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The New Birth - John 3:1-12

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Purpose: Understand what it means to be born again; or to be born of the water and of the Spirit.



1. One of the favorite sayings of the denominational world is, "I'm a born again Christian."

2. Is this a scriptural proclamation?

3. John Three has been the subject of much debate in the past and there has been much confusion on the subject of the New Birth.

4. What does it mean to be "born again" and how is it accomplished?

5. Today let us strive to come to a better understanding of this passage of scripture.



I. First let us read the passage (John 3:1-12).

"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.  Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?  Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.  Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?  Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?"  John 3:1-12


II. Nicodemus.

A. He is called a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews.

1. The Pharisees were the antis of Jesus' day.

2. They bound hundreds of religious laws on the people that God had never bound on them.

3. We must remember that the Jews of this day were very materialistic. Especially the Pharisees.

4. The fact that he is called a ruler shows that he was a powerful and influential man.

B. Nicodemus' Understanding of Christ (v.2).

1. He understood that Jesus was a man come from God.

2. He knew this because of the miracles which Christ performed (Acts 2:22).

3. Perhaps he was one of the men mentioned in John 12:42-43.


III. Their Conversation (vv.3-5).

A. Jesus did not take time to bask in Nicodemus' praise.  He used the opportunity to teach Nicodemus.

B. He told Nicodemus that he must be born again to see the kingdom of God.

C. Nicodemus, being the good materialistic Pharisee, thought that Jesus was talking about being born again physically (v.4).  This is obviously impossible.

D. Jesus explains himself more thoroughly (v.5).


IV. What does it mean to be Born Again?

A. First, we must keep in mind that Jesus is talking about spiritual matters, not physical (v.12).

B. To be born again, one must first be begotten or conceived.

1. We see this in the natural world.

a. For a human to be born there must first be a conception.

b. The father's seed and the mother's egg must come into contact.

2. The same is true in the spiritual realm.

a. We have to come into contact with our "spiritual" seed.

b. What is that seed?

(1) Luke 8:11.

(2) James 1:18.

(3) 1 Peter 1:23.

C. Next, one must actually be born.  This implies a change of state.

1. Again, we see this in the natural world.

a. When a child is born, it leaves the warmth and protection of its mother's womb and enters into the world.

b. This is a drastic change for that baby.

2. One must also be born spiritually.

a. This is the birth that Jesus is talking about in John 3.

b. When one is born again, his state is drastically changed.

(1) He walks in "newness of life" (Romans 6:4).

(2) We put off the "old man" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

(3) He is translated into Christ's Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

(4) He is married to Christ (Romans 7:4).


V. How is One Born Again?

A. Nicodemus did not understand how one could be born again (thinking materialistically).

B. Jesus told us that to be born again, spiritually, one "must be born of water and the Spirit" (vv. 3,5).

C. But what does this mean?  There has been much confusion on this verse.

D. What does it mean to be born of water?

1. Wrong views.

a. Some try to say that "water" in John 3:5 is not actually water.  They say it can mean "grace" or "Spirit."

b. Some say that the Greek word "kai" can sometimes be translated "even." 

(1) This would change John 3:5 to "Except a man be born of water even the Spirit."

(2) The main meaning of kai is "and."  To change it to an alternative meaning without sufficient reason is inexcusable.

c. These people try to pervert the Lord's plain teaching in order to support their man-made doctrines.

2. The Biblical meaning.

a. To be born is to "come forth."

b. When does one come forth from water?  In Baptism (Acts 8:38- 39; Colossians 2:12)!

c. It is at the point of baptism that our spiritual state is changed.

(1) Acts 2:38.
(2) Acts 22:16.
(3) Romans 6:4.
(4) 1 Peter 3:21.

E. How is one born of the Spirit?

1. Quite simply, when he is born of water (baptized) as the meansappointed by the Spirit for a birth.  (Brents, The Gospel Plan of Salvation).

2. We are born again when we comply with the teaching of the Spirit.


VI. Jesus Further Explains Himself (vv. 6-8).

A. In verse 6, he emphasizes that he is talking about a spiritual rebirth and not a physical rebirth which would be impossible.

B. Verse 8 is often misunderstood and misapplied.

1. Wrong Views.

a. Some people try to apply this verse to the operation of the Holy Spirit and say we don't know how he works but we see the effects.

b. Others say that, like the wind will blow down one tree and leave another standing, so the Spirit will operate on one person and not another.

2. Correct View.

a. This verse is not talking about the Spirit but those who are born of the Spirit.  "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every ONE that is born of the Spirit."   John 3:8 (KJV).

b. Thus, even though the spiritual rebirth cannot be seen, one can see the effects of that birth in the life of the one reborn.


VII. Illustration.

"A gentleman visits and seeks the hand of a lady under unfavorable circumstances, and is rejected.  There may be a single cause or many causes co- operating to produce his rejection.  She may be unfavorably impressed with his character, or she may worship at the shrine of another, whose heart she hopes to win, or both causes may cooperate in producing his rejection.  Circumstances change, however, and she finds her first suitor an unworthy man, and she becomes disgusted by him.  Meanwhile, she learns more of the character of the man she rejected, and finds him chaste in his conversation, courteous, polite, and accomplished in manners - that a social, warm, and undissembling heart controls him - that he has a mind well stored with valuable information - that he has descended from a good family - and above all, that he is possessed of inexhaustible wealth.  A knowledge of these facts changes her heart, and she now admires and loves the man she once rejected.  She receives him gladly, and is willing to become a sharer of his prosperity or adversity through life, but she is not yet his wife.  Though her heart is changed, her state is not; she was in the single or unmarried state, at first, and is so yet.  The parents may consent, the license be secured, the proper officer be present for the solemnization of the nuptials, the supper prepared and the wedding furnished with guests, and still she is not married; and were the process here arrested, she would not be entitled to the privileges of his house, to wear his name, or to inherit his estate.  When she is married and her state legally changed, then, and not till the, is she entitled to all the privileges growing out of the new relation.  Now for the application.  The gospel is preached to the sinner - he is in love with the transient pleasures afforded in the service of the devil.  The carpenter's Son, born in Bethlehem and cradled in a manger, has no charms for him.  By-and-by he finds that the pleasures of sin are deceptive, and the devil, in whose services he delighted, has nothing with which to reward him but misery and woe.  Meanwhile he learns more of Him who proposes to save all who will come to God by Him.  He finds so chaste in conversation, that guile is not found in His mouth; so amiable in disposition, that when He is reviled he reviles not again, and yet so powerful, that the furious winds and boisterous waves are calm at His bidding, the grave yields up the dead to live again, and devils tremble at His word; the waters are firm as a pavement beneath His majestic tread, God is His Father, and He the only Son and Heir to all things - He is chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely.  With faith like this, he can not fail to feel grieved that he ever loved the devil or his service, because he is the enemy of Him whom he now loves supremely.  Surely, his heart is now changed - is he born again?  If so, there is not fitness to the figure, for he is not married yet.  Though his heart is changed, his state is not; and if he stops at this point, he can no more claim the Christian name and character than can the unmarried woman claim the name and patrimony of him to whom she is espoused."  
(Brents; The Gospel Plan of Salvation, p. 157-158, also see online at the bottom of page 196).



1. When one reads the word of God (the seed) with a good and honest heart, he will desire to do that which pleases God (Romans 10:17).

2. However, he is not saved at that point; he is only begotten by the word (James 1:18).

3. He is not saved until he has also repented, confessed, and been born of water (baptized).

4. Have you been born again?  Please see Plan of Salvation.


Are You Saved?


-- Ralph Price, February 2000 --


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