Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 April 29, 2018
“The Nature of the New Birth”
Last week we noted, from John 3:1-3, the necessity of the new birth. In that passage, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” This squares with what Jesus told His disciples, in answer to Thomas, on the night in which He was betrayed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). Hence, to corrupt the old American Express slogan, don’t leave here without it.
This week we note the nature of the new birth—and we do so, once again, from Jesus’ nighttime conversation with His visitor, Nicodemus. Let us hear God’s Word read and proclaimed once again in this place. May God once again have His glory in this place, and may we have all the benefits that He so graciously designs for us.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Nicodemus, even if he understands the necessity of the new birth, misunderstands its nature. He thinks of the new birth in physical (or carnal) terms only, and his questions reveal this. Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus, in His reply, shows Nicodemus—and us—the nature of the new birth.
Jesus, as we noted last week, begins his declaration with the solemn formula beginning, in the King James Version of the Bible, “Verily, verily.” Then Jesus teaches us three things about the nature of the new birth in His words unto Nicodemus. First, the new birth is spiritual, not carnal. Hear Jesus’ words again, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” In this we can discern an out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new movement. We see in being born of water the out-with-the-old side of this, viz., cleansing from sin. Water is the emblem of this cleansing—and perhaps this use of water refers to baptism, which, among other things, represents externally the washing away of sin and internal re-birth. We also see, in being born of the Spirit, the in-with-the-new side of this, namely, the granting of new life. The Spirit applies the new life granted by God, and the Spirit both makes us a new creation in Christ and makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17). The new birth, contra Nicodemus’s questions that reveal his misunderstanding, is spiritual.
Second, the new birth is—once again—indispensable; it is not optional. Jesus says to us in verse seven, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” This birth from above, this being born anew, must occur if one would have relationship with God through Christ in the powerful presence of the Spirit—for one will not enter relationship with Him without it. Moreover, be not amazed at this. Once we understand everything aright, then we see this inescapable conclusion as the only solution for our fundamental need.
Third, the new birth is somewhat unpredictable. Jesus invokes the wind to make His point. We have evidence that wind exists, for we feel it touch and pass us, we hear it pass through or around objects, and we see its effects upon certain objects (such as trees, untethered things along the ground, etc.). More than this, we cannot say for sure when a puff of wind will either originate or abate. Our weather forecasters can tell us generally wind direction, wind speed, and duration of those conditions. Yet we all have noted breezes and winds that were neither predicted nor explained naturally.
So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. We know not exactly whom He will call to abundant, eternal life. Nor do we know exactly when, or where, or how He will do this. We also know not exactly His special call on His redeemed. We often do not know beforehand where God will call any one of His saved ones to live. We at times do not know what that redeemed soul will do, in obedience to God’s call, vocationally, ministerially, or in some other sphere. We often do not know, either in our own case or in the case of a fellow Christian believer, when God will change these places and stations. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. His ways—in creation and providence generally, not to mentioned our very lives and circumstances particularly—are somewhat mysterious and unpredictable.
This new birth, or notion of all things new, sounds very attractive to at least some of us just now. How many of us would like to flee certain ravages and mistakes of our lives, and enjoy a clean slate? All of us, no matter if unbelieving or believing this instant, have regrets. We have regrets about past actions. We say, “I’m sorry I did that,” or, “I’m sorry I omitted that.” We have regrets about past events. We say, “I’m sorry that happened,” or, “I’m sorry for the pain that came to my life because of what happened.” Granted that we utter these statements, let’s address a solution to unbelieving and believing alike.
To the unbelieving one today, I, ministering in Christ’s Name, ask, “Would you be made new today?” Jesus cleanses from sin, lifts the weight of sin’s guilt from your shoulders, and grants new life. He mitigates the sorrows and heightens the joys of your life—He can repay for the years that the locusts have eaten (cf. Joel 2:25) and thrill your soul in what formerly were ordinary occasions for happiness. God in Christ, moreover, frames your life with purpose and crowns it with His favor. You will not merely drift like so much flotsam on life’s apparently randomly-tossed sea. Also, He gives you an eternal future and a brilliant hope (cf. Jeremiah 29:11). May God indeed give you this new birth, and may you embrace Him with all you have and with all you are.
To the believer on Christ as Lord and Savior, I ask, “Would you continually be made new?” The promises made to the soul at the threshold of faith remains yours as well. Jesus cleanses from sin and grants new life. Even those sins you commit since conversion are wiped away in Christ’s crimson tide, and He ever deepens the new life granted you some time ago. To you, also, God mitigates the sorrows and heightens the joys of your life—and, if you have walked with Christ for a long time, you have seen how He has done this both in wide swaths of your life and to ever-deepening levels within your life. God continues to frame your life with purpose—and to work out His purpose in you—and He continues to crown your life with His favor. Moreover, He continues to give you an eternal future and a brilliant hope. These are great, to be sure, but there is yet more.
What God may do with you, dear born-again Christian, in your life, circumstances, relationships, walk with Him, and the life, may challenge you. Among God’s great and precious promises in Christ, ease of life is not listed. It may come, but there is no guarantee of the same—and some of God’s special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. What may do in your life may surprise you as well, yet this is but the corollary to the mysterious way of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Yet what God may do with you will thrill your soul and satisfy you deeply many a time as well. Come, receive (or continue to receive) this new birth from on high.
 Lewis, C. S., The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1946), 45.