You must be born again — Part 1

John 2:23-3:21

John’s Gospel remind us that something is very wrong with people:

  •  John 1 tells us that  Jesus came to his own, but his own received him not. Yet
  • John 2 records that many ‘believed’ on Him because of the miracles he did.

What did they believe about Jesus, and what were they trusting him for? Why didn’t Jesus entrust himself to them? (John 2)

  • John 6:15; The people saw Jesus’ miraculous sign of feeding, but they only wanted to make Jesus a king like David.
  • John 6:60; Some disciples rejected the idea that they needed Jesus to die for them (give his body and blood) in order that they might have eternal life.  They stopped following him because Jesus insisted on the point. They did not think that they needed to be reconciled to God.
  • John 8:31-36; Again, those who are said to have believed in Jesus rejected his teaching that they were sinners and needed him to set them free from their terrible slavery to sin and death.
  • This attitude is true of all people.  Note the flow of the last few verses of John chapter 2. The Lord Jesus knew all human beings (pantas), and he had no need to have someone explain human beings (anthropou) to him. He already knew what was in human beings (anthropw ). This is perhaps a reference to Jeremiah 17:9. What is true of one is true for all.  There was a human being (anthropos), named Nikodemos. He was a person just like every other person. He is our case study.  He had seen the signs that Jesus had done. He concluded that Jesus must have come a teacher from God, yet something was very wrong with Nikodemos.

People must be born again:

This is another way of saying that God must act if any human being is to be put right with him. This is not something we can manage for ourselves.  Nikodemos did, and did not, see this. Jesus had said to him:

Unless a man/woman/child be born again (or from above), he or she cannot see the kingdom of God,” nor can they enter in. [1]

One of our problems is that we cannot see that we are out of favour with God. Unless we are born again, we will either deny the existence of God, or, if we claim to believe in God, we will deny that there is a problem with the relationship.

Another problem is that we cannot do anything ourselves about the problem even if we acknowledge there is one. What did you do in order to be born?

Again, we cannot appreciate God’s way of dealing with our sin problem, unless we are born again.

Nikodemos thought of the solution which Jesus offered merely in physical terms, ‘How can an old man like me be born again?’ Surely, he thought, this is impossible (mee dunatai).

Jesus’ reply to Nikodemos contrasted the life of a human being as Adam left us …

  • in a condition of sin and misery
  • which is implied in the words ‘that which is born of flesh is flesh’
  • that is, dead in sin because of Adam’s sin and doomed to die for that reason.

… to the life which Jesus Christ alone can provide us

  • in a condition of acceptance and forgiveness
  • which is implied in the words ‘that which is born of spirit is spirit’ (or ‘spiritual’),
  • that is, alive in Christ, because of who his is and what he has done.

Even a learned Pharisee, steeped in the Scriptures from his youth, did not see what Jesus was talking about. But he should have understood. “Are you a teacher in Israel, and you don’t know these things.” God had revealed what he meant to do for sinful people in Old Testament, namely that God would come and save.

God acted for us.

  •  The Spirit of God acts sovereignly in the new birth (John 3:8) changing heart, mind and will. The Spirit gives us the ability to trust Jesus by applying work of Christ to us.
  • The Son of God was lifted up (John 3:14-15) just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. Moses was told to make a model of the snakes that God had sent as punishment for sin.  People who were bitten by the snake were simply to look to that bronze snake and they would be healed. If they did not, they would die.  Being ‘lifted up’ was the way Jesus described his death on the cross.  It is the same language that he used in John 12:32-33.
  • God the Father sent the Son to do these things for us (John 3:16).

Please see Part 2.


[1] Compare Matthew 5:20 – Our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees and Scribes. E.g., We need Christ’s righteousness, which comes to us with faith in the new birth.  Who is the great one in the kingdom of heaven? The one who teaches and does every scratch and tick of the law, namely, Jesus Christ the righteousness one. He becomes our righteousness if and when we trust him.