Teaching series from John

The New Birth

John 3:1-20

Teaching t22476


Brief book introduction: John was one of Jesus’ disciples, an eye-witness of His ministry and death and resurrection. He wrote his gospel to help non-Jewish seekers come to an informed faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

In chapters 2 and 3, John presents Jesus as the One who ushers in God’s new program. Specifically, He provides new wine, He announces a new Temple, and He makes possible a new birth. This morning, we’ll look at the new birth. Jesus tells us four key things about the new birth in a conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Let’s start by reading the first ten verses (read). Jesus tells us a several things here about what the new birth is...

What it is

In these verses, Jesus tells us that the new birth is an event in which God’s Spirit enables us to enter and perceive God’s Kingdom. Let me show you how I get this.

It is an event through which we enter God’s kingdom (3:5). Just as physical birth is an event through which we enter into this outer world, the new birth is an event—the beginning of a new life in God’s kingdom (the sphere of His personal rulership).

Think of Neo’s deliverance from the Matrix (TIMELINE WITH X). There was a process in which he became aware of this possibility. And his deliverance began another process of helping others get delivered. But there was a moment in time when he was ushered into a whole new realm of reality. So it is with the new birth. There is a process leading up to it (spiritual awakening), and it begins another process (spiritual growth)—but the new birth itself is a moment in time—before which you are not in God’s kingdom, and after which you are.

Through the new birth, God’s Spirit enables us to perceive the invisible spiritual realities of God’s kingdom. 3:3 says it enables us to “see” (perceive) God’s kingdom. Just as physical birth enables us to perceive this physical reality, so spiritual birth enables us to perceive this unseen, spiritual reality. 3:8 says this is mysterious, yet real.

“Wind” is the same word for “spirit” in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma). The wind is invisible, and we don’t know many of its dynamics—yet we know it is real because we can perceive its effects on things we can see (EXAMPLE).

In the same way, we cannot see God’s Spirit, and His workings are very mysterious to us. But one who is born again notices changes in his/her life that confirm this spiritual change (i.e., PERSONAL PRAYER; SENSITIZED CONSCIENCE; BIBLE COMES ALIVE; KINSHIP WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS; DESIRE TO DEFEND/PROMOTE JESUS TO OTHERS; PROMPTINGS). With some, this is sudden and dramatic; with others (ME), it is more subtle and gradual. But those who are born again do perceive these things.

OK, that’s what the new birth is. The second thing this section tells us is who needs it.

Who needs it

Jesus’ answer to this question is: “Each and every person needs to be born again.” This comes out in this passage in a couple of ways.

First, it is implied by Jesus’ insistence that Nicodemus must be born again. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, the most devout sect in Judaism. He is a “ruler of the Jews”—which means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel. He is “the teacher of Israel”—recognized as the most biblically learned scholar of his day. If anyone could be so morally upright and biblically knowledgeable that he didn’t need the new birth, it would certainly be Nicodemus. But if even Nicodemus needs the new birth, then everyone needs it.

Second, Jesus says as much. He uses the general “one” and “they” in 3:3, and He says “you” plural in 3:7.

So each and every one of us needs this new birth—which means that you and I need this new birth. This raises an obvious question: How do we get it?

How we get it

Jesus tells us in 3:11-18 (read). He actually tells us two factors—the basis upon which God makes it available, and what we need to do to receive it. We need to understand both of these.

God makes it available to us through Jesus’ death. Jesus says in 3:17 that God sent His Son into the world that the world might be rescued “through Him.” More specifically, He says in 3:15 that this rescue is effected through the Son being “lifted up” (a figure of speech referring to crucifixion), in 3:16 that it is through God’s giving of His Son (i.e., giving Him up to death) that we get the eternal life of the new birth. Jesus reminds Nicodemus in 3:14 of an event in the Old Testament that foreshadowed His rescuing death and explains why it is necessary.

The Israelites were rebelling against God, so God sent poisonous snakes among them as a judgment on their rebellion. The people cried out to Moses, admitted that they had sinned against God, and begged him to pray to God for them to remove the poisonous snakes. God answered Moses’ prayer for them in a very strange way. He told Moses to make a bronze replica of one of the snakes, and then hold it up on a tall pole so the people could see it and be healed. Why would God make what was the means of His judgment the means of their healing? It was a prophetic picture of God’s remedy for us (SHOW PICTURE).

Do you see the connection? We are like the people of Israel. We have rebelled against God, and we deserve His judgment. But God lifted up Jesus on the cross and poured out His judgment on Jesus in our place. Jesus’ crucifixion is the source of our healing and the means of the new birth.

We receive it by putting our faith in Jesus. Jesus says this clearly in 3:15,16. And again, the snake incident illustrated this. God told the people that if they looked at the bronze snake, He would heal them. They didn’t have to crawl over to it and touch it, they didn’t have pray a memorized prayer, they didn’t have to promise never to rebel again, etc. But they did have to choose to trust His promise by actually looking at God’s provision. If they were unwilling to look, they would die.

In the same way, God says that we don’t have to perform any works for Him to earn the new birth (e.g., RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES; RELIGIOUS PENANCE; MORAL SELF-REFORM). Jesus earns the new birth for us through His death; we cannot and need not do anything to earn it. But we do have to make a choice. We have to make a conscious decision to put our trust in Jesus’ death for our sins, to take the judgment of God that we deserve. In the moment that you make this decision (CAN BE ALONE & SILENTLY), God permanently exempts you from His judgment (3:18) and guarantees you eternal life. But if you refuse to do this, you will be condemned.

Have you put your faith in Jesus in this sense? One simple way to do this is to personalize 3:16—“God, You so loved me that You gave Your one and only Son, so that if I believe in Him, I will not perish but have eternal life.” It’s as simple as that!

That raises another question about the new birth: If it is so cool, if Jesus pays the entire entry fee, and if it requires only one step of faith to receive—why do so many people refuse it?

Why people refuse it

Read 3:11. People in Jesus’ day were refusing it, and this has happened since then right up to today. I refused it for two years after I heard about it. Why? Read 3:19-21. Jesus says that the real reason when people refuse the new birth is not intellectual (e.g., too difficult to understand or not enough evidence); it is moral:

Some people refuse it because they “love darkness.” They believe that doing what they want apart from God will make them happy. They sense (rightly) that if they get reborn, Jesus will change the moral course of their lives. I reacted this way when I first heard this message. I sensed that it was true and that I should give my life to Jesus—but I thought, “I’m doing other things right now, and I don’t want anything to threaten that.” In other words, I loved the darkness. Others say, “I’ll consider the new birth after I’m old and can’t have fun anymore.” That’s loving the darkness. If this is your reaction, I wish I could convince you that life is so much better in the light! But this is your choice, and God won’t force you to receive His gift.

Some refuse it because it means “having their deeds exposed.” They don’t want to have to admit that they have misspent their life up to now. This is one of the fallacies of “I’ll put this off now while I’m young and do it when I’m old.” The longer people live apart from God, the harder it is to admit they been mistaken their whole lives. That may be why far more people get reborn when they are young than when they are older. It seems easier to admit you’ve been wrong when you haven’t lived most of your life. If this is why you are refusing the new birth, I hope you realize that you have not lived most of your life. You have a whole eternity stretching out before you—either with God in unimaginable joy if you receive the new birth, or separated from God in unimaginable regret if you refuse it. Don’t let pride prevent you from eternal life!


What happened to Nicodemus? Evidently, he put his faith in Jesus—and slowly became a witness for Him (Jn.7:50-52; 19:38,39). Why not follow his example?