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Friday, December 20, 2019


"Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' 4 Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' 5 Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."'
John 3:3-5

Few ideas grip the imagination like the image of a worm transforming into a butterfly. The apostle Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” and he used the word for “metamorphosis.” (Romans 12:1-2) You can become what you are not! Jesus said you must be “born again.” The power that brings that about is the power of the Gospel message (Romans 1:16).  Let us consider what Jesus taught about the new birth.

It is widely taught that one is “born again” before and without baptism. The problem with this teaching is that Jesus clearly taught that one cannot be born again without obeying the true Gospel of Christ. Peter calls it the imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:22-23).  John 3:3-7 says that to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born againSo what does that new birth include?  Simply two essential elements:  one must be born of water and of the Spirit to become a child of God. Those who disregard what Jesus taught on this matter are not abiding in the doctrine of Christ and do not have God and are thus misleading many into error.  They are teaching the doctrines and commandments of men!  They are blind guides misleading and deceiving many souls to their own destruction (2 John 9-11; Gal. 1:8,9; Matt. 15:9,14; etc.).  New birth and radical transformation must happen for Jesus to heal us of our sins.  We can only have a relationship with Him when we look to Him, desiring to do His will.  Before I get into a study on the “new birth” in John 3,  I would like to start with a little background from John 2:23-25, which provides the context of the night-time visit from Nicodemus.

 I.   THE NEW BIRTH:  (John 2:23-3:7)
"Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.  3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.' 3 Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' 4 Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' 5 Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'"

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see Jesus and John the baptizer preaching the same message.  The message is “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Both Jesus and John were baptizing.  The disciples of John even complained that Jesus was baptizing more disciples than John.  John answered that the plan of God was that Jesus the Lamb should increase while John, the friend of the bridegroom, rejoiced at His success (John 3:29-30).  John had cried out against the Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes for their unbelief and corruption, calling them “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7-8).  Let us remember that Nicodemus was a Jerusalem Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews.  This helps us understand Jesus’ message to Nicodemus in John 3.

In John 2:23-25, Jesus is visiting Jerusalem during the Passover feast. Nicodemus is introduced in chapter 3.  John records that many believed in Jesus because of the signs and miracles they saw Him perform.  John stresses the importance of the feast and its symbolism into Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus. And though many believed in Jesus when they saw the signs He did, Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, for He knew their hearts.  The word “believed”  in our context in verse 23 is the same Greek word translated as “entrust” in verse 24. The HCSB is the closest, for it says,  “…many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them…”  You see, Jesus did not believe those who believed in Him, for Jesus is God and knows the heart of each individual.  Although many believed in Him because of seeing Jesus’ miracles, they did not have a change of heart, and Jesus knew that well.  Belief must lead to a change of heart and trust in Jesus.  Don’t you think so?  Since Jesus knows man’s heart, He knew it was not happening at all.  Why?  Because these people had a veil that did not allow them to see the Truth, the Word of God, though they believed in Him.  Jesus, the Passover lamb, was going to be sacrificed, and He knew His people were going to reject Him and hand Him over to the Romans to kill Him.  How sad!  As I reflect on this scene, I cannot help but direct my thoughts to Jesus’ parable of the soils where Jesus speaks of those ears that received His Word, but sadly the seed of God’s Word did not take root and grow in their hearts.  Jesus’ insight leads us to the scene with Nicodemus.

 II.   THE NEED FOR THE NEW BIRTH:  (John 3:1-3)
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus is only mentioned in the Gospel account of John.  He was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He likewise was a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews that dealt explicitly with religious matters.  Although he was skeptical, he later became a believer in Jesus and provided spices for the burial of His body, but only after Joseph of Arimathea had secured the body (John 19:39). In John 7:50-52, Nicodemus defends Jesus but does not commit or entrust himself as one who stood with Him as the Christ.   Returning to John 3, he comes to Jesus at night, perhaps to have a more personal conversation with Him. Our text does not reveal the reason; thus, any conclusion is pure speculation.  Jesus’ miracles performed in Jerusalem at the Passover (cf. 2:23) convinced Nicodemus (and others) of the Truth that Jesus was sent from God as His Teacher (cf. 7:16).  Jesus was the Word of God (John 1:1,14). I believe Nicodemus was sincerely seeking to know Jesus in contrast to the Pharisees who were trying to ambush and discredit Jesus. But at some point, Nicodemus believes, so we will give Nicodemus the benefit of the doubt as we listen to him declare his belief saying,  “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”  Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus had come from God, but Jesus challenged him because his faith was apparently incomplete. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

