4 Part Message Series by John Piper ..New Birth. Part 2
Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He was speaking to all of us when he said that. Nicodemus was not a special case. You and I must be born again, or we will not see the kingdom of God. That means we will not be saved; we will not be part of God’s family, and not go to heaven, but instead will go to hell.
Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees, the most religious Jewish leaders. Jesus said to them in Matthew 23:15, 33: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. . . . You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
So the series we have begun is not marginal. It is central. Eternity hangs in the balance when we are talking about the new birth. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The New Birth Is Unsettling
In the first message last time we focused on the reasons for this series and the kinds of questions we would be asking. Today’s question is: What happens in the new birth? Before I try to answer that question, let me mention a very earnest concern that I have about the way these messages will be heard. I am aware that this series of messages will be unsettling to many of you — just like the words of Jesus are unsettling to us again and again if we take them seriously. There are at least three reasons for this.
1. Our Hopeless Condition
Jesus’s teaching about the new birth confronts us with our hopeless spiritual and moral and legal condition apart from God’s regenerating grace. Before the new birth happens to us, we are spiritually dead. We are morally selfish and rebellious. And we are legally guilty before God’s law and under his wrath. When Jesus tells us that we must be born again he is telling us that our present condition is hopelessly unresponsive, corrupt, and guilty. Apart from amazing grace in our lives, we don’t like to hear that about ourselves. So it is unsettling when Jesus tells us that we must be born again.
2. We Cannot Cause the New Birth
Teaching about the new birth is unsettling because it refers to something that is done to us, not something we do. John 1:13 emphasizes this. It refers to the children of God as those who “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Peter stresses the same thing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3).
“We do not cause the new birth. God causes the new birth.”
We do not cause the new birth. God causes the new birth. Any good thing that we do is a result of the new birth, not a cause of the new birth. This means that the new birth is taken out of our hands. It is not in our control. And so it confronts us with our helplessness and our absolute dependence on someone (namely, God) outside ourselves.
This is unsettling. We are told that we won’t see the kingdom of God if we’re not born again. And we’re told that we can’t make ourselves to be born again. This is unsettling.
3. The Absolute Freedom of God Confronts Us
And the third reason Jesus’s teaching about the new birth is unsettling, therefore, is that it confronts us with the absolute freedom of God. Apart from God, we are spiritually dead in our selfishness and rebellion. We are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Our rebellion is so deep that we cannot detect or desire the glory of Christ in the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore, if we are going to be born again, it will rely decisively and ultimately on God. His decision to make us alive will not be a response to what we as spiritual corpses do, but what we do will be a response to his making us alive. For most people, at least at first, this is unsettling.
My Hope: Stabilize and Save, Not Just Unsettle
So, as I begin this series, I am aware of how unsettling this teaching on the new birth can be. And oh how careful I want to be. I do not want to cause tender souls any unnecessary distress. And I do not want to give false hope to those who have confused morality or religion for spiritual life. Please pray for me. I feel like I am taking eternal souls in my hands in these days. And yet I know that I have no power in myself to give them life. But God does.
And I am very hopeful that he will do what he says in Ephesians 2:4–5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.” God loves to magnify the riches of his life-giving grace where Christ is lifted up in truth. That is my hope: that this series will not just unsettle but stabilize and save. (con’t tomorrow)