Born of Water
(What must I do to be saved?)
1: FLESH GIVES BIRTH TO
Nicodemus is like many of us. He likes his nation and his race. He feels
very special because of his parents and famous forefathers.
Nicodemus may even feel better than most of us. He is born of the noble blood of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Like most Jews of his time, Nicodemus thinks that the
Messiah will rule over Israel as a nation. Birth has already placed him in that
nation. Therefore, by birthright, he ought to be a citizen
of the Messiah's kingdom.
What a shock, then, to hear John the Baptizer. Far from praising leaders of
Abraham's family, John calls them a family of snakes! He warns that their birth
as Jews will not save them from punishment.
You brood of vipers! . Do not think you can say to
yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father." I tell you that out of these stones
God can raise up children for Abraham(Matthew 3:7-9).
Jesus adds another surprise. Anyone seeking to enter God's kingdom must be
born again! Nicodemus thinks only of another fleshly birth. "Surely he cannot
enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" (John 3:4). Jesus is
requiring spiritual re-birth. He explains, Flesh gives
birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6).
Nicodemus comes from the best fleshly line in the world. He belongs to the
chosen race. He seems to be a natural heir of the kingdom promised to Israel. If
another birth is needed, what does that say about his fleshly birth? Why is
fleshly birth not enough?
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT?
Dear friend, it is time to make a decision about life's true nature.
Jesus wants us to choose spiritual life. He assures us, "The Spirit gives life;
the flesh counts for nothing" (John 6:63). What is the most important thing in
your life? What is even more important than food, drink, clothes and a place to
stay? What is more important than education and a job? Most of us value these
highly. Yet they help life only during our stay in this fleshly body - which is
all too brief!
Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city,
spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know
what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a
little while and then vanishes (James 4:13-14).
ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS
Beside the eternity of God's life, our years are "as nothing," like steam from a
boiling pot. Compared with the total years of earth's history, how long is your
one life? The prophet Isaiah draws this picture of the flesh:
All men (literally, all flesh) are like grass, and all
their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers
fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass
See the flower in full bloom: how delicate are its petals! How bright its
colors! Yet the flower quickly fades and withers away. See the young woman: she
is like a flower, so fresh and so attractive. Yet that kind of beauty never
lasts. All too soon, she is wrinkled and worn, like her aged mother. See the
young man: How strong and handsome! He hopes to escape the way his father looks.
He tries to be more healthy and fit. Yet his youth passes. Before long, he too
looks old. He too grows frail. Then he dies. He is buried in the same soil as
all his fore fathers.
No flesh, no matter how young or healthy, is strong enough to escape the cycle
of aging and death. As much as we love and respect parents, we must realize that
"flesh gives birth to flesh." From our fleshly parents we receive fleshly life,
which lasts a few short years, and then is lost.
HIDE OR DECIDE
Many are so busy that they forget their most pressing appointment death. They
never see that life can end at any moment.
Others are aware, but death seems too horrible. They hide in many places:
parties and movies that help them pretend; jobs that seem important; friends
that avoid serious thought; even drink and drugs
that twist reality.
Hiding changes nothing. You are flesh and so is your friend. One of you will
stand at a funeral; the other will be laid in the ground. If you both pretend,
neither will be prepared for such reality. The living one will be heartbroken at
the loss. The dead will be gone forever. "The dust returns to the ground it came
from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
The spirit goes to its most important meeting.
"For God will bring every deed into judgement"
"Man is destined to die once, and after that to face
judgement" (Hebrews 9:27).
"So then, each of us will give an account of himself to
God" (Romans 14:12).
That is why Ecclesiastes 7:2 urges us to be wise before our turn comes:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a
house of feasting, for death is the destiny of
every man; the living should take this to heart.
Before you are two choices: You can hide from death's reality. (How foolish,
since it will catch you anyway. How damaging, since it will catch you in the
worst way - unprepared.) Or you can decide to be honest. "Take to heart" the
truth that flesh is like grass. Your brief life is but one heartbeat from its
Why not get ready? We prepare for many things in life: education and exams,
business and taxes, weddings and careers, old age and retirement. How much more
important to prepare for the one event that is most certain - death.
A BETTER ANSWER
So again we ask, "What is the most important thing in life?"
Any answer based on this passing world is shortsighted. "Flesh gives birth to
flesh." "All flesh is like grass." The flesh will fail you. There is a better
answer, a better hope.
"The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does
the will of God lives forever"
(1 John 2:17).
Fleshly life is brief and fading. God's life is the opposite - always bright,
always whole, always fresh, never ending. Fleshly birth, by its very nature, can
never be good enough for God's kingdom.
"Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor
does the perishable inherit the
imperishable" (1 Corinthians 15:50).
In John 3 Jesus announces His priceless gift, "eternal life." Such a prize,
though, cannot come through fleshly birth, no matter how noble. It comes only
from God's Spirit, and only through rebirth.
This is the most important kind of life: life with God, which is richer, fuller
and more secure. To be born once is to die. To be born twice is to live forever
(even when flesh fails).
He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and
whoever lives and believes in Me
will never die (John 11:25-26).
What others hopelessly call "death" becomes our doorway into eternal happiness.
The One who welcomes us home is our Creator, and much more. He is "our Father!"
For He invites you and me to
children of God - children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God (John
SPIRIT GIVES BIRTH TO SPIRIT
Nicodemus is like many of us. He thinks of himself as a person who is not
too bad. He is a family man. He is a good citizen of his nation. He keeps the
Law of God. He may do better than most people, for he is a Pharisee. The roots
of his party reach back nearly two hundred years, to the Hasidim (Holy Ones).
These devout Jews gave up their lives rather than worship the idols of Antiochus
Epiphanes. Their great tradition of fighting sin continues in men like
Nicodemus. Even the name Pharisee suggests separation from evil.
According to the preaching of John and Jesus, God is soon to open His promised
kingdom. Surely godly Pharisees will be among the first to enter. They have
looked forward to the kingdom. They should be thanked for keeping Jews pure and
ready for the kingdom.
But Jesus is very firm with Nicodemus: one enters the kingdom only when his
spirit is re-born. Nicodemus, as he is, is not good enough. Yet he is one of
Israel's best. Why does Jesus insist on re-birth, as if he must become a new
AN URGENT LESSON
The verse before the Nicodemus story says that Jesus knew what was in a man
Dear friend, we must learn from Jesus about our human `goodness.' We hear many
people say, "God accepts me because I obey the rules. I help others. I'm not
perfect; but I'm not so bad either." Jesus draws an opposite picture for
"Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness
instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
To another Jewish ruler Jesus says, "No one is good - except God alone" (Mark
10:18). This ruler thinks he keeps every commandment. Jesus proves that he
breaks the first command, for he has an idol. He loves money more than God and
the poor. Hearing this, "the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had
great wealth" (Mark 10:22).
Dear friend, do you have idols that push God aside? Some idols are of stone and
wood. Others are of sexual immorality and worldly pleasures, selfishness, pride,
success, and greed (Colossians 3:5). Do you ever walk away from God? Do you ever
feel the sadness of sin? None of us
can say, "Not guilty."
Jesus describes the Spirit's work: "He will convict the world of guilt in regard
to sin" (John 16:8). The Spirit charges us all:
Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:
"There is no one righteous,not even one; there is no one
who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together
become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even" (Romans
THE MEANING OF SIN
As a father loves his children and guides them, so God loves us. He knows what
is best for us, and gives us wise directions. Both spirit and flesh do well when
we follow God's will.
However, you see in your own life that all is not well. The human spirit hurts.
The human body suffers. Sooner or later we all feel like Job. "My spirit is
broken, my days are cut short" (Job 17:1). Satan has
brought sin and suffering into our world.
Sin is, first of all, directed against God. Whether planned or not, it
challenges His rule. "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is
lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). Sin rejects God as King. Sin insults
God by denying His vast knowledge and wisdom. Sin dishonors God by turning
elsewhere to meet needs. As God says in Jeremiah 2:13,
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living
water, and have dug
their own cisterns [water storage pits], broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Sin turns against us, ruining our lives and families. Conflict and crime spread.
"Sin is a disgrace to any people" (Proverbs 14:34). Newspapers are full of
reports about sin's harm. Yet news tells only part of the story. Reporters
cannot see inside the human spirit. There, evil eats away secretly at our minds,
darkening our hearts with guilt and shame.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).
The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is
madness in their hearts while they live
Jesus is "the Light." He exposes those who claim to be good children of Abraham
and of God. He charges,
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to
carry out your father's desire (John 8:44).
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the
devil has been sinning from the beginning
(I John 3:8).
