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Let’s pray. Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from the Gospel according to John, chapter 3. We have been working our way through John’s Gospel since September, and at the end of chapter 2 we were introduced to another kind of “faith.” You might want to put that in quotation marks because it’s a faith that is not actually saving faith. We’re used to thinking of just two different responses to Jesus. You have pro-Jesus, anti-Jesus. We have the disciples who are for Jesus. We have many of the Jewish authorities in John’s Gospel, they are against Jesus. And so we tend to think if we’re for Jesus, then we must be some of the good guys. And yet we saw, at the end of chapter 2, verse 23, “many believed in His name,” sounds good, except verse 24 tells us “but Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them.” And it’s actually at its root the same Greek word translated “believed” in verse 23 and “entrust” in verse 24. They believed in Jesus and Jesus did not believe in them. There was a trusting, so-called, that He did not trust. That’s what we saw last week. Last week was the general principle, and now in chapter 3 we come to the “for example.”
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Several years ago John Piper wrote a book called What Jesus Demands of the World. And it was a look at the Gospels, and in particular all the things that Jesus commands of the world. Isn’t it good to know what Jesus demands of the world? And the very first chapter in that book was on John 3, verse 7. Here’s what Jesus demands of the world: “You must be born again.” And lest we think that Jesus was only speaking to Nicodemus, you may notice that in some of your Bibles in verse 7 there will be a little footnote by the word “you” and you look down and it tells us that this is a plural “you.” Of course, once “ye” dropped out, we have just “you” singular and “you” plural look the same, unless you live down here and you have “y’all,” which is nice. It hasn’t yet worked into our English translations. Or in the upper Midwest, “you guys.” But that’s what it is. Jesus is speaking not only to Nicodemus, but to y’all. He’s speaking to everyone. This is a universalizing “you.”
One theologian says the plural “you” sets Jesus over against not just Nicodemus, but the entire human race. You and you and you and you and you and you and you must be born again.
This is not a word from your parents, not ultimately a word from your friends, from your annoying Christian roommate, from your pastor. This is a word from Jesus. Jesus Christ, the One that we’ve been singing about. The One that we’re all decking the halls about. This One, this One says to you: “You must be born again.”
John Witherspoon, of whom I’m a great fan, has a book A Treatise on Regeneration from 1764. It’s quite a good book; I wish someone would put it into print again. Here’s what he says about this verse: “By whatever name you are called, whatsoever leader you profess to follow, whatsoever ordinances you enjoy, if you are not born again, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”
That’s absolutely right. Whatever name you are called. Whatever leader you profess to follow. Whatever books you have read. Whatever church you belong to. Whatever sort of ordinances and hymns and signs that you can attend to, if you have not been born again, Jesus says you will not enter the kingdom of God.
Let’s talk about Nicodemus. He’s the example of what we saw at the end of chapter 2. Some who were entrusting themselves to Jesus but Jesus was not ready to entrust himself to them. Notice who Nicodemus is. We read in verse 1 he is a Pharisee. You know who the Pharisees were. They were the religious conservatives. They took the law seriously. They were teachers, scholars. If you’re familiar with the New Testament, you hear “Pharisee” and you expect there to be sort of scary music in the background, you know, or kind of the Imperial Death March… “Da da da da datada here come the Pharisees.”
But that’s not how they were viewed. The Pharisees would have been the people writing the books that church people would read. They would have been the people speaking at the conferences. They would have been the people who the pastors would have been quoting. These were the popular people with the common folk because they took the Law very seriously. Now some of them turned out to be hypocrites, Jesus would show, but they were the religious conservatives, the people who said “yes, this matters to us.” Nicodemus was one of these fellows. He was a Pharisee.
And then it says he was also a ruler of the Jews. This means that he was a part of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was composed of Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sanhedrin was the highest national institution in charge of Jewish affairs. It was sort of like the Congress and the Supreme Court rolled into one. They were the ones underneath Rome’s imperial authority who were granted a fair amount of authority to exercise on behalf of the Jewish people. So he’s not only a Pharisee, that’s good, he’s a part of the Sanhedrin, this very select group of Jewish leaders in charge of their religious political national life, and we can also surmise that he was probably some sort of elder statesman. You notice in verse 4: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Now we don’t know for sure, but it seems as if he’s asking the question because he considers himself to be an old man. He’s a Pharisee. He’s a part of the Sanhedrin. He’s an elder statesman. In fact, it’s quite possible that his name “Nicodemus” is mentioned because he was somebody that folks would have heard about.
