A Midweek Devotional - New Birth
First John 3 puts a rather shocking contrast before us. We are either children of God, or we are children of the devil. For some, maybe for many, that sounds like a pretty extreme contrast, but John is simply offering truth. We might be tempted to think there must be a middle ground, thinking that just because someone is not a Christian it can’t mean they are a child of the devil. That must be a designation reserved for the evilest among us. Or so we are tempted to think. But John is not trying to scare us or to shock us. He is simply trying to guide us as we examine our own hearts. On Sunday we will examine John’s words in 1 John 2:28-3:10. For now, let’s see how he lays out the same truth from one of Jesus’ encounters in his gospel account.
Wednesday, February 19
Larger Portion of Scripture - John 3
Focused Passage for Reflection - John 3:1-15
Reflecting on the Text:
Nicodemus was a teacher and ruler of the Jews. He was well-schooled and well respected. He was also curious. There was a new teacher on the scene and He was different. Nicodemus wanted to know why. But in addition to being curious, he was also cautious. His friends didn’t think too highly of Jesus, so he went to visit the teacher under the cover of night.
Upon arrival, Nicodemus questioned Jesus, trying to figure out just what it was that made Him different. Jesus’ response is telling as He speaks to the necessity of new birth. In response to Nicodemus’ “question” about Jesus’ true identity, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Nicodemus was confusing “divine” with “different.” But as Jesus said, he could not see. To "see" as referenced in v. 3 must mean more than simply to visualize. It includes recognition, comprehension, and even desire. But notice what it is that Jesus said Nicodemus couldn’t see: the Kingdom of God. It may seem like an odd response to Nicodemus’ so-called question until we realize he is talking with the King of Kings.
In the back and forth response to Jesus’ statement, Nicodemus proves the point. He can’t understand this concept of being born again. Who can? Unless that is, they have been born again. What Jesus is talking about, just as was spoken of in Ezekiel 36:25-27 and 1 John 3:10 (as a couple of representative examples), is the doctrine of regeneration. Sinful man is born with a sin nature, and that nature must be changed…or rather be put to death and replaced with a new nature. In verse 6, he says “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
This birth of the Spirit is mysterious, miraculous and tangible…just like the wind. (verse 8) You hear it, you feel it, you know it…even if you don’t understand it. But with this new birth comes new sight. And we’ve already said that with new sight comes new recognition, new comprehension, and even new desires. For Nicodemus to not merely see Jesus as different but to recognize Him as divine, he must be born again.
The same is true for us. An external, supernatural, Holy Spirit transformation must take place. We must receive a new nature. This is what happens in the new birth. This is why we don’t merely speak of the Christian life as a better life. We’re not talking about improvement. We are talking about conversion. The Christian life is a new life.
From 1 John 3 we will explore this truth in terms of self-examination. While John 3 can also lead us in that direction, here I’d like to point us to a different implication. Jesus teaches the new birth as a supernatural event. So let us not cheapen it and make it personal action or decision. As Christians, let us embrace the supernatural.
That regeneration is a supernatural work leads us to at least two responses. The first is prayer. When we pray, we are embracing the supernatural by asking God to be at work in His creation. When we pray for the salvation of our neighbors and loved ones, we are asking God to do what only God can do. We are asking Him to bring about a work of new birth. Oh, we engage, we love, we tell them about Jesus, but it is all for naught unless God changes their heart.
Secondly, we worship. If we are in Christ, God has done this supernatural work in us. He saved us when we couldn’t save ourselves. He alone is worthy of our worship. And when we understand that He is the One responsible for our new life in Christ, our worship will take on new and fresh vigor. Pray and worship.
And lastly, be encouraged. It appears that Jesus didn’t merely leave Nicodemus with an interesting conversation. If we fast forward to John 19:39 we will see that Nicodemus was among the few who took and prepared Jesus’ body for burial. He came out of the darkness and into the light of day. We read the end of the story and imagine God’s work in his heart. And there we find encouragement that He will continue.
Questions for personal reflection:
How does this passage cause you to consider improvement versus conversion?
How does this passage impact your prayer life?
How does this passage impact your worship life?