We learn sin from Satan. By joining his rebellion we become "children of the
devil" (I John 3:10). All who sin are in the wrong family - which belong to that
ancient serpent (Revelation 20:2). Jesus is right. We need to be born into a
DEAD IN SIN
Ephesians 2:1-2 describes those who follow their own thoughts and desires. They
actually follow "the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at
work in those who are disobedient." To disobey God is to enter Satan's kingdom.
* There you are "dead in your transgressions and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
* You are one of the "objects of wrath" - literally, children of anger"
* You are "separate from Christ. . . without hope and without God in the
world" (Ephesians 2:12).
As sinners we are in the kingdom that stirs up God's anger. We cannot move
ourselves up to the better kingdom. For our spirits are "dead" in sin, and
"separated" from divine help. How urgently we need God's Spirit to give life to
our dead spirits! Yes, we need a second birth. Thank God for the promise that
"the Spirit gives birth to spirit!" (John 3:6).
Many of us never realize how sinful and dead we are. Satan helps us to cover up
"When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a
liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).
Nicodemus at first sees no need for a new birth. Other Pharisees are proud to
"sit in Moses' seat." They fail to see that they are "hypocrites" fighting God's
kingdom (Matthew 23). They think themselves closest to God, yet rush first to
kill His Son (John 7; 8).
Are we also trapped in lies?
* We are "not so bad." Yet how often we fail in our duties and choices. "Anyone,
knows the good he ought to do and doesn't doit, sins" (James 4:17).
* We are "better than others." Yet
what happens when we are alone, where others cannot see?
"`Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?' declares the LORD"
* We only do "small sins." Yet how
do we react when exposed or asked to change?
The question is not the `size' of the sin, but its mastery over us.Jesus shows
I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin
Any sin gives Satan all the hold he wants. Satan can make anything seem `small'
and `justified,' even as he helps it to grow worse.
The world. . . hates Me because I testify that what it
does is evil (John 7:7).
This explains how Bible `believers' come to lead in murdering the Son of God.
Jesus warns Nicodemus:
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come
into the light for fear that his deeds will
be exposed (John 3:20).
THE PAIN OF DARKNESS
Do we hate the Light that shows up our faults and failures? We like to keep our
pride. We fear loss of respect, position and control. What will others think or
say? Being honest can be painful!
God demands that we go through the pain of being honest. First, God's own
truthfulness rejects all lies. Second, God loves us deeply. He knows that
darkness holds for us far, far greater pain. For
all who join the rebels must receive their sentence for treason. Look at Satan's
The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of
burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will
be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).
Now look at the sinner's end:
He, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has
been poured full strength. . . He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the
presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment
rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the
murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice
the magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery
lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death (Revelation 21:8).
All humans face the first death - fleshly death. All in Satan's kingdom then
face the "second death" eternal death. Spiritual beings cannot be buried in
soil. If their burial is in fire, it must be "the
eternal fire." Injury by fire is the most painful thing we know. Thus God often
pictures the rebel's punishment as fire. You do not want to hear this sentence
Depart from me you who are cursed, into the eternal fire
prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Jesus never softens the truth, nor should we. Yet He who warns most about "hell"
also offers hope. Notice that "the eternal fire" is meant for rebellious angels,
not humans. Jesus tells Nicodemus
of God's care for us, and His plan for us: For God so
loved the world that He gave His one
and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal
life. For God did not
send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through
Him (John 3:16-17).
Final judgement is coming (John 5; Matthew 13; 25). But for now the door is open
Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of
salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Look into heaven and hell. See those born once who die twice in their sins. See
those born twice who never die. (Their departure is too wonderful to be called
death, John 8:51; 11:25-26.) When you see all this, you realize how much your
spirit needs new birth from God's Spirit. "But," you may say, "I've never seen
these spiritual things." Dear friend, you can see - by faith! For Jesus shares
with you His own direct knowledge. He assures Nicodemus, and us, "I tell you the
truth, We speak of what We know, and We testify to what We have seen" (John
3:11). He knows heaven's happiness. He sees all hell's horror. He knows what is
in your spirit.
No wonder He is so strong in His demand: You must be born again!
NEW BIRTH IS BY DEATH
Nicodemus, like us, is attracted to Jesus. This new
teacher fascinates him. Nicodemus examines all the facts he can find. They
convince him that God has sent Jesus, for no one can do such miracles unless God
is with him. Every illness receives a complete cure - instantly! The crippled
walk! The blind see!
Reports from Galilee even tell of water turning into wine (John 2).
Yet the same reports disturb leaders like Nicodemus. John the Baptizer has
introduced Jesus to the nation. John announces that Jesus is far greater. Though
John baptizes in water, Jesus will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Though John is
the older man, he claims that Jesus existed long before him. More than that,
John likens Jesus to a lamb. "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of
the world!" What can this mean? How can any human be a sacrifice to forgive
Doubts and questions swirl in the mind of Nicodemus. His meeting with Jesus only
seems to add more questions. For Jesus speaks of strange things - another birth,
the mystery of wind, earthly things and heavenly things. Jesus then reminds
Nicodemus of an ancient event:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the
Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal
life (John 3:14-15).
Why did Moses use a snake? What can this mean about Jesus?
"SNAKES" AND "SHEEP"
Jesus begins, dear friend, to open a door to a great mystery. He reminds
us that when Israelites rebelled, God punished them with snakes. Many people
died. The rest cried out for relief. So God
told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake, and to place it on a pole. Any
person with snakebite had only to look up at the bronze snake. All doing so were
healed, and escaped death (Numbers 21). Now Jesus is like that bronze snake,
about to be "lifted up" in order to save others.
How different the "snake" is from John's picture, "the Lamb of God!" Yet this
too recalls ancient stories. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Abraham went to do it, confident that "God Himself will provide the lamb for the
burnt offering" (Genesis 22:8). God did, in fact, send a sheep, which was killed
in Isaac's place.
Later, at the first Passover, each Israelite family killed, roasted and ate a
perfect young sheep or goat. They also put its blood over their doors. God said,
"When I see the blood, I will pass over you.
No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt" (Exodus 12:13).
Israelites remember every year, at a similar meal, how God once rescued them by
lamb's blood. In fact, perfect male
lambs are killed daily at the temple (Numbers 28, 29). Scripture often speaks of
sacrifice and blood removing sins.
The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with
blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews
Now John commands, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away
the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Is Jesus the perfect sacrifice, which
brings us full forgiveness?
JESUS HAS NO DOUBT
Again and again Jesus states His mission - to die! (Matthew 12:40; 16:21;
17:12,22-23; 20:18-19; 26:32). Just before meeting Nicodemus, Jesus has
challenged temple leaders: "Destroy this temple [My body], and I will raise it
again in three days" (John 2:19). He soon upsets followers, claiming that His
blood and flesh are food, which He "will give for the life of the world" (John
6:32-51). He must die to protect His sheep:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the
full. I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep
No one forces this death on Him. He freely chooses to give up life, and to
regain it later (John 10:14-18). He foresees that enemies will lift Him up (John
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all
men to Myself." He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die
All flesh dies, but Jesus' death is unique. It is the "ransom" paid to set us
free (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6). Free from what? Jesus eats His last
Passover with His followers. He gives them the bread made without yeast, saying,
"This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). Then
all share the grape drink.
"This cup," He says, "is the New Covenant in My blood."
"It is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins"
Here is the answer: His ransom frees us from sins! God promised this long ago.
"I will make a New Covenant. . . For I will forgive their
wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:31,34).
But why must God do it this way? Why "must"the Son of Man be lifted up like that
bronze statue? Could there be any other way to free me from my sin?
NO WAY BUT DEATH
After the last Passover, Jesus takes His followers to a garden called
Gethsemane. He prays three times to be released from the required suffering.
Jesus has faced all death threats with calmness and courage. Yet this death
holds much more terror than any other possible death.
Then He said to them,
"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
Stay here and keep watch with Me." Going a little farther, He fell with His face
to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken
from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:38-39).
An angel strengthens Him, but brings no message of relief. So Jesus prays "more
earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke
22:44). Jesus then arises to meet the police, led by the betrayer, Judas. Peter
strikes out to stop the arrest.
"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said. "Do you
think I cannot call on My Father, and He will
at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions [armies] of angels? But how
then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?
LIKE A LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER
Jewish leaders already reject fair hearings. (They even refused to hear
Nicodemus, John 7:50-52.) So Jesus' disciples desert, scattering in fear. Peter
denies that He ever knew Jesus. Jesus alone must endure the all night show
trials, the false witnesses, and the raging accusers.
They spit in His face and struck Him with their fists.
