Community Group Study Notes
- Have someone in your group provide a brief, 2-minute summary of Sunday’s teaching.
- How is the term “born again” or “born from above” typically used today? What are some of the cultural connotations for this phrase? How does the Scripture present a different idea of what this means?
- What does it mean to be a child of God in the sense that Jesus spoke about? How is this different from the generic understanding that “we’re all God’s children”? What is different about a person who has experienced the new birth?
- Rather than leading to arrogance, a right understanding of the new birth moves us to humility. Where does this get sideways for us sometimes?
- What should the new birth lead to in our everyday lives?
- What is one action step you can take with what you heard in Sunday’s message?
Well, good morning, Chapel family. If you have a bible with you, I'd ask you to turn to John chapter three. John is the fourth gospel in the New Testament. John chapter three is where I'll be in just a moment. It was already a year ago, because here it is December, and it's already a year ago at this time of year, last December, that I was preaching in our Christmas series like I am now, and I shared in that message that my wife and I were expecting our second child, a baby boy. And we were excited to welcome him this past June, and in leading up to this message someone asked me this past week, "So, Jonathan, are you gonna have anything else to share this year," and I don't. And that's okay.
Because while we're super thankful to God for two really amazing, wonderful, healthy children that look like their mother, while we're thankful for that, we feel like God is calling us into a season of rest and sleep. And so, we're just trying to follow his leadership in that and I truly believe that when Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden," he was speaking to parents of young, small children.
Any amens in this congregation today?
Okay, so you're with me. It is funny though, the idea of being a parent, being a parent of a small child, now two children, we've loved the challenges and the blessings of becoming a family of four. But I gotta be honest, I read the birth stories in the gospels a little differently now, because I feel them differently now. I feel for Joseph. I have to be honest. It's not that I don't have any sympathy for Mary, but I feel for Joseph. Because I'm like, "Dude, I'm with you. I don't even know how you did it. I don't know what first century AD late night pregnancy cravings look like." At least I have a 24-hour Walgreens, that kind of a thing.
You picture, Mary says to Joseph, "Hey, babe." "Yeah?" "I know it's late but I'm kind of hungry." "Okay, sure, yeah. Babe, what do you want?" "What do we have?" Always that question, what do we have? Well, hey, am I the only one? Okay, just me. Great, thank you. Like, "Hey, Joseph, can you run out to ... You know the cream that's in the Oreos, just the cream. I don't want the Oreos, just the cream that's in the Oreos." And we don't even need to talk about how many times they probably had to stop on the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
It's hard. Having children is hard, like pregnancy, and contractions, and labor, and delivery, and the weeks of recovery, that was all really, really hard for me. I can't even imagine what my wife had to go through. It's hard. Let's just be honest, it's hard but it's so worth it. And, of course, being able to hold my son when he was born, look in his face, it was worth it, just as it was worth it when our daughter was born four years ago. See, whether our kids realized it or not, when they were born, they were being born into something that preceded them. They were being born into our family. Now, they didn't have that consciousness, certainly, not in the first moments that they opened their eyes, but they were born into the family of love that we had created, my wife and I. We were there first, and they were born into it. They came to share in the life, the life of love that we've created in our home and our family. There were born into share in that.
And in a small, very small way that points to something that we learn from the Christmas story. Now, as I turn to the gospels and I look at what was written about Jesus' birth, you may be more familiar with passages like, "There were shepards out in a field nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night." That's, maybe, more of our familiar Christmas narrative, but I wanna show you something that John the Apostle wrote in John chapter one verse 14.
He said this, "The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Now, you might not look at that and think that's a Christmas verse, but it absolutely is. This is exactly what Christmas is all about. The word became flesh. So taking exactly what I was just saying before, the son came to be born. He was born as a baby, born as a human being. He was born, listen, to share in the life of humanity. But it didn't stay there, it didn't end there. He wasn't just born so that he could sympathize, though he can. He was born as a baby. He was born to share in the human life so that he could elevate us into sharing in his life. He came to bring us up into his own life, and the only way he could do that was by coming as a baby, as a human, but he had every intention of elevating us into a different kind of life altogether, a different kind of birth.
The very two verses preceding the one we just read in John one, 12 and 13, say this, "Yet to all who did receive him," Jesus, "To those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband's will, but born of God. He came to make it possible for us to share in his life. And the only way that could happen is by giving us a new kind of birth. You see, the old birth, the birth that brought us into the consciousness of this world, that that birth, that old birth can't share in the new life. So something miraculous, something supernatural has to happen. God has to make us his children in order for us to be able to share in his life.
