4 Part Message Series by John Piper .. New Birth Part 3
What Happens in the New Birth?
So let’s turn now to the question: What happens in the new birth? I will try to put the answer in three statements. The first two we will deal with today. (1) What happens in the new birth is not getting new religion but getting new life. (2) What happens in the new birth is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus but experiencing the supernatural in yourself. (3) What happens in the new birth is not the improvement of your old human nature but the creation of a new human nature — a nature that is really you, and is forgiven and cleansed; and a nature that is really new, and is being formed by the indwelling Spirit of God. Let’s take those one at a time.
1. New Life, Not New Religion
What happens in the new birth is not getting new religion but getting new life. Read with me John 3:1–3:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
“What happens in the new birth is not getting new religion but getting new life.”
John makes sure that we know that Nicodemus is a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. The Pharisees were the most rigorously religious of all the Jewish groups. To this one, Jesus says (in verse 3), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And even more personally in verse 7: “You must be born again.” So one of John’s points is: All of Nicodemus’ religion, all of his amazing Pharisaic study and discipline and law-keeping, cannot replace the need for the new birth. In fact, they may well make more obvious the need for the new birth.
What Nicodemus needs, and what you and I need, is not religion but life. The point of referring to new birth is that birth brings a new life into the world. In one sense, of course, Nicodemus is alive. He is breathing, thinking, feeling, acting. He is human, created in God’s image. But evidently, Jesus thinks he’s dead. There is no spiritual life in Nicodemus. Spiritually, he is unborn. He needs life — not more religious activities or more religious zeal. He has plenty of that.
You recall what Jesus said in Luke 9:60 to the man who wanted to put off following Jesus so he could bury his father? Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” That means there are physically dead people who need burying. And there are spiritually dead people who can bury them. In other words, Jesus thought in terms of people who walk around with much apparent life, and are dead. In his parable about the prodigal son, the Father says, “This my son was dead, and is alive again.” (Luke 15:24).
Nicodemus did not need religion; he needed life — spiritual life. What happens in the new birth is that life comes into being that was not there before. New life happens at new birth. This is not religious activity or discipline or decision. This is the coming into being of life. That’s the first way of describing what happens in the new birth.
2. Experiencing the Supernatural, Not Just Affirming It
What happens in the new birth is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus but experiencing the supernatural in yourself. In verse 2, Nicodemus says, “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.” In other words, Nicodemus sees in Jesus a genuine divine activity. He admits that Jesus is from God. Jesus does the works of God. To this, Jesus does not respond by saying, “I wish everyone in Palestine could see the truth that you see about me.” Instead, he says, “You must be born again or you will never see the kingdom of God.”
Seeing signs and wonders, and being amazed at them, and giving the miracle worker credit for them that he is from God, saves nobody. This is one of the great dangers of signs and wonders: You don’t need a new heart to be amazed at them. The old, fallen human nature is all that’s needed to be amazed at signs and wonders. And the old, fallen human nature is willing to say that the miracle worker is from God. The devil himself knows that Jesus is the Son of God and works miracles (Mark 1:24). No, Nicodemus, seeing me as a miracle worker sent from God is not the key to the kingdom of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
In other words, what matters is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus but experiencing the supernatural in yourself. The new birth is supernatural, not natural. It cannot be accounted by things that are already found in this world. Verse 6 emphasizes the supernatural nature of the new birth: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The flesh is what we are naturally. The Spirit of God is the supernatural Person who brings about the new birth. Jesus says this again in verse 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.” The Spirit is not a part of this natural world. He is above nature. He is supernatural. Indeed, he is God. He is the immediate cause of the new birth.
So Nicodemus, Jesus says, what happens in the new birth is not merely affirming the supernatural in me, but experiencing the supernatural in yourself. You must be born again. And not in any metaphorical natural way, but in a supernatural way. God the Holy Spirit must come upon you and bring new life into existence.
We will look next time at the words in verse 5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” What does water and Spirit refer to here? And how does that help us understand what is happening in the new birth? (con’t tomorrow)