Others slapped Him and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit You?"
Governor Pilate wants to free Jesus. "For he knew it was out of envy that they
had handed Jesus over to him" (Matthew 27:18). The Jewish leaders choose to
release a known murderer, rather than this "Rabbi" Jesus. They accuse Pilate of
treason, and threaten to riot. So he finally has Jesus stripped and flogged with
cutting whips. Guards beat and spit on Him. They mock Him with `royal' clothes.
They press a `crown' of thorns into His head.
Then they load heavy wood onto His wounded body. He tries to carry it through
Jerusalem. At the place called "Skull" soldiers nail Jesus' hands and feet to
the wood. Then, on this rough cross, they lift Him up! Roman troops, Jews, even
two thieves crucified nearby, join in jeering at His shame. They laugh as His
blood flows. At noon the sky changes.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came
over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi,
Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken
Me?" (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus cries out twice more:
"It is finished" (John 19:30).
"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit "(Luke
He gives up His life. Joseph of Arimathea, another council member, takes down
the dead body. He and Nicodemus wrap the corpse in spices and cloth, then bury
it inside a tomb of rock (John 19:38-42).
So Jesus' words come true: in giving His life, He is lifted up! Jesus on His
cross is like the bronze snake on its pole. Look more closely at the meaning.
God could use many ways to save those rebellious Israelites. Yet He told Moses
to make an image like the thing killing them, a deadly snake.
God pointed toward us and His Son. Our sins and crimes against God are our
deadly snakes that poison us. The Son of God becomes the Son of Man, "being made
in human likeness (Philippians 2:7). In His trial and execution, He is treated
like the worst criminal. He looks like us and our poisonous sins. His forsaken
cry has all the pain we should feel in hell.
[God sent] His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be
a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man (Romans 8:3).
LOOK AT THE CROSS!
Look at the Lamb of God. Gaze at the Lifted One. What do you see there? God
condemning sin -our sin - placed on His Son! The Lamb taking our guilt and our
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has
turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. . .
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:6-7).
Look again. Do you see how ugly and damaging our sins are? We have all played
our part: we envy and hate, boast and betray, lie and deny, fear and fail. We
who accuse deserve to be accused. We who judge deserve God's judgement. Human
hypocrisy and revolt is most clear at the cross. For God came to bring us back
to His side, and we hated Him for it.
Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness
Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who
hates Me hates My Father as well (John 15:22-23).
Even today some are, in a spiritual sense, "crucifying the Son of God all over
again and subjecting Him to public disgrace" (Hebrews 6:6). Those who have
"treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant," and who have "insulted
the Spirit of grace," continue today to "trample the Son of God underfoot"
How sin twists the human heart. How it turns us against the very One who gives
us life, the Creator to whom we owe all love. How our selfishness hurts our own
lives, and leaves our families in ruins. How much suffering has spread through
the world because we left the peaceful ways of God. How our rebellion breaks
God's heart with sorrow. Dear friend, look at the cross. See the horror of your
own sins. See how dearly He loves you. His arms are stretched out on the cross.
They are stretched out to reach you.
They are stretched out to welcome you home.
See the price He pays for you: suffering so that you can live, dying so that
you can be born again.
NEW BIRTH IS BY GRACE
Nicodemus, like most of us, may have difficulty
understanding "grace." For people in his time - as now - think that they become
good through their own efforts. Paul (a fellow - Jew and formerly a Pharisee)
describes the Jewish religion in this way:
Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not
attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not
by faith but as if it were by works (Romans 9:31-32).
In other words, these Jews work hard to keep God's law. They think that their
labors make them "righteous," and earn reward from God.
Paul, in Romans, argues that such thinking is wrong. But Nicodemus, when we
first meet him, still thinks in the old Jewish way. He is with other Pharisees
who love to justify themselves to others. Even their prayers list for God their
good deeds (Luke 16:14-15; 18:11-12). Jesus warns against the deadly yeast of
their religious teaching (Matthew 16:6,12; 23:1-39).
So Jesus offers no praise for Nicodemus' good morals or high position. He closes
the door on proud self-righteousness - Nicodemus must start from birth again!
Jesus opens a window for humble self-examination "You are Israel's teacher, and
do you not understand these things?" Then Jesus throws open a door to the full
light of God's love. God gives the richest Gift heaven can give:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only
Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life
This is the very heart of grace. Yet many of us struggle with it. In all that
Jesus says here, where is the human labor on which we rely? Is there not some
way we can earn our place with God?
THE CENTER OF FAITH
Too often we place ourselves in the center of our religion. We depend on our own
wisdom, pride and effort. Jesus teaches us to move aside. For man-centered
religion ends up rejecting God and crucifying His Son.
None of the
rulers of this age understood [God's wisdom], for if they had, they would not
have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Paul was `religious,' yet destroyed many lives. Now he moves aside, and points
to Jesus Christ as the central Person. Surrounding Jesus is the message called
the "Gospel" Good News.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except
Jesus Christ and Him crucified
(1 Corinthians 2:2).
By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the
word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have
believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
that Christ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the
third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:2-4).
FACING THE JUDGE
To see Christ suffering so terribly "for our sins" is to see God's great anger
at our sins. God is the only Judge who sees all facts, reads all motives, and
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.
Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must
give account (Hebrews 4:13).
His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A
faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He (Deuteronomy
When God examines us, what does He find? The deadly rot of spiritual disease.
"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are
like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). Piling good deed upon good deed never succeeds,
since even our best deeds are sin-stained. The Holy One must distance Himself
from such moral filth. As Judge, His just anger must burn against all sin and
O LORD. . . Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You
cannot tolerate wrong(Habakkuk 1:12-13).
Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your
sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear (Isaiah
I am about to pour out My wrath on you and spend My anger
against you; I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all
your detestable practices. I will not look on you with pity or spare you
Take center stage, and see what happens! Try to impress God with your fine list
of works. Oh, you find yourself at the center - the very target at which He aims
His fiery vengeance!
God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath
every day (Psalm 7:11).
Nothing you can do changes your past record. No amount of pleading or hard work
changes your Judge's mind (Numbers 23:19). He knows you too well, and you fall
far short of His perfect standard.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Since you stand in the line of fire, move to safety. Start to depend on God
instead of yourself.
LOVE, EVEN THROUGH PAIN
To look at Christ dying for our sins is to look into the face of perfect love.
Nails do not hold Him to that wood. He can come down. He can call heaven's
armies. Instead He drinks every bitter drop of suffering.
Only the deepest love for you and me holds Him on that cross.
Listen to the kindness uttered from the depths of His agony. We might expect Him
to care for His mother (John 19:26-27). But what about His enemies? Even as
nails are tearing, bleeding His life away, He says,
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are
doing (Luke 23:34).
This is grace: blessing instead of cursing such murderers. Both crucified
robbers hurl insults at Jesus (Matthew 27:44). One thief then recognizes the
truth, and pleads, "Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom."
Helpless and dying, the thief has nothing to bargain with, no service to offer.
He admits that his corrupt life deserves this death sentence. Yet Jesus replies,
"I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
"Paradise" is like heaven, the very opposite of the hellish punishment the thief
has earned. This is the meaning of grace: receiving the mercy we need, not the
punishment we deserve!
THE SAME GOD?
Is this the Jesus who drives "robbers" out of His temple? Does He speak for the
same God as the Psalms and Prophets? They called down curses on enemies. Does
God change somewhere between the old Scriptures and the cross? Anyone who thinks
so has not paid enough attention to Scripture.
Jesus warns as severely as any prophet (Matthew 7-25; Revelation 1-4).Likewise,
the old Scriptures speak often of God's love:
* God walked in the garden with innocent Adam and Eve. But He also "walked" with
Enoch and others who had sin(Genesis 3,5,6,17).
* God treated Abraham as "friend," and promised, "through your offspring all
nations on earth will be blessed (Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 41:8).
* To Moses God revealed Himself, first and foremost, as "The LORD, the LORD, the
compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and
faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion
and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7). * David relied on that same grace. "Remember, O LORD,
your great mercy and love, for they are from of old (Psalm 25:6).
* God judged and condemned many sinners, yet made Hisfeelings clear. "For I take
no pleasure in the death of any- one," declares the Sovereign LORD. `Repent and
* Prophets blasted the nation of Israel (Ephraim), but always stressed God's
loving motive. "Is not Ephraim My dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though
I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore My heart yearns for
him; I have great compassion for him,' declares the LORD; (Jeremiah 31:20).
* As Jonah (4:2) complained, God is "abounding in love" for non-Jews also.