Now, in a certain sense of the word, certainly, you might be thinking, "Well, can't we all rightly call God Father, all of humanity?" Well, certainly. We can do that in a sense of the word. We can call God Father, as in to say he is our ultimate source, whether a person recognizes that or not, but that there's something unique about what Jesus intends to do with people who receive him and believe on his name. He gives them a right, John says, that they did not previously have, a right be called children of God, so only Jesus birth would ultimately open the door for a new kind of birth, a new kind of life, a new identity.
So what John introduces in chapter one of his gospel, which really serves as a outline, if you're paying attention, for everything he's going to say in the entirety of his gospel. Everything that John says in chapter one that we read, he's gonna now illustrate. And so, taking that idea that he would give them the right to be called children of God, children not born just of a husband's will or of natural descent, or a human decision, but children born of God. That idea, he is now going to illustrate in John chapter three where I directed your attention. He's gonna illustrate that with Jesus' own interaction with a man named Nicodemus.
Look with me at John chapter three, beginning in verse one. Now, there was a pharisee, a name named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabi, we know that you're a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the signs you were doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." Who's this man Nicodemus, we're told that he was a pharisee. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council. That is to say, a group known as the Sanhedrin.
Now, if I were to describe the Sanhedrin to you I'd try to, maybe, explain it this way, it was like a religious supreme court who's power, all be it limited, was granted by Rome. Remember, Israel was, at that time, a Provence of the Roman Empire. And so, they were under Roman authority but they were allowed to have this ruling council, this religious supreme court, masters in the law of Moses, who govern the people, all be it limited in a limited way.
So, Nicodemus is a part of that council but he's also a pharisee. So he's a very religiously devout person. He's got very strict rules for himself. He is viewed in society as part of an elite class. He's morally superior in most people's eyes. Most people, looking at Nicodemus, would say, "I could never be like Nicodemus." He was viewed as a part of the elite. And so, Nicodemus comes to Jesus and he says, "Rabi, teacher, we know that you're from God." And it almost seems, when you read those verses, that Jesus completely glosses over that. It's almost like he's moving right past it and says, "Unless you've been born again, you can't enter or see the kingdom." But he's not glossing over it, Jesus is actually interacting with more of what Nicodemus is saying that, maybe, first meets the eye.
The term that Jesus uses for born again, the word that's translated, again, comes from a Greek word, anothen, and it can certainly mean again, but it also means from above, unless you are born from above. So not just, of course, a second birth but a different kind of birth. But Jesus knows not only what Nicodemus says to him, "Rabi, we know you've come from God," he knows what's underneath everything Nicodemus is saying. It's not on the screen, but if you've got John three open in front of you, the verse preceding in chapter two, the last verse of chapter two, in 2:25 says, "He did not need any testimony about mankind, for Jesus knew what was in each person." He didn't need anybody to say, "Oh, watch out for that guy." He didn't need anyone to say, "Oh, let me tell you what this person's all about." He knew what was in each person.
So, he knows what behind Nicodemus saying, "Rabi, we've seen you do these amazing things. We know that you wouldn't be able to do these things unless you were from God." And so, he's coming to see a little bit more of a behind the scenes look at this amazing teacher, and miracle worker, and Jesus is cutting through all of these pleasantries and he's saying, "There's something more that you need, Nicodemus."
Because I always wondered, why doesn't Jesus say to Nicodemus, "Finally, someone in Palestine who gets it"? Why doesn't he say, "That's what I've been trying to tell people. I've come from God," why doesn't he do that? I think it's because we recognize that just seeing Jesus, listen, just seeing Jesus as a miracle worker is not the key to Jesus' kingdom. Just acknowledging that he can do some pretty cool things is not the key to having access to his kingdom. John Piper said, "What matters is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus, but experiencing the supernatural in yourself." It's not about just saying, "Wow, look at all those things that Jesus has done. Those are pretty cool. Those are supernatural things." "Wow, he just turned water into wine, amazing." It's not about just recognizing, "Oh, that's a supernatural work there."
Jesus is after the supernatural taking place in Nicodemus's life.
That's exactly what he says, unless you are born again. And he continues, Nicodemus hears that and says in verse four of chapter three, look at this, "How can someone be born when they're old," Nicodemus asked. "Surely, they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born." Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the spirit." Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit gives birth to spirit.
