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Born Again (John 3:1-12)

The exact phrase “born again” is used just three times in the Bible: twice by Christ in His conversation with Nicodemus (Jn. 3:3, 7), and once by the apostle Peter in his first epistle (1 Pet. 1:23). It is a common phrase in the religious world but most people who use it are ignorant of what it really means in the doctrinal context of how Christ and Peter used it.

Who was Jesus and Peter talking to when they spoke of being born again? They were speaking to Israel (Rom. 15:8; see "fathers" in 1 Pet. 1:18). Christ from heaven revealed the mystery of the Body of Christ to the apostle Paul (Eph. 3) and used Him to write thirteen epistles that contain specific doctrines for this age of grace (Rom. 11:13; 2 Tim. 2:7). Have you ever noticed that Paul never used the term born again? I am not saying there are no spiritual applications for us in John or 1 Peter, but that the doctrinal interpretation concerns ISRAEL.

v.1 – The first three words connect us back to the end of the previous chapter (Jn. 2:23-25). There were many that believed Jesus was “of God” because of His miracles, but did not truly believe He was the Son of God (Jn. 7:31). The Pharisees were one the major sects among the Jews. They were religious fundamentalists and self-righteous hypocrites. They loved the traditions of their fathers more than the truth of God. There were few among the Pharisees that believed on Christ. It seems that Nicodemus eventually became a disciple (Jn. 19:38-39).

v.2 - Nicodemus is mentioned in three passages (Jn. 3, 7, 19) and each time it is pointed out that he came to Jesus by night. He was interested in what Jesus had to say but he came to Him secretly because of his position as a ruler of the Jews (7:45-52; 12:42-43). Nicodemus believed that Jesus was from God and that God was with Him, but he did not yet believe that He was God. By the way, he was wrong to think that a man can only do miracles if God is with him (2 Thess. 2:9).

v.3 – Christ cut to the chase because He already knew what Nicodemus really wanted to know (Jn. 2:24-25). Nicodemus was evidently thinking about the kingdom that God promised Israel (miracles were signs of the kingdom). By this statement He is telling Nicodemus that his religious works are not sufficient. In order to SEE the kingdom of God, a man must be born again. Being a Jew would not get him into the kingdom (Matt. 3:9). There is a distinction between the kingdom of heaven (limited to earth) and the kingdom of God (broader, includes spiritual realm), but sometimes they are used interchangeably because the kingdom of heaven will be the kingdom of God established on the earth (e.g. Lk. 13:28-29). The Body of Christ is spiritually translated into the kingdom of God upon salvation (Col. 1:13), but we have yet to SEE it (1 Cor. 15:50).

v.4 – Nicodemus is thinking as a natural man (1 Cor. 2:14). 

vs.5-7 – In these three verses Christ explains what He means by being born again. Every man is born of the flesh, but he must be also born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. The water in v.5 is not a reference to water baptism, but to physical birth (v.6 explains v.5). Water is not of the Spirit and therefore could not possibly produce a spiritual birth. Or, the water could possibly also be a reference to the word of God (Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). The bottom line is there is absolutely nothing that a man can do in his flesh to be born again of the Spirit (Jn. 1:11-13; 6:63).

Nicodemus, being a ruler of the Jews, represented his people. The “Ye” in v.7 refers to ISRAEL. They were born as a nation when God delivered them out of Egypt and put them under the old covenant (Ex. 4:22). They failed under that covenant (because of their flesh) and in their apostasy God testified to them, “ye are not my people” (Hos. 1). Israel will be born again as a nation when God delivers them from the antichrist and brings them under a new covenant (Isa. 66:8; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:9-10). John refers to being born of God in his epistles. When Israel is born again they will be filled with the Holy Ghost and God’s law will be written in their hearts.

v.8 – Christ used the wind to illustrate being born of the Spirit. Just as you cannot see the wind or control it, so it is with being born of the Spirit. You cannot see the wind, but you can hear it and see it’s effects. Again, a man cannot bring about this birth by the efforts of the flesh.

vs.9-12 – Once again, Nicodemus is thinking naturally. Christ rebuked him for being a master of Israel (Rabbi) and not knowing these things (by the way, it is interesting to contrast the abrupt way Christ deals with Nicodemus with the patient way He deals with the Samaritan woman). This means that what Christ is talking about can be found in the OT scriptures (Isa. 66:8; Ezek. 36:24-28; 37:9-14). What Christ teaches in this passage concerns the “earthly things” of Israel’s prophetic program.

The gospel of the grace of God was not revealed in the earthly ministry of Christ. He revealed it later to Paul from heaven (Gal. 1:11-12). Most think it is preached in the Gospel of John because of the emphasis on believing (Jn. 20:30-31). They had to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (e.g. Matt. 16:16; Jn. 1:49; 11:27), not that He would die on the cross for our sins (see Lk. 18:31-34). It is the JEWS that require a sign (compare Jn. 20:30-31 with 1 Cor. 1:22). People have a tendency to read Paul’s gospel back into John (e.g. 3:16). It is one thing to use some verses in John by way of spiritual application, but when you teach people that the doctrine in the Gospel of John is for this present age, it presents real problems (see Jn. 5:28-29 and 15:1-10 for example).

The apostle Paul taught that we are regenerated by the Spirit of God when we trust Christ (Titus 3:5-7). Regeneration is not reformation of the flesh (Rom. 7:18; 8:8), but a new life in Christ. We are made a new creature. We become children of God by faith in Christ (Gal. 3:26-28).


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