In John 3:3, Jesus didn't answer the words of Nicodemus’ but rather his thoughts (cf. 2:25). Clearly, Nicodemus had come to Jesus to learn about the approaching kingdom of God (cf. Matt.3:2). Remember that Jesus was preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus declared that no one could see the kingdom of God unless he was born again. Those not born again will not "see" the kingdom of God, for they’re seeking a physical kingdom.  God’s kingdom is spiritual (Luke 17:20, 21). Thus, those who have not been born again spiritually will never understand the kingdom of God. The repentance that Jesus taught is found in Matthew 5-7 and requires a new way of thinking and living. The root of the word is “new mind.”  Even though Nicodemus had some belief, that belief was incomplete, not enough. Why?  Simply because Jesus told him that he was not in the kingdom of God. He could not see it or participate in it, even though he was a ruler of the Jews, a Pharisee, and an important religious teacher.  How can it be that Nicodemus, having believed in Jesus, was not in the kingdom of God with all of his works, effort, and his lineage to Abraham? Why did all these things not matter? Nicodemus trusted in only one birth, the fleshly one. He was born an Israelite.  Since Nicodemus failed to understand that Jesus was talking about a spiritual rebirth, he asked Jesus how an old man could be born again. The Jews believed that because they were children of Abraham by blood, circumcised, and separate from the Gentiles, they were automatically part of the kingdom.  So how could Jesus say that they were not in God’s kingdom?  To grasp this concept better, we must understand what Jesus told Nicodemus about being “born again.”  Jesus was talking about being “born again” and “born from above.”  The NRSV and NET translations render this as “born from above” instead of “born again.” The phrase “born from above” may help us understand this concept better since the phrase “born again” has been used relatively loosely, losing some of the meaning that the Gospel intended to express. In John 3:31 and 19:11, the same Greek word is used about something coming from heaven in those instances. Nicodemus apparently thought that Jesus was speaking of being “born again” or a new physical birth.  

In 1 Peter 1:22-23, we read,
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

Peter’s statement here does not have a double meaning.  Why?  Because the word in our context means “born again” (“regenerated”) and does not mean “born from above.” Peter is using a different Greek word. So the idea of being “born again” is not foreign to the Scriptures, and we must not shy away from using it, as long as the term is used with a proper understanding (which we will grasp as we go further in this study). Moreover, the apostle Paul used the same terminology in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15. Paul told the Corinthians that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature and a new creation. He told the Galatians that circumcision meant nothing unless they belonged to Christ, a new creation.  Jesus uses the picture of new birth, a birth from above, a renewal taught by God. Being born again means that though we were first born physically, we must now be born spiritually. Thus, one is born from above (heavenly) in contrast to being born physically. Both terms convey the same idea: a new birth and a new creation.

Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’”

In John 3:3, Nicodemus came to Jesus to have a conversation about the kingdom of God and how one could enter it.  Jesus declared that one cannot enter God's kingdom unless he is born again, that is, of water and the Spirit. Prior to John 3:4, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus’ response to Jesus was,  “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).  To better understand Nicodemus’ question, we might consider three possibilities.
  1. Some suggest that Nicodemus was being sarcastic when he asked these questions. However, Nicodemus becomes a believer. This automatically rules out Nicodemus’ sarcastic response. Nicodemus did not reject Jesus’ teaching with a sarcastic answer (first option).  
  2. Another possibility could be that Nicodemus was dim-witted and did not understand the spiritual discussion Jesus was having with him. I don’t think this was the case here. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews and of the Sanhedrin. So, it is evident that he was a spiritual-minded person.  And although many of the Jews were dull in hearing, I don’t believe this was Nicodemus’ case. Why? Because Nicodemus grasps the concept of the new birth that Jesus was talking about.  I believe that Nicodemus understood after hearing Jesus speak of the new birth and how to enter the kingdom of God that He was not talking about a second physical birth (second option). 
  3. I think Nicodemus grasped what Jesus was saying and acknowledged the impossible nature of Jesus’ teaching. Basically, Nicodemus was saying, “Isn’t it too late for such a change?”  If it is true that to experience a whole new birth, become a whole new person, a new creation, being born from above to be in the kingdom of God, then it is obvious that we must start life all over again.  Is it possible for one to do this after having lived a long life passing by? In the mind of Nicodemus, it was impossible that he might be incomplete and insufficient after all that he had done under the Law of Moses.  He did not understand what else could he possibly do.  How to start all over again and go back to the beginning. He couldn’t understand how it would be possible to climb into his mother’s womb and start over again. To Nicodemus, the point that Jesus was making sounded impossible. Jesus was stressing that entrance into the kingdom of God required something that he had not obtained by his own effort(third option).

Jesus gave a further explanation to help Nicodemus understand the new birth. In verse 5, Jesus added, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  No one could enter the kingdom of God without the new birth; that is, "born of water and the Spirit." This is clear in the Greek since only one preposition is used, and only one act is considered here. Jesus is not addressing two separate actions, but rather one action composed of two elements. So, what does the “water” refer to?   And what does the “Spirit” refer to? 
  • What Does the "Water" Refer to?
Some suggest that “water” refers to physical birth.  Is there any evidence for this view? None, for it is simply speculation. Let me briefly explain some observations against this position.
    1. Being born of water refers to baptism (cf. 3:22).
    2. The Gospel never uses "water" to refer to physical birth.
    3. When John 3 refers to physical birth, it was brought up by Nicodemus, not Jesus.  Nicodemus brought it up because he was confused and misunderstood Jesus’ teaching. Jesus evidently rebuked Nicodemus for this, contrasting and showing the difference between physical birth and the new birth (v. 6). 
    4. Today, those that believe that “ water” refers to physical birth are confused and misunderstand just as Nicodemus did!
    5. When we compare verse 3 to verse 5, we clearly see that being "born of water and of the Spirit" (v. 5) is just another way of saying "be born again" (v. 3). Verse 5 clarifies and explains verse 3
    6. "Born again" (v. 3) = "born of water and the Spirit" (v. 5).  Period!
So, the "water" of verse 5 is part of the new birth.  It does not refer to some other kind of birth.