I really think Nicodemus is wrestling with this idea. I think he's wrestling with it. You could probably read this and think that the metaphor is lost on him. I don't think it is, because of what we know about Nicodemus. He was an intelligent man. He was a very learned man. He was, as we'll see, a teacher in Israel, so I don't think he's lost in the discussion as much as he doesn't believe it. I think he thinks it's absurd, that's why he responds ... He enters in the analogy that Jesus is using and says, "This is absurd. How can an old man be born a second time?" But he recognizes, as he says that, when he says that he's an old man himself, I don't think he's just speaking solely about his chronological season in life. I think Nicodemus is speaking to his status in Israel.
You see, for the Jewish mind, the Jewish life, certainly the world that Jesus lived in, age was not a curse. Age was an honor. Age wasn't something to be avoided or hidden. In their culture, the elders were to be honored and revered. And I don't just mean like, "Hey, let's be nice to grandpa even though he tells us the same stories all the time about World War Two." That's not what I mean. I mean that these were people that you looked up to and wanted to be, that wisdom was cherished, that old age was honored, and that's probably because of statements like things from the proverbs, like gray hair is a crown of glory. It is gained through a righteous life. Or that the lord will add to the days of the righteous, but the days of the wicked he'll cut short. These are all statements from Proverbs.
So if you're an old man, on top of everything else that we know about Nicodemus, the assumption would be he's a righteous man because the lord has extended his life. He extended it. The fear of the lord adds length to life. So for Jesus to tell this man, "You must be born again," would be like you telling someone who has a PhD, "You need to relearn your ABCs." That's humbling, to say the least.
I remember when I was in high school math class and I was never really a great math student, and there would be times where my teacher, my math teacher would be trying to show grace to me and give me every possible extra point that she possibly could so I could get a decent grade, so she'd comb through all of the work that I had done, even though the answer was wrong. She was just nice and she said, "Well, you did this part right," and those kinds of things. And often, I would hear this from her after a test would come back, she would say, "All the work you did was correct, but you started with the wrong sum in the first line." "All the work was right. You followed the progression but you had the wrong number at the top line."
In a way, that's exactly what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus. Everything that you have hung your hat on, it was all good but you started with the wrong sum in the first line. You see, Nicodemus was a righteous, a revered, an intelligent, an influential, a powerful person. And Jesus' statements to him, you pick it up real quick, none of that is going to get you into the kingdom. None of that gets you closer to kingdom life. I mean, look at verse six again, flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit gives birth to spirit, that there is a brand new kind of birth that you need, Nicodemus, in order to experience a brand new kind of life.
For Nicodemus, that old birth, that natural birth, everything that flowed from his identity as a physical descendant from Abraham, his status, his education, his influence, none of that mattered. Nicodemus, you need a second birth. None of that that gets you ... that's opens doors for you all around wherever you go, none of that's gonna open the door of the kingdom. You need a second birth.
Remember what John said, again, in John 1:12. He said this, "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband's will, but born of God. Nicodemus, you need to be born from above. Everything that flowed from your old birth, that's not gonna get you into the kingdom, though you are convinced it will. You need a new birth. You need to be born from above."
And so, Jesus continues in verse seven of John three, "You should not be surprised at my saying you must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it's going, so it is with everyone born of the spirit." "How can this be," Nicodemus asked. "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "And do you not understand these things?" This is the third time that Jesus references being born again, born from above. And he says, "You shouldn't be surprised when I say you must be born again." And must does not mean that you are compelled to do or forced to do it against your will. He's saying must in the sense of, it is absolutely necessary if you ever want to see the kingdom and he knows who he's talking to. He knows what's in each person. It's absolutely necessary. And then Jesus starts to talk about the wind, which may seem out of place. He talks about the wind. Now, what's interesting is that the Greek word for wind is also the same word for spirit, pneuma, and so Jesus is going to start to build on that word play that he just introduced, that the spirit gives birth to spirit. And then se starts to talk about the wind, but what he says is he's not describing people who are born of the spirit in this way when he says that the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it's going, so it is with everyone born of the spirit. He's not describing people who are born of the spirit. He's describing what the spirit does in reaching people who are born of the spirit. He's not saying, "Well, people who are born of the spirit are kind of flaky to be honest, and they're all over the map, and you can never quite pin them down or count on them." No, he's saying you can't control the wind. You may see it's effects. You may hear it rustling through the trees, but you can't control the wind. You're not in charge. It's outside of your power.It's not something you can manipulate.
