You Must Be Born Again?

Text:  John 3:1-17

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

You must born again!  This phrase ‘born again’ is probably a familiar phrase to each and every one of you.  Maybe some of you remember the words, “You need to be born again,” rolling off of the tongue of Billy Graham.  However, what does it specifically mean and how is one to be born again?  How does this happen and what are its implications?

The phrase ‘born again’ surprisingly only appears four times in the Bible, the most familiar place is in our Gospel reading from today where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is ‘born again.”

But what does this mean to be born again?  Take comfort for this phrase also puzzled a man named Nicodemus, the man who Jesus is talking to in our Gospel reading

In their conversation, Jesus clearly tells Nicodemus to be born again.  He does not direct Nicodemus to his Phariseeism, for Nicodemus was indeed a practicing Pharisee.  You see, the essence of first-century Phariseeism is that it pointed individuals to themselves.  Thus, when Jesus said that one needs to be born again, He doesn’t instruct Nicodemus to accomplish this by implementing the beliefs and practices of Phariseeism.  Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you need to be born again.  Simply find the strength to enact this change.”  Furthermore, Jesus does not call Nicodemus to go to the deep caverns of his heart and conjure up spiritual energy to mystically accomplish this spiritual task of being born again.  In other words, you cannot be born again by looking to ‘self’ or looking within, that applied to Nicodemus and it applies to you and me today.

But maybe this is some sort of physical change?  This is the reaction that Nicodemus had.  He said, “How can a man be born when he is old, surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb.” He is trying to figure out how ‘he’ can bring about this new birth through physical actions and physical works, as if it was something that was within his grasp. 

Now for those of you women who have had children, I would like to ask you a question for your assessment.  Imagine that after giving birth to your child that the doctor said, “Excellent.  What a healthy baby.  Now we need to put the child back into the womb so that it can be born again.”  What would be the probability of this happening?  Clearly you would have serious problems with the doctor.  Maybe you would say, “That is crazy, do you know how tough it was to get that child out!”  In all seriousness though, to be born again is not something that we physically do or something that we can do.  Thus, Nicodemus didn’t understand how it was possible for a person to accomplish this work of being born again when a person is completely helpless to bring it about.  In other words, to be born again is impossible for us to do in our own strength.  To be born again is not something that we bring about.  Just as it is impossible for us to take credit for our own birth, and just as it is impossible for us to enter our mother’s womb to be born again, so it is impossible for you and I to be eternally born again.  As human beings, we can’t accomplish this eternal feat by our own human strength or doings. 

My friends, to be born again does not mean that we should look to ‘self’ or look within.  To be born again does not mean that you need to jump back into your mother’s womb.  To be born again is not something that you initiate or do.  Rather, to be born again involves death and life; a rebirth.  It is like this, we don’t need a redo in this life.  Rather we need a new life.  Our lives that are continually mucked in sin do not need continual reform, but continual death and continual rebirth.  It isn’t as if God needs to reform and adjust our sinful nature. No, the sinful old Adam is the problem and needs to be put to death and we need a completely new and out of this world birth.

Indeed, to be born again is for you to die, and to die is also to be resurrected.  This death and new birth is something that is done to you, not something that you do.  And what has been done to you?  You were washed.  You were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  God wrote His name on you.  God’s Word connected to the water is powerful my friends.  At your baptism, the old sinful nature was violently drowned.  At your baptism, the old sinful nature, which is malicious, greedy, lethargic, proud, jealous, full of lust, narcissistic, and pathetic, was slayed.  Yes, your baptism has teeth, it is potent.  From this violent drowning massacre your old sinful nature was killed; death happened, yet what emerges is life.  Surely, in the waters of your baptism you die, but you are also resurrected; the resurrection of the new man happens because baptism works forgiveness of sins and gives eternal salvation accomplished by Jesus for you.  Thus, each and every day your life as a Christian “is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after.”[1]  Yes, each and every day there is a purging of whatever “pertains to the old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new creature may come forth.”[2] 

To be born again means that in the waters of your baptism you were taken from death to life because of Jesus.  This new birth doesn’t come by manmade religion.  This new birth doesn’t come by our flesh. This new birth doesn’t come by our works. This new birth doesn’t come by us fulfilling lists. This new birth comes by you and me being washed by the Lord.

The implications of this are amazing.  Being born again means that you don’t belong to yourself and your life is no longer your own.  You are not defined by your first birth.  Because of your second birth, you have everything that you need in Christ.  You can rest with confidence that you are secure for eternity.  Therefore you do not have to be concerned about building a name for yourself for you have the name of God.  You do not have to worry about your spiritual temperature and your spiritual empires for you have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, being born again means that you are freed from looking inwards and freed from the constant burden of trying to acquire righteous.  In your new birth you have righteousness, the righteousness of Jesus in which you wear like a robe.  This means that you are freed to be concerned for the well-being of every neighbor. 

Otherwise stated, it is a waste of time and energy when we are shaped by our first birth, rather than our second birth. [3]  “This new life, to which we have been born again in Christ, is not normal or natural, and will not feel normal or natural to us.  Normal and natural to us is our sinful flesh, which remains the enemy of God and will be a pain in the neck until the end of our lives.”[4]   Nevertheless, we are called by God and by the new birth in Christ, into the life of being God’s children and servants.  This means that we are completely forgiven.  We are completely righteous for Christ’s sake.  We are completely free of all, slave to none yet servants to all.

“'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’  This new life is lived in hope, the Christian hope, which is the confidence that what we cannot see, but God has promised, is true - and so we are confident in ourselves that we have forgiveness and life and salvation, and so we rejoice, and give thanks, and we live out this new life - not according to how things feel, or how things may appear to us, but according to the reality of God's blessings, forgiveness and protection of which He speaks to us in His Word.”[5]

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: The Book of Concord (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 465.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Robin Fish. “Born Again.” (14 March 2014)
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

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