We are in week three of a series on The Holy Spirit. In the first message, Pastor Paul gave an excellent overview of who The Holy Spirit it is, and what He does. In the second, Pastor Dave gave a very good Biblical history of the promised Holy Spirit, and the arrival of the Spirit in the church at Pentecost.
Our series is arranged roughly in the order we experience His presence and work in the church and in our life of faith, and so today I am continuing the series with the topic of The Holy Spirit’s work in “The New Birth” or “being born again”, or (in a ten dollar theological word, that we need to know because the Bible uses it) “regeneration”. They all are describing the same thing. The New Birth is the beginning of our Christian life.
Introduction / Illustration
What would your reaction be if I were to ask you this morning to believe that the sun is not going to rise tomorrow, and that after tonight, from now on, it will be dark? How would you respond to that? Probably a mixture of puzzlement, confusion about what I’m up to, you’d probably shake your head while waiting for me to get on with my point… certainly any reaction but believing me, right? You probably would not believe that the sun was not going to come up, just by my say so.
You cannot cause yourself to believe anything. That’s not how faith works. Belief / Faith requires an external influence that causes a change in your current understanding of reality.
Now this is important to us Christians, because one way to summarize the core message of Christianity is John 3:16, in which Jesus tells us:
“…God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Belief in Christ, however is different from my little thought experiment about the Earth’s rotation, because our problem is not simply a lack of information, but a hardness of heart.
Romans 1 tells us that we are actively suppressing our knowledge of the truth. We ignore the things we plainly see about God in creation.
2 Corinthians 3 tells us that our hearts are hard and our minds are covered with a veil (of unbelief) that prevents us from seeing The Glory of God.
And to see what must happen in order for us to have eternal life, we are going to start in John 3, with one of my favorite narratives in the entire Bible. Turn there with me.
John 3:1–8 (ESV)
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.”
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Isn’t Jesus amazing? He cuts straight to the chase. He says “You believe I am from God, but you have no idea what you are talking about. If you aren’t born again, you can’t even see God’s kingdom.”
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?”
Nicodemus jumps right in to the discussion. He is a master of Jewish doctrine. He knows the contents of the Old Testament inside and out. I think that the way to see this is Nicodemus, who is a learned man, is not totally mystified by what Jesus says. He’s catching that there is entrance into the Kingdom to be had, but he is not understanding how he as a man can accomplish this entrance!
To get at his question here, I think he’s asking “..okay Jesus, I’ll bite, but how in the world am I going to be born a second time. How am I supposed to do that? That’s impossible.”
And Jesus replies, I’m not talking about a new religion, Nicodemus. I’m not talking about something you do.
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?
Jesus presses Nicodemus “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?” Water-and-the-Spirit Nicodemus. Hint, Hint. Water and The Spirit.
It is important for us to understand what Jesus means here, and I think this response is crucial to understanding what Jesus means when He refers to “water and the Spirit”. There are a few popular and incorrect ways of understanding this verse. Its important to understand that the “water” here doesn’t somehow represent physical birth, or refer to baptism. Rather, Nicodemus, a scholar of the Old Testament should have the one place in the Old Testament that mentions “water and the spirit”, a very important prophecy about the new covenant in Ezekiel 36.
Ezekiel 36:24–27 (ESV)
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.
This prophecy goes on to the “Valley of Dry Bones” vision where God takes Ezekiel to a valley that is filled with heaps of skeletons, and tells Ezekiel to command the dry bones to get up and live. And they do. This is what it means to be “born again.”
POINT: Belief in God requires The New Birth.
Our spiritual condition prior to being born again is the same as those dry bones. And we must have life restored to us by a miracle of God in order to believe and have eternal life.
In fact, it takes the most powerful miracle that The Holy Spirit does.
It is important for us to focus on this miracle, marvel at it, and celebrate it. God deserves much glory, for this miracle. I think many of us are curious about miracles, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the supernatural, but I think we sell this miracle, the most important and most powerful, short.
The New birth is the most powerful miracle the Holy Spirit does.
Turn with me to Ephesians 1:16
Ephesians 1:16–2:10 (ESV)
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
How much power are we witnessing here? All of it. This power spans the greatest chasm in the universe. From the depths of the dead, far above all rule and authority and power in the heavenly places. That’s a lot of power.
He’s going to continue here and show us what it means that we are as dead as those dry bones, with our only hope being God saving us by His power in His mercy.
22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Every apostle writes about this concept. I think I could show it in nearly every book in the New Testament, but here’s a sampling.
1 Peter 1:3 (ESV)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”
James 1:17–18 (ESV)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
1 John 5:1 (ESV)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.
And Paul again, writing to Titus
Titus 3:3–7 (ESV)
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Paul echoes his words to the Ephesians here to Titus. You were saved NOT by your work, but by God’s work. Your works, even your righteous works, count for nothing, in the New Birth, the forgiveness of your sins.
THIS IS A DIFFICULT TEACHING.
It is hard to swallow because it offends our human sensibilities.
- We are confronted with God’s power, His massiveness,
- and His complete freedom and right to do as He pleases.
- We are completely guilty before Him with no claim
THIS IS A FREEING TEACHING: ASSURANCE
The scriptures gently and lovingly press on our assurance. “Test yourself to see whether you really are in the faith.” Who are you trusting in?
Romans 8:5–9, 16-17 (ESV)
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Throughout the Bible, we are confronted with our sinfulness and guilt before God. Our rebellion. Even as believers, we read parts of the Bible like Galatians 5
Galatians 5:16–25 (ESV)
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
We read these things, find ourself in the list, and find ourself lacking in the fruit of the Spirit, and we wonder about ourselves, don’t we? We should! So how do we know, as Romans 8:9 says again whether we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit?
Romans 8:16-17 (ESV)
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Evidence of the New Birth: Belief in The Gospel.
1 John 5:10-13 (ESV)
10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
THIS IS OUR PART IN THE NEW BIRTH: BELIEVE THE GOSPEL!
What do you look to for confidence of your salvation when you are convicted of sin?
By way of application. My goal is to help you understand what happened at your conversion, or what needs to happen in order for you to be saved. And the amazing thing is that to you believers in the room, and those of you unbelievers, especially those of you believers who are unsure if you are going to make it, and to you unbelievers in the room who are sure you are saved, my message is the same! Where does your hope for eternal life come from?
Are you banking on something you have done or are doing. Are you banking on overcoming some pain or struggle, are you banking on your performance? Or are you presuming on the benevolence of God, because He saves because that is what He does.
Our hope is to be in the cross of Christ and what He has done, and our response is to believe and repent of our sin.
Our Hope: The Cross
Before The Throne of God Above (verse 2)
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.