And the reason he says that in this context, the reason he goes from birth to wind is because in both cases, you didn't control any of it. Not one of us in this room, not one of us under the sound of my voice at any point in time in the womb said, "Now would be a good time to be born." You didn't, and I didn't. That was a process that you'd id not have any control over. Neither did your parents. Really, if you were going to try to take credit for your birth, which one of us could really look our mothers in the face and say, "Mom, that was all me"? I'm not. As if being born was the first bullet point on life's resume. No. But Nicodemus says, "How can this be?" Again, he's not lost in the discussion. I think he's saying, "How did I miss this? How can this be?" In a typical exchange, a theological exchange in the Jewish world would have involved scripture quotation and scripture quotation followed by scripture quotation, all in the form of, "Well, how do you read this? And how do you interpret this? And how do you read that? And how do you read Moses? And how do you read Isaiah?" Back and forth. Back and forth.
The teacher of Israel is out. How can this be? It's not because he didn't know the word. He did. We read in our Bibles, you are Israel's teacher, really better translated, you are the teacher. The definitive article. You are the teacher of Israel and you don't understand these things. In God's economy, and this is what Jesus needs Nicodemus to understand. In God's economy, it's not what you do for him. It's what he's done for you and it's always been that way. It's as if Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, "Your life's work was all correct, but you started with the wrong sum in the first line. You thought that this was something you could do." How can this be? And so Jesus graciously gives Nicodemus some direction by saying, "Unless you are born of water and spirit, you will not enter the kingdom." That's a gracious reminder for Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, who would've known the connection that Jesus was making into the Old Testament scripture because Jesus was actually pointing to one of the most cherished covenantal passages in all of the Old Testament, looking ahead to a renewal of a covenant, indeed a new covenant that Ezekiel recorded in chapter 36.
Look at these words in Ezekiel 36. This is what Jesus is pointing to when he says, "Unless you're born of water and spirit, you will not enter the kingdom, for I will take you out of the nations." God speaking to Israel. "I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit I you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees, and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land that I gave your ancestors. You will be my people, and I will be your God." Did you hear water? Did you hear spirit? Unless you are born ... I need to give you a brand new heart. You need a new heart beating in you. You need a new kind of life beating in you and you can't do it yourself. And certainly, we know who God was talking to, Israel.
And time, after time, after time, Israel, although they had all of the exterior laws and rules, and they had all of the exterior refinements for how to be a set-apart people, they continued and continued and continued to stray and walk away from God. Although they had all of the instruction, although they had all of the teaching, although they had all of the law, all of the profits, Israel still couldn't deliver. So God says, "This is what I'm going to do in my covenant. I'm going to give you a brand new heart." For Jesus, picking up these words several centuries later. Unless you are born through the water and the spirit, you will not enter the kingdom. But this is something that God has to do because it's not anything we can do on our own. This is something God has to do. Look again at that same passage in Ezekiel 36. But I've emphasized all of the "I will" statements.
Look at these with me. "For I will take you out of the nations. I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees, and be careful to keep my laws, then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors. You will be my people, and I will be your God." This is something God has to do. We need this new birth because our old birth cannot produce the new life. We can't follow his decrees. We've proven that by not following his decrees, and every time we make effort to try to do it on our own power, our own esteem, our own spiritual resume, our own what we can do for God, we miss it completely. God says, "I will do this." And Jesus tells Nicodemus, "I will do this. Nicodemus, nothing you can do will get you in. God has to make you kingdom ready," which leads to maybe this big idea for today.
You can't share in the life of the son unless you've first been born from above. You can't share in the life of the son unless you've first been born from above. Now, I intentionally did not say, "Unless you've been born again," though that's 100% accurate and completely true to the text. But that phrase, we need to reclaim a little bit and redeem because it has turned into meaning some things that I don't think were ever in the mid of Jesus when he spoke these words to Nicodemus 2,000 years ago. You see, that term now, if we're honest, kind of in the cultural context in which we live, "born again," it actually refers to, like a group of voters, or a particular religious faction within Christianity with a particular political affiliation. Or like when some people are asking me about me, or asking me about our church, they'll say things like this and maybe they've said this to you. "Oh, so you're one of those born-agains," and you know that they've not heard that term before because they say the emphasis on the wrong syllable. The born-agains. "I heard that was going around. One of those born-agains." Like that kind of a thing. It sounds like a rare diseases almost, but that's not what Jesus is talking about here.