Jews like Nicodemus know their Bible. Some passages describe an angry Avenger
who destroys rebels. Other passages portray a patient Father, full of tender
mercy. All of these Scriptures tell the truth:
GOD IS JUDGE
His very nature demands complete justice. He cannot lie to Himself about our sin
and its fatal result. The Holy must separate from the unholy. The Just must
condemn the unjust. Therefore the truth cannot change:
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
YET "GOD IS LOVE" (1 John 4:8).
His very nature longs to rescue us - to forgive every person of every sin.
God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the
truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
How can God be "just" and "the One who justifies?" These two are not opposite
`sides,' as if God fights against Himself. Justice and mercy flow together from
who GOD is - the Person of PERFECTION in all that is right and good. Yet, to us,
God seems to face an impossible problem. How can He condemn sin and yet save the
sinner? How can He stay pure while bringing impure people back to Himself?
THE WISDOM OF GOD'S ANSWER
Nicodemus and Joseph bury the Crucified, not realizing that here rests God's
amazing answer! Jesus is "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the
world" (Revelation 13:8). From eternity God knew the danger of giving man free
will. God knew man would one-day use the power of choice against Him. Yet God
placed the highest value on man and his real love (made possible by real
choice). So, from the beginning, God chose His own solution: replacement.
One who is pure takes man's place, paying every penalty justice demands. Sinners
cannot pay for others; their own death sentence takes all they can pay. God uses
animals as pictures of replacement. But they have no spirit or will to truly
suffer man's punishment. "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to
take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).
Angels offering themselves would show their love, not God's love. The truth is,
God loves us, and wants to save us! All sin is against God, and only God can
forgive it. God, therefore, chooses Himself as the substitute or replacement
that allows mercy for humans.
This explains why God became man (John 1; Philippians 2). He shared our flesh
"that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9).
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree; by His
wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).
He took on our sin so completely that 2 Corinthians 5:21 says,
God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.
Here we see the meaning of the bronze snake, which stands for sin and death. Our
Savior fulfills it by becoming sin, and suffering death on our behalf. We see
His torment - loneliness and insults, curses and wounds, blood and death. Far
greater is the unseen pain, for sin separates from God. Hear the Son's desperate
cry to the Father: Why have You forsaken Me?
Unless we enter hell, we can hardly know the depths of terror in that wail. The
sinless and infinite heart of God's Son suffered the infinite punishment we
deserved. What astounding love! Like Nicodemus, we only begin to grasp the
fullness and depth of Jesus words: "God so loved the world that He gave His one
and only Son (John 3:16).
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in
mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it
is by grace you have been saved
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,
Christ died for us. . ..When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him
through the death of His Son (Romans 5:8).
As both God and Man, Christ is the perfect sacrifice that pays the full penalty
for all sin. So this is God's answer, which proves Him to be both "just" and
"the One who justifies" (Romans 3:25-26).
LET JESUS TAKE YOUR PLACE
The Son of God becomes Son of Man that you can be born as a son of God (John 1;
Hebrews 2; 1 John 3). So, in a sense, you change places. He takes your place in
death, freeing you to take a place with Him in life. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says He
takes our sins so completely that we "become the righteousness of God.
We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body
of Jesus Christ once for all. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever
those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:10,14).
Are you at the center of your religion? Do you depend on yourself, and trust
your own works to please God? If so, your sins (and pride) make you the target
of God's anger. "Cursed is the one who trusts in man" (Jeremiah 17:5). Step away
from the curse, dear friend, by depending on the grace of Christ. Let Him into
the center. He has already received the full blast of God's judgement for you.
Let Him now give you "rebirth' and a new life.
When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He
saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit
NEW BIRTH IS BY FAITH
Nicodemus, like many of us, has some faith. His Jewish background helps
him to believe in God and the Scriptures. He even has a growing faith in Jesus.
He confesses to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God."
He admits that God is the power behind the miracles and wisdom of Jesus. This is
a step forward.
Yet the faith of Nicodemus is many steps away from the full truth. Jesus is much
more than "a teacher." He does not use borrowed words, as teachers do. He speaks
from personal knowledge of
I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we
testify to what we have seen. . . No one has ever gone into heaven except the
One who came from heaven the Son of Man (John 3:11,13).
This is vital truth that Nicodemus has missed. Therefore Jesus accuses Nicodemus
Still you people do not accept our testimony. . . I have
spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you
believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:11-12).
It is not enough to think of Jesus as a good man, a fine teacher, or even a
great prophet. Faith should not stop short at half-truths. True faith rests on
the full truth of Jesus as Savior.
"The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who
believes in Him may have eternal life" (John 3: 14-15).
What does it mean to "believe in Him?" And why is this faith so important to
A SERIOUS CHARGE
How confidently Nicodemus begins, saying, "We know." How quickly Jesus uncovers
his ignorance, saying to him, "You do not understand. . . You people do not
accept. . . You do not believe" (John 3:10-12). This charge is serious. Jesus
warns that such unbelief brings certain death.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only
Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. . .
Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands
condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only
Son (John 3:16,18).
I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not
believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins
God has always wanted faith.
Without faith it is impossible to please God
Now that God has sent His Son, He requires faith in both Father and Son.
Trust in God; trust also in Me (John 14:1).
In the Bible there is no difference between "trust," "faith"and "belief." These
English words often translate the same original Hebrew or Greek word. What is
the meaning of that word in Scripture? What is faith?
FAITH MEANS RECEIVING FACTS
To believe in Jesus is to accept the fact that He is our Savior. He is Son of
Man (truly human) and Son of God (truly God). Faith is not blind guessing about
what `might' be so. Jesus assures Nicodemus,
I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we
testify to what we have seen (John 3:11).
Nicodemus hears the "testimony," the true report of eyewitnesses.He sees solid
evidence. By these He comes to believe.
The crowning evidence is Jesus' resurrection. The corpse, which Nicodemus laid
in the grave, comes to life again. The risen Christ presents Himself to chosen
witnesses: Peter, John, Paul and others,
including 500 at one time (John 20; 1 Corinthians 15).
After His suffering, He showed Himself to these men
[apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive (Acts 1:3).
"You will be My witnesses," Jesus tells His apostles. The Holy Spirit makes sure
that their testimony is accurate in every way (Acts 1; John 14,16; 1 Peter 1).
You and I have not seen Jesus in person. Yet our faith can be as strong as that
of eyewitnesses. When Peter writes to readers like you and me, he describes them
as enjoying faith equal to His own (1 Peter 1; 2 Peter 1). John assures us that
his writings can bring us to saving faith (John 20; 1 John 5). Hebrews 11:1
describes faithas "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not
see." We are sure - we believe - because the word of God is so completely
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is
heard through the word of Christ
Faith, though, is more than accepting facts. Nicodemus' fellow leaders later
"believe." But this does not mean that God approves.
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed
in Him. But because of the Pharisees they
would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;
for they loved praise from men more than praise from God (John 12:42-43).
Jesus will not tell God He knows us unless we have enough faith to tell people
that we know Him. ". . .Whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before
My Father" (Matthew 10:32-33). True faith treats Jesus as Lord, and tells others
the reason for its hope (Acts 26:6; 1 Peter 3:15).
If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and
believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For
it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your
mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
FAITH MEANS TRUSTING
Faith, though, should be more than confessing Gospel facts. You must trust in
what those facts mean. You must take seriously Jesus' claim: "I am the way and
the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John
14:6). No one else - no angel, no spirit, no holy man, no exalted woman - is the
way to heaven's blessing.
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other
name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Trusting Christ ends all efforts at being your own savior. You will be rescued,
not because you are so good, but because God is so good. Your salvation is not
by your kind deeds, but by God's infinitely kinder deed. How much He values you!
Giving His Son for you cost Him more than words can tell. Yet to you all this is
free. Soon after Nicodemus' visit, Jesus teaches a woman of Samaria. Her life
been sinful and immoral, and Jesus says to her,
If you knew the gift of God. . .you would have asked Him
and He would have given you living water (John 4:10).
What happens when you work for a gift? It is no longer a "gift," but something
owed to you. By earning it you place the giver under a duty or obligation. This
is Paul's point in Romans 4:4: "When a man works, his wages are not credited to
him as a gift, but as an obligation." God rejects all such human "works" for
salvation (Romans 3-4; Galatians 2-3).
The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord
Sadly, many religions still try to earn favor with God. Pictures and lips honor
the cross; but hearts dishonor and distrust it. They treat Christ's sacrifice as
incomplete, and in need of extra work. "Yes, Jesus sets you free" - yet you fail
to do enough for Him, and feel enslaved by guilt! "Yes, Jesus freely forgives" -
yet some leaders want you to earn the right to receive that forgiveness.