Hence, “water” in John 3:5 must be water baptism, for it fits perfectly within our context.  Why?
    1. Because baptism is the only command found in the New Testament that requires the use of "water" (Acts 8:35-39; 10:47; John 3:23; Hebrews 10:22; etc.). So, in the Gospel, "water" never refers to physical birth but rather to baptism.
    2. Many other Scriptures teach that water baptism is essential to salvation.
    3. Several passages explicitly include baptism as an essential element for the new birth.
    4. Many passages tie baptism to hearing the Gospel precisely like John 3:5 does. 
    5. John 3:5 plainly confirms that water baptism is essential to the new birth Jesus was speaking about. 
  • Baptism Must Be Done for the Right Purpose:
Baptism is not just an outer act, for it must have an essential spiritual meaning, as described above. God wants our obedience from proper motives (Rom. 6:17,18; 1 Cor. 4:15; John 4:24).  When we compare this to the Lord's Supper, we find the following.
    1. When we take the communion, we eat the bread and drink the cup outwardly.  We also must recognize inwardly that it is a memorial to Jesus' body and blood. When we miss this inner spiritual meaning or fail to do it for the right reason or purpose, we are condemned even though we’re physically eating and drinking (1 Cor. 11:26-29).  It is the same with baptism.  If we want to receive the intended benefit, we must do it for the right reason.
    2. Suppose someone is baptized, believing that he is born again before or without baptism because this is what he has been taught.  Do you think he was baptized "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), that the blood of Jesus could cleanse or wash away his sins (Acts 22:16) to become a child of God (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; etc.)?  No!  Because his baptism is unscriptural and not authorized by God, for it is done for the wrong reasons, even though his outward action was right. 

Since we understand that baptism is essential to be born again, what is the condition of one who was baptized for the wrong reasons and whose baptism was not valid? Is he born again? Is he a child of God? How can he be when he refused to obey the Gospel, the only true seed that could make him a true child of God (1 Peter 1:22,23; Luke 8:11)? He must do what the twelve men in Acts 19:1-5 did. They were "baptized" (immersed) but with the right understanding and purpose. So they had to be baptized Scripturally, the way God commanded.

So, "born of water and the Spirit" means that one is born again when he is baptized in water in obedience to the Gospel Message revealed by the Holy Spirit!   It is simple, clear, and harmonizes with the Gospel Message.  When Jesus declared, “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verse 8), He was very clear about His teaching or explanation about the new birth to Nicodemus and one that he should have grasped as a teacher of the Jews:  "born of water and Spirit.” The new birth is possible only when one is born of water and the Spirit.  Take notice that Jesus agreed with Nicodemus about the impossibility of the new birth at first. Why?  Because what is born of the flesh is flesh, and the flesh affects the flesh.  The flesh speaks of the problem of sin. Thus a spiritual birth (the new birth) is necessary.  So the question at stake is:  What does it mean to be “born of water and the Spirit?” Could this answer Nicodemus’ confusion about the impossibility of a new birth? In the Old Testament, this language of water and Spirit is found in the prophets as they looked toward restoring God’s people.

In Ezekiel 36:22-29, we read,
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you.”

As we read Ezekiel 36:22-29, it is easy to find his reference point to this new birth that Jesus is speaking of.  In Ezekiel 36:33, he describes the sins of the nation of Israel as God’s reason for their exile.  And though God acted against their sins that were against Him, He was going to act on their behalf, not for their sake, but for the glory of His own name (36:22). Their sins had profaned God’s holy name.  God could not allow that to stand (36:23), for His name must be holy through all the earth to glorify Him.  God was going to cleanse them from all their uncleanness (36:25). Notice that a washing with water was to occur.  God was going to sprinkle clean water on them to wash them from their uncleanness. Moreover, God was going to give them a new heart and spirit.  God was going to remove their heart of stone from them (36:26). God was going to put His Spirit on them; that is, He was going to teach them to obey His laws carefully (36:27).  Can you see the connection here between water and Spirit?  Can you see how the imagery of spiritual birth and revival is filled through this Scripture? The Jews knew this new birth language and looked for this cleansing. Listen to the words found in the scribal writing of the Qumran “Dead Sea Scrolls.”
"Unclean, unclean shall he be all the days that he rejects the laws of God, refusing to be disciplined in the Yahad of His society. For only through the spirit pervading God’s true society can there be atonement for a man’s ways, all of his iniquities; thus only can he gaze upon the light of life and so be joined to His truth by His holy spirit, purified from all iniquity. Through an upright and humble attitude his sin may be covered, and by humbling himself before all God’s laws his flesh can be made clean. Only thus can he really receive the purifying waters and be purged by the cleansing flow. Let him order his steps to walk faultless in all the ways of God, just as He commanded for the times appointed to him. Let him turn aside neither to the right nor the left, nor yet deviate in the smallest detail from all of His words. Then indeed will he be accepted by God, offering the sweet savor of atoning sacrifice, and then only shall he be a party to the Covenant of the Eternal Yahad" (1Qs 3:5–12).