Unless you've been born from above, unless you've received the new birth, you cannot enter or see the kingdom. So really to say a born again Christian is a redundancy. It's a redundancy. There is no other kind because if you are in Christ you have been born from above. If you've been born from above, you are in Christ. This is not a denomination within a denomination. This is not a religious faction. This is what it means to be a follower of Christ. A born again Christian is like saying 7:00 a.m. in the morning. Is there any other 7:00 a.m. in the evening? It's like saying true facts. What other kinds are there? It's a redundancy. To be in Christ is to be born again, so born again is not a secret club. It's not an upper echelon. It's not a description for the most committed. It is what took place when you came to Christ, if you came to him. It is what took place, so therefore, it's nothing that you can control, and therefore, if it's nothing you can control, it's nothing you and I can take credit for because the same amount of credit you can take for your first birth is the same amount of credit that you can take for your second birth.
Unless God makes you born of God, unless God gives you this new birth and you're born of water and spirit, you will not see or enter the kingdom, and neither will I. No amount of status that we can conjure up on our own will do it. So it doesn't matter where your baptism certificate was from. It doesn't matter where you made a confirmation. It doesn't matter what denomination you're affiliated with. It doesn't matter if you're in vocational ministry, as a job. It doesn't matter what kind of good works you've done and how you compare to the other person. It doesn't matter if you've memorized a whole bunch of scripture and you can quote it from memory. It doesn't matter if you attend or don't attend this church. None of that gives you access to the kingdom. None of that gives me access to the kingdom. Jesus said this in Matthew 5:20. Look at this. "For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of Heaven." Leave that there for one second. Knowing the biography of Nicodemus as you do and reading this words in a different book and a different message, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and the teachers of the law.
That's a commentary on people like Nicodemus who was a pharisee, and you are Israel's teacher? And Jesus says to Nicodemus, "You can't get in unless you've been born again." And for Jesus to say that in Matthew five, "Unless you're more righteous than a person like Nicodemus," unless you have righteousness that surpasses Billy Graham's, you will certainly not enter the kingdom. That's how we would look at it. What would that do? That would move you to desperation. Say, "I can't do that." I can't do that. I'm speaking for me. My righteousness of my own cannot surpass that. I need God to do something in me. I need him to put a new heart in me. I need him to put his spirit in me to move me to follow his decrees because prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. So heres my heart, Lord. Take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above. So this is something God has to do. Ephesians 2:8-9, familiar words probably to you if you've been in church any length of time. "For it's by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves." This is not your own doing. This is not anything you can take credit for.
It is the gift, the gift of God, not by world so that no one can boast. Or Peter's words in 1 Peter 1:3-4, "Praise be to the God and father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In his great mercy, he has" ... look at this ... "given us new birth. He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade." He has given us a new birth. That is a gift directly from God. It's a gift to you, and if it's a gift, it means it's nothing you could earn or I could. Where therefore is boasting, it is excluded. Someone has said this. "If you're born once, you will die twice. If you're born twice, you will die once." Leave that there for one second because we need this to sink in. If you're born once, you'll die twice. If you're born once, your birthday, however many years ago that was, the moment that you came into the world, this world.
If that's the only birth you have, you'll die twice. The first, when all physical activity ceases in this body, and as they lower your body into the grave, if you've only been born one time, your soul will be forever separated from God because God will give you, in the end, everything that you've always wanted, and that is for him not to meddle or interfere with your life. Revelation calls what follows the judgment the second death. And so your soul will await judgment, and then comes the second death, eternal separation from God. But if you've bene born twice, you will only die once. Yes, you were born when you were brought into this world, but then a second birth - anothen - from above. Again, when God reached down and rescued you from your sin, if you experienced that birth, then when all physical activity ceases in this body, to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord. And even though your body will decay in the ground, you are eagerly awaiting the day when God will restore your soul, rejoin your soul and body in a remade body together, and we will be with the Lord forever, and there will be no more tears, no more dying, no more pain.