FAITH DOES NOT EARN
Dear friend, true belief gives you all the right you need:
Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His
name, He gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural
descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God (John
In the early church some Jewish Christians add their own works to the cross.
"Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot
be saved" (Acts 15:1). The apostles firmly reject this, saying,
No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord
Jesusthat we are saved (Acts 15:11).
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm,
then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. . . .
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you
have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:1,4).
Drop forever, dear friend, the fatal error of pursuing righteousness "as if it
were by works" (Romans 9:32). `Working' for salvation treats it as cheap enough
for a sinner to earn. `Adding' to it suggests it is too weak. Your salvation
costs heaven's highest price (1 Peter 1). How do you respond to such amazing
kindness? Accept it! Take to heart this Good News: Christ died for all sinners
including you (1 Timothy 1:15; 2:4-6). Trust the complete power of God's
sacrifice. Yes, we are unworthy. Rely, therefore, on God's Son. He is perfectly
able to free you from all sin and all guilty feelings (John 8:36;
Hebrews 10:10-22; 1 John 1:7-9).
I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of
God for the salvation of everyone who
believes... (Romans 1:16).
For it is by grace you have been saved, through
faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of
God - not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
After showing the importance of belief, Jesus urges Nicodemus to action.
But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so
that it may be seen plainly that what he has done
has been done through God (John 3:21).
In the original wording, "lives by" is from the simple verb "do." The
person doing the truth enters the light. Nicodemus must both believe and do.
Jesus, of course, knows how Pharisees `work' for their self-righteousness. So He
describes the action He requires as "done through God" (or more literally,
worked in God).
This work depends on God, not man. It credits God, not man. It submits to God's
will, not man's tradition (see Mark 7).
Jews later ask, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus does not
satisfy their desire to earn merit. He replies, "The work of God is this: to
believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29). Any work Jesus may demand is simply
belief in action. When the Lord commands, true belief obeys. Disobeying proves
one's confession of faith to be false.
Why do you call Me, "Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?
Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the
kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven
Jesus describes people who seem confident, and who confess Jesus as Lord. Yet He
rejects their faith. Why? They are "evildoers,"a word literally meaning "ones
without law" (Matthew 7:23). Their sin is leaving out God's commands. They go to
the same place as demons, for their faith is demonic. "Even the demons
believe...and shudder" (James 2:19). Demons confess, yet remain rebels until
their miserable end (Matthew 8:29; Jude 6). James warns us against their kind of
`faith alone.' Saving faith, he says, actively obeys.
You see that a person is justified by what he does and not
by faith alone. . . . As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without
deeds is dead (James 2:24, 26).
Paul agrees with this. He fights human "works" such as circumcision. Yet he
knows that work "done through God" is essential.
* Notice what Paul says in Galatians 5:6 --
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expression
itself [literally, working] through love.
* Now listen to the same apostle in 1Corinthians 7:19 --
Circumcision in nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.
Keeping God's commands is what counts.
*Finally, hear him again in Galatians 6:15 --
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything;
what counts is a new creation.
New creation comes through faith; and according to inspired writers this kind of
faith "works. . . obeying the truth" (Galatians 5:6-7). That sounds exactly like
Jesus. While discussing new birth, He requires faith "doing the truth." Dear
friend, do you believe enough to obey? Only obedient faith can receive the
gift of new life. God Himself makes your new purity - your new birth - a matter
of "obeying the truth" of His word:
You have purified yourselves by obeying the truth. . . .
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable,
through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23).
6: NEW BIRTH IS BY
Like most of us, Nicodemus thinks he knows about repentance. The old prophets
often cried, "Repent!" Large crowds now say another prophet has come - John the
Baptizer. They go to the desert, and hear him preach, "Repent, for the kingdom
of heaven is near." Jesus enters public life with the very same message (Matthew
Nicodemus ought to be comfortable with the call to "repent," for it means to
leave sin and turn to God. Most Pharisees pride themselves in already doing
that. Yet John the Baptizer makes it neither comfortable nor easy. How does John
greet those Pharisees who humble themselves enough to seek baptism? You brood of
vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping
with repentance (Matthew 3:7-8).
Jesus is just as hard. He enters Jerusalem like a whirlwind, using a whip to
drive sellers from temple businesses (John 2). Temple leaders turn against
Jesus. Nicodemus, however, calls Jesus "rabbi" and greets Him in a friendly way.
Jesus pays little attention to the title or the greeting. Instead, in one
sentence, He seems to sweep away the life that Nicodemus has built so carefully.
The respected Nicodemus must start from the beginning, with a new birth. Jesus
challenges Nicodemus to come to the light. Jesus charges: "Men loved darkness
instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Which deeds are so
evil? Does "repentance" mean more than we think it does?
PREPARE FOR THE KINGDOM!
Dear friend, we have much to learn about the Messiah's kingdom. In Scripture
"kingdom," often means "rule" or "reign." To say, "The kingdom of heaven is
near!" is like saying, "Heaven will reign very soon!" God, of course, has always
reigned from heaven (Psalm 10,103). "Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom . .
. through all generations (Psalm 145:13). God already rules over all, whether
people repent or not. Why do John and Jesus speak as if heaven's kingdom is now
coming? Why do they require repentance for it? And what has this to do with a
new birth into God's kingdom?
Ancient prophets pointed ahead to God reigning in a new and special way. In this
kingdom God would save, protect and live with His people - all through His
chosen King-Messiah. One prophet even set the time for the kingdom to begin
(Daniel 2,9). Now Jesus declares, The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.
Repent and believe the Good News! (Mark 1:15).
Literally, the time has been "filled" or "fulfilled!" The prophecies are coming
true: God is arriving with His saving reign! Nicodemus stands at the crossroad
of history. As Jesus unfolds kingdom truth, He
presents a choice between life and death: "Sons of the kingdom" are saved; "sons
of the evil one" are destroyed (Matthew 13). All seeking refuge in God's kingdom
must first prepare their hearts through faith and repentance. The King firmly
requires this new attitude:
I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you
will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like
this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3-4).
A child is open to learning and changing. A child is dependent and receives
correction. Over the years, however, `adult' sins of pride and prejudice harden
us. It is time, dear friend, to return to the humble,
yielding attitude of childhood. If we do not, there is no hope for us. "Unless
you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:3). But what is the meaning of
this command, "repent"?
WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
Repentance is not just saying the right words. Jesus tells temple leaders a
story of a father who asks his sons to work. One son rebels, saying, "I will
not!" But later he changes his mind and goes to work. The other son seems to
obey, saying, "I will, sir!" But he never goes to work. Jesus then asks, "Which
of the two did what his father wanted?" They answer, "The first." Jesus then
gives the meaning of His parable:
I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the
kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of
righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the
prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him
Repentance is not just sincere religion. To whom does Jesus give this parable?
He gives it to chief priests and elders, who are very religious! They actually
think they serve God, while plotting murder (John 11,16). Nicodemus is sincere
and fair-minded, yet must still obey the call to repent and be born again. Saul
tries always to live "in all good conscience," yet finds himself fighting
against God. "I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I
persecuted the followers of this Way to their death" (Acts 22:3-4; see 23:1;
Saul's zeal and sincerity are real. His ignorance is just as real (1 Timothy
1:13; like Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17). Satan uses lack of knowledge to twist
eagerness into evil. Sincerity and character are not tested by what a person
does not know. A person's true test comes when he learns the truth he missed
before. Scripture is about to teach you new things. How will you react?
When Saul finally learns, his honesty leads to his obedience (Acts 9, 22, 26).
But most of his old friends fail the test. They prefer their darkness (John
1:11; 3:19; Acts 9:23,29).
They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on
knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and
sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness
Repentance is not just fear. Some say that repentance is being afraid. Afraid to
die! Afraid of God! Afraid of the future! In a parable about money, a servant
says to his master, "I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man" (Luke
19:21). Yet that servant is the disobedient one. He is like Pilate when he
judges Jesus. Hearing that Jesus claims to be the Son of God, Pilate becomes
"even more afraid" (John 19:8). But he still orders the terrible death on the
cross. Felix, another Roman governor, later throws Paul into jail. Paul warns
about God's judgment.
Felix was afraid and said, "That's enough for now . .
.When I find it convenient, I will send for you" (Acts 24:25).
Felix never finds an easy, `convenient' time. Instead, seeking a bribe, he
unjustly imprisons Paul for two years! No, fear is not repentance.
