christ to cleanse your heart and forgive you. Let the Holy Spirit transform you from sinner to born again child of God through His supernatural power.
Finally let me say that the transformation morally, our involvement in the work of the church are the outflow of being born again. None of the practice of these things is sufficient to save us so they do not lead to salvation. However, when we are born again, our changed hearts will desire morality and serving God will become a delight and privilege. It may take some time for your habits to catch up with your transformation but one indicator that you have been born again is that even when you find yourself engaged in former sinful things, they give you no pleasure. You become aware of sin and when you miss the mark, you know that you have done so. Don’t give up at this point. Keep coming to God for the daily cleansing by the Holy Spirit through the blood of Jesus. Change the way you think about yourself. If you have been born again, you are no longer a sinner; you are a new creation, a child of God.
Dr. John Thompson