So think about what we know of this man. He was an impressive religious figure. It’s sort of like saying at the very introduction: “Now there was a man, a pastor, an author, R. C. Sproul was his name, and he came to Jesus by night.” Or Tim Keller, or John Piper, or whomever. And you would read that and you would think “oh, this is going to be good. I know this guy. I like pastors. I like authors. I’ve read this guy. This is going to be good. He’s coming to Jesus.”
But notice not only who he was, but notice what Nicodemus says. Look at verse 2. He makes five positive assertions about Jesus. First he calls Him a rabbi. A title of respect, sort of like saying “your honor.” And it’s significant because Jesus had no formal rabbinical training that He should have been set aside as a rabbi, but His disciples have called Him that and now Nicodemus calls Him a rabbi, this honorific title. So Nicodemus is approaching Jesus much better than some of the Jews did back up in chapter 2 verse 18 when they say to Him “what sign do you show us for doing these things?” Those were the people who sort of crossed their arms and said “What gives? Who are You that you’re flipping over tables and driving out money-changers from the temple?” No, Nicodemus comes to Him and he calls him “rabbi.”
Second, he calls Him a teacher, “so You’re one from whom we will learn God’s will and God’s ways.”
Third, he says “You are from God.” Now this is a big deal. Jesus will later be crucified in part because the religious establishment could not accept that He was from God. And later in John’s Gospel we will read some people say “now is it true that You have a devil?” They don’t think He’s from God, they think He’s possessed by Beelzebub himself. But not Nicodemus. He says “you’re a rabbi, you’re a teacher, you’ve come from God.”
John 9:16 reads “some of the Pharisees said ‘this man is not from God.'” So many of the Pharisees came to the opposite conclusion of Nicodemus and they said “well, we know that this is not somebody that God sent to us.” Nicodemus says “no, He is, He’s a rabbi, He’s a teacher, He’s sent from God.”
The fourth thing he affirms about Him are the signs. “No one can do these signs that You do.” So he doesn’t deny the miracles, they were not in question. He does not try to explain them away. He says “I can see with my own two eyes what power You possess. I’m not denying the signs. I see the signs.”
And the fifth affirmation at the end of verse 2: “Unless God is with Him.”
So Nicodemus comes and he says “You’re a rabbi, You’re a teacher, You’re from God, I see the signs, and there is no doubt in my mind that God is with You.” Nicodemus is making a lot of true statements. In fact, we have no record of him making any false statements. He’s not said anything here that’s wrong. He’s got five out of five on the theological quiz. 100%, way to go, Nicodemus! You got all of these right!
So here we have Nicodemus, a decent, educated, religious man with impressive credentials, social standing, and he thinks very highly of Jesus. And he’s not going to heaven. Well, at least not at this point in his life. There’s debate among scholars whether Nicodemus in the rest of the Gospel shows himself to finally get it, or whether he never really does, we’ll save for another day, but don’t miss this. There may be people here within the sound of my voice, a lot of religious credentials, impressive people, well-educated, know very many true things about Jesus, affirm all sorts of good things, say “I really like this Jesus,” and you’re decent, you’re respectable, you have high social standing, and you are not on your way to inherit the kingdom of God. That’s Nicodemus.
He saw Jesus. He saw the signs. And according to Jesus, he was not in a position to see the kingdom of heaven. It’s possible to see one without the other. And what does he mean by the “kingdom of God?” Well, the kingdom of God certainly has some reference for this life, but in this particular instance I think it’s another synonym for eternal life. If you look over in verse 15, “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life,” same thing in verse 16, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In Matthew 19 we see that a rich man comes to Jesus and asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and then Jesus tells him how hard it is for rich to enter the kingdom of God. So Jesus uses those two phrases interchangeably. He asks about inheriting eternal life, Jesus talks about entering the kingdom of God. So the two phrases can be used interchangeably.
How surprising it must have been. A first century Jew, to learn that Nicodemus of all people, was not bound for the place of blessing at Abraham’s side. It would be like you learning that somebody who had gone to all the right schools, had all the right education, had gone to your favorite seminary, had been an effective pastor and preacher and author and then Jesus comes along and says “well, you’re not going to see the kingdom. Not now. Not in this state.”
