John 2:23 – 3:8
People can be religious and not be born again. They can go to church and do the things that people expect Christians to do. What does it mean to be born again?
Jesus, now in Jerusalem, did many more signs, and people believed in Him. But the literal translation of John 2:24 says, “Jesus did not believe in them.” Jesus knew that these people were more interested in what He might do for them than in who He was.
But Nicodemus—he was a different sort. He had an honest interest in Jesus. So to this man Jesus gave an audience. G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “Christ will always give Himself to honesty. If a man in his approach to the Lord, will state his difficulties, Christ is ever ready to receive him” (G. Campbell Morgan, The Great Physician: The Method of Jesus with Individuals).
Entrance Into Heaven
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. The Pharisees generally opposed Jesus, but Nicodemus truly loved God and his neighbor. He kept the commandments, and he epitomized ceremonial purity. Later, when the Jewish leaders condemned Jesus, Nicodemus stood against them. And Nicodemus helped bury Jesus after His crucifixion.
But all this wasn’t adequate to allow him entrance into heaven.
As they began to talk, the Lord cut right to Nicodemus’s heart: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). It seemed to Nicodemus a strange statement. He asked Jesus, understandably, how an old person could be born a second time.
What Does Born Again Mean?
Jesus didn’t answer directly. He told Nicodemus that unless one was born again, he could not see—perceive or comprehend—the kingdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). To understand the things of the kingdom, we must be born again. But, as Nicodemus asked, what does that really mean?
Man was originally created in God’s image—spirit, soul, and body—the spirit being uppermost. But when sin brought spiritual death, it essentially reduced man to a two-dimensional being. He was now predominately soul and body.
Still, we hold traces of our spiritual aspect. We are moral beings. We are also worshipers. Some worship false gods, of course, and some claim not to worship God at all. But even atheists worship heroes and ideologies. The fact that man is a moral being who worships shows the remnant of the spirit still within us. Being born again simply means having our spiritually dead part brought back to life by the infusion of the Holy Spirit.
Kingdom of God
Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus that if a man is not born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, nor can he enter it. Some feel that it is harsh to say that those who are not born again will not go to heaven. But it’s what Jesus said. Of course, God is drawing people so that they will be born again. But unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus was astonished by Jesus’ words. He could not grasp them. He was thinking in human terms rather than spiritual.
Isn’t that our problem today? We think in terms of what we can see and understand. But a lot of things that we can’t see exist, like the wind. We can only hear it and feel it and see its effects. Jesus says, “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Just as we can see the wind’s effects, so we can see the effects of being born again: A person who is born again believes that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1). He does not habitually practice sin (1 John 5:18) but instead practices righteousness (1 John 2:29). A born-again believer loves others (1 John 4:7), and he overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).
A New Life
Salvation is not a reformation or a self-improvement plan but an entirely new life. That’s what Jesus came to offer Nicodemus and to us. We must be born again. It isn’t optional. No one can be a Christian apart from being born again. If Nicodemus, a Jew and a perfect man in many ways, needed more than his goodness to get to heaven, where does that leave you and me? Have you renounced your own goodness and any hope of saving yourself? Are you born again?