19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - 26 He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with Him.”
3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel's teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven - the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
A couple were doing a bit of window shopping in a mall one day, and the husband noticed his wife talking to an elderly man for a few moments. He could tell by their expressions that the conversation was quite serious – it wasn’t just a casual chat.
The man walked away and as the husband walked up to his wife, he could see she was clearly agitated. “What did he say to you?” he asked.
“He asked me if I was born again.”
“Why didn’t you tell him we are respectable and decent people?”
“He didn’t ask me that. He asked me if I was born again.”
“Why didn’t you tell him we go to church every Sunday?”
“He didn’t ask me that. He asked me if I was born again.”
“Why didn’t you tell him it’s none of his business?”
“If you’d seen the earnestness in his face and the concern in his eyes, you would have known that it is his business,” she replied.
Seeing people born into the kingdom of God is Jesus’ business.
Being ‘born again’ is a phrase we are very familiar with in the Church. Jesus Himself used it when He had His conversation with Nicodemus.
Within the confines of a Church building, to use the words ‘born again’ is absolutely fine, and everyone is quite comfortable with it, but take those words into the shopping malls, pubs and restaurants, and the atmosphere will be very different.
“I’ve always tried to live a good life and to treat people the way I’d like to be treated” is something we hear so often.
The problem is that doing the right thing does not overcome our greatest problem, put very plainly in Romans 3:23. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
I remember chatting to someone a number of years ago. He was a friend of mine and was well liked by everyone. He was a family man, and an all-round nice bloke. He attended Church occasionally, and we started chatting after Church one Sunday.
He said to me that he always tries to live up to the standards God expects of us, and in particular he often reads the Ten Commandments as a reminder of the kind of person he should be.
Of course, there are some real scoundrels in the world, but generally speaking, most ‘decent people’ are just like him. Doing the right thing is good, and when you make the occasional mistake the decent thing to do is take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong, apologise to those you may have hurt, and try not to make the same mistake again.
I’m sure we’d all agree that if we all lived like that, the world would be a much better place.
So what’s the problem then? Isn’t obeying the law a good thing? Absolutely.
The problem is that we cannot obey it to the level that God expects of us. If you want to please God by obeying the law, then you have to obey it perfectly. There is no room for the odd slip-up here and there. You must be absolutely pure and holy, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from your very first breath until you breathe your last. No little white lies. No bad thoughts. Not one angry word. Ever. Absolute perfection every single day for your entire life.
Now that changes things a bit. “Trying to live a good life” might sound all well and good to our ears, but to God it represents failure to keep the law.
So why do we have the law? If we are incapable of keeping the law, and God knows that better than we do, then what is the point of it?
Romans 3:20 says “No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
That’s the simple answer.
The law is not only a picture of the perfect holiness of God – it is also a reminder to us that we need a Saviour in order for us to escape the condemnation we are now under because we cannot keep the law.
Jesus confronted Nicodemus with this same issue. Most of the people who Jesus interacted with were common people, but every now and then He would have an encounter with an important person; an aristocrat. Nicodemus was such a person.
He was a big name in Jerusalem. He was a ruler of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the day. He was a man who the common people looked to for religious guidance, and he was very well respected as a good and sincere man.
There is something rather unique in the way Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Usually He had little time for the general hypocrisy of the Pharisees, but this time it’s different. The conversation is sincere as Jesus was gentle and patient with Nicodemus. One of the reasons is that Nicodemus was a good, respectable man who took his senior position and his responsibility as a religious leader very seriously.
But Jesus still told Nicodemus the truth. “You must be born again.”
There’s an old expression, “It doesn’t make any difference what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” But the truth is you can be sincere and still be sincerely wrong.
Nicodemus thought that he was doing the right thing. As a Pharisee, a religious leader, Nicodemus’s moral life was above reproach. He would have been almost fanatical in his determination to observe even the minutest detail of the moral law of Moses.
But Jesus didn’t say, “Clean up your life.” What He said was, “Morality and decency are not enough. You must be born again.”
Nicodemus was a religious man too.
As a Pharisee he prayed, tithed, offered sacrifices, read the Scriptures, fasted, attended and even led services in the synagogue. He was the kind of dedicated religious leader who would always be at the temple. But being religious was not enough. Being zealous in religious exercises was not sufficient. Jesus said, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.”
