I want to begin by asking a question: are you saved? In answering that question, I assume that there are several different responses. There are those who immediately answer, “No.” You know that you are not saved, and that is okay. I am glad that you are honest enough to admit that. Just know that you can be saved today. There are also those who immediately answer, “Yes.” However, there is no evidence of salvation taking place in your life. Oh, you might be a member of a church, you might have been led in a prayer, and you may have even been baptized, but you have not truly experienced the salvation that Jesus offers. You, too, can be saved today if you will be honest with yourself and admit your need for salvation. Finally, there are those who immediately answer, “Yes,” and they are genuinely saved.
In the passage we are looking at in this post, Nicodemus, an elite religious leader, comes to Jesus with a question that we have all. How can I be sure that I am a part of God’s kingdom and will spend eternity with Him in heaven? Jesus answers it by telling us that to be sure that we are truly saved, we must be given new life that leads to the transformation of our life.
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.’ 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.”
9 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.
You Must Be Born Again (1-7)
Now Nicodemus comes to Jesus, as I said, with a question that all of us want the answer to. But when you look at verse two, you may be wondering what question? There is no question there, right? Not to us, but Jesus certainly answered one. So what question is implied in Nicodemus’ statement? How can I be a part of God’s kingdom? Or how can I go to heaven? You see, Nicodemus recognized where Jesus had come from and where His power came from. So he knew that Jesus would know the answer to that question.
But Jesus kind of jumps ahead and answers the question before it actually gets asked. He says, “If you want to be a part of the kingdom of God, you have to be born again. In fact, it is impossible to be a part of the kingdom of God if you are not born again.” I can see Nicodemus chuckle a little bit and then say, “What? How can a person be “born again?” Are we supposed to crawl back into the womb and go through that process again?” Jesus then proceeds to explain what He means when He says “born again.” He tells Nicodemus that He is not talking about physical birth here. In fact, the word that is translated “again” also means “from above.” So Jesus is talking about a spiritual birth.
Jesus says unless one is born of water and the Spirit that He cannot enter the kingdom of God. This shows us, using the Old Testament teachings as reference, that we are in need of cleansing. So not only do we need to come alive spiritually, but we also need to be entirely renovated, completely changed. Jesus then tells us that this cannot happen on our own. He says that every attempt we make to try to be changed in this way will fall short, because whatever efforts we make in the flesh will result in fleshly results. To get the spiritual results that we want, we have to have the Spirit of God act. Only that which is born of the Spirit will produce the change that results in being born again.
We have to be given spiritual life. And notice that this is not optional. In verse seven, Jesus says you must be born again! In the Greek language the word used for “must” is a very strong term that emphasizes the necessity of what it is being talked about. So Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be a part of the kingdom of God, he must be born of the Spirit or born again.
Being Born Again Requires Transformation (8)
Now as we have already alluded to, being born again causes changes to occur in a person’s life. But here in verse eight, we see that clearly. This verse, at first glance, is a little difficult to understand because there is a certain word play that is occurring in the Greek language that cannot be adequately expressed when translated into English. But what Jesus is saying here is that just like the wind blows this way and that way and cannot be controlled, so it is with the Spirit. The Spirit’s work in the human heart can neither be controlled nor predicted. When we are sharing the gospel with someone out of obedience, we do not know if the Spirit is at work in that situation to sow the seed, cultivate what has already been heard, or to bring that person to a relationship with Jesus Christ. His work cannot be controlled or predicted by us. Also, you may have heard the gospel before but were not stirred by the Holy Spirit. However, today you are!
But here’s the important thing that we need to realize. If the Spirit has done His work in a person’s life and they have truly been born again, there is undeniable and unmistakable evidence! As Jesus said, you cannot predict or control the wind, but you can hear its sound. In other words, you can experience the effects of the wind. In the same way, the effects of the Spirit’s work can be seen in the transformed lives of those who have been born again. So we might not be able to predict or control when and where the Spirit works, but we know that when He shows up, everyone will know. So do you claim to be born again? Do you call yourself a Christian and expect to see the kingdom of God when you die? Jesus says that if you are born again, there will be undeniable and unmistakable evidence that is seen in the transformation of your life! If there is no change in your life, then nothing happened. When you truly get saved, your life changes!
This Transformation Comes by the Son, the Cross, and Faith (9-15)
How can this happen? First, it is because of Jesus. Without Jesus, there would be no salvation. It is Christ who came from the Father to seek and to save that which is lost. Now think about it, would it not make sense that the one who came from heaven knows how to get there? Jesus is saying, I am the Son of Man who has come from heaven and I am the only way there (John 14:6).
Second, it is because of the cross. Jesus looks forward to the cross here. If we look back to when the Israelites were wondering in the wilderness (Numbers 21), there was a time that they were complaining about the food that God was providing for them. So God sent poisonous snakes to them. This was not good for the people because one bite would kill them. So their leader, Moses, made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then he spread the word to all the Israelites that when the snakes would bite them, if they would look to the bronze snake, they would live! In the same way, Jesus, who had come to seek and save, would have to be lifted up for all to see on the cross. It was while He was on that cross that He took our sin upon Himself and paid the penalty for it. It was while He was on the cross that He said to those there and for all eternity, “Look and live!”
Third, it is because of our faith. Jesus came, yes. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, yes. But for that to be applied to our account, we must believe or have faith in Him and what He has done for us. Although it is the work of Christ that we believe in and although it is the work of the Spirit that causes us to be born again, we still must believe and have faith. Salvation is totally by the grace of God and is His work, but we still must receive what He is offering through His enabling power. But even then the focus is not on our belief but the object of our belief: “…whoever believes in him…” In all of this, Jesus points out that we not only receive spiritual life when we are born again, but we receive that spiritual life for all eternity. We, by being born of the Spirit, get to be a part of God’s kingdom for all eternity.
I want to offer two invitations. First, if you are a Christian, one who has been born of the Spirit and is living a transformed life, I want to encourage you to not only praise God for the salvation that He has given to you but to tell someone else about it. We need to be constantly praying for the unsaved people in our lives: those in our family, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, our waiter/waitress, our cashier. We need to pray that God would ignite a passion within us for sharing the gospel and that He would break our heart for the unsaved people around us. If we truly believe that everyone who is living apart from Christ has no hope, is without God, and is heading to hell for all eternity, we should be doing everything that we can to make sure that they know the good news that Jesus saves!
Penn Jillette, an adamant atheist, is an excellent illusionist. He is very outspoken against Christianity. However, he has a very touching story about an encounter with a believer who was very genuine with him and shared the gospel with him. This is what he said in response to this believer’s witness: “If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
Maybe you have not been born again. Maybe you even made a decision in the past, but there was no change and you realize now that you really were not born again. I have great news for you. If you keep reading in John 3, you get to one of the most popular verses in the Bible: John 3:16. You know what that verse tells us? It tells us first of all that God loves you. But you, as well as the rest of us, have a problem and that is sin. Because of that God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for your sins. Finally, you have to believe in Him and receive Him through repentance and faith. Repentance means that you realize your sin, confess it to God asking for forgiveness, then you turn away from it. Faith means that you trust in the work that Christ has done on the cross to secure your salvation. But remember, this doesn’t just apply to you, you have to receive Him (John 1:12).