Jesus told Nicodemus, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7). We must be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6, 8). Does that cause you to marvel? Are you amazed that in this age of eclecticism, unbridled tolerance, and relativism someone would be so bold as to claim there is a single solitary essential of salvation? Is that bigoted?
The context of those words was one Rabbi talking to another. Nicodemus was a religious man. As a rabbi he was beneficiary of a high quality of education relative to the day. He was probably well to do. He was outwardly clean and polished. He was religiously well dressed. He was in a position of prestige. He had all the advantages of being a prominent person in his society and culture. And yet when in the presence of Jesus this religious man of note was told, “You must be born again.”
What about people in the church who don’t believe a person has to be born again to enter God’s kingdom? What about people of other faiths: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews? What about good atheists and agnostics? What about the millions who admit they simply don’t know? Or what about the millions who say you can’t know? Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). That narrow but saving way is, “You must be born again.”
Why is it so important to be born again? Because without being born again humans are spiritually dead. We are dead in sin. Physically we will die. But there is much more than that. Because of sin we are dead to God. We are out of relationship with Him. Our sin separates us from Him (Isaiah 59:1-2). He is Holy and requires we be holy (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15-16). People forget about that. People concoct or create an image of “God” that doesn’t exist. Their “God” condones sin and immorality. They disregard God’s definition of sin in scripture and call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). That is unacceptable and repulsive to God. If we cherish sin in our hearts God will not hear us (Psalm 66:18). God is of purer eyes than to look upon evil and “cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13). And we are evil!
God in His word states, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). In Psalms David states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Solomon was inspired to write, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). All this sin works death in us. In Ephesians Paul contrasts believers with what they once were by stating, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Eph. 2:1-3). Evil, iniquitous, unjust, dead in trespasses and sins, walking worldly, under Satan’s influence, disobedient, and fleshly, that’s our human condition. Would you want to stand before a Holy God in that state? We better be born again.
We must all be transformed from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, in order to receive forgiveness of our sins and God’s inheritance of eternal life (Acts 26:18). We must be saved from our sin. We must receive “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). We must be born again!
Paul said, “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he is not His” (Romans 8:9b). It takes the Holy Spirit within us to enable us to have a saving relationship with God. Only by the Holy Spirit can someone experience, “. . . the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15). It is “The Spirit Himself” who “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). That should make us want to be born again.
Our world is confused. They foolishly think themselves wiser than God. They “marvel” at the supposed stupidity and narrowness of Christianity. But really they are cowards. They run from any conflict or integrity like it was the plague. They have grown weak as a wet noodle. They are unwilling to stomach what it takes to confront sin and stand in the gap for those running toward hell. They would rather allow people to fornicate while their house burns down around them. Some hide from personal accountability by claiming eternity is esoteric; unknowable. Therefore they claim every road leads to the same place; a nirvana of some kind. They think this philosophically prudent in terms of avoiding conflict. “Can’t we all just get along?” “Give peace a chance.”
But if all roads are right and all beliefs true it raises a lot of logical reasonable questions about the many contradictions such a worldview creates. Is there one God or many gods? Is He personal or impersonal? Has “God” communicated with us? Can we communicate with Him; or Her? Is there a heaven? What’s it like? How do we get there? Do we work our way to heaven? What “work” is sufficient? How much work is enough? Can we be sure? Is getting to heaven a religious or spiritual journey? Are those two things in agreement or conflict? Is there a right, a wrong? There’s a myriad questions and humanity is seeking answers while in a dark dead state. All the while there is this ache within pondering there must be more than this. There is. We must be born again.
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7). In love as a free gift of His grace God in Christ came into this world of sin. He reached down into the toilet of this world and made a way for us to be cleaned from the filth of sin. He has shined His light into our darkness. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9). The kindness and love of God has appeared. It does not speak of working your way out of this sinful mess. It speaks of mercy; not getting what we deserve. It speaks of salvation to those lost in sin. It speaks of thorough heart cleansing. It speaks of renewal; transformation by the Holy Spirit. It speaks of abundance. It speaks of the possibility to be justified before God or have a standing that is just as if I’d never sinned. And it speaks of all of this through Jesus Christ. His blood shed for us. The penalty for sin is death. He paid our penalty. He died for us. (Romans 6:23). He is faithful. He is just. He will forgive our sins. We can be born again!
If this salvation, this washing of regeneration, this spiritual birth, this second birth or being born again is not of works, then how can we experience it? “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Receive Him. Take hold of Him, grasp Him. Just take hold of the gift He is offering. Believe in His name. Have faith in Him and all He stands for and has revealed. Be convinced. Trust Him. Rely on Him. Have confidence in Him as your Savior. All of this implies repentance. God’s offer entails turning from alternatives to Jesus. He doesn’t say “receive Him and . . . .” He doesn’t say, “believe in His name and . . . .” By nature we are walking from God. He gets our attention with grace, love, mercy, sacrifice. He who knew no sin has become sin for us. He offers us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s not our blood. It’s not our human willful religious asceticism. It’s God. “You must be born again.” It’s the only way. It’s the truth. It’s life (John 14:6). Marvelous? In light of our sin, yes indeed. In light of our self-righteousness, definitely not! “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Be born again!