You must be born again – John 3:1-12

In talking with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, Jesus makes an amazing statement. He says that in order to have eternal life in heaven, you must be born again. Such a statement is mind blowing. Humanly speaking, it makes no sense. How can someone be born again? What does it mean to be born again? Thankfully, Jesus explains what He means. Let us carefully examine this passage and see what it means to be born again.

Nicodemus was a prestigious man in Jesus’ day. He was a teacher and a great leader. He was very well respected. Perhaps this is why Nicodemus came to Jesus undercover of night. He was intrigued by the miracles that Jesus performed and was very curious as to who Jesus is. Nicodemus, though interested, is not particularly open to the truth[1] and Jesus knew it.

The Great Statement (v. 3). In verse three, Jesus makes the amazing statement, ‘you must be born again.’ The phrase to be ‘born again’ may also be translated as ‘born from above.’ In verse two, Nicodemus appears to recognize the fact that Jesus came from heaven. He says that Jesus ‘came from God.’ Though Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, He is not of this world. He came from the wonders of heaven and humbled Himself as a man. It is based on Nicodemus’ recognition of where Jesus came from that Jesus explains to him that he too can be a part of the Kingdom of God if he is also ‘born from above.’ In other words, to be a part of God’s Kingdom, you must be born into the Kingdom. Therefore, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God.

The Great Question (v. 4). Without understanding the statement of Jesus in verse three, Nicodemus asks a very logical question. Jesus makes a seemingly illogical statement which is followed by the obvious question from Nicodemus. Is it possible, Nicodemus asks, for someone to enter a second time in his mother’s womb and be born all over again? I don’t want to read too much into the text, but I sense a little sarcasm here on Nicodemus’ part. Perhaps he is thinking at this point that he is wasting his time. He comes to Jesus at night. He is a prestigious man. He is an intelligent man. As he starts a conversation with Jesus, he is told that he must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God. This sounds rather ridiculous to Nicodemus. Thus, he asks the obvious follow-up question. What Nicodemus did not understand was that Jesus was speaking of spiritual truth. You cannot respond to spiritual truth in natural ways. Nicodemus was focused on the physical world rather than spiritual things; therefore, he could not understand what Jesus was saying. We face the same dilemma today. There are many times when we are so focused on this life that we do not understand spiritual truth. Many people today fail to give their life to Christ because they are so filled up with the cares of this world. Many Christians fail to grow in their faith because they are so focused on physical things. This is exactly why Nicodemus could not understand what Jesus was saying.

The Great Answer (v. 5-8). Jesus explains to Nicodemus in verses 5-6 that you must be born of water and of spirit in order to see the Kingdom of God. It is obvious that to be born of the spirit is referring to a spiritual birth. However, what does it mean to be born of water? There are many scholars who over complicate this question. Some will say that to be born of water refers to baptism or the Word of God. However, I believe that to be born of water is a reference to physical birth. This is explained in verse 7, where He says that ‘which is born of flesh is flesh.’ So, what Jesus is saying here is that in order to be a part of the Kingdom of God you must first of all be born physically and then you must be born spiritually. To be born spiritually, is to place your faith in the Lord Jesus. As you do that, you are then birthed into the family of God.

In verse 8, Jesus uses the metaphor of wind in order to explain how someone can be born again. The word for ‘wind’ is the same word for ‘spirit’. What Jesus is explaining here is that you cannot be born of the Spirit, you cannot be saved, in your own efforts. It is a spiritual birth. The Gospel is not something that can be fully understood by man. It is beyond our comprehension. It is a God thing. When someone comes to faith in Christ, it is not something that they did, it is something that God did. Only God can save a soul from hell. Only God can bring about a spiritual birth.

The Great Response (v. 9-12). Nicodemus responds with complete awe. What Jesus was telling him goes completely against the works-based religion he believed in and practiced. To think that salvation is all of God and man can do nothing to earn his way to heaven goes against the grain of every religious teaching known to man. Jesus then explains that these truths must be accepted by faith. It cannot be explained by human reasoning. To be born again, one must believe on the Lord Jesus by faith.

There is only way to heaven: You must be born again. How can you be born again? You must believe. In our next message we will look deeper into how we can be born again as Jesus explains it further in John 2:13-21.

[1] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 186). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

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