Undoubtedly, Ezekiel was prophesying a time when God would give new life to people.  A time when God would wash them clean and give them a new heart and a new spirit. This new birth would be the transformation into a pure and clean heart that would make it possible to enter the kingdom of God. This complete transformation (new birth, new creation) would bring life to them from the dead.  A cleansing of the heart would occur so that they could follow God in holiness.  It would be a time when their stony hearts would no longer be of stone, but rather they would be of flesh.   Their tender hearts would be pricked, and they would hunger and thirst after God’s righteousness.  This is beautiful beyond words!!

When one believes the Word as revealed by the Spirit and is immersed in water (baptism) for the remission of sins, he is born again and added to God's spiritual kingdom!  Jesus continued addressing this subject in John 3:6-8.
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." 

One is "born of water and the Spirit" when he believes the Word as revealed by the Spirit and is immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins (Acts 2:38, I Peter 1:22,23, Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:26, and I Corinthians 4:15). One can only become a "new creation" or is "born again" when he is  "in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17).  One must be baptized to get "into Christ" (Gal. 3:27).  What Jesus declared to Nicodemus is still true today.  Why?  Because no one can enter into God's spiritual kingdom without being born again.   We must believe the Word of God and have our sins washed away through baptism to enter the kingdom of God.

In verse 6, Jesus made a distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth. He did this to help Nicodemus understand that it is the spirit and not the flesh that is "born again." Jesus then stressed the point in verse 7 that none are exempt from this requirement, not even a religious leader like Nicodemus.  Indeed, verse 8 (“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’”) is a challenging passage.  And it is often misquoted in an effort to show that as the wind's operations are unknown, so it is also the Spirit's mode of operation in the new birth. I must stress that the Scripture in context is not comparing the wind and the Spirit but rather the wind and the one who is born again.  I think that the reason for this verse to be difficult to understand is partly due to the translation of the Greek word “pneuma.” The word “pneuma” is used several hundred times in the Greek New Testament, and it is rendered "spirit" or "Spirit," but never "wind" (except at the beginning of this verse). If we were to change the word "wind" to "Spirit" here, then the meaning would be:  The Spirit breathes or expresses Himself through the Word of Truth (the Gospel), and it's in complete harmony with His will through His Word.  And though we cannot see the Spirit and have no visual evidence of His coming and going, it is through the hearing of the Word (as expressed through the Word, the Gospel) that we are born again and nothing else.  Now, suppose the "wind" is the correct translation here. Then that would imply that Jesus is plainly stating that man cannot see the wind but can see the effects of the wind.  This would be just the same for the one who cannot see the spiritual aspect of the new birth but rather can see the effects of the change (cf. Gal. 5:22,23).

“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus’ teaching here is not just for Nicodemus but also for all the Jews.  When Jesus said to Nicodemus in verse 7, “You must be born again,” the “You” here is plural. Jesus told the nation that they must be born again (experience the new birth) and not just to Nicodemus.  John 3:8 continues this imagery from Ezekiel, as mentioned above.  After Ezekiel revealed this prophecy about the new birth, he is given a vision of life and restoration for the people of Israel in Ezekiel 37. There is a fine distinction in the wording in both the Hebrew and the Greek languages, with which God plays in both places. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet asked, “Can these bones live?” (37:3). Ezekiel looks at the nation as spiritually dead, for they’re lost in sin. Notice that in verse 5, God speaks over these dead, dry bones saying, “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live!” The word translated here is “breath”  from the Hebrew word “ruach” which is translated as “breath, wind, spirit.”  Notice that in verse 14, God says, “And I will put my Spirit (ruach) within you, and you shall live.” It is the same Hebrew wordHave you ever thought about why the Holy Spirit is called the Holy Spirit and not another name? Why Spirit? The answer might be because of the meaning of the Hebrew word. We can see this clearly in Ezekiel 37. God was going to put His breath in these dead bones to come to life. The breath of life, the Spirit of life, was going to enter these bones to live again.  This idea is seen in Genesis 1:2 when the Spirit was moving over the face of the waters. The creation was dark, void, and dead. But the breath of God, life, the Spirit of God was moving over the creation. Life was about to begin. Life was coming to deadness! When the Spirit comes, life comes! The wind of God moves and brings life (cf. Genesis 1:2 NRSV). So the play on words is found here in Ezekiel 37. I will put my Spirit in these bones. I will put my breath in these bones. The result is life! Notice the play on words as found in Ezekiel 37:9. “Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain that they may live.”  Winds and breath are the same Hebrew word. Only God has the power to give life.

Notice that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 uses this language to describe the Scriptures, which are “inspired of God” or literally “God-breathed.”

