Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The New Birth

The New Birth

John 3:1 ‘Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;’

“Now there was a man”: Nicodemus, like many others in Jerusalem had beheld the miracles that Jesus had been performing (John 2:23). “Nicodemus”: (nick oh DEE mus). He appears to be an honest man (John 7:50-51), and a man of some means, for he purchased about 100 pounds of spices for the preparation of Jesus’ body (John 19:39). “A ruler of the Jews”: He was probably a member of the Jewish High Court (Sanhedrin), which had jurisdiction over every Jew in the world.

John 3:2 “This man came to Him by night, and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him’”’

“Came to Him by night”: This may suggest caution or fear on the part of Nicodemus, generated by what his fellow Pharisees might think. “But there may be another reason. The rabbis declared that the best time to study the law was at night when a man was undisturbed. Throughout the day Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people all the time. It may be that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he wanted an absolutely private and completely undisturbed time with Jesus” (Gospel of John, Barclay, p. 112). “We know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him”: When Nicodemus uses the word we he may be speaking for Himself and some other Pharisees (John 12:42-43). Nicodemus had been a careful observer. The miracles (these signs) had achieved their intended purpose in the life of Nicodemus, they were objective evidence that Jesus was being accredited by God (Acts 2:22). Others, besides Nicodemus had reached the same conclusion. 

John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’”

“Jesus answered”: It appears that Jesus knew what was on the mind of Nicodemus, that is, questions concerning eternal life, which were also entertained by others (Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; Mark 12:28-34). “Truly, truly”: Jesus speaks with absolute certainty and uses the language of absolute truth. “Unless one”: This applies to all people, a universal requirement for salvation. We will find the same requirement restated in the Great Commission (Mark 16:16).

“Born again”: The word translated “again” can have a couple of different meanings: 1) It can mean “from above”. 2) Or, “anew, again”. 3) Barclay adds that the word can also mean “from the beginning, completely, or radically”. While the new birth is a birth that originates from God, and is to involve a radical change, the primarily emphasis in the above verse is probably upon the idea of “again”. “He cannot see”: “See” in the sense of experience or participate in (Luke 2:26; 9:27; Acts 2:27; Hebrews 11:5). “Thus, any man who is not born again has no part in God’s promised Kingdom. Physical lineage will not do. His circumcision as an Israelite was useless in the new kingdom (Galatians 6:15). Jesus’ answer undoubtedly startled Nicodemus. Just as ancestry is meaningless (Matthew 3:7-9), Jesus and the apostles also pointed out that a mere profession of faith is equally useless (Matthew 7:22; John 12:42-43; James 2:14-26). “The kingdom of God”: This is the Kingdom promised by the prophets (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 2:2-4), the Kingdom spoken of as “at hand” by both John and Jesus (Matthew 3:2; 4:17), and the Kingdom that would come within their own lifetime (Mark 9:1). It should be clear to the reader that this “kingdom” is not a physical empire or some Millennial reign of God upon the earth, rather the kingdom here is inherently connected with being born again, and we find people being born again in the first century (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 1:23). Therefore, the kingdom of God came in the first century. The Kingdom of God is the same relationship which is also known as the Church (Acts 20:28; Revelation 1:5-6). Among other reasons, faith and baptism are conditions associated with entrance into both (Acts 2:38,41,47). 

John 3:4 “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’”

“How”: While Nicodemus was evidently a learned man, and a man who could perceive spiritual realities (3:2), it is obvious that he is stuck. For the moment he cannot think of any other birth, other than a literal, physical birth. 