And perhaps it was because of Nicodemus’s privileged position that he was in such a dangerous predicament. Those who are in a lofty station are often in more danger. It’s no coincidence that so often in the Gospels it is those who have nothing left to lose who finally say “Jesus, wash all of me, I’ll use my hair to wash, I’ve nothing left, I’m completely broken, spent, humble to the dust,” those people come to Jesus. It is hard for those who have so much to lose, who may want to sort of think about a cost/benefit analysis.
There’s lots of speculation about why Nicodemus came at night. We don’t want to overdo it, but certainly there is some element here that he probably doesn’t want to be seen, and it may even be John’s way of bringing this to our attention because there’s so much in John’s Gospel about the contrast between darkness and light, and here is one who’s coming to Jesus and he’s not yet ready to come into the light, but he’s coming in darkness. He doesn’t see. He’s nervous. He’s an important person. Some of you are important people. You’ve got a lot to lose. You seem like you’re really, really believing every word of this book. You’re a kind of Jesus crazy? It’s okay to be, you know, pro-Jesus, but don’t get carried away. This was Nicodemus –”I’ll come at night, nobody around, all my friends are asleep, I do like this guy, I’m curious about Him, I do want to learn more about Him, but I better come when nobody is looking.” Because he had so much to lose.
And as we’ll see, Jesus was not actually teaching anything that wasn’t in the Old Testament already. We’ll see that more next week. But from what we can tell, He was teaching something new in mainstream Judaism in the first century. This was something that Nicodemus should have gotten but he didn’t get and it seems that many people did not understand, this need to be born again.
I brought up a big book here. You see this? It’s a brick of a book. Whew. It’s called the Mishnah. What’s the Mishnah? The Mishnah is a kind of Jewish law code, constitution. It would be considered really one of their holy books. It’s a commentary on oral traditions, on different parts of the Torah. It dates to the end of the second century and it compiles rabbinical sayings and teachings and traditions from the first and second century. So it doesn’t tell us for sure what Jews thought around the time of Jesus, but it gives us some indication of maybe what some of the rabbinical opinions and how some people thought around the time of Christ.
There’s a section in that big book called “Sanhedrin” and we find in there a discussion about who will share in the world to come. It starts by saying “all Israelites have a share in the world to come.” There’s the blanket statement: You’re an Israelite, you get a share in the world to come. And then it lists some exceptions: It says those who teach heresy or read heretical books, and then it says three kings and four ordinary folk don’t make it into the world to come. If this were a smaller classroom, I’d see if you could get them. But here’s the kings: Jeroboam, Ahab, Manasseh. Here’s the four ordinary people: Balaam, Doeg, Achitophel, and Gehazi. Look ’em up. And then it says the generation of the flood; they don’t make it. The men of Sodom; they don’t make it. The spies who brought a negative report of the Promised Land; they don’t make it. The party of Korah that rebelled, and then the generation who died in the wilderness. And then in each of these are different opinions by this rabbi who says this and this rabbi who says that. All Israelites will enjoy and have a share in the world to come, that’s what the Mishnah says. And then there’s some exceptions.
And it strikes me that this would have a lot of resonance with people today. This is kind of how we think about inheriting the kingdom of God, how we think about eternal life. If you were to ask most people in this country, they’d say, yeah, kind of, everybody makes it, right? And we think, you know, especially as Christians, if you’re in a church, if you said you like Jesus, if you prayed the prayers sometime, they all make it, okay? So most people, you all make it, eh, well, of course there are some really bad people. We can’t everybody. I mean, you gotta have some place for Hitler, you’ve gotta have some place for Stalin, you’ve gotta have some place for really bad people. So that’s how many people tend to think about it. You’re kind of all in except, I mean, you know, unrepentant murderers, they don’t make it in; people who, you know, burn their Bibles, heretics, but otherwise, you’re in.
It strikes me that this is pretty common today. And it also should strike us that this is not at all how Jesus saw the matter. He says to Nicodemus, and to us, “you must be born again.” Implying that “you are out until something and someone supernaturally puts you in.” See? It was just the opposite. They thought “we’re in unless we’re really, really bad, rotten people and then we kind of, you know, have no choice but God has to kick us out.” Jesus says, “No, you are out unless this sovereign supernatural work invades your heart. You must be born again.”
Ken Witherspoon says “all men are originally of one character, unfit for the kingdom of God.” That very simple statement will set you on radically different trajectories. Do you believe we are born into the world basically fit for the kingdom of God unless we really make a mess of things, or are we born into this world of such a state, of such a nature, of such an inheritant from Adam, that we are naturally unfit for the kingdom of God? Those are two different religions.
