Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Born Again

Jesus, in John 3, had a conversation with a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus. While it is obvious by Nicodemus’ words he was impressed with Jesus, it must be noted that he was ignorant of who Jesus truly was, and was a bit cautious in his approach.

Nicodemus referred to the Lord as a “rabbi” (teacher), and acknowledged that the miracles Jesus performed marked Him as a man from God. However, the fact that John revealed the ruler’s approach to be “by night” indicates that Nicodemus may have desired not to be seen talking with such a controversial man.

It is interesting that Jesus did not wait to learn from Nicodemus the reason for his visit. While we do not know for certain what Nicodemus wanted to ask, Jesus clearly revealed what Nicodemus needed to know!

Jesus’ words dealt with the kingdom of God. It was a subject of interest to the Jews, and certainly to a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. As one commentator put it:

It is likely that the (unstated) query of Nicodemus had to do with the coming kingdom, something like this: “What would a man of my station have to do to have a part in the kingdom which you are teaching people about.” Evidently Nicodemus thought that because he was a Jew, and more than a Jew, a Pharisee of high public office, there was little left for him to do to associate himself with the coming kingdom.

Dan King, Truth Commentary on John, pg. 56

But Jesus’ words indicated a different reality. One that reveals that there are no distinctions of rank in the kingdom of God; and that the kingdom of God was to be spiritual rather than physical.

Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (vs. 3). In order for one to have a part in the Messianic kingdom, no matter who he is, he would have to be “born again.” This new birth has reference to a new relationship with God through faith in Christ.

Nicodemus missed the point completely, which is understandable. While his mind turned to the obvious absurdity of a physical birth, Jesus’ reference was to a spiritual new birth. Jesus said further, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (vs. 5).

We, as Nicodemus, need to know what is meant by the statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Fortunately the meaning is clear, when the entirety of scripture is consulted.

For example, an examination of the first two chapters of Acts reveals that the kingdom (if understood as the subjects of Christ’s rule), and the church are one and the same. We are told that those who received the words of the gospel “were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). Water baptism is “for the remission of sins” (vs. 38); to put one “into Christ” (Galatians 3:27); to “wash away sins” (Acts 22:16); and to “save us” (1 Peter 3:21). Such passages reveal clearly that the phrase “born of water” refers to water baptism. One who is baptized “into Christ” is added to the church, or gains entrance to the kingdom of God.

Paul draws the same basic picture in Romans 6, where he writes, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (vs. 3-4).

The more difficult words of the passage are “and the Spirit”, indicating that one must be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven. While John’s baptism was also a baptism in water, an added dimension is revealed here in the work of the Holy Spirit as it pertains to the new birth. As R.C.H. Lenski put it in his commentary, “the former being the divinely chosen earthly medium (necessary on that account), the latter being the regenerating agent who uses that medium.” (The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, 237).

It is amazing that while few would ever deny one must be born of the Spirit in order to see the kingdom, the majority of religious people today deny the necessity of being “born of water.” Denying the necessity of baptism is denying the teaching of the Lord himself. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone necessitates one ignore these plain words of Jesus Christ. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”