He told Nicodemus, who was a religious leader of his day, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Joh 3:3). That means you cannot see the kingdom of God unless you are born again.
Then He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (Joh 3:5). That means you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you experience this second birth, which is one of water and the Spirit. This is simply another way of saying that you must have a new birth of the Spirit of God, and that it is not enough to be born naturally as all humans are. When He referred to being born of water, He was speaking about water baptism.
He also said, "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” (Joh 3:6-7). That means it is absolutely necessary to be born again, since He used the word “must”. It’s not an option but an obligation.
How to Be Born Again
But how can a person be born again? Nicodemus wondered the same thing. He asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" (Joh 3:4). The Lord explained to him that He, the Son of Man, would be lifted up on a cross.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (Joh 3:14-15)
That was a reference to His role as the Messiah, or Christ, as I explained in my article, The Son of Man. And He was referring to His sacrificial death by crucifixion in the place of sinners, so that they could have eternal life.
You see, when God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and they were in the wilderness, some of them were bitten by snakes and died, because of their sin. So God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole for people to see.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Num 21:8-9)
Jesus explained to Nicodemus the similarity between the bronze serpent and Himself. It was a type or picture of Christ. In the same way as the Israelites were saved from death by looking upon the bronze serpent fixed to a raised pole, so anyone who would look upon Jesus Christ nailed to a cross and lifted up, would have eternal life.
Jesus continued, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (Joh 3:16). This means that God loves you so much He sent His Son to die on the cross for you, so that if you would believe in Him, you would not perish, but have eternal life. He said, “whoever believes in Him,” and that includes anyone. It’s good news, because if it were not for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we would all perish in hell. That’s because we have all sinned and fallen (Rom 3:23). Nobody has lived up to God’s perfect, glorious standard. Paul called that “falling short of His glory”.
It’s wonderful to know that we can be saved from the terrible fires of hell by believing in Jesus. But it’s not enough just to know it; you need to do it. You need to personally repent of your sin and put your faith in Jesus alone to save you. Look to Him as the Israelites looked upon that bronze serpent. Without Him you will surely perish. He died on the cross for you, and God raised Him from the dead on the third day! He is alive forever. Will you trust Him to save you?
New Life in Christ as LORD
I would also like to explain what it means to believe in Him. It’s not simply agreeing that He’s the Savior of the world or that He died on the cross. It means you must undergo a radical conversion by the power of the Holy Spirit. God will change your whole life. It begins the moment you repent of all your sins, confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. You must surrender your whole life to Him, and ask Him to come live inside your heart to be your Lord and Savior. Once you do that, He will begin to transform you into His own image by the power of the Spirit.
Some people stop at John 3:16 and don’t go any further. But I’d like to quote the remaining verses in that passage, since they explain to us about the person who truly believes in Jesus with saving faith.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (Joh 3:17-21)
The Lord contrasted those who believe in Him with those who do not. On the one hand, he who believes in Him and is born again is not judged. He comes into the Light, so that it may be plainly seen that his deeds have been done in the sight of God. He practices the truth. Notice the emphasis on the deeds and the practice of one who believes in Jesus. That’s what Jesus meant in John 3:16 by believing in Him and having eternal life. If a person claims to believe in Him, yet his life is not changed, then He does not know the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord described such a person in exact opposite terms from the way He described the one who truly believes in Him. The one who does not believe in Jesus has been judged already. He still loves the darkness rather than the Light, for his deeds are evil. Since he does evil, it shows that he hates the Light. He does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. Once again, notice the emphasis on the deeds of the one who does not believe. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if a person says they believe in Jesus as their Savior, if their life has not been changed. If one continues to practice evil, after he has believed in Jesus, then he still loves the darkness rather than the Light. He has rejected the Light. If he fears that his deeds will be exposed, then he reveals that actually his deeds are evil.
It doesn't matter what such a person says with his mouth about Jesus, if his deeds are still evil. He must turn from the darkness to the Light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he has done has been done in the sight of God. Even though he may claim to believe in Jesus, if he does not obey the Lord, he still stands condemned. He will not see life, since the wrath of God remains on him. That is what the apostle John meant when he wrote at the end of the third chapter of his gospel, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (Joh 3:36, NASB).
The original Greek word for the expression "does not obey" in John 3:36 is "apeitheo", which means "disobedient, or obey not." That word "apeitheo" comes from another word that means "disobedient", so the gospel explicitly warns us against disobeying the Lord. The word may also be used to mean "to disbelieve (wilfully and perversely), not believe, or unbelieving." (Strongs).
Likewise, Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Mat 7:21). Notice the requirement that one must do the will of the Lord’s Father in heaven in order to enter the kingdom of God. The emphasis again is on what a person does. The Lord laid stress on one’s deeds. Put that together with what Jesus told Nicodemus that you must be born again to enter the kingdom, and you will clearly see that they are one and the same. A person who is born again must do the will of God, and his faith must be accompanied by action. It’s not enough to call Jesus “Lord.”
Jesus said, "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'” (Mat 7:22-23). The same emphasis here is on one’s deeds. Those who practice lawlessness do not enter the kingdom of God. They do not enter heaven. The Lord will tell them to depart from Him and say He never knew them, even though they call Him Lord. It all goes back to their deeds.
Some people like to think that because we are saved by grace that there are no rules to follow. Well, I have news for those people. The apostle Paul said that Jesus became the source of salvation for all who obey Him. (Heb 5:9). There are still commandments that we must obey. So when you make Jesus your Lord, you agree that He will be the Master of your life and He will determine what you may and may not do. Always remember that as you walk out your faith, once you have first been born again.
Attribution notice: Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. "Born Again" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.
Author's note: You are invited to read Evidence of the Second Birth, Where will you go when you die?, Few will be saved, Costly Grace, The Cost of Discipleship, Doulos Training School, By Grace Alone, All Things Are New!, Holy Washings - Part I, Entering the Kingdom of God, The Obedience of Faith, Walking in the Perfect Will of God, Deleted Scriptures in the Bible?, The Law of Christ, Law of Love in the New Testament, The Judgment Seat of Christ, and Is Obedience Optional?. The Home page of this blog also has more articles. You may access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.