John 3:5 “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’”

“Born of water”: People who have wanted to ignore or discount the command to be baptized (born of water) have argued: 1. At best this verse is unclear and obscure. Yet this was Nicodemus’ complaint (3:5,9), and Jesus rebuked him (3:10,12) 2. Others argue that the water in the above verse refers to our physical birth. Yet that is what Nicodemus thought (3:4). In addition, how could being born physically ever be a condition for salvation, seeing that everyone already possesses that requirement? 3. Then they argue that water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So why didn’t Jesus say so? In such a case the verse would be saying that one must be born of the Spirit and the Spirit. The truth is that even the denominations can see that water in the above verse refers to water baptism. The Westminister Confession of Faith states, “All the Greek and Latin Fathers without one single exception agreed that John 3:5 refers to baptism” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 456). Many other passages place water baptism prior to salvation and a relationship with God (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38; 22:16; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-12; 1 Peter 3:21).

“And the Spirit”: At this point many writers assume that Holy Spirit’s role in the new birth is to remove our inherited sinful and depraved nature. Yet Nicodemus, while not born again, was not manifesting a depraved nature. He could see spiritual truths (3:2), he wanted to learn, and he was trying to live a godly life. The blood of Christ removes our sins and they are not removed by a mysterious operation of the Spirit (Matthew 26:28). Observe that this entire section undermines the various claims of Calvinism: 1. The obligation to be born again rests upon the individual (3:5). Man has a freewill. God does not force anyone to be born again. 2. The privilege to be born again is open to every person (no predestination here) (3:5). 3. This text does not have the Spirit operating on people randomly, while passing over the rest of mankind. 4. The Holy Spirit is not overwhelming Nicodemus.

In comparing this passage with other passages we find that water in this verse refers to water baptism, and the role or work of the Spirit in the new birth is accomplished through what the Spirit has revealed, that is, the Word of God, which is called the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). The Word of God is preached (Mark 16:15); faith is produced in an honest heart, which moves that person to repent, confess and submit to water baptism for the remission of their sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38). Thus, one is born again.

John 3:5



Kingdom of God

Mark 16:16



Shall be Saved

Titus 3:5

Renewing Holy Spirit

Washing of Regeneration


Ephesians 5:26

With the Word

Washing of Water


Colossians 2:12-13

Through Faith

Buried in Baptism

Having Forgiven us

John 3:6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”

“Flesh is flesh”: Not as some erroneously contend, “the sinful nature can only produce the sinful nature’.  John uses the word “flesh” without any association with sin (John 1:14). Rather, a physical birth (what was on the mind of Nicodemus) can only generate physical life, and cannot impart salvation. “Even if it were possible (a physical rebirth), a rebirth in the flesh would reproduce only flesh” (Gospel of John, Lenski p. 239). “Born of the Spirit is spirit”: Since man has a soul when he is born (James 2:26), the second spirit in this verse must refer to a condition of salvation or spiritual life. The Holy Spirit, through His revelation can bring about spiritual life to those who have sinned (James 1:18; Romans 1:16; Romans 10:17).

John 3:7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’”

“Do not marvel”: “Jesus must have seen astonishment in the face of this learned teacher” (Butler, p. 99). Instead of marveling, Nicodemus needs to accept what Jesus says. “You”: Nicodemus needed to be born again as much as any other person. Morality by itself could not save him and neither could keeping religious traditions, or even the commands of God, because Nicodemus had sinned. This made it clear that the Jewish people did not have an automatic ticket into the Kingdom of God. “Must”: There is no other way. The only way into the Kingdom of God is through the new birth. This only confirms the truthfulness of other passages that baptism stands between one and being lost or saved (Mark 16:16).

John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit”’

Jesus is not saying that the Holy Spirit works mysteriously or without any sort of plan, because the wind, while unseen, does not operate at random, rather definite laws do govern the movements of the wind. The point of the illustration is that while we might not be able to see the wind, we can definitely see the effects of the wind. In like manner, we can see the effects when the Holy Spirit’s message is penetrating the heart of the sinner (Acts 2:37; 16:14-15). A changed life, a new life is something that we can see (Romans 6:1-5; Ephesians 4:17-32). Consider how Jesus is trying to help Nicodemus. He is saying, “Take the wind for an example, you can’t see it, yet you can see its effects. You can’t literally see the heart being opened, but you can see the results”.

Mark Dunagan |
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017