The same language is found here in John 3:8. Wind, breath, and Spirit are the same Greek word pneuma. The wordplay in John 3:8 draws our attention back to Ezekiel 37, where the same wordplay occurs.  Ezekiel 36 connects the water and Spirit.  Ezekiel 37 connects the wind and the Spirit. Now, do not miss the meaning of what Jesus was saying. Verse 8 is frequently misread! Most read this to say, “So it is with the Spirit.” But verse 8 says, “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The new birth happens through the power of God. Jesus was not saying that the Spirit works randomly among people, so they don’t know what the Spirit is doing. This is ridiculous, for God does not work this way!  Rather, the message continues to stress God’s power in bringing people into His kingdom. Do you suppose the dead bones would have lived if it had been left to human power?  No, because we cannot make dead bones come to life.  We are spiritually dead. Israel could not bring itself back to life. But God was going to give life back to them for His glory (cf. Ezekiel 37:3; 36:22-23). This idea fits well with the introduction to this Gospel.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 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).  

We become children of God not through our own effort, desire, or merits but through the power of God, not our own. This is precisely what Jesus was telling Nicodemus.  Salvation does not come by our visible work but by the invisible work of God. To the Jews and to the world, it is incomprehensible to be born of the Spirit.  It is hard for the world to fathom the new creation, the changed or transformed life, the result of being born of the Spirit just as the effects of the wind blowing. Nicodemus would have been surprised to see who was born again and not.  Why?  Because the Gentiles would more readily enter the kingdom than the Jews.  Jesus taught many times that the first would be last, and the last would be first. The Gentiles would be more likely to see the kingdom than the Jews. The Gentiles would easily bear more fruit for the Lord, living lives that were fully transformed from the “new birth.” Many of the Jews would not, which the Jews could not comprehend.
  • So What Does the "Spirit" Refer to?
Being born of the Spirit refers to a change of heart, one's way of thinking, caused by the Spirit's instrument, the Word of God (Eph. 6:17).  We know (according to the Gospel) that before baptism, one must hear and believe the Gospel, which is the seed by which we are born again (1 Peter 1:23). The Holy Spirit has already revealed the mystery, the Gospel.  That same seed, the Gospel, must be taught to all people so they can learn it and be saved (2 Peter 1:21; Eph. 3:3-5; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:10-13).  In Ephesians 6:17,  The Word is the "sword of the Spirit." It is the instrument that the Spirit uses to accomplish His work in man’s conversion.  Thus one is "born of water and the Spirit" when one learns and believes the Gospel Message, as revealed by the Spirit.  Once we learn and believe the Gospel Message, we must obey it and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Many passages tie the Word of the Spirit to baptism in conversion.  Consider some of those parallels.
    1. John 3:5:  Be born of water and the Spirit.
    2. Mark 16:15,16:  Preach the Gospel. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.
    3. Acts 2:38-41:  Those who gladly received the Word were baptized. 
    4. Acts 8:12:  Those who believed the Gospel were baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
    5. Acts 8:35-39; 16:32,33; 18:8: These are just other examples where the Word was preached, and people were baptized.
    6. Ephesians 5:26:  Jesus cleansed the church by the washing of water with the Word (1 Cor. 12:13). 

V.  THE MEANS OF THE NEW BIRTH:  (John 3:9-15)
"Nicodemus said to him, 'How can these things be?' 10 Jesus answered him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.'"

Jesus’ statement in John 3:9-15 must have been quite puzzling to Nicodemus. Nicodemus is still startled by Jesus’ teaching.  You see, the Jews were blown away by this teaching, and we should not be surprised by this. Jesus mildly rebuked Nicodemus for not understanding these matters.  Don’t you think Nicodemus, as a teacher, should have understood these matters (cf. Jer. 31:31-34)? The Jews were fixed on the idea that their zeal for the traditions of the elders guaranteed their salvation, especially since they were Abraham’s children (born into Israel, were circumcised, kept the laws about clean and unclean foods, and separated themselves from anything unclean or defiled in God’s kingdom). Jesus stressed through the Gospels the reason why the Jews were not in the kingdom but instead were trying to seize the kingdom for themselves apart from God (cf. Matthew 11:11-12; 23:13; Luke 19). Here is Nicodemus, who, like Paul, had achieved every accolade in Judaism that***** anyone could have obtained.

Jesus’ new birth was now challenging the Jewish thinking. The Jews thought that being born in the flesh of Abraham and circumcised in the flesh on the 8th day qualified them as citizens of the kingdom of God.  Moses and the prophets taught that God required more of them. They had to circumcise their hearts and remove the spiritual uncleanness from their lives.  How would that be possible in their eyes?  Jesus is bewildered that Nicodemus could not grasp this since Nicodemus is supposed to be a teacher of the Law!  Why should they be surprised?  Jesus was not teaching something new, radical, or different about the Scriptures.  Jesus taught what the Jews should have known and not overlooked in the Scriptures.  Jesus knew their problem, for they were not listening to His teachings (3:11).  It is nothing new today!  You see, throughout the years, “people” had rejected God’s instruction as revealed by the Holy Spirit through the prophets in the Scriptures. How often do we try to teach people the way of the Lord and how to enter the kingdom?  Jesus, the Son of God, was trying to teach the Jews the same thing, but they chose to reject Jesus’ Testimony. 

