In the last Book of John post, we explored what was meant by Jesus knowing what was in man and not entrusting Himself to man. As we move on we are going to see, directly from the mouth of Jesus, exactly what salvation is and where it comes from.
The first thing I noticed here is how seemingly off the wall Jesus’ response to Nicodemus is. It’s almost as if Jesus didn’t actually hear that Nicodemus had said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus’ reply doesn’t seem to fit the conversation, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Born again? Kingdom of God? Nicodemus seems to be asking Jesus if He is the Messiah, but instead of answering him, Jesus is dealing with a deeper issue: regeneration.
Ask yourself: why is it a person can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ presented clearly a hundred times and reject it, but on the one hundred and first time, he gladly receives what had been rejected by him many times before?
What makes the difference?
One word: regeneration.
Regeneration is a sovereign act of God where the Holy Spirit breathes life into our dead spirit. Do we have anything to do with regeneration? No. We were spiritually blinded. We were flesh,which cannot discern the things of God. Bottom line, we were dead. We were unable to reach out to God because we were “dead in our trespasses and sins.”
Romans 3 tells us that “There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that seeks after God. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The Holy Spirit of God had to first breathe life into our dead spirit and make it alive.
Romans 8 tells us that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Ephesians 1: 3-14 tells us that, “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Truly, it could not be any clearer. We were all dead in our trespasses and sins. We all rejected God, because of the sin nature passed down to us from Adam. God would have been completely perfect, righteous and just to send us all to hell for all eternity. Instead, He chose to reveal His grace and mercy to us all by choosing some of us to receive the gift of eternal life.
That’s why Jesus turned to Nicodemus and spoke to him about regeneration first. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was trusting in his own works and knowledge to save him. Jesus knew that apart from being “born again” by the Holy Spirit, there was no possibility of Nicodemus entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. Nicodemus fumbles around trying to figure it out and Jesus goes on to clarify it for him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Water and Spirit here do not contrast physical birth and spiritual birth. It refers instead to the Old Testament water of purification, which was sprinkled on the altar and sacrifices in most of the rituals. Being a scholar, Nicodemus would have known the promise of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36:25 which says “25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” Two verses later comes the promise, “27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
These two statements, bringing together the ideas of water and Spirit, sandwich in verse 26 another promise, “26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” That is the Old Testament promise of regeneration by water and the Spirit.
We’ll pick up the rest of these verses in the next post!