What Is New Life?
Gospel Basics Sermon Series #6
The dangerous course of modern Christianity
I am deeply concerned about a breed of Christianity that knows much about how to help you improve your marriage, or succeed at work, or propel you to greater fulfillment in life but knows little or nothing of damning effects of our sin nature, the blackness of our fallen hearts, or our utter helplessness and inability to do anything truly good without Jesus!
I am distressed by a Christianity that will give you 7 secrets to a good love life, 10 keys to financial success, and 12 steps to freedom from addiction but fails to really give you the one and only person who alone has walked all the steps, has all the keys, and keeps no secrets!
I am troubled by how many churches have quietly slipped into a mode of ministry that pursues the look and feel of Christianity without the heart change of Christianity, ministries that focus on doing the right thing, singing the right songs, keeping the right traditions, helping the right people, but fails to confront sinful people with a holy and righteousness God!
New life as a foundational gospel truth
And so today I want to remind you of a foundational truth of the Gospel that when understood correctly and kept in focus in our lives, in our ministries and in our church, will help us avoid the emptiness of “How to” Christianity, will ignite true life from within, and will fuel our passion for the gospel.
I want to talk to you today about the Biblical concept of “new life,” being “born again,” or “regeneration”. This foundational truth is found in both Old and New Testaments and it is vital for a proper understanding of the Gospel. Understood and believed correctly it changes the way we view the Christian life and it changes the way we share the Gospel.
To put it succinctly, The Bible teaches us that man’s heart and soul, his entire being is so tainted by the indwelling presence of evil, that there is nothing we can do to remedy or fix the situation. There is no meeting, no method, no modification of behavior, no meditation, no medication, no magic and, no mere flexing our will power, that can fix our broken lives.
Our lives must be discarded, put aside, left in the past and we must exchange them for new lives, we must have a new birth, we must be regenerated by Author of all life.
New life as seen in John 3
The concept of new life rings out from many pages of Scripture but nowhere is it more prevalent than in the Gospel of John and nowhere do we see such an explanation of it than in John chapter 3.
The Gospel of John in particular focuses on new life.
- Jesus is said to be the author of all life! John 1:4
- Jesus gives the water of life John 4:14
- Jesus is the giver of life John 5:21
- Jesus is the bread of life John 6:35
- Jesus is the light of life John 8:12
- Jesus is the resurrection and the life John 11:25
- Jesus is simply “the life” John 14:6
This is a story that only occurs in the Gospel of John. It was of particular importance to John and his readers because:
- John wanted his readers to understand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was about far more than living according to some set standard, it began with new life and without that new life, no amount of religion, knowledge, or morality would do you any good.
- It emphasized that this new life come through belief, not through heritage
- John was writing to a second generation of Christians who may have thought that if there parents were Christian, then that meant they were automatically Christians.
I. Nicodemus’ observations
3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.”
John gives a little information about Nicodemus
- A Pharisee -a very religious Jew who knew the Scriptures well.
- John tells us that he was a ruler of the Jews, so he had the respect of many as well authority.
- Nicodemus later speaks out for Jesus in chapter 7:51 when the Pharisees wanted to kill him.
- After Jesus’ death, John 19:39 Nicodemus purchases about 75 pounds of spices for the burial, showing that he was also a wealthy man.
Why does John give us the story of Nicodemus?
- A person who knew the Scriptures
- A person who was wealthy
- A person who had a good position of power/authority
- A person who was considered a “good” person
Nicodemus had everything going for him.
- This is the person you want in your church
- This is the person you to be connected with
- This is the type of person that everyone would have thought would be good “disciple” material
Perhaps this is exactly why John gives us the story of Nicodemus
- In Nicodemus we see the story of every “good” person who has tried to come to God in their own strength
- In Nicodemus we see regular church members who are active in their church, respected in their community, morally better than others and are on their way to hell with an unregenerate heart.
- But in Nicodemus we don’t just see good church members, we see church leaders and pastors who have spent much of their life studying the Scriptures, who have spiritual responsibilities and who are looked up to as examples of the faith yet they are no more able to get into the Kingdom of God than a corpse is able to dig his way out of the grave!
- Certainly John wanted the Church to see an example of the absence of spiritual life in a person who outwardly appeared to have all the decorations of righteousness.
Nicodemus comes at night.
- Jesus was already on bad terms with the Pharisees
- After his first miracle John tells how Jesus went to Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the sellers and chased them out.
- This was a direct attack on the pharisees
- Although Nicodemus was intrigued by Jesus he was worried about how his interaction with Jesus would affect his position in the Sanhedrin
- Sadly we are all to often like Nicodemus, we are more worried about what others think of us than what God thinks of us.
- We are more motivated to do ministry so that others will commend us than because we are driven by a righteous desire to win hearts for Christ
- We make decisions about our almost everything based upon how we think certain people will react to them. We are not only motivated by the praise of others but we fear their criticism and disapproval.
