Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling class of Jesus’ day. One evening, Nicodemus approached Jesus to inquire, “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” (Jn 3:2). Nicodemus was saying what I am sure many were thinking. Jesus’ miracles pointed the way to His being sent from God. But Jesus was so far from fitting the mold of what the Jews expected the Messiah to be, that even the Jewish leadership was confused by His identity and His message. Who is this Man?
Jesus answered Nicodemus’ inquiry with a powerful word picture. “Nicodemus, if you want to join My kingdom, you must be born again” (Jn 3:3). What a curious answer to the question. Looking back, with the rest of the story now in our hands, we can see what Jesus was saying. But think about what a head-scratching statement this was to Jesus’ contemporaries. Nicodemus was so confused that he tried to pin Jesus down on how a man could enter his mother’s womb a second time. What does Jesus mean, “You must be born again?”
Did Jesus have several options for a metaphor here to visualize how we enter His kingdom? Or is there something specific in why Jesus chose this comparison? Why did Jesus equate entering His kingdom with physical birth? I think the word picture He used could not have been more powerful.
I believe a reasonable reading between the lines of Jesus’ short response is this. You do not enter My kingdom by experiencing a moral makeover or moral improvement of some kind. You do not enter My kingdom by adding a higher standard to the law you already know. You do not enter My kingdom by an improved path of sin management. No, the message I proclaim is a complete and radical transformation into a new person.
Your old heart is so wicked, it cannot be cleaned up. You need a new one. Your old nature is so lost, it cannot be turned to righteousness. You need a new nature. Your disposition to sin is so deep, it cannot be fixed. You need a new disposition. Your power to live in obedience to Me is too weak to be improved upon. You need a new power. And the list goes on. You need a new Spirit and a new self. You need a new life. You literally need to become a new creation.
The only way to receive a new “all of the above” is to undergo a radical new beginning. A new beginning so transformative that it is as if you have entered your mother’s womb a second time. But this time it is a spiritual birth, and when you emerge from the spiritual birth canal, you will possess a new everything. Not because of what you have done. But what God has done for you. God has made you a new creation.
Think about physical birth. When that little one emerges from the womb, they are fully human. There is nothing to be added to make them more human. They are tiny with a need to grow, but everything is already in place for them to do so.
It is the same with your spiritual birth. By virtue of the New Covenant – God’s new arrangement with you – your are spiritually born righteous. Just as a baby is born fully human with a need to grow, so you are born again fully righteous with a need to grow. And just like our little infant, everything is in place for you to do this. There is nothing more required to make you righteous.
Now we know, looking back, that Christ’s death and resurrection is what secured that new birth for us. And we also know from the remainder of Christ’s message in the gospel of John that there is a work we need to do to receive the new birth.
The crowd asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” (Jn 6:28) In the context of the passage they are asking Jesus how to join His kingdom. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ ” (Jn 6:29). Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus says over and over and over again, “He who believes in me has eternal life” (Jn 6:40). Our only work is to believe in Jesus.
How do we enter the kingdom of God? By being born again. How are we born again? By faith in Christ; by believing that He took the punishment for our sin in our place by His death on the cross. And are the implications for this new birth just a one time thing of having our sins forgiven? No, no, no. The implications of the new birth are so much more than a single event. Yes the new birth is incredible in the immediate acceptance and entrance to the kingdom of God. The transfer to His kingdom is instantaneous. But there is so much more to the new birth.
If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you have been born again. You are a new creation. May you experience all of the incredible “new” that came along with your new birth. May you live into all the ramifications of your new identity, your new nature, your new Spirit, your new heart, you new disposition, your new self, your new purity, your new power over sin; everything that came with your new birth. Welcome to the new!