When Jesus states in verse 11, "You do not receive Our witness," Jesus was applying this to the whole of the nation, but perhaps especially the Jewish leaders. Notice in verse 12, the “you” is plural. Once again, Jesus is expanding His teaching to all the Jews.  Jesus was talking about the Jews not comprehending or understanding.   In verse 12, when Jesus referred to all the Jews and how they were not able to comprehend the earthly things, the “earthly things” in context is not referring to His previous analogy of being born again. Rather Jesus was referring to all of His teachings.  In John 2:23 and John 3:1, many are “believing” because of the signs Jesus was performing. But that belief was not complete, for it was not producing a total life transformation.  And though Jesus was performing miracles, many of the Jews were not believing with the faith that leads to repentance and life transformation.  Their unbelief was prolonging their spiritual ignorance.  Their unbelief (they wouldn’t believe Jesus from the miracles and signs He performed) blinded them to Jesus’ teachings.

Now verse 13 (“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”) seems to be out of place, but it is not. Jesus knows all spiritual things because He descended from heaven, and no one else knows such spiritual things because they have not ascended to heaven. Moses, in the wilderness, lifted the rod with the brazen serpent on God’s orders, offering the Grace of life to those who would look in hope on that serpent.  Similarly, the Son of Man was to be lifted up on the cross, offering us the Grace of salvation if we will look to Him to be our Savior.  Jesus rebuked Nicodemus and the Jews for not understanding the heavenly things He brought to them from heaven.  Remember, the message of John and Jesus was a message of “repentance”  and the cleansing of “baptism" "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4).  Among those heavenly things, Jesus taught the new birth as a way of describing the message of “repentance” and “baptism” (3:12)!   Moreover, no man had ascended to heaven to learn this message except Jesus, who had descended from heaven.

I must stress that just like Jesus’ teachings about water and the Spirit, so did this ascending and descending come from the Old Testament.  So it would be good to carefully examine the Old Testament contextGod gave Jacob a dream of a ladder set up on the earth.  The top of the ladder reached heaven. In the dream, he saw the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Above it stood the LORD who spoke to Jacob, renewing the Messianic promises that began with promises of a people and land that would descend from Him (Genesis 28:12). God again has spoken from heaven, having sent His Son Jesus even as in John 1:51.  Jesus promised Nathanael that he would see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

When Jacob’s children became a nation, the first thing that God did was to lead them to the foot of Mount Sinai and give them the Laws “as ordained by angels” (Galatians 3:19).  Moses’ parting words of prophecy warned the Israelites of the serious consequences of ignoring the heavenly message. In this way, Deuteronomy 27-30 provides us with a context for understanding Jesus’ teaching. Chapter 27 begins by describing the curses for disobeying God’s covenant. These are the blessings and curses of Israel. Chapter 28 describes the blessings of obeying God.  In chapters 29-30, Moses foresaw that they would disobey God’s teachings. “But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deuteronomy 29:4).
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).

Moses declared that they did not have a heart of understanding. He likewise said that “all these things” would come upon them, including the curses. Israel would be taken away from their land and go into exile because of their rebellion and disobedience. Then Moses declared that one day they would return and obey God with all their heart and soul and that God would gather them again from their exile. God would circumcise their heart, the heart of their offspring so that they would love Him with all of their heart and soul so that they might live  (Deuteronomy 30:6).  God was speaking about the future that reached forward to the work of Jesus Christ. Here we can see the new heart, the new spirit, the new life, the new creation (newness of life), and the complete transformation that Jesus was teaching Nicodemus. The apostle Paul used this same language in Romans 2:28-29. Those who are the true Israel are not those who are physically circumcised but rather those who have been circumcised in the heart. Nicodemus was not true Israel and was not going to see the kingdom because he had not been circumcised in the heart. Thus, he had not experienced the new birth.

We have come to our main point: John 3:13 and Deuteronomy 30.
"For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off" (Deuteronomy 30:11).

Moses said that it was not too hard for them to keep this command.  Did Moses tell the people that they could not obey and have a heart of understanding?  Did he ever say that they were spiritually blind?  Did he say they would disobey and thus be sent into exile? So what was going to change things around this time for them? Why did Moses say that it was not too hard for them to obey? Why not take a good look at verses 12-14 of Deuteronomy 30?
"It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.'"

They didn’t need to go to heaven to find help to keep the covenant, obey God’s commands, and have their relationship restored back to God. They needed the Son of Man to descend from heaven to help them!  The Son of Man came from heaven to make the new birth possible. Hear Jesus’ words,

“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man”
 (John 3:13).

