Many people imagine that Billy Graham first coined the phrase ‘Born Again’, as a powerful emotional lever to persuade people to become Christians. Not true! The need for all to be born again or ‘born from above’ is an imperative directly from God the Son himself. “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3); and “Truly, truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (v5). Only 13 times in this gospel does Jesus use the emphasis: “Truly, truly, I tell you…” and so this signals a statement of huge importance. It means that being born again is not an optional extra being offered to those who might wish to spice up their spiritual journey, and it is not a just special feature of those livelier branches of Christianity; rather, it is an absolutely essential requirement of anyone who wants to enter and remain in God’s kingdom at all. It is the only gateway into heaven and the only way to see God at all!
Jesus is therefore challenging us to be ‘born twice’; the first birth is our physical birth as a baby – this is probably what is meant by ‘born of water’ (v5), which would then be referring to the amniotic waters that break just before delivery. Every human has had that kind of birth. But Jesus then talks about a ‘spiritual’ birth: being given a new spirit by God’s Holy Spirit. This is the key to new life in Christ. Nicodemus is by now completely baffled – all this was clearly not covered in his bible seminary – and asks how it can all happen. Jesus leaves that question unanswered and goes on to speak of ‘believing’ instead.
Let’s consider the analogy: as a baby, did you choose to be physically born? Of course not! Your parents effectively made that decision. But a living baby, the instant it is born, will cry out to its parents with all its breath, trusting them to reach out and help it live. The same is true of spiritual birth: God puts that spark of life within us and immediately we cry out to the Father by way of response. This is what we call ‘faith’ – the crying out to God for salvation, through Christ.
John 3:16-21 is the most quoted bible passage of all. It begins: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. By crying out to God, by believing in Jesus, you enter into eternal favour with God. It almost seems too simple, too easy; surely, he expects us to do our best, to improve our lives, to attend church, to read the bible, etc. Well, all these things are good in themselves, but they do not contribute at all to our being rescued by God. It is by God’s grace and Jesus’ death and resurrection – that’s all!
The meaning of ‘Eternal Life’ is found in John 17:3. “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.
Our response is a matter of life and death: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already…” (v18). Eternal life doesn’t start when you die, it starts as soon as you put your trust in Jesus (v36) – this verse goes on to say that there is no ‘middle ground’, you are either ‘for’ Christ, or ‘against’ him. Sobering stuff! Demands a response! Are you yet part of the Church of the ‘Twice-Born’?
In verses 22-36, John the Baptist was continuing his powerful ministry – due to continuing ‘demand’ – and yet there is already the thought that it was coming to an abrupt end: “He must become greater; I must become less” (v30). It was key that John did not detract from the glory due to the Messiah, and he correctly viewed himself as the ‘friend of the Bridegroom’ and not the Bridegroom himself. Consequently his ministry needed to reach its ending. The same applies to us: most ministries have a ‘shelf-life’ and we need to be ready to cut them off before they get in the way of the advance of the Kingdom of God. Do we have John’s humility to squarely face those facts!
John the Baptist ends with some important facts about Jesus:
- He came from above, from heaven, and so is above all
- If a person agrees with Jesus, he/she also agrees with God
- Jesus received the Holy Spirit without limit
- The one who believes in Jesus instantly has eternal life (forever, therefore)
- The one who rejects Jesus will never see this life and is already under God’s wrath!