If you're born once, you will die twice, but if your born twice, you will die once. So yes, this has eternal implications, but not just eternal implications. You should be asking yourself, "Have I been born a second time? Has that ever really happened to me?" But it's not just about eternity. It's about today because Jesus gave the right to be called children of God, a right you and I did not have on our own. John, towards the end of his life writes these words in his epistle. 1 John chapter three, the beginning of verse one. "See what great love the father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God, and that is what we are." When you realize who you were and you realize the lengths to which God went to make you what you're not, his child. That should move you. See what kind of love the father has lavished on us because you know exactly what that love costs. It costs the precious son his life, to take meaningless vessel like me, rebels, traitors, God haters, self promoters, talking about me. And he says, "I'm now going to call you the same thing I call my son." That doesn't make any sense. That doesn't make any sense that I would get to be called the same thing that Jesus is called.
This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. That's not me. That's Jesus. But because of the new birth I get to be brought into the life that Jesus enjoys. I get to be brought into a realm of an eternal love that preceded me that I don't deserve, and that when I was born, the first time I didn't even understand. I didn't even know I was being led into that family to be called God's son, to be called God's daughter. C.S. Lewis said it so profoundly, and yet so simply. "The son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." The son of God became a human being to enable human beings to become sons of God. But that doesn't just mean heavenly perks. That doesn't just mean I get to enjoy some really sweet deal as a part of Christ's family, but that God is right now making me kingdom ready. You can't share in the life of the son unless you've first been born from above. After Jesus said all of this to Nicodemus many decades later in fact, in Galatians 4:19, Paul said this. "My dear children for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you." See, for the apostle Paul and his pastoral heart, which was really reading that, it's a parental heart. He cares about these believers, these Galatian believers in the region of Galatia. He cares about them, and he knows that the new birth is not just a one stop shop. It's not just a dead end road. It's leading to a brand new kind of life. It's leading to a brand new kind of identity. It's leading you to experience what it means for the Spirit to be in you and to move you to follow his decrees. He knows where that's going, but he says, "It's hard, but I've labored to bring you into infancy, and now I'm laboring to bring you forward in maturity," because Paul wants them to grow up in their faith, not just be stuck as newborns.
See, the new birth is not just a change of an eternal address. It's to lead to a new life. Being transformed into the image of the Son is not an easy process. Like labor, it's not instant, it certainly isn't painless, and it doesn't happen by osmosis. Labor with a brand new baby is not instant, even if it happens quickly. It certainly isn't painless, and it doesn't happen by osmosis. You don't just walk into a hospital and say, "Here I am. I'm ready to pick up my child," no, any more than being in the body of Christ and gathering in a building like this one produces the kind of Christ life in you that is necessary for you to see and enter the kingdom. It doesn't. It's not just like, "Hey, I'm around other believers. Hey, I checked in on Sunday. Osmosis rules, and I'm a Christian." No. Being transformed is not instant, it's not painless, not osmosis.
Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is pick up my Bible and start my day because I want the first source of information in my life, in my brain, in my heart to be from God's word, not from the newsfeed or the social media platform. Every day I grab a copy of the scripture. The second thing I do, of course, I'm taking for granted I've gotten the coffee along the way because the Holy Spirit leverages the coffee to open my eyes in the scripture and open my eyes in life. The second thing I do is grab the devotional I've had since I was a senior in high school, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Thumbing through those pages again and looking ahead to Christmas Day, the December 25th entry of My Utmost for His Highest, an excerpt from that says this, "Just as our Lord came into human history from outside of it, he must also come into me from outside. Have I allowed my personal human life to become a Bethlehem for the Son of God? I can not enter the realm of the kingdom of God unless I am born again from above by a birth totally unlike physical birth." Then, he quotes Jesus' words, "You must be born again," John 3:7.
This is not a command but a fact based on the authority of God. The evidence of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that Christ is formed in me. Once Christ is formed in me, his nature immediately begins to work through me. The evidence that the new birth has taken place, if I could reinterpret Chambers' words, is that I know who my Father is. I want to do his work. The evidence that the new birth has taken place is that I recognize who has authority and who doesn't. As I watch the Spirit work in my life, I may not be able to understand each and every leading and prompting and direction, but that I know he knows what's best for me because he knew exactly what he was doing when he brought me into his family, not of natural descent, not of a husband's will or a human's decision, but born of God.
Is that evidence in your life? If I ask you, "Have you been born again?" everything I've said today will certainly let you know that the answer can not be, "Well, yes, because on such-and-such a date, I filled out this card or prayed such-and-such a formula." You know it can't be that, right? God may have done it in that moment, but if that's the extent, if that was just a moment and not movement, I would ask you, "Do you see the evidence of the new birth in your life? Do you see it? Do I?" Have you, like Chambers, asked, have you allowed your personal life to become a Bethlehem? I would almost ask you, "Which part of Bethlehem does your heart most represent? Is there a full inn and a slammed door?"
Even as Tim sang before the message, "How perfect? Is there room? Is there room in your heart for God to write his story?" or have you filled your life and filled your own spiritual resume independently of anything that can only come from the new birth, so full like Nicodemus that you don't even see or feel a need for Jesus to enter in? You've been busy building your spiritual resume or maybe you've been building your life's work without God and without any concern of God, and so you've only experienced one birth, which means that there's two deaths that await you, or maybe you've been stuck in infancy and so you haven't been a Christian for 20 years. You've been a one year Christian 20 different times. The whole purpose of the new birth is to lead you to a new life, for you to grow up. "Therefore, taste and see that the Lord is good. Having tasted and seen that the Lord is good, grow up in your salvation," Peter says in 1 Peter 2:1. You need to grow up.
You see, you can't share in the life of the Son unless you've first been born from above. Has that happened for you? Has that happened? You might be saying, "Jonathan, now I know I need that." You might be here today, and this might be the first time a message like this one has ever made sense. That's not me. That's the Spirit of God who wanted you here. It's no accident you're here. God wanted you here. I'm just a mouthpiece. If it makes sense to you today, and maybe it's like everything clicked, or maybe this is a truth that you've literally been running from for as long as you can remember, and you're tired of running. You say, "I know I need the new birth, but you already told me, Jonathan, it's nothing I can do on my own." True. I can't tell you how to be born. I can only tell you who to go to because Jesus said in John 6:37, look at these words, "Whoever comes to me I will never drive away." It's true. You can't make yourself experience a new birth. It's supernatural. It's not just about affirming that Jesus can do the supernatural. It's about experiencing the supernatural in your life. Whoever comes to him he'll never cast out, he'll never drive away. It's never too soon and it's never too late to come to Jesus.
Let's bow together for a word of prayer. With your heads bowed and your eyes closed out of respect for those that are around you, my request is that if you don't have to get up or move around right now that you wouldn't. If you're a follower of Christ today, you know that you've received the new birth. You could point to the evidence. Maybe your strongest prayer right now is for those that might be here today who have not yet received that new birth or perhaps it's that you would continue to make room in your heart for God to expand the new life, this new kind of life that can only come from him, that you wouldn't rest on past experiences with Jesus but that you would cherish those as you trust him for future leadership, that he would continue to lead you and prompt you and change you as he's doing in my life.
Maybe you're here today and you don't know God personally through Jesus Christ. As I ask the question, "Have you received the new birth? Have you been born from above? Do you have the evidence of the new birth, which is that you yield to the Father's leadership and direction and authority?" As I asked those questions, you knew in your heart there's still a heart of stone here. This is still the old birth, the old life. It's never too soon. It's never too late. I can't think of a better day than this one for you to begin the journey of following Christ. Take a step of faith today with all the faith that you have towards Jesus Christ and say, "I want to follow him. I need to be born a second time."
He's done so much so that you could be called his child because he loves you, that he would elevate you to share in the status that he enjoys as the most precious and one and only begotten Son of God, that we would get to be called the same thing that he's called. He did that for you with his life. If that's you, and you're here today, can I encourage you before you leave? Don't just rush out the doors, but instead, when we dismiss, I'm going to say amen and everyone will be heading out the doors, but rather than exit to your car, I want to encourage you, if that's you and you know you need the new birth, to come by the Fireside Room. It's just across the atrium. Whether you're in the worship center or the east worship center, just come across the atrium. You'll see it labeled Fireside Room. There's some pastors and some prayer partners who are there who would really love to be able to pray with you, explain what it means to receive Jesus by faith and to live life for him.
God, we thank you for the new birth. Thank you that Jesus was born. He was born into this story, the story of humanity, not just for the purposes of identifying with us, though that's true, but so that he could be the candidate, the only one who ever could, to bring us up into this new life, to bring us up to share in the new nature. What a miracle. What a humbling thing. It destroys any arrogance or pride or self-righteousness. At least it should. As long as those attitudes are present, we can be sure that we aren't living in the fullness of the new birth. God, humble us with your love and your grace. Help us to show kindness to the people around us as your sons and your daughters. We want to honor our family name well. Help us to do that this Christmas season by the power of your indwelling Spirit within us. In Christ's name amen.