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Nicodemus and the New Birth -John 3

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  • Nicodemus and the New Birth -John 3

    Hey all, here is an article I wrote for the edification of the Body of Christ. Questions? Comments? Criticisms?

    Nicodemus and the New Birth
    By Josef Urban

    There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. - John 3:1-8

    Spiritual regeneration is a grand subject and most certainly requires our careful attention and close study. Seeing it is essential to salvation, what a grave thing it would be to remain in ignorance concerning it, as multitudes of professing Christians do, perishing for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). Let us take heed to the counsel of God. Nicodemus sought so diligently to hear the Lord’s heart concerning this subject that he sought Him out by night, under intense threat of persecution from his fellow Jews, and under the potential hardship of being expelled from the company of his people and thrust down from the throne of authority that he sat on as a “ruler of the Jews”. Himself risking so much just to hear this discourse from the Lord Jesus, it is a small thing that we take a little bit of time, under no such threats, to discuss this discourse and fearfully apply it to our own lives.

    We can learn a great deal by observing the character of Nicodemus, whom our Lord was addressing in these precious scriptures. His religion as a ruler of the Jews was no doubt nearly unsurpassed by most of his peers, and his hunger for truth now puts him at a privileged place, sitting at the feet of the Ruler of the rulers, the Rabbi of rabbis, a place where none else of his Jewish brethren would dare to go; at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth, a teacher sent from God, a miracle worker and prophet, and most of all, God Himself in the flesh, who explains the new birth with the most supreme seat of heaven’s full authority.

    Let’s observe some crucial insights from this solemn, grave, and history-making discourse in light of Nicodemus, the person to whom Jesus was speaking, and then conclude with some important practical applications.


    The Lord was not speaking to a stiff-necked Christ-rejecter. He was not speaking to a hard-hearted rebel that was embittered against God and rejected the counsel of the Lord. He was not speaking to a person who wanted nothing to do with God or the things of God, nor was He speaking to a person that absolutely rejected everything He had to say. He was not speaking to an atheist that loved his sin and wanted to stay in it, making up any cold excuse to justify his own sinful actions, even if it means denying the existence of a God who would hold him accountable for his actions. The Lord hardly wasted His most valuable time during His short ministry on earth casting His precious pearls before such swine so long as they refused to be humbled and continued to remain in such a proud and rebellious state. A person thus described is standing in direct contrast to the nature of Nicodemus, who Christ was addressing, as entirely opposite of everything that Nicodemus himself stood for.

    The Lord was not speaking to a blatant sinner. We can obviously conclude that Nicodemus was not living in open sin by the description given of him. Jesus was not speaking to a man that was living in blatant transgression, wickedness or rebellion against God. He was not speaking to a drunkard, or murderer, or thief, or adulterer, or whoremonger, or a liar, classes of people that the Scripture clearly says will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Most notably, He was not speaking to somebody who was living in willful sin, so far as we can tell. It is highly unlikely that Nicodemus, a man of great devotion to the laws of God and of great diligence to understand the truth would allow intentional sin to separate him from God. Considering this, we naturally observe that gaining eternal life is not simply just a matter of freeing one’s self from all forms of known and willful sin, or else if it were, there would be no need for Nicodemus to be yet excluded from the Kingdom of God until he is born again. If having no known, willful sin were the prerequisite for entrance into the Kingdom, indeed, Nicodemus would already be in. We conclude that just because a man if free from all known sin, does not mean any more that he is born of the Spirit than it does that a blamelessly righteous moralist who rejects Christ is born of the Spirit. Surely, a state of soul that is free from all known willful forms of sin can and must be a fruit, that is, a by-product of true spiritual regeneration from above, but such must never be taken as the proof of regeneration.

    The Lord was not speaking merely to a moral man. Jesus was not speaking to a man that lived simply as a respectable member of society and who observed the political correctness of society’s standards. He was not speaking to a “good” man who believes in God, works hard, supports his family, helps others out of respect, and lives a peaceful life with his neighbors around him. Jesus was not speaking to a man that could only look at the lives of the majority population around him and say, “I’m not as bad as most people”. Though these things may seem very acceptable, they don’t even come close to comparing to the level of respectable morality that Nicodemus was sure to exercise, and thereby we observe, these things are so much the farther from justifying one’s soul before God that we can safely conclude there would be just as much hope for the devil to enter the Kingdom of God as such a person thus described, apart from the new birth. If it was necessary for the devout Nicodemus himself to be “born again” before entering the Kingdom of God, who was exercising such a degree of political correctness and high standards of societal respectability and flawless morality that makes even the most respectable member of modern society look like a devil, then surely by loyalty to the truth of God’s word we must hold ourselves to no lower standard.

    The Lord was not speaking to just any devoted Jew. He was not speaking to a man who simply professed faith in the true God, was faithful in regularly attending synagogue, or to a person who merely made it a practice and habit to study the Scriptures casually in his free time. Jesus was not speaking to just any devout Jew who regularly made his temple sacrifices, observed the holy feast days of Israel, diligently kept the Sabbath, and trained his children and family in the ways of the Lord, as was the practice of many common Jews. We can be sure that the morality and devoutness of Nicodemus, being a master of Israel, far exceeded all of these things. So then, if it was necessary for him to be born again before having eternal life, how much more necessary would a personal new birth and radical transformation of heart and life be necessary for such a one thus described?