Repentance is not just feeling guilt and sorrow. Some think that when a person
knows he is a sinner and feels guilty, he is repenting. Others think they have
reached repentance when they are truly sorry for sinning. You remember the rich
ruler. Jesus exposes his love for money. He becomes "very sad" - and leaves
Jesus! (Luke 18; Mark 10). Judas feels guilty for betraying Jesus. Torn by
sorrow, he returns the money, and confesses his sin.
He was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver
coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have
betrayed innocent blood" (Matthew 27:3-4).
These feelings are not repentance, because Judas does not return to obey God.
Instead he hangs himself (Matthew 27; Acts 1). Judas has a deadly sorrow. There
is a better kind of sorrow.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and
leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Godly sorrow is not repentance, but moves us toward true repentance.
POWER TO CHOOSE
Peter helps us see how sorrow turns to repentance. When Jesus is on trial, Peter
keeps denying that he knows Jesus.
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the
Lord had spoken . . . And he went outside and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62).
Peter realizes that his lies are as bad as Judas' betrayal. His heart is broken.
He must choose where his sorrow will lead. Will it drive him deeper into sin?
(Like Judas he may even hang himself.) Or will it
lead to a change for the better? Jesus foretold the testing of Peter. Jesus also
said, "I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you
have turned back, strengthen your brothers"
(Luke 22:32). Yes, Peter can turn around!
Jesus has a story about a lost son. The boy chooses a selfish life that nearly
destroys him. Then he comes to his senses. He says, "I will go back to my
father!" He returns and his father welcomes him home - a wonderful picture of
God's love! This parable in Luke 15 helps us understand choice. God freely
chooses to welcome sinners. Yet He does not force sinners to come back.
Instead, He opens the way home, and then gives us power to choose. Even in the
depths of moral filth and misery the sinful son can - and does - make the
decision to return home. Likewise, Peter can - and does - return to the Father
for forgiveness. Some act as if they can never change. To such people God says
there is no need to rush headlong into ruin. Your heart and life can change!
I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather
that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why
will you die? (Ezekiel 33:11).
THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE
The road back to doing right is uphill. Repentance is the hardest command to
obey, for human will is proud and stubborn. The risen Christ confronts Peter.
Three times Peter has denied Him. Three times Jesus now asks, "Simon, do you
love Me?" Three times Jesus tells Peter the action that best shows his love
(John 21). Peter's life then proves that he has decided to turn back to Christ.
So firm is the decision of real repentance that actions always follow. Change of
mind leads to change of life.
John orders Jewish leaders, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!" (Matthew
3:8). To others he gives specific examples. Tax collectors and soldiers must
stop taking more than is lawful. People with extra food and clothing must share
with those who have nothing (Luke 3).
think of your own life. Do you fail to care for the needy? Do you love money? Do
you hurt those closest to you? Do you lie when it seems necessary? Do you get
drunk? Are you guilty of immoral thoughts and acts? Paul lists all these sins
and more, saying,
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this
will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
We cannot willfully carry rebellious ways into the presence of the Holy One. The
"kingdom" is where people come to God for salvation by His Son, and so willingly
place themselves under His reign. Even as you struggle with many weaknesses, you
can certainly decide which ruler you are trying to obey. The decision for Jesus
to be your "Lord" will (and must) make a difference in how you live.
I preached that they should repent and turn to God and
prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20).
A SHORT TIME
Do you sometimes wonder why God allows this wicked world to continue? Dear
friend, the world continues until now for one main purpose to give you and me
the chance to repent.
The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise [to destroy the earth] . . . . He is
patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to
repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Too many of us misuse the patience and goodness of God. When He gives us time,
we use it for more sinning. When He blesses, we think He approves of us. So we
put off serious learning or changing.
Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not
realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your
stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against
yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be
revealed (Romans 2:4-5).
No, dear friend, God is neither blind nor forgetful about our sins. This moment
of life is God's gift to you. It is not for your selfish purposes and pleasures.
It is for learning truth! It is for doing truth! Jesus
urgently sends this message to you and to every precious soul for whom He died.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His
name to all nations (Luke 24:47).
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be
wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He
commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
Now that command comes to you. Determine to let God rule your life. Leave behind
all that brings shame and death. This is the decision that prepares you to enter
God's kingdom by water and the Holy Spirit.
7: NEW BIRTH IS BY
Nicodemus hears "water" mentioned with the new birth. Like many today, he at
first fails to see how it fits. What has water to do with a new life?
Later he has time to think about major events surrounding his visit with Jesus.
Great crowds are flocking to see John. His strange name -"the Baptizer"- tells
that water is central to his mission and message. John claims that God sent him
"to baptize with water" (John 1:33).
John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of
Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in
the Jordan River (Mark 1:4-5).
Jesus then enters this scene. What is His first priority? Then Jesus came from
Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John (Matthew 3:13).
Jesus needs no forgiveness, and John resists. But Jesus insists, "Let it be so
now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew
3:15). So Jesus goes into the water. God heartily approves, as shown by His
voice from heaven and the Spirit's arrival. Is baptism the "water of the new
JESUS USES WATER
One might think that baptism in water ends when Jesus takes over. For John says,
"I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark
1:8). Yet, after talking with Nicodemus, Jesus goes on doing as John does.
After this, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where
He spent some time with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon
near Salim, because there was plenty, and people were constantly coming to be
baptized . . . [Some report to John,] "The One you testified about well, He is
baptizing, and everyone is going to Him" (John 3:22-23, 26).
Now both are using water, Jesus soon has His followers dipping even more people
than John's growing number (John 4:1-2). With each new person baptized, John and
Jesus prove that water is important. All of this is at the very time when Jesus
requires the new birth of water and the Spirit. How can Nicodemus fail to see
which "water" is required?
The common people can see well enough. So many respond that reports state in a
general way: "All the people were being baptized" (Luke 3:21). Only a few -
mainly leaders of religion - see no importance in baptism. They reject the
authority behind it. (Luke 20:1-8).
All these people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words,
acknowledged that God's way
was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts
in the law rejected
God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John (Luke
THE KING HAS ALL AUTHORITY
Dear friend, are you willing to accept God's purpose for you? Now that Christ
has risen from death, there is no longer room for doubt. We cannot make up our
own way into God's kingdom. Jesus is Lord. He alone has "all authority." He sets
the terms, and He keeps a vital role for baptism:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been
given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in ,
into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching
them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always,
to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
Fifty days after Jesus' resurrection, Peter and the other apostles begin
publicly to make disciples. They prove to Jews that "God has made this Jesus,
whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the
other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be
baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ . . ." Those who
accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their
number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching . . . (Acts
Here the apostles carry out the order of Matthew 28. They make disciples for
Christ through teaching and baptism. The apostles pass on to new disciples all
of Christ's commands. Those include commands from Matthew 28 itself. Thus we
find new disciples, such as Philip, also teaching and baptizing others. When
they believed Philip as he preached the Good News of the kingdom of God and the
name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women (Acts 8:12).
Acts 8 is similar to John 3. In both places the Gospel message links "the
kingdom of God" with baptism. But are we sure this is baptism in water? Continue
to read Acts 8, as Philip teaches an Ethiopian eunuch.
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the Good News
about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the
eunuch said,"Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" . . . And he
gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into
the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the
Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him
again, but went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:35-39).
Clearly, telling about Jesus includes telling about baptism. Yes, the Gospel
message does have people looking for water. However, the Ethiopian does not
merely reach for a bottle of water. Remember how John baptized "in the Jordan
River" (Mark 1:5). Later he baptized at Aenon. Why? "Because there was plenty of
water" (John 3:23).
Now we see the Ethiopian leaving his vehicle. They go "down into the
water" where Philip baptizes him. Why go to such lengths if only a little water
will do? There is a reason for doing it this way. They respect the authority of
Jesus. His command to "baptize" has a clear meaning, which they understand. It
turns out, as we read Romans 6 and Colossians 2, that baptism is a kind of
burial. A little pouring or
sprinkling hardly amounts to a proper burial. When something is buried, it is
put under the ground. When we are buried in baptism, we are put under the
water. Dear friend, have you gone "down into the
water"? Have you been buried in water?
WHEN SHOULD YOU OBEY?
In Acts baptism is an urgent matter. The Ethiopian begins with little or no
knowledge of the Gospel. He does not realize that Jesus is the sacrificed lamb
(Acts 8:30-34). Upon first hearing the Gospel, he is immediately baptized. What
is the rush? We can ask that question often as we read the book of Acts.
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were
added to their number that day (Acts 2:41).
"Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?" . . . So he
ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:47-48).
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then
immediately he and all his
family were baptized (Acts 16:33).
On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5).
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized . . .(Acts 22:16).