- We fail to realize that God is not impressed by any of our miserable attempts to spiff up our outward appearance.
Nicodemus asks no question
- It’s possible that Nicodemus was too proud to ask a question
- Maybe Jesus didn’t give him time to ask a question
- Some commentators say that he may have wanted to give Jesus advice.
- He had connections with the chief priest
- He could help Jesus climb the religious ladder
- He may have been concerned about Jesus’ violent and unpredictable approach.
- Imagine of our church growth experts had analysed Jesus’ ministry!
- Nicodemus’ statement is true “We know you are from God” but it seems to have a question behind it.
- “If you are from God, why don’t you accept us, the respected, approved, and dedicated religious leaders of the Jews?”
II. Without new life all is useless
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus doesn’t waste his time going further
- Jesus knows Nicodemus’ heart is unregenerate (Joh 2:24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people)
- Jesus knew that Nicodemus’ biggest need was not more rules, quality programs, or better worship music. His biggest need was to be born again, to receive the New Life that only Jesus could offer.
Notice what Jesus doesn’t say:
- You need to pray the sinner’s prayer
- You need to join the church
- You need to be part of a small group
- You need to try this Bible Study
- You need to serve others
- You need to work on your marriage
- You need to be more disciplined
- You need to attend this revival
- You need to read this book
- You need to…
In J.D. Greear’s book called “Gospel” he puts it this way.
“We have substituted all kinds of cosmetic changes for true heart change. We encourage people to pursue new and better spiritual gifts. We tell them to recover ancient devotional techniques. We try to beef them up on a particular doctrinal system, as if more correct facts will do the trick in itself. We tell them to show audacious, mountain-moving faith in prayer. We tell them to get radically committed to the Great Commission. These things all have their place, but all we are doing is piling superficial changes onto a heart that doesn’t really love God. None of those things can produce love for God. Only the gospel can.” -JD Greear
Russian saying, Как мертвому припарки – Like a hot bath for a dead body
Unfortunately the Church is giving a lot of hot baths to dead bodies these days!
Notice what Jesus did say:
- Jesus told him he needed to do something that was impossible
- Jesus told him he needed to do something that seemed absurd
- Jesus told him that he needed to do something that grabbed his attention!
- Jesus doesn’t even explain it, he just leaves Nicodemus there for a moment to grapple with this extraordinary statement.
- Our gospel message ought to first always lead people to these cliffs of impossibility!
III. Nicodemus’ questions
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?
Finally Nicodemus is asking questions which tells us that the wheels in his head are starting to turn.
- It’s likely that Nicodemus understood that Jesus was not speaking literally, yet he did not understand how this new life could be his.
- Nicodemus had a sincere desire to know how this new birth could actually take place.
Jesus’ explains that the new birth is “of water and the Spirit”
- Some take water to mean baptism, this is unlikely because there is no precedent in the context for Jesus to be talking about baptism
- Some take water to mean physical birth, but it hardly seems necessary for Jesus to explain that to Nicodemus.
- Water and Spirit go together here, this is most likely a reference to the prophecies in Eze. where God promises forgiveness and a new heart.
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.
23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.
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.
26 And 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.
27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
What Jesus was telling Nicodemus was nothing new, it was prophesied by Ezekiel. Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets also talk about a day when God would give his people, new hearts, circumcised hearts, clean hearts. This all refers to the New Life that would be found exclusively in the Messiah.
Nicodemus certainly would have been aware of this passage and others like it and that is why Jesus says,
“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”
The water represents the forgiveness of sins that Jesus would give and the Spirit is person of the Trinity who would give that spark of new life to the one who would believe.
Nicodemus’ hesitation to believe seems to also be connected with his inability to understand the process of New Birth.
Verse 8. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
- Wind is not seen and thus you do not know exactly what it is doing or how it is doing it.
- The evidence of wind is in how it blows the branches and makes noise. No one doubts it.
- New life is also somewhat mysterious because it happens on the inside of man. You do not see a physical change
- Yet with New Life, just as with wind you ought to see a change.
- Not seeing it and not completely comprehending it is not excuse for not believe it!
IV. New Life is the result of Christ’ work and belief
11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.
12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
We sense a bit of frustration in Jesus, but he doesn’t give up in explaining the New Birth to Nicodemus.
Jesus himself is the key to this New Life.
God was born of man so that man could be born of God. John 1:12-13
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Pharisees claimed a righteous lineage through Abraham but Jesus refuted this claim: John 8:33-41
- You can be religious and not have new life
- You can go to church and not have new life
- You can come from a good family and not have new life
- You can do good things and not have new life
- You can have positions in the Church and not have new life
- You can be rich and not have new life
- You can be respected by others and not have good life
- You can be thought of by most people as an godly Christian and not have new life
“We don’t come to Him as bad people trying to be good people: we come as rebels to lay down our arms.” C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity