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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

You Must Be Born Again

Holy Trinity Sunday


Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”


Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”


Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”


“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.


“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”


For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:1-17


“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” So he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and therefore a zealot for the law and pure religion. “This man came to Jesus by night.” He probably didn’t want to be seen with Him. And he said, “We know that you are a teacher come from God.”


Poor Nicodemus didn’t know what Jesus was talking about when Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (vs. 3) But before we laugh at Nicodemus, I think we’d have to say that most people today still don’t know what Jesus was talking about.


I say that because you hear questions like, “Are you a born-again Christian?” as if there were some Christians who haven’t been born again. Or, “What happened when you were born again?” as if all Christians must have had some sudden, emotional experience. Most people don’t know what Jesus was talking about, and yet here in Jesus’ statement we are confronted with the very thing that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion in the world!


The experience of God – real fellowship with God – is found only in Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” And also in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in (the Son of God) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s only begotten Son.” (John 3:18)


This, then, is the vital key of Christianity – that we, in Christ, have life in God! Which is what all other religions have had imitations of, and have sought after, but have never experienced.


The Christian religion is not one in which we all try real hard to reach out toward a holy and distant God. No – God Himself has come down to us to bring us into fellowship with Him. The world’s religions are man’s search for God; Christianity is God’s search for man. This is the key to fellowship with God. This is the miracle of the new birth.


So Jesus says we all must be born again. All of us. Everyone who “would not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) As we sinners confess in our worship service, “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” And to us in this condition, Jesus says, “You must be born again – if you would enter the Kingdom of God.” And He said, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ’You must be born again.’” But we are surprised. We do wonder what He’s talking about – just as Nicodemus wondered at what Jesus was saying.


Other religions say to man, each in its own way, “Do good – and you will become good.” Over against all other religions, Jesus stands alone and says, “You are all sinful and separated from God. And you cannot do that which is good, until you have become good.” For it’s the attitude of our hearts which makes a deed either good or bad. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us: “Without faith it is impossible to please God!”


In other words, what the world considers to be a good deed isn’t even a good deed in God’s eyes, unless the doer has faith in Jesus as his Savior. So, “Without faith it’s impossible to please God,” – much less become better and better until we’re good!


And so Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again in order to acquire the attitude of heart which alone can perform deeds that are good in God’s eyes.


But birth is only a beginning. Growth follows as a normal process, provided the conditions for growth are met. This is true of the Christian’s new, spiritual nature as well as his old, human nature. Both have requirements for growth.


A person eats, gets proper rest and exercise, and he grows. If a person refuses food, neglects rest and exercise, his body suffers. Likewise, the new nature needs nourishment and rest and exercise to be vigorous and healthy – to grow normally.


It’s a real tragedy when a child fails to grow physically and mentally. It’s also a tragedy when a Christian fails to grow spiritually! The new nature feeds on the Word of God which the Bible calls milk, bread, and meat. It is exercised by prayer, witnessing and service. It rests in worship and fellowship. It takes all of these things – consistently followed – to produce a mature Christian.


Here’s an important observation: birth and growth are not conscious experiences. You know you were born – not because you remember the experience – but because you are now alive. You know when you have grown – not because you feel it happening – but by comparing what you are with what you were.


The Christian knows he has been “born again” – not because he has had some sudden, emotional experience (though some do) – but because he is spiritually alive now. Not because he can remember back to a moment when something happened to him (though some can) – but because God is now personal and real to him – because he now trusts Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.


By the same token, he knows he is growing spiritually – not because he feels the process taking place – but because of what he is, compared to what he was!


If we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin and death, then we have been “born again.” Now, let’s yield ourselves to God so that we continue to grow!


This we pray in Jesus’ name.


Amen.

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