They did not wait for a special day, or for a larger group. The Philippian
jailer began as a pagan unbeliever. He asked, "What must I do to be saved?" and
the same night he believed and was baptized (Acts 16). He did not wait through
many months of classes and exams. Why? Because you can learn the Good News in a
short time. This simple Gospel includes the command to be baptized. If you
believe Jesus is Lord, why put off obeying Him? True faith has the attitude of
Psalm 119:60: "I will hasten and not delay to obey Your commands." Are you
hastening to obey, or are you delaying? Your answer should take into account
another urgent reason for receiving New Testament baptism . . . .
THE PURPOSE OF WATER
John's baptism was an early preparation. After Jesus completes His saving work,
Christian baptism takes over (Matthew 28:19). The two baptisms are different.
(Those who later receive John's baptism must be immersed again into Jesus, Acts
19:1-5.) Yet both share a similar purpose. John was "preaching a baptism of
repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:3). Compare this with Peter's
words to the people who are convinced that Jesus has risen from death:
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus
Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the
Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far
off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38-39).
[Noah and his family] were saved through water, and this water symbolizes
baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the
pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of
Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21).
The King Himself gives to Peter the keys to the kingdom. Here Peter binds -
requires - what God has bound (Matthew 16:19). In effect, Peter is repeating
what the King told Nicodemus: entering the kingdom requires "water." That water
is not just an outward washing or bath. Nor is it merely a picture or symbol.
No, in 1 Peter 3, the "symbol" is the water of Noah's time. The flood separated
Noah from the wicked. It saved him while destroying the world. That ancient
water "symbolizes" and points to a far greater salvation (and separation) by
Dear friend, will you be saved by the water? Or will that same water condemn you
because you reject the King's way into His kingdom? Jesus warns that "many" who
think they are safe will be lost. They never know Jesus, and they never "enter
the kingdom" because they fail to follow His way. Sadly, they never see their
mistake until it is too late (Matthew 7:21-27).
IS WATER AGAINST SALVATION BY FAITH?
Peter has no problem joining belief with water for salvation (Acts 2,10; 1 Peter
1-3). In this he is like his King and his fellow-apostles:
Go into all the world and preach the Good News to all
creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will
be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:15-16).
Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to
make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word
(Ephesians 5:25-26; like Hebrews 10:22).
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for
all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ
Faith and baptism go together for entering Christ and becoming "sons of God."
This is true for "all" - everybody (John 3:3-5; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Romans
6:3; Galatians 3:26-27). The King Himself sets the example, submitting to
baptism like "all" others (Luke 3:21). Even one as sincere and special as Saul
(Paul) must submit. For three days, after seeing the risen Christ, Saul fasts
and prays. Do
his faith and prayers alone cleanse him? No, for after these things God's
spokesman arrives, saying,
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away,
calling on His name
His sins remain, and need to be washed away. Such forgiveness takes place when
belief obeys in baptism. Truly, just as Jesus says, no one can enter the kingdom
unless he is born through water and
DOES WATER WASH AWAY SIN?
Religions, long before Christ, used water and were powerless. Water has no
special magic. Certain followers of John prove this. As "disciples" trying to
obey God, they receive John's baptism. Despite their sincere hopes, that water
has no value, for this is after the end of John's baptism. Paul teaches them
about Christ and His Spirit. Then they receive immersion again, this time "into
the name of the
Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:4-5).
The power to save is in Jesus! His blood clears us of sin (1 John 1:7;
Revelation 1:5; 7:14). Why then does Acts 22 command, "Be baptized and wash your
sins away"? Does Jesus link His blood and death to baptism?
Compare Matthew 26 with Acts 2. Jesus gives His blood "for the forgiveness of
sins" (Matthew 26:28). Yet repentance and baptism are "for the forgiveness of
your sins" (Acts 2:38). They share exactly word for word - the same purpose.
Yes, they are tied together! Christ's blood was poured out as He died on the
cross. His sacrifice satisfies both the justice and mercy of God (Romans
5:1-11). Now we learn where faith meets that saving death:
Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were
baptized into His death?
We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just
as Christ was raised
from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life
"having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith
in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).
God alone has power to raise you from sin and death. Likewise, God alone decides
where and when He applies His saving power to you. Clearly He chooses believing,
repenting baptism. In this event one
enters "into" Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; Matthew 28:19). This is also
where one comes "into" Christ's death (Romans 6; Colossians 2).
Now we see why Paul must wash away his sins in baptism (Acts 22). Through
baptism he enters Christ's death and its saving blood! Only in that death can
grace save. Only in that death is one effectively "calling on His name" (Acts
22:16; see 2:21-42). Do you see why Paul is not saved before baptism? He can
never force his way into God's favor, no matter how sincere his prayers and
tears. He - and - we must enter in the way set by God Himself. That way is
through His Son's death, and that death is entered through baptism.
IS THIS THE NEW BIRTH?
Read Romans 6 again - carefully. Do you see how you share in Christ's death,
burial and resurrection by baptism? Do you see how your old sinful self dies
with Christ there? Do you see how God raises you to "new life"? It is new
because all your sins are forgiven! Your new life serves God, not sin (Romans
6:5-23). And isn't "new life" another way of saying, "birth"? Yes, this is your
When Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, He knows what He plans for baptism. He knows
that in watery burial believers will enter His saving death, rising again to a
clean, new life! That is why He requires "water"in the new birth. Nicodemus must
be born this way. Dear friend, you too must be born this way. The King leaves no
one out (John 3:5). Listen to His literal wording, as He speaks to you now:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot
enter into the kingdom of God.
8: NEW BIRTH IS BY
Nicodemus is "born of the flesh." Like us, therefore, he tends to think in
fleshly ways - even when trying to understand the spiritual world. When Jesus
requires a new birth, Nicodemus thinks of a second physical birth. So Jesus
repeats His requirement in a way Nicodemus might recognize:
I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of
water and the Spirit (John 3:5).
John the Baptizer uses "water" while promising "the kingdom of God." Jesus also
requires water. But what about "Spirit"? Is this a second event, as if one must
be born "of water," and at another time "of
In any case, we have no power over the Spirit. We could not even do the smaller
thing of choosing our first birth and our fleshly parents. How can Jesus make
"birth" a command for us, and hold us responsible?
LISTEN TO YOUR SAVIOR
Dear friend, Jesus does not make His will too difficult for you to understand
and fulfill. He gave His own life for saving you. He loves you so deeply; surely
then He also makes clear how you enter His new life.
So turn away from the confusing opinions of men. Listen to the one and
only Teacher (Matthew 17:5; 23:10). He chooses His words with care. The wording
is not "born of water and born of Spirit." Nor is it even "born" of water and of
Spirit. Jesus literally says, "Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot
enter the kingdom of God." The one word "of" goes with both "water" and
"Spirit." The original wording ties both together, showing clearly that this is
a single birth, which Jesus also calls "born of the Spirit" (3:8).
The Spirit, of course, is God. He often speaks of Himself in this way when He
reaches into the world with special power. Therefore the writer John also uses
the term "born of God" (John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18).
GOOD NEWS OF THE SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is active and powerful in every part of the Gospel:
Through the old prophets the Spirit predicts the coming of Christ (1 Peter
Through Mary He gives unique life on earth to the Son of God. "She was found to
be with child through the Holy Spirit . . . What is conceived in her is from the
Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18, 20; see Luke 1).
Through the eternal Spirit, Christ offers Himself to the Father as the perfect
sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 9:14). The Spirit raises Christ from death, and
promises the same for us (Romans 8:11).
He fills John the Baptizer, and leads the apostles and their helpers into "all
truth" (Luke 1,12; John 14, 16; Acts 1,2; 1 Corinthians 2,12).
He shares His holiness so that we can enter God's presence (1 Corinthians 6:11;
2 Corinthians 3;
Ephesians 2:18; 1 Peter 1:2).
The Spirit shows Himself most clearly at Jesus' baptism, coming to Him "in
bodily form like a dove" (Luke 3:22). John recognizes this sign and tells the
The One who sent me to baptize with water told me, "The Man on whom you see the
Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit" (John
This event proves Jesus to be "the Son of God" (John 1:34). The Father in heaven
voices agreement: "You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased"
(Luke 3:22). (Father, Son and Holy Spirit are named together at this water
baptism. How fitting that their names unite again in the believer's baptism,
which is literally "into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
YOU CHOOSE TO DO HIS WILL
Shortly after His own baptism, Jesus confronts Nicodemus. Jesus makes birth of
water and Spirit a command. "You must be born again" (John 3:7). How can you
obey a command to be born? Nicodemus had no choice about his first birth. The
seed of his parents came together, and so he was conceived. His tiny body began
to grow inside his mother. About nine months later he was born. All of this was
without his knowledge or will. How then can he make a choice about his
second birth? Yes, one can decide to pass through "water." But the Spirit is
Person. In this picture of birth He is like a parent. How can mere man make a
decision to be "born of the Spirit"?