And some of us think, though we wouldn’t express it quite this way, we think, “well, we’re maybe a little better than Nicodemus.” Or we think, “well, you know, my kids are the exception to the rule.” Hey, we’ve seen your kids; they’re not.
You think Jesus was maybe overstating things just a bit? You know, what He really meant was “just try your best.” That’s the religion of many people. “I’m a Christian and I do my best, and God looks at me doing my best, being good, being religious, being decent, saying thumbs up to Jesus, and He says thumbs up to you.” Jesus means to blow that up.
What does it mean to be born again? Let’s be clear about what it does not mean. It’s not a reference to any sort of physical birth. Nicodemus asks in verse 4 “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter into his mother’s womb and be born?” Now don’t think that Nicodemus was just so thick that he was thinking to Jesus, “Well, golly, how’s this going to work? I can’t get back in there.”
I say that to my kids sometime. You’re born and we can’t put you back.
Now, I don’t that he was just so think. I think he’s saying this with a kind of scornful gaze, sort of sarcastic. “Born again? Yeah, how’s that going to work, Jesus? You think people are going to crawl in and get out again?” No, obviously, that misses the point. There’s nothing physical about this.
What does it mean to be born again? Well, it’s not a political label. Now pollsters may make it a political label, and they may say here’s what born again, evangelical. Really good terms. I like both of those terms. Born again, you know, that was Jesus’ term first. Evangelical has a good long heritage, it means “gospel people,” though it has become to so many people just a political label, just sort of a socio-economic category, the “born agains.” That’s not what Jesus had in mind.
It’s not even it’s simply a psychological state. “Well, I feel like I’ve really had something new in my life. You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” Well, yeah. Who lives in your heart? Jesus? Buddha? Krishna? Mohammed? That by itself is not a very good apologetic. So it’s not just talking about a psychological state of feeling better.
And it’s not simply a matter of personal self-identification. You’re not born again just because you say you’re born again.
So what does it mean? Well, look at verse 3 and verse 5. These two obviously stand in parallel. Jesus gives a similar construction: “Truly, truly, I say to you, amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And then in verse 5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Same construction, and so in verse 3 He says “born again” and then in verse 5 He says “born of water and the Spirit.” So those phrases stand in parallel, they are used synonymously. To be born again is to be born of water and the Spirit, to be born of the water and the Spirit is to be born again.
Okay, so what does it mean then to be born of water and the Spirit, as verse 5 says? Some people say it’s a reference to baptism. And in some traditions there’s a whole theology here built up on this that baptism causes you to be born again. It’s called baptismal regeneration, and when your kids have that water applied to them, then you have original sin washed away and you’re regenerated. That’s not what Jesus is talking about. We know it’s not what Jesus is talking about because He is speaking to Nicodemus, a first century Jew, who would have no concept of any of those things. He would not be thinking about a church sacrament that had yet to be instituted. So for Jesus to be talking to Nicodemus and use this oblique reference to water and expect Nicodemus to understand “I’m talking about baptism and something that will happen in the Church that you don’t know yet,” doesn’t really hold.
Some people say, “Well, water and spirit is a reference to physical birth and to spiritual birth. You need to be borne by water, the amniotic fluid, and you need to be born then by the Spirit.” Now both of those things might be true, but it’s not really attested in first century Judaism that water is associated with birth in this way, and it would not have been an obvious connection to the original here, as again it requires a bit much to just hear “water” and think “ah, obviously he’s talking about swimming around in the womb.” That’s not what Jesus means.
The simplest explanation of water and spirit, the simplest explanation is usually the best. And do you think about what both of those words convey? They both speak of newness. In fact, to get technical, if you look at verse 5 you can see that there is one preposition governing both nouns. It doesn’t say “born of water and of the Spirit,” but “born of water and the Spirit.” “Of” is the preposition there. Which means that water and the spirit are also standing next to each other. He’s not thinking of two different things, but he’s thinking of the same thing which he’s describing in the one hand as one water and in the other hand as the Spirit. Both speak of newness.
The imagery comes from Ezekiel. Ezekiel chapter 36, verse 25: “I will sprinkle,” so listen for water and spirit, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh and I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Did you hear there reference to both water had spirit? Water is to be sprinkled clean, to be cleansed, to be new, to have a clean start, a new principle at work, and then the spirit is to have a new heart, to have a live, beating heart instead of a heart of stone. So that’s what Jesus means by being born again.
