Babies Don't Try to be Born
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again" -John 3:3
Read John 3:1-17
Although the word “grace” isn’t used very often in the Gospels, the concept is everywhere. Jesus teaches grace constantly. The author of the Gospel of John explains Christ’s ministry with the phrase, “the law came through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Most famously, Jesus teaches grace to Nicodemus in John 3.
The top religious scholar in the land, Nicodemus was impressed enough by Jesus to ask for a secret night meeting so he could get to know this new and exciting young teacher. Jesus gets straight to the point: “You must be born again.” (v. 7)
I want you to realize to whom Jesus was talking.
The Bible says Nicodemus was a Pharisee. They were the religious elite. There were never more than 6,000 of them at a time in Israel. Each of them had taken a solemn vow before God and three witnesses to devote their entire life, every moment of every day, to keeping the commandments. They wrote down extra regulations in their rule book, which came to be called the Mishnah, to make sure each commandment was kept, and kept perfectly — for example, just one of the commandments, the one about keeping the Sabbath holy, eventually had 24 chapters devoted to it in the Mishnah. If there were gold medals in willpower and in religious knowledge, these guys would win every time.
Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin. This was a select group of 70 religious men who ran all the religious affairs of Israel and had moral authority over every Jewish person in the world.
Not only that, but Jesus refers to him in John 3:10 as the Teacher of Israel. So Nicodemus apparently had a unique authority in the eyes of the people.
And yet Jesus tells this socially elite, morally upright, super-smart man that even he must be born again.
“Born again.” It’s one of those overly familiar phrases. But what’s it mean?
Well, when you were born did you develop yourself through conscious effort? Did you make your own little feet? “I need ten toes now! Urrrrgh!!” Pop, pop, pop, out came the toes. No. You just grew. I think it’s Max Lucado who asks: “How active were you in your birth? Did you shove yourself out? Were you in radio communication with your doctor: ‘Roger, Doc, we are good to GO!’”
No. Someone else did the work. Someone else felt the pain. Someone else made the effort.
Same when you’re born spiritually. It’s not about your effort. It’s about you resting in God’s effort on your behalf, knowing “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter Bernice is a pastor, and she puts it this way: "It makes no difference how much education, money, prestige, power, or pleasure you acquire; if the time and invitation are right, you will indulge your nature. That’s why you have to be born again; because only when you are born again do you have the new nature of God planted in your heart."
I had to admit that, like Nicodemus, I’d been setting up rules and boundaries to try to earn my salvation. And despite my initial joy, the practice of resting in grace still took a long time for me to really understand, as you’ll see tomorrow.
Summarize what Jesus meant by “born again” (try to use as little religious language as possible):
What does being “born again” have to do with grace?
If you want to do further study, look up these verses that also talk about being born again: John 1:12–13; James 1:17–18; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23. What can you learn about the new birth from these verses?
Ask God how you can apply this story to your life. Have you been born again?