    We therefore remark: Nicodemus was, in terms of religious devotion, high above the wickedness of atheists and Christ-rejecters. His morality was infinitely higher than the multitudes of professing Christians who retain known, intentional, presumptuous sin in their lives. His life was morally spotless and immaculate in terms of human standards and would shun as wickedness the average morality of today’s nominal Christian. His devotion to the laws of Israel far surpassed the average Jew and would make the devotion of the average Christian look like heathenism in comparison. Seeing these things, we conclude; intellectual assent and acknowledgeable belief in the true God, walking in a state of having no known sin separating one’s self from God, living a flawlessly moral and respectably religious lifestyle, and showing extreme devotion to religious duties are not sufficient enough to constitute admittance into the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God. All of these things combined could be observed with a heart of all the best intentions, yet one could still miss Heaven just as much as the most heinous rebel and sinner would miss Heaven. The scripture stands firm, “You must be born again”.


    Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, not only a Jew –but a ruler of the Jews, and a master of Israel. We observe some important facts by his coming to and conversing with the Lord:

    Nicodemus was a Pharisee, which shows us a great deal about his religious devotion. Seeing that Nicodemus was not as wicked as a great majority of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time were, it is highly likely that his devotion to his duties as a Pharisee were in a great degree much higher in quality, if not in quantity. Jesus did not rail on Nicodemus as a whitewashed tomb, or a hypocrite, or a religious viper, and Nicodemus didn’t reject Jesus, as did many of the other Pharisees, showing us that his heart and intentions were much more pure than a great many of his peers.

    The Pharisees were a group of religious Jews who have their origins several hundred years before the Lord ever walked along the shores of Galilee. They were founded as a group to protect the Law of the Lord, to prevent the laws of God and of Israel from being lost or twisted, and to teach the people of Israel to obey God, in hopes to prevent the judgment of God from coming down again upon the nation of Israel like happened during the Babylonian captivity.

    By New Testament times, Pharisees had many extremely high standards and were very devout. Being trained in the ways of the Lord from childhood, they had a great deal of knowledge in the ways of Israel and in the Holy Scriptures. All of the Pharisees had the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, memorized, word-by-word. They also had a great portion of, if not all, of the Psalms memorized. They prayed with a fervency for two hours every single day in the Temple, many being so devout, that if the hour of prayer struck before they were able to make it to the Temple, they would drop everything they were doing and pray on the spot, even on the street corners in public. They not only observed the feast days of Israel, following every minute detail of God’s regulations (and many more they made up), but they also fasted, abstaining from food and water from sun-up to sun-down, for two days every single week. Some were so devout that they would not swallow their own spittle during a fast. The Pharisees were also extremely zealous in their missionary work, traveling land and sea to make just a single convert, and this in days when there were no automobiles, trains, or airplanes available for convenient travel. They also tithed generously of all their income. They even gave alms to the poor on a regular basis. They were enthusiastic about debating Scripture and teaching the word of God to others. On top of all this, their major doctrines were correct, as the Lord said, “The Pharisees sit in Moses seat, therefore do what they tell you” (Matthew 23:2-3).

    According to the external “letter of the Law”, they were untouchable (that is, at least, to their own personal interpretation of it). These religious men were far more devout in their devotions than the average religious person today. Their religious works before God would in modern times make the average Christian look like little more than a heathen devoted to the cause of selfish indulgence, holding to religious devotion more akin to humanistic morality than the ways of the Holy One of Israel.

    Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. This means he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish tribunal, the Supreme Court of Jerusalem. This governing body of Jews consisted of 71 members, 70 of which were the most respectable or privileged elders from among the choicest priestly families of the Pharisees. Some of the members were from the most learned of the Sadducees as well. The remaining one member was the ruling High Priest. Jewish tradition says that Moses instituted this overseeing body when he appointed the 70 elders in the wilderness to govern the affairs of Israel (Num. 11:16-24), and that Ezra the scribe reorganized it after the Exile in Babylon. Seeing this governing body of ruling Jews had such authority and claimed such solemn origins, it is significant to note that out the many multitudes of Jews, who were beyond number, multiplied as the sand by the sea or the stars of the sky, Nicodemus was one of the very few who had such an honor. As such, he was not only a Pharisee, but no doubt, would be looked upon by the many lesser Pharisees as a “guide to the blind, a light of them which are in darkness” (Rom. 2:19), a teacher of the people of Israel, and a theologian of theologians.

    Nicodemus had a sure hunger for truth. Unlike most in the Christian world today, who seem to be “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God”, and who “receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved”, Nicodemus had a sincere hunger for truth. This is evidenced by the fact that he came to Jesus in an intense and hostile environment. At risk was his reputation as a respectful Jewish elder, his occupation as an overseer of Israel, and perhaps nearly everything dear to him as a Pharisee of Pharisees, seeing he would most assuredly be “put out of the synagogue” had his secret coming to Jesus by night been discovered. It speaks a great deal about a man to be willing to risk job, friends, religion, and more, all to be granted the privilege of personally conversing with a Man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is perceived to be teaching the ways of God in truth. To esteem the Word of God above all one possesses is a sure quality only of a man that has a definite hunger for truth.