If you go back to John, you note that verse 3, that phrase “born again” can be translated as “born from above,” the word is “anothen” and usually you would translate that as “from above,” but Nicodemus understands it with reference to birth and so it’s translated here with “again” instead of “above,” but both speak to the same reality. There is no material difference. Jesus is saying you will not see the kingdom of God unless you are born again, unless this new thing happens to you, which is to be born from above by the Spirit of God, sovereignly in your life. It’s like water washing you clean. It’s like the Spirit changing your very heart.
And then the idea is explained again in verse 6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” Now it gets a little confusing here because Ezekiel’s prophecy is using flesh in contrast to stone, so there a stony heart is a bad heart that doesn’t feel, doesn’t act as it should, and a heart of flesh is a beating heart, a real heart. Here the contrast is not between stone and flesh, flesh being good, but between flesh and spirit, so now flesh is bad, spirit is good.
What Jesus is saying is that there are two categories: Flesh and spirit. Natural and supernatural. The fact that you are here means you have had some kind of natural birth. You have been born of flesh, you are flesh. That’s what you inherit by being born of woman. Flesh begets flesh, like begets like. That’s what you have. Jesus says, by contrast, you are not born, now normally, there’s exceptions, John the Baptist, David, quickened in his mother’s womb, but you are not, apart from the work of God, born Spirit. You are born flesh. That which is flesh is flesh, that which is from the Spirit is Spirit.
Calvin says in order that we may be his true disciples, we must become new men. We could add “new women” as well.
The doctrine is called Regeneration. It’s one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith, and it is one of the most necessary to be proclaimed clearly and frequently. The great revivals in the 18th century with the Great Awakening centered so much upon the preaching of the new birth because on both sides of the Atlantic, most of that preaching were to people who all inherited some kind of Christendom, some sort of church context, all belonged to some sort of church, and then here came Whitfield and others preaching this dynamic message, telling them that just belonging to a church was not enough. You must be born again! And it has been one of the very hallmarks of evangelical faith and theology and I fear that in our day it has all but disappeared, thought to be just a political label or thought to be just something from a bygone era, but we need to hear it. Why do we need to hear it? I’ll give you one very important reason: Because Jesus said it.
Again, here’s Witherspoon: “In whatever age or place there is a regular and settled administration of the ordinances of Christ…” (let me translate that: It says whenever you have a lot of churches) “there will be many whose religion is no more than a blind imitation of others and a desire of some title to that character which is an esteem and repute for the time being. Wherever there is much real, there will also be much counterfeit religion. Wherever there is much true piety, it is always loaded with the dead weight of many contemporary professors. Wherever there is much outward esteem waiting upon the servants of God, there will be always be many of these fair-weather Christians who follow Christ while the profession is honorable, but are unacquainted with that part of his service which consists in taking up the cross and suffering reproach.”
It was true in the 18th century and it is still true today. Wherever there are many churches, there will be many counterfeit Christians. Perhaps they know themselves to be counterfeit, or perhaps they don’t even know that they are counterfeit. Witherspoon calls them “fair-weather Christians who follow Christ while the profession is honorable.”
Let me speak to some “young people” here, which I always say is “you’re younger than me.” “Old people”, you’re older than me. So just, one way or another, we’re gonna just over the years have many more young people here, just as I get older.
But listen. You must think and you must consider these things, if you are more than a fair-weather Christian. And what will it look like to carry your cross in our world? It will probably not mean imprisonment, not yet. Probably not mean even perhaps outward hostility. But it will surely mean that you will seem very strange to your friends, to your colleagues. And I think so much of millennials cashing it in, falling away, whatever you want to call it, is because no one told them that they had to count the cost and perhaps no one told them that God was not just looking for people to go to church and like it, he was asking people, demanding of people, to be born again. And what will it mean then when your faith costs you something? When it costs you something on Sunday morning and you have to get out of bed? It costs you something in how you spend your Saturday night. It may cost you a job promotion. It may cost you friends on Facebook. It may cause people to think you are the most backwards Neanderthal of all people. “How can you think those things? Do you know that we haven’t thought those of nonsense ideas for like five years?”