The answer is in the way the Spirit wants to work. As Almighty God He can easily
overpower us and force us into spiritual birth. (He can even make children for
Abraham out of stones, Luke 3). Yet He is so free, so fully in control, so
confident that He is not trapped into keeping all freedom to Himself. He creates
us "in His image" with true ability to choose. "If anyone chooses to do God's
will he will find out whether My teaching comes from God" (John 7:17). Again and
again Jesus insists that "anyone . . . everyone . . .whoever" can freely receive
Him and His gifts (John 3:15,16,18,21). Jesus even gives man a part in receiving
the Holy Spirit.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will
be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives . . . . If you then, though you
are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your
Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:9-10,13).
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,
"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as
the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By
this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.
Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been
glorified (John 7:37-39).
"Scripture" indeed looks forward to this life-giving river. Isaiah likens the
Spirit to reviving rain. Ezekiel even foresees God placing His Spirit into His
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will
pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants
(Isaiah 44:3; like 58:11; Zechariah 14:8).
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you
your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in
you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws (Ezekiel
36:26-27; like 37:1-14).
God places His own eternal, all-powerful Spirit into tiny, weak humans. Though
too wonderful for us to fully grasp, this is what the old Scriptures promise.
And this is what the New Testament boldly reports as fulfilled in Christians!
Those who enter Christ become "a holy temple. . . a dwelling in which God lives
by His Spirit" (Ephesians 2:21-22; also Romans 5,8; 1 Corinthians 3,6).
THE WORLD CANNOT RECEIVE HIM
Jesus, however, assures His disciples that the wicked "world" has no part in the
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you
forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither
sees Him nor knows Him (John 14:16-17).
The world cannot "see" the Spirit, for He is invisible and known through faith.
The world cannot hear the Spirit of "truth," for the world is listening to the
father of lies. The Holy Spirit of truth is separated from all that is sinful
and false. Therefore He deals with us, like God the Father, on the basis of sins
removed by Christ's death, burial and resurrection. You recall how the Spirit
says that water baptism "saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1Peter
3:21). Now notice a similar statement through the same writer.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He
has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
Christ's resurrection empowers new birth (1:3). Christ's resurrection empowers
water baptism (3:21). Why use baptism for birth? Because, dear friend, this is
your spiritual resurrection. You are "buried with Him in baptism and raised with
Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead"
(Colossians 2:12). The Holy Spirit does not accept or live with sin. You must
"be baptized and wash your sins away!" (Acts 22:16). As divine blood removes
your sins they no longer offend God. They no longer keep His Spirit at a
distance. He can then work in you to raise and renew you. This is birth through
"water" and "Spirit" (John 3). Or, stated another way, through "washing" and
"renewal by the Holy Spirit." He saved us, not because of righteous things we
done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and
renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
Yes, this is God's way for all to be born as sons and qualify to receive His
Spirit. The Spirit's wording leaves no room for exceptions.
Repent and be
baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of
your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or
Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were
baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3: 26-27) .
. . . Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the
Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6).
"TRULY, TRULY I SAY TO YOU!"
Dear friend, Jesus places before you now the most important decision of your
life. You can tell how serious He is. Three times He says, "I tell you the
truth!" (Jesus' wording is literally, "Truly, truly, I say to you . . ." So He
actually uses this word "truly" six times with Nicodemus!) He repeats how
impossible it is to enter God's kingdom without this birth (John 3:3-7). As
Jesus teaches He proves that His words come from God (3:11-13). They are the
basis for eternal salvation - or eternal destruction (3:34-36). As Jesus says in
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to
you are spirit and they are life. Dear friend, the word of God cannot fail. It
will give you life if you allow it to do its saving work in you. But if you
refuse, it will go on to do the work of judging you. You alone decide whether
God's word brings you mercy or condemnation.
There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that
very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of
My own accord, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and how to
say it. know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just
what the Father has told Me to say (John 12:48-50).
Jesus stresses your personal choice in a story about His "seed" (Matthew 13;
When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the
evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart (Matthew 13:19).
Nicodemus is hearing "the message about the kingdom" - how to see it and enter
it. Even when he first misunderstands he faces a decision. He can harden himself
against further learning. This allows Satan to steal God's word, like a bird
taking seed from a path. But Nicodemus can choose to keep on learning from
Jesus, so as to understand Him. Then God's seed can grow within him. You, dear
friend, face the same decision. You can choose an honest heart that listens,
learns and obeys.
The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the
word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15).
To "retain" means to hold tightly to the word. To "persevere" means to keep
trying even when it is difficult. Satan uses many troubles and temptations.
Allowing these trials to close your heart turns it into rocky or thorny ground
that chokes out God's word. Therefore you must remain strongly committed to
THE SEED OF THE SPIRIT
In this parable, as elsewhere, Jesus plainly shows the "seed" that enters your
heart and saves you.
The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11).
Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen
to the word, and so
deceive yourselves. Do what it says! (James 1:21-22;see also Matthew 4:4; Acts
11:14; Ephesians 1:13).
James is right - hearing (or reading) Bible facts is not enough. You must allow
the planted seed to grow. You must "accept" and "do" as God's word instructs.
Otherwise Satan, the father of lies, tightens his hold on you as you fool or
Satan plants his seed - his lying word - in order to kill (Genesis 3;John 8).
God plants His seed - "the word of truth" - in order to give life!
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have
sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you
have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the
living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:21-23).
The seed of a human parent is perishable. Since "flesh gives birth to flesh,"
you will fade and die like any flower. But God never dies! Just as God is
eternal, so His seed is everlasting and "imperishable."
What is His life-giving seed? "The word of God"! Peter shows that he means
especially "the Gospel," which the Holy Spirit has safely delivered through His
inspired spokesmen (1 Peter 1:12,24).
The picture becomes clear as we compare 1 Peter 1 with John 3. The picture is
that God has the role of a father. His Spirit plants His seed (His word) by the
preaching of Good News. When you learn from the Gospel, you let the seed
conceive and grow in your heart. But you are born of one parent alone. Thus
"water" may be likened to a mother's part. Just as you were not born of a father
alone, so you cannot be born of Spirit alone. Just as you were not born of a
mother alone, so your spiritual birth cannot be by water alone. Christ
determines that your birth must be &;of water and Spirit." When you allow the
Gospel seed to work in your heart, you soon reach the point of birth. That is,
you obey, passing through the "water" the Gospel requires. You come out of
the water a fresh, clean person with a completely new start!
The Spirit chooses you. He is eager to give you this wonderful new birth.But,
friend, He gives this birth on His own terms. He clearly reveals that He chooses
baptism as a kind of mother for your birth.
Your cleansing is "by the washing with water" through "the word" that teaches
you to believe and obey (Ephesians 5:26). Now it is your turn to choose the
Spirit. You do that by submitting to His will. Then these marvelous words can
also be said of you: "You have purified yourselves by obeying the truth . . .
For you have been born again . . . through the living and enduring word of God."
THE GREATEST DECISION OF YOUR LIFE
All of this explains why Jesus makes the new birth a command and holds you
responsible. If the Spirit forced Himself on you, you would have no say in the
matter. But He created you with a mind and will
of your own. You decide to accept or reject the Spirit's seed. You choose to
submit or rebel when that Gospel requires repentance and baptism for your sins
to be forgiven.
What an amazing ability! You can freely accept the wonderful new life Jesus
offers. But be warned: you are not free to escape the result of your decision.
If you "do not obey the Gospel" you do choose Satan and his fiery fate.
When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful
angels He will punish
those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They
will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of
the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
How needless to suffer on earth and then in eternity. Jesus earnestly desires a
far better result from your ability to choose. He gave His very life for you to
share His joy, beginning now and lasting forever. Will you accept His
invitation? Will you share in His death and resurrection by baptism? Will you
let His blood wash away all guilt and all shame?
Let us know immediately about your decision so that we may encourage and help
you in obeying the Gospel. Then pass on the Spirit's invitation to your loved
ones and to others. The greatest danger any person faces is eternal punishment.
The greatest need is to enter eternal life through the new birth of water and
Spirit. There is no greater joy than living at peace with your Creator, who
loves you and wants you to be His child. You can give no greater gift than the
Good News. Accept the saving seed, submit to it, and then share it!
The Spirit and the bride [God's people] say, "Come!" And
let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever
wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life (Revelation
I learned the above from WBS, all glory goes to
the Lord Almighty