    Nicodemus acknowledged the Lord Jesus as a teacher that came from God. It is remarkable that Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus teaches the ways of God, and has been sent by God, even designating Him with the respectful title, “Rabbi”. He acknowledged the Lord’s miracles and recognized His power and authority. Though we cannot safely assume He believed in Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior of Israel at this time, we can most definitely assume that he at least had the option of such in mind, and believed in Jesus to some degree, even giving tremendous weight to His words and teachings, to the extent that he continues to listen as Jesus goes on immediately after this discourse to claim to be the Son of God, equal in Deity to the Father. To acknowledge Jesus as a teacher sent from God is to acknowledge that what He says is true and that He speaks with authority from God, and to acknowledge the validity of His miracles is to acknowledge even further that God Himself has set a seal of approval to His ministry.


    Despite all these remarkable religious exploits and highest standards of devoutness and morality, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Certainly, this devout Pharisee didn’t impress Jesus one bit. The righteousness of Nicodemus was insufficient to merit entrance into God’s Kingdom. Jesus told him clearly that if he remained in his current state, without being born again, he would never see the Kingdom of God, and he would not enter into eternal life. What a solemn thought!

    In fact, Jesus made it clear that if anyone is to enter God’s Kingdom, they must have a righteousness which is greater than, and far surpasses, the righteousness of Nicodemus: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 5:20). Does your righteousness exceed the righteousness of this devout Pharisee? Dear soul, this is a question upon which your eternity hangs in the balance. The eternal destiny of your soul rests upon the fact that you must have a righteousness which is greater than Nicodemus’, and if you don’t, then by the Word of God you will perish!

    What is this great righteousness that God requires of us? In context, this bold and blunt statement of Jesus was spoken during His delivery of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7). In this sermon, Jesus says it’s not enough just to refrain from actually committing the act of adultery, but if a man even looks at a woman with lust then he has already committed adultery in his heart. Jesus also ....

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  • #2
    "Take heed, dear precious soul, that this is not you! Though your good works may far surpass those of Nicodemus, though you may be able to run in theological circles around the Pharisees of old, though you may go on missionary journeys that make theirs look like a walk around the block, though you may give alms enough to make theirs look like chump change, and a million times more, it profits you absolutely nothing unless you’ve been born again. Can you point to a definite point of time in your life in which you were made a new person, wherein you renounced all claim to self and wholly thrust yourself upon the mercy of God to save you, putting your whole heart and trust into Jesus Christ alone, and consequently experienced a change of heart that produced in you righteousness and true holiness by the Sprit of God? –Or do you keep up the form of godliness while denying its vital power? If you cannot point to such a definite experience, but continue to profess to be God’s own, doing your religious duty while seeking your own will in your heart, the saying may be truly fulfilled in you, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Mat. 15:8)."

    Greetings Josef,

    The article by far is excellent. Little could be added to what it means “Ye must be born again”! There will most definitely be evidence of a changed life. Where you once felt no real guilt over sin, now you will hate the sin that entices you, and you will long for that time when you will be forever free from all sin. Where you once had no desire to really KNOW the Lord, now you long to KNOW Him more and more through diligent study of His Word. Where once your prayer life amounted to asking God for material blessings, and for deliverance from sickness, now you pour out your heart to God in prayer, pleading with Him to give you eyes to see, and ears to hear that you might KNOW Him better, as well as giving thanks for even trials, tribulation, and chastisement, knowing that these too are for our good and His glory.

    When one has been born again, we don’t rely upon ourselves to persevere in this life, but we rest completely upon Him to bring us through this life, and into His Kingdom forever!

    Your article has blessed me. Thank you for posting it.

    Many Blessings,


    • #3
      Thank you for your post! It is a very well-written article. I started not to take time to read it because it was lengthy, but then wound up going to the complete article to read the remainder of it because it was so good.

      May God bless you and your wife in your work in Mexico. He is indeed worthy of all of ourselves as we yield to His way, His plan. May His Name be praised. I pray He will use you to reach many who wouldn't ever know Him if not for your dedication to His call.
      "Gripped in the Hand of God"


      • #4
        I think that being born again essentially means exactly what Christ stated, or specifically - born again with the Spirit of God motivating and directing us within our lives.

        I think that this is a gradual process, as oppossed to an instantaneous one, where by the grace of God we are eventually adopted and receive full sonship through the sacrafice of Christ Jesus.

        The race to perfection doesn't stop simply when we get baptized, or because someone states they are born again. We continue to run the race, hoping that eventually we'll make it to the perfect one, so that all imperfection within us will be removed - and we can share in the full presence and glory of our creator.
        Last edited by Friend of I AM; Mar 19th 2008, 07:25 PM. Reason: clarification