Nicodemus would have known the law well, and as a result he would also know that it was impossible to live up to the perfection it demanded.
He was a Pharisee who knew the law and believed the law. He knew all about God. He had grown up with and was educated by the law of God. He knew and believed the prophesies in the Old Testament that God would send the Messiah. But orthodoxy and doctrine is not enough.
To put it into modern terms, reading your Bible every day, coming to Church every week, tithing faithfully and all those other things are not enough to enter the Kingdom of God. You must be born again.
Jesus’ words in John 14:6 say it very plainly: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” You must be born again.
Nicodemus was learned, cultured, refined, and wealthy, but Jesus said, “You must be born again.” Education does not make a person a Christian. Wealth does not qualify a person for heaven. Culture and refinement may get a person ahead in society but not in the kingdom of God. Nicodemus had gone as far as Judaism alone could carry him. Yet he felt an emptiness in his life. There was no peace, no joy, no assurance, no abundant life. So he came to Jesus, seeking true life in all its fullness, and Jesus gave him the simple, but profound answer. “You must be born again.”
I remember another conversation I had with a man who was dying of cancer in 2001. He was not a Christian, but his family was concerned about him, so they contacted the Church and asked if there was someone who would be willing to visit him. I was still studying then, and Dave thought it would be a good idea to throw me in the deep end, so off I went.
He was a man who when still in good health, was always helping others. He was the kind of person who would drop whatever he was doing if there was someone else in need.
But when I met him, he was frail and nearing the end of his life, and he knew it too.
Although he was not a Christian, he was very polite and he welcomed me into his home. He told me that he did believe that there is a God, but he simply could not accept that he had a need for a Saviour. “I have always tried to live a good life, and have always tried to help others,” he said.
So I took a deep breath, and asked him straight out, “But what happens when you die, and you come face to face with God? What will you say?”
I will never forget his answer. “I’m prepared to take my chances.”
There are some really nice people out there, who by their kindness and genuine concern for others put many Christians to shame. If you ever needed a reminder that Christians are not perfect, there are countless non-Christians who by their very behaviour remind me every day that they are much nicer people than I am.
But as Paul puts it so well in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
I’m not perfect, as my wife and children will tell you, and my mother could keep you busy for days if you’d like to hear a few more horror stories about me. (Not to mention the ones which only I know about…)
But I can stand here today and tell you with absolute conviction, that at the end of this life, I will enter the Kingdom of God. Not because I try to be a good person and not because I’m a minister, but because I have been born again.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Do you believe that? Are you born again?
Sin is a heart disease, and we all are afflicted with it. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This disease cannot be cured by us. Acts 4:12 tells us “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Unless a disease is stopped or cured, it gets worse. Sin is never static. It cannot be stopped - it must be healed. And only Jesus, the Great Physician can heal, and He heals by applying the remedy to the heart.
Some people make up and prescribe superficial cures: “Be decent. Go to church. Live a good, clean life.” As honourable as these things might sound, they do not cure the disease of our hearts.
You cannot cure sin without the new birth, without the miraculous transformation of the inner man.
At the end of 2 Corinthians 5 Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
It is only through Christ, through being born again in Him, that we are made fit for the Kingdom of God.
Victor Hugo was a master novelist who lived in France in the 19th century, and in one of his books he tells a story that describes the terror of sailors on a ship in a storm at sea. As the waves keep pounding the fragile ship, the sailors feel a shudder and a thud. They look at each other and know: the cannon in the hold of the ship has broken loose from its moorings.
Each lurch of the ship in the storm sends the cannon crashing into the wooden hull of the vessel. Hugo then describes the plight of the terrified sailors who disappear into the dark hold, their faces drained of colour. They crouch and dodge as the monster cannon threatens to pin them to the wall and crush them. Finally, they desperately chain the cannon back in place, and the ship is saved.
This is a parable of our own lives. Something is wrong down inside of us. This monster threatens to wreck us. But a deliverer – a Saviour - is available. There is salvation from the raging storm. Put your soul, your life, your destiny, and your sins in the hands of Jesus, and you will be born again. And in that new birth there is safety and assurance and a safe arrival in the Kingdom of God when this life ends.