And Jesus says there’s some people who trust in Me and I’m not ready to trust in them, because they’ve been around church, they’ve been in church, but they have not been born again. This doctrine of regeneration is an alarm to formalists and to moralists. To formalists, people who say “I know how to play the game, I know how to get dressed, I know how to go to church, I know these songs, I know these Bible verses, I know how to play the game, ” and Jesus comes along and says “I’m not looking for formal religion without power.” It’s also an alarm to moralists, people who say “Look, I’m not doing anything really bad, I’m still married, I’m loving my kids, I volunteer at school, I’m keeping out of trouble, I put a little bit when the collection plate goes by, I’m a good person.”
Nicodemus was undoubtedly a good person. He just wasn’t a saved person.
It’s an alarm to formalists and to moralists and it is an offense to legalists. It’s an offense because it means you have no contribution to make to being born again. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. No contribution.
What is the efficient cause of regeneration? It is not baptism, it is not the human will, it is not man’s effort, it is the Holy Spirit. Isn’t this what John records in chapter 1 verse 12: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
You played no part in your first birth. Okay, now somebody’s saying “I was really punching at it, I was really getting ready to get out, and then head down, here we come, okay?” All right. But getting to that point, you played no part in it. You played no part in your first birth. You had no part in being conceived. And you contribute nothing to your second birth. There is no cooperation in being born again. It is, to use the theological language, monergistic. Mono, one, of the one working, the one is God, it is not synergistic, with us, it is not God and you sort of coming to an agreement and saying “Today? Today should I be born again? Yes, I want to be born again.” God comes and says “I’m going to help you, you’re going to help me, we’re going to hold hands together and we’re gonna do this thing.” That’s not what Jesus says.
Jesus says, almost scandalously, in verse 8: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not where it comes from.” So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. You can’t control the wind. What a radical statement of God’s sovereign purposes in our redemption. And if you’ve been to Bible studies before, you know that this word “wind,” “pneuma” in Greek, “ruach” in Hebrew, same exact word translated as spirit. Wind/spirit, same word. The wind blows. The Spirit blows sovereignly.
So note, this new birth is neither external nor partial nor natural. It is rather internal, total, and supernatural. You contribute nothing to it. So now what? Is that it? You can’t do anything, but you need it. Let’s pray. Well, maybe that is how Jesus wants to leave us. Close to that. You cannot do anything to create it, to cause it, to birth it, to increase it. You cannot control it, but you can see it. You can’t control the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind.
I wouldn’t mind if just for a few moments a gigantic windstorm would come through our yard and push a mound of leaves, so if youth groups just looking for just a service project, I’m just saying…. I had to buy one of those backpack leaf blowers, we’re getting really serious about this. I feel like “Ghostbusters” going around with this thing, just “whoosh.” It says on the box it blows 120 miles per hour. With that, I think I should just turn it on and “whew” it should be in my neighbor’s yard, but they’re not. And even at 120 miles an hour, walking around with this thing, I can’t see the wind, but I can see the effects of the wind. Now we have, you know, have these engines and we create our own wind, but you can’t control this wind. God’s wind—you can harness it, you can see it, but you don’t control it, you don’t summon it, you don’t call it. It’s not because you will it to be so that it is.
So what does it look like then to be born again? The wrong question is “well, what do I do to be born again?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is “what would it look like if I were born again?”
I’ll give you two things: You’d have new affections and you’d have a new allegiance. You’d have new affections, meaning your inclination, your predisposition, what your heart is drawn to, your affections would be new. And your allegiance would be new. Not me, but Christ. I must decrease, He must increase. If you say it, it’s true. If You lead me, I’ll follow. If You want me there, I’ll go. If that’s Your will, not mine but yours be done. You’d have new affections, you’d have a new allegiance. Now notice I didn’t say anything about having a new suit or a new dress. But that’s what would be new about you.
You see, what I’m doing, what I’m trying to do when I preach, is just blow some hot air. You say “well, I can tell that, Pastor.” Theologically, that’s what I’m trying to do. That the Spirit through the Word would blow, blow. And it’s up to God what He’s going to do in your hearts. I can’t make your hears from stone to flesh. You can’t make your kids’ hearts from stone to flesh, or your husband or your wife or your parents, you can’t do it. You blow. Let the Spirit blow through the Word, praying O God, may this be the day when that breath of God invades their stony heart and sovereignly, supernaturally causes them to be born again. This is what Jesus demands of the world and demands of you and of me. You must be born again. Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he will not inherit the kingdom of God. That’s Jesus speaking. We would do well to consider it.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for this, Your Holy Word, and all that You mean to do in and through us for the sake of Christ. We pray asking for His spirit, and pray in His name. Amen.