The new birth that Jesus is speaking of in John 3 is only possible through Jesus, who came from heaven to help this world of darkness.  The people could not obey, for they had hearts of stone. Through Jesus’ loving and gracious act, we now have a covenant and a relationship with the Father.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can now find healing for our sins.  This is exactly what Jesus was saying in John 3:14-15 when He said,
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Can you see how great this parallel symbolism is?  First, the “sign” or pole on which Moses placed the bronze serpent in Numbers 21:8-9 served as a symbol of life to the Israelites dying because they were bitten by the serpents.  Because of God’s provision, new life was graciously granted to them.  And though everyone should have died in the desert because of their complaining, ingratitude, and rebellion, God chose to grant the rebellious sinners (us) gracious provision so that we could have a new spiritual life, a new birth, that is, eternal life.  Second, Moses lifted the bronze serpent on the pole so that all afflicted with the venom could look to the pole to find life. In the same manner, the Son of Man was to be lifted up on the cross so that all who will look to Him will find life from the venom of sin inside them.  Jesus challenged Nicodemus and is challenging us to turn to Jesus for the new birth just as the people of Israel had to turn to the bronze serpent to find a new life, that is, eternal life.


Again, this has been a rewarding study for me as it deepens my understanding of the Word of God.  I learn as I put my thoughts down on paper and dig deeper into God’s Word to better understand His mind and do His will.  Jesus has revealed His will to us about how we can enter the kingdom of God.  He has declared that no one will enter the kingdom of God without a complete transformation of heart and life. Since Jesus knows man’s heart, He also knows those who have genuinely been transformed by the new birthBelieving in Jesus is not enough, for one must also have a heart transformation! 

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, who came to Jesus at night and said,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  

Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking newness of life, something different in his life, something new.  He was a little bit stunned by the words of Jesus that taught that he could be born again and become a new person through a “new birth” (John 3:1-21).  Although Nicodemus believed in Jesus, it was still an insufficient belief (3:2). He would not see the kingdom of God unless he was born again (3:3).  Nicodemus would not see the kingdom in his present condition. The Jews believed that they were in the kingdom since they were Abraham’s children.  They needed to be born again in the way that Jesus was teaching to be in the kingdom (3:4). Jesus uses Ezekiel 36-37 to prove the need for the new birth, being born of water and the Spirit. It had to be a new spiritual birth that came from God, and it was required to enter His kingdom. All that is born of the flesh is flesh (3:6).  Because of our sins, we are dead.  Once dead in sin, we cannot bring ourselves back to life.  Thus God must provide a way to be born again spiritually to see the kingdom. A new spiritual birth is necessary to be in God’s kingdom of righteousness (3:7).  Since we are dead in our sins, we need life.  God would put life in His people again (John 3:8; cf. Ezekiel 37). The Spirit represents the bringing of life to our dead bodies. And though we do not see the Spirit, we can still see the effect.   Those born of the Spirit, behold in a glass the glory of the Lord, the perfect law of liberty.  They are not forgetful hearers but doers of the Word.  They are transformed into God's image from glory to glory (James 1:25; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).  Those who obey God and keep His commands can experience this new birth

Nicodemus wanted to know how this could be possible (3:9). Jesus was surprised that Nicodemus did not understand His teaching since the prophets and Moses foretold what would occur (3:10).  Nicodemus should have known these things. Though Jesus and the apostles were teaching the Scriptures (3:11), the Jews were rejecting the teachings of God and not listening to the Scriptures, just like their ancestors.  They had a heart of stone that blinded them from believing and understanding Jesus’ teachings and the miracles He performed.  For that reason, they were not going to experience a life change transformation, a new birth (3:12). Their unbelief and stubborn hearts did not let them see who Jesus was, what He did, and what He taught.

Nicodemus’ question was, “How can these things be?” Jesus declared that the new birth is only possible through the Son of Man coming to the earth (3:13).  The Law of Moses and our own actions could not make it possible to see the kingdom of God, for we all have sinned.  God had to intervene and send His Son so that we could have access to the new birth, the new life.  Just as God intervened on Israel’s behalf to give them physical life when they rebelled and were bitten by the serpents in the wilderness, so now God has intervened on our behalf to give us spiritual life, for we all have rebelled and are destined to death (3:14). And though we are dead in our sins, through Jesus, we can have eternal life (3:15).  Through Jesus, the new birth and radical transformation are possible, for He can heal us of our sins when we seek Him by faith, following Him and doing His will, and pursuing a sincere relationship with Him.   Through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is available to all. The new birth, the new life, is “in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:15; 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:17).

We are "born again" by the incorruptible seed, which is God's Word, that is, the Gospel preached to us (1 Peter 1:22-25).  When a baby is born physically, he becomes part of a family, so it is the same when a sinner is born again.  He becomes a spiritual child of God, a member of His family, His kingdom.  The new birth is the product of the planted seed  (the Gospel, the Word of God) and then germinates and produces abundant fruit.  We become children of God through His Word (Luke 8:11) planted in the hearts of men when they hear the Gospel.  The sincere heart heeds the words of Jesus, believes them, and obeys them, thus becoming "born again" as Christians, experiencing the new birth, the new life in Christ (Cf. James 1:18; 1 Cor. 4:15).  The seed reproduces after its kind (Galatians 6:7).  So we must make sure that the seed, the Message, that we teach for others to hear is the true Gospel!  Why?  Because we can plant the wrong seed in God’s Garden and not grow the kind of plant that God wants.  We cannot be born again when we accept a different Gospel.

