John 3:16 is one of the most well known scriptures in the entire bible. This verse famously declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
I suspect that more Americans could come closer to quoting this verse than any other in the New Testament. However, if you asked them what events lead up to Jesus making this glorious statement I believe that most people would be absolutely clueless. The conversation that took place prior to this declaration holds one of the most important keys to the gospel as Jesus presented it. This is where Jesus states the requirement that, “You must be born again.”
This story opens up with a man named Nicodemus coming to see Jesus. Nicodemus was an unusual candidate for such a visit because he was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of religious leaders who were pretty much continually in conflict with Jesus. Jesus often referred to them as hypocrites and publicly criticized their motives as well as their lack of sincerity.
Despite this harsh criticism, Nicodemus had seen something undeniable and compelling in Jesus. He recognized that this simple carpenter’s son had something that none of the other teachers he had ever seen possessed. There was real life, power and authority in what Jesus said and did. Everywhere He went lives were changed.
Nicodemus began the conversation by saying, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Jesus then went on to reinforce this statement when he said in verse 7, “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘you must be born again'”.
Born again? The concept was completely out of the grasp of Nicodemus. He said to Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus replied, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water (natural birth) and the Spirit (spiritual rebirth) 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.”
Jesus did not come to get us to try to be better people. If that were His goal he simply would have written a book with a list of things we need to improve on in order to please God and inherit eternal life. He didn’t do that for at least a couple of reasons. One is that Moses already published that one. It is called the Law. It was and still is a best-seller. In fact, Jesus often quoted it and even added a little insight to many of the requirements that Moses wrote down. The only problem was that nobody could do it. Especially with the additional light that Jesus shined on the requirements God had given Moses through the Law.
This Law set an obstacle between us and heaven that no man can bridge. That obstacle is perfection. He requires perfection in thought, word and deed without a single mistake. In James 2:10 the Bible says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
Think about that. If we make one mistake we are guilty of breaking the whole law. Who can say they have never made a single mistake? And even if we could start today and get everything perfect from here on out we would still have a string of previous mistakes trailing behind us that demand judgment. That by itself seems to be a pretty high standard but Jesus was not content to leave it there.
For example, Moses wrote, “Thou shall not commit adultery“, but Jesus went way beyond that in Matthew 5:27-28 when He declared, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s right. Moses said just not to do it but Jesus said that’s not good enough. He says that you cannot even have a lustful thought or glance without deserving to go to hell!
Or how about anger? The law instructed us that we must not take a life. Again, Jesus went way beyond that and said in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Remember that the next time someone cuts you off in traffic!
No, Jesus did not come just to say, “Bow your heads and repeat after me” and have us utter a little prayer so he could stamp our passport to heaven. Neither did He come with an “I’m okay – You’re okay” message of how God is pleased with people just the way they are. It was closer to an, “I’m okay and you’ve got a serious problem”, type of message. God is looking for sinless perfection at the heart level and refuses to accept anything less.
So what can we do? If we agree that we have made an unacceptable mess of our lives then what course of action must we take to set things right? The solution for us is the same one that Jesus gave to Nicodemus. Our old lives are broken, stained and will never be good enough to be acceptable to a Holy God. We don’t just need a better life. We need a whole new and different life.
So here we are with the same problem that perplexed Nicodemus two thousand years ago. How can a person be born again? The response Jesus gave to Nicodemus when he posed this question was, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
To be born again is an absolutely impossible task for a human to accomplish. No amount of effort to knowledge could even bring us close. It would be simpler to turn wood into pure gold or fly to the moon on a skateboard than to work such a miracle. As John 1:13 states concerning the second birth; we are, “children born not of natural decent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
John 1:12 says, “Bust as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name”.
I encourage you to choose to believe in that name even now. Choose to believe that Jesus is both completely capable and whole-heartedly willing to give you a brand new life. Remember as we began this discussion, God loved this whole world and everyone in it so much that He was willing to send His own dear son as a sacrifice for the sin that separates us from Him. Heaven would not have undertaken such a costly and painful endeavor if it were less that perfectly able to accomplish the desired goal.
Many people hear of this great message of salvation and both believe it and desire it yet they are not sure God has offered it to them. Let’s look at the facts.
As we know John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Okay. Let’s see if you qualify. Do you live on this planet? Are you a part of this world? If so you can be sure that this scripture applies to you. After all, it literally says, “For God so loved the world…”-Not part of the world. Not some of the world. Not most of the world but rather the whole thing. If you are here you are included. God loves you and gave his Son for you and that’s all there is to it. Do you think He is tricking you? Impossible!
Numbers 23:19 says that, “God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind.” There are not many things that we can be fully certain of in this life but you can rest in this. God is not a liar and He has invited you to receive eternal life by believing in Jesus.
Are you thinking you have done too many bad things? Again, I have to say that would be impossible! If you say that you have lived a terrible and ungodly life you are only proving that you are exactly the kind of person He came to save! Romans 5:6 specifically states that He died for the ungodly. The very thing you fear disqualified you is actually your engraved invitation to be saved.
I urge you this very day to choose to believe the good news that Jesus loves you so much that He was willing to suffer the punishment you deserved so that you could be forgiven. He was willing to die the death you deserved so that you could have eternal life. Romans 10:9 says, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”.
There is life changing power in the truth that these words represent. Acknowledge that He is the boss and tell Him so. Believe that He is just who He said He was and has done just what He said He did. Be willing to leave your old broken and sinful life behind and follow Him for the rest of your days on the earth. In exchange He offers complete forgiveness, acceptance and a relationship of love and purpose that extends beyond this life and on throughout eternity. Not just an old life with a new paint job to cover up the flaws but rather a brand new life.
We are not just talking about fire insurance here! He not only wants to save us from something but also for something. Ephesians 2:10-11 says to those who have experienced this new birth, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Love, forgiveness, purpose and destiny are all free gifts to those who will choose to believe. The invitation goes out to the whole world and to those who receive Him he gives the right to become children of God.
You must be born again!