The Sinner’s Must - “You must be born again” (3:7)
George Whitefield, mighty preacher of the 18th century revivals in England and America (i.e. The Great Awakening - in America) was frequently asked why he always preached that man must be born again. “Why do I preach you must be born again?” said Whitefield? “Because you must be born again!”
In this passage of scripture Jesus is speaking about spiritual regeneration. In this material world we look at each other and see life. When someone dies or some form of life dies it is evident to us, e.g. it stops breathing; it’s heart stops beating; it decomposes, etc. But there is another dimension we don’t readily consider, the realm of the spirit. This realm is unseen. The Bible tells us that we are not born with spiritual life but must be born again or experience a second birth, a spiritual birth. If we do not, we are dead spiritually.
What causes this spiritual death? Sin causes death physically, mentally, and spiritually (Rom. 6:23). Sin is living in disobedience to God. It is settling for physical material life while neglecting or not experiencing spiritual life. If we die physically without being “born again” we will go into an eternal existence separate from God in a place of torment called hell where God’s just penalty for sin and spiritual death will be properly imposed for eternity. But if we are “born again” we will live eternally with God in a place called heaven which is a place of endless blessing in the wonderful presence of the Lord. For this to happen, you must experience spiritual birth, be born of the Holy Spirit, “You must be born again.”
How can we be born again?
John 1:12-13 states, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Being born again involves simply turning from your sin, giving up your sinful ways, and turning to God to receive by faith His gracious gift of salvation provided through Jesus. Being born again is a work of God not humanity (cf. also John 6:29). It is a work of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin (John 16:8-11), and draws the sinner to the Father (John 6:44). This spiritual birth can perplex us at times, but that is because it is an incredible work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:7-8).
Our church has an annual baptism at a public beach on the north shore of Long Island. During this service on the shore I give an evangelistic open air message. To illustrate what it means to be born of the Spirit I once scoured the shore of the beach for a horseshoe crab shell. I use the shell to show that we can easily observe that the horseshoe crab is dead. It isn’t breathing. It isn’t moving. Its innards are empty leaving only a shell of what it used to be. In this material world of ours it’s easy for us to see that life has left this shell. But there’s more to existence than what we can see in the material world. There is a spiritual dimension. From the material dimension it’s not always easy to determine if one is alive or dead. We can sometimes mistake religious or altruistic activity for spiritual life when in fact a person is spiritually dead. Sometimes we are mere empty shells. Jesus said some people are tares amongst wheat. That is, some people look good on the outside but are empty or lifeless on the inside. Jesus has so much more than that for us. Jesus said just like we were born into the material world, we also need to be born again, born a second time spiritually. This second birth happens in the heart and fills the heart with the Holy Spirit who makes Christ’s presence known.
How can we determine spiritual life? Here are some evidences that show spiritual life:
1. Spiritual – John 3:6
2. Obedience – John 14:21
3. Understanding of God’s word – John 14:26
4. Personal saving relationship with Jesus – John 15:26
5. Guided into God’s truth – John 16:13
6. Holy Life – As the Holy Spirit lives in them – John 20:22
7. Assurance of salvation – 1 John 3:24; 4:13
8. Love – Rom. 5:5
9. Righteousness, peace and joy – Rom. 14:17
10. Fruit – Gal. 5:22-24
Read these scriptures references. Do you have these in your life? Have you been born of the Spirit? If not you are spiritually dead and risk spending an eternity separate from God.
Sin is disobeying the laws of the Holy God of love. He has created us and given a manual (the Bible) for people to live by to experience His best in life. Those who disregard and disobey this manual are in rebellion against God and His enemies. Their rebellious behavior is sin and that sin causes pain, suffering, and opposes the will of God. God who is just imposes a penalty for such sin – eternal death. The only way the death penalty for such sin to be justly and righteously paid is for a death to occur. But not just any death; since sin stains people it disqualifies them for paying the proper death penalty. Therefore only a perfect sinless atoning death would suffice. Jesus, as a gift of God’s grace, went to the cross and paid that death penalty for humankind. To be born again all a person therefore has to do is turn from their sins repent) and by faith in Christ receive God’s gift of forgiveness based on the death penalty Jesus paid for us.
The Savior’s Must – “. . . even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (3:14)
In Numbers 21 the children of Israel complained against the Lord resulting in a plague of pain-producing biting serpents. The people were dying. They cried out to the Lord. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole and lift it up before the people. Then if they looked at the bronze serpent on the pole they would be healed and live. Jesus referred to this OT incident because it was a prophetic picture of what He must do.
The snake is sin. It was cast in bronze because bronze is a metal that speaks of judgment. What did this correspond to in the NT? To the cross. Jesus became a snake for us so that our sin could be judged and put away and we could be healed. Sin has painful venom. There is always a painful consequence to sin. Jesus is the antidote for those snake bitten by sin. Look to Jesus in faith and live!
2 Corinthians 5:21 - 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The Servant’s Must – “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30)
We are saved to live our lives in old sinful ways. We are saved to enter in service of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. When we are born again the Holy Spirit comes to dwells in us, in our heart, to give us spiritual life (Rom. 8:9-11; 10:9-10). When the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us He comes to make us holy. What is holiness? It is loving God supremely with the love the Holy Spirit puts in us (Rom. 5:5), but second to that it is loving others sacrificially (Mat. 22:37-40; John 13:35). That means living a life of loving service toward God and others.
John the Baptist is the perfect picture of this. He knew he must decrease; he must put his desires; his self-centeredness aside; and replace it with a life that lifts up Jesus. Jesus said to find life you have to die to self (Mat. 10:39). Truer words were never spoken.
The world will tell you push others aside; put yourself and your interests first; if you don’t look out for yourself who will? That is a very low and fruitless way of life. Instead, when we are born again through faith in Christ we find life by giving up self. You have to willfully give up your life; put it to rest; bury it; in order to find full and rich meaning in the life of Christ. You see your flesh or self, your sinful nature is so obsessed with self that it will compete with and get in the way of God’s best for you. He will say one thing and your flesh will compete against God’s word. You have to die to self. That requires us to trust God and surrender ourselves, our flesh to the cross of Christ (e.g. Gal. 2:20). The only way to abundant life is for Jesus to increase in your life and you, your fleshly sinful nature to decrease.
A Second Work of the Spirit – The Baptism with the Holy Spirit
Jesus told His disciples (i.e. learners) to wait and receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit which would give them power to witness and serve Him (Acts 1:4-5, 8). Jesus is “He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). This is a purifying (Acts 15:8-9) and empowering (Acts 1:8) experience where we don’t get more of the Holy Spirit but He gets more of, all of us. It’s called baptism because we are totally immersed in the Holy Spirit. This is full surrender, abandonment to the will of the Spirit (Rom. 8).
Have you been born again? Do you believe and trust in Jesus atoning cross work? Are you a servant of the Lord? Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit and empowered to serve Him? These are must questions we should consider seriously. I pray the Spirit compels you to experience fully all He has for you.