To be born again, to have the new birth, the new life, and become a child of God, one must believe the Gospel (John 1:12).  I must stress that just believing does not make one immediately a child of God (born again, John 1:13), for there must be an obedient faith that does the will of God!  God’s Word is the seed that makes us children of God.  Other seeds besides God’s seed are man-made doctrines that do not have the power to save us (Galatians 1:8,9; Matthew 15:9,13; 7:21-23; 2 John 9-11; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12; 3:5,6).  All men must hear and believe the Gospel to be born again and be saved (John 6:44,45).  We cannot experience the new birth without hearing, and learning the teachings of Jesus. You cannot come to Jesus without being taught God’s Word, for there must be hearing and learning. To be made free from sin, we must hear and know the Truth to believe in Jesus (John 8:31,32,24).  The Gospel is the power of God to save those who believe in Him (Romans 1:16).  Thus faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).  So are you born again (John 6:63; Hebrews 11:6; John 3:3-7; Gal. 3:26,27)?  

Today many people are misled when it comes to baptism, for they believe it is important but not essential to be born again or become a saved child of God.  Yet, the Gospel declares that we are born again through God’s Word when we obey it to purify our souls (1 Peter 1:22-25).  Obedience to the Gospel is vital to receiving forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus.  We are made free from sin when we obey the doctrine delivered from God (Romans 6:17-18).  Jesus is the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:9). Those who refuse to obey the Gospel of Christ will not experience the new birth, the new life, and will be punished forever (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9).  Those who do not do the will of the Father, though they believe in Him, will be condemned (Matthew 7:21-23).  Hence obedience is essential besides faith to be born again.  So, how vital is baptism to becoming a child of God, be born again?

A “new creation” is the same as being “born again” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  One must be in Christ to be a new creation, be born againNo one can be born again outside of Christ (2 Tim. 2:10; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 5:11,12; Rom. 8:1).  So to be born again, we must be in Christ (Rom. 6:3,4).  We are in Christ when we are baptizedNo one can be in Christ or be born again, without first being baptized into Christ.  When we are baptized into Jesus’ death, we are saved because His death is what saves and forgives us.  When we are baptized, we are a new creation.  As a result of being buried in baptism and rising from it, we can have newness of life, that is, be born again (Rom. 6:4).  I must stress the need for faith, repentance, confession, and baptism to have newness of life (born again).  We cannot be born again and be a new creation unless we are baptized into Christ.  "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ and have put Him on."

Therefore, to be born again, one must believe and obey the Gospel (John 1:12; 1 Pet. 1:22-25).  We are born again when we are in Christ through baptism (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27). To enter the kingdom of God, we must be born again ( John 3:3-7).  This new birth has two vital elements: the "water" and the "Spirit."  The  "water" in John 3:5 is part of the new birth "Water" in John 3:5 refers to water baptismBaptism is the only command in the Gospel that requires “water” (Acts 8:35-39; 10:47; John 3:23; Hebrews 10:22; etc.). In the Gospel, the word "water" never refers to physical birth, but rather to baptismBaptism is an essential element of the new birth.  Baptism is tied to the hearing of the Gospel (John 3:5).  One must hear and believe the Gospel, for it is the seed by which we are born again (1 Pet. 1:23).  We are "born of water and the Spirit" when we are taught the Gospel and believe its Message as revealed by the Holy Spirit, thus obeying its Message by being baptized (John 3:5; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; 8:35-39; 16:32,33; 18:8; Ephesians 5:26).  Jesus cleansed the church by the washing of water with the Word (1 Cor. 12:13).  So to be "born of water and the Spirit" is the same as being born again.  To be born again, we must obey the Gospel Message as revealed by the Holy Spirit and be baptized in water.  Baptism is essential to be born again.  Many in the religious world teach that we are born again before baptism or without it.  But we can only be born again if we obey the proper seed, the true Gospel of Christ to become a child of God and be in His kingdom! (2 John 9-11; Gal. 1:8,9; Matt. 15:9,14).  To be a child of God, that is, be “born again,” we must walk in newness of life and be faithful to the Father until death.  A child of God who is born again must submit to the Father and live a life of faithful obedience and service to Him (Romans 6:4; 1 Peter 2:1,2; Matt. 12:50; 2 Cor. 6:17,18; 1 John 3:1-10). He must also be active in his Father's work, his family, the church (1 Tim. 3:15).  Moreover, he must grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).  So have you been born again? Are you serving God the Father faithfully in His kingdom of righteousness and living in newness of life? 

May we teach those who are living in darkness how to enter the kingdom of  God and be born again.  May they understand that to be born again, they must obey the proper seed, the Gospel to become a child of God and be in His kingdom.  May we submit to the Father and live a life of faithful obedience and service to Him.  May we grow in grace and knowledge as those who have been born again of water and the Spirit that we may glorify our Father in heaven.


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