Text: John 3:1-21; Mt. 18:1-3
Link to the Audio: https://www.mljtrust.org/sermons-online/john-3-1-8/you-must-be-born-again/
You Must Be Born Again–A Sermon on John 3:1-8
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (ESV)Sermon Summary
What is so dangerous about the religious life? Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones takes up this question in this sermon titled “You Must Be Born Again” from John 3:1-8. He says that often times people who claim to be religious are trying to live as Christians without actually being saved. They try to be sanctified without being justified. This is a hopeless way to live because it treats Christianity as a graceless religion that is attained by works alone. This is similar to the error of intellectualism, which says that Christianity is about simply knowing and assenting to certain truths. Both of those views lose sight of what it means to be justified freely in the grace of God as the foundation of the Christian life. Both views replace the grace of God with works of humanity. Instead, you must be born again. The Christian must ask themselves if they believe the Christian life is merely intellectual and works based or if they trust the justifying grace of God that alone has the power to save and make fallen sinners new. This message of justification is the only hope that this world has and is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ for all who believe.
About Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was a Welsh evangelical minister who preached and taught in the Reformed tradition. His principal ministry was at Westminster Chapel, in central London, from 1939-1968, where he delivered multi-year expositions on books of the bible such as Romans, Ephesians and the Gospel of John. In addition to the MLJ Trust’s collection of 1,600 of these sermons in audio format, most of these great sermon series are available in book form (including a 14 volume collection of the Romans sermons), as are other series such as “Spiritual Depression”, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” and “Great Biblical Doctrines”. He is considered by many evangelical leaders today to be an authority on biblical truth and the sufficiency of Scripture.
Regeneration. Regeneration, or new birth, is an inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the Holy Spirit’s gracious sovereign action (John 3:5–8). The Bible conceives salvation as the redemptive renewal of humans based on restored relationship with God in Christ. Regeneration in Christ changes a person’s disposition from the lawless, godless self-seeking (Rom. 3:9–18; 8:7) that dominates into a disposition of trust and love, marked by repentance for past rebelliousness and unbelief, and ready compliance with God’s law. It enlightens the blinded mind to discern spiritual realities (1 Cor. 2:14–15; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10) and liberates and energizes the enslaved will for free obedience to God (Rom. 6:14, 17–22; Phil. 2:13).
The use of the figure of new birth emphasizes its decisiveness. The regenerate person has forever ceased to be the person he or she was, now buried with Christ, out of reach of condemnation and raised with him into a new life of righteousness (Rom. 6:3–11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 3:9–11).
Biblical Presentation. The noun “regeneration” (palingenesia) occurs only twice in Scripture. In Matthew 19:28 it denotes the eschatological “renewal of all things” under the Messiah for whom Israel was waiting (Acts 3:21). This echo of Jewish usage points to the larger scheme of cosmic renewal within which that of individuals finds its place. In Titus 3:5 the word refers to the renewing of the person. Elsewhere the thought of regeneration is differently expressed.
In OT prophecies regeneration is depicted as God’s work renovating, circumcising, and softening Israelite hearts, writing his laws on them, and thereby causing their owners to know, love, and obey him as never before (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31–34; 32:39–40; Ezek. 11:19–20; 36:25–27). It is a sovereign work of purification from sin’s defilement (Ezek. 36:25; cf. Ps. 51:10), wrought by the personal energy of God’s creative outbreathing—“spirit” (Ezek. 36:27; 39:29). Jeremiah declares that such renovation on a national scale will introduce and signal God’s new messianic administration of his covenant with his people (Jer. 31:31; 32:40).
In the NT regeneration is more fully individualized, and in the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John the figure of new birth—“from above” (anōthen, John 3:3, 7), “of water and the Spirit” (i.e., through a purificatory operation of God’s Spirit; see Ezek. 36:25–27; John 3:5; cf. 3:8), or simply “of God” (John 1:13, nine times in 1 John)—is integral to the presentation of personal salvation. The aorist or perfect tense of the verb gennan (which means both “to beget” and “to bear”) in these passages helps indicate the once-for-all divine work whereby sinners, who before were only “flesh,” and as such, whether they knew it or not, utterly incompetent in spiritual matters (John 3:3–7), are made “spirit” (John 3:6)—that is, enabled to receive and respond to God’s saving revelation in Christ. In John’s Gospel, Christ assures Nicodemus that there are no spiritual activities—no seeing or entering God’s kingdom, because no faith in himself—without regeneration (3:1–5); and John declares in the prologue that only the regenerate receive Christ and enter into the privileges of God’s children (1:12–13). Conversely, in the First Epistle of John the writer insists that there is no regeneration that does not issue in spiritual activities. The regenerate do righteousness (2:29) and do not live a life of sin (3:9; 5:18; the present tense indicates habitual law keeping, not absolute sinlessness; cf. 1:8–10); they love Christians (4:7), believe rightly in Christ, and experience faith’s victory over the world (5:4). Any who believe or do otherwise, whatever they claim, are still the devil’s unregenerate children (3:6–10). God does not relate to them as father (2:23), and they have no share in the hope of glory to which God’s children are heirs (3:1–3).
Paul specifies the christological dimensions of regeneration by presenting it as (1) a life-giving coresurrection with Christ (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13; cf. 1 Pet. 1:3), and (2) a work of new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10). Peter and James make the further point that we are “born again” (anagennan, 1 Pet. 1:23), that God “gives us birth” (apokyein, James 1:18), by means of the gospel. It is under the impact of the gospel word that God opens the heart, so evoking faith (Acts 16:14–15).
Historical Discussion. The church fathers did not formulate the concept of regeneration precisely. They equated it, broadly speaking, with baptismal grace, which to them meant primarily (to Pelagians, exclusively) remission of sins. Augustine realized, and vindicated against Pelagianism, the necessity for prevenient grace to make people trust and love God, but he did not precisely equate this grace with regeneration. The Reformers reaffirmed the substance of Augustine’s doctrine of prevenient grace, and Reformed theology still maintains it. Calvin used “regeneration” to cover humanity’s whole subjective renewal, including conversion and sanctification, but soon all Protestants, Lutherans, and Anabaptists, as well as Reformed, came to see regeneration simply as the start of the Christian life. Many seventeenth-century Reformed theologians equated regeneration with effectual calling, and conversion with regeneration (hence the systematic mistranslation of epistrephein, “to turn,” as passive, “to be converted,” in the KJV); later Reformed theology has defined regeneration more narrowly as the implanting of the “seed” from which faith and repentance spring (1 John 3:9) in the course of effectual calling. Arminianism constructed the doctrine of regeneration synergistically, making one’s renewal dependent on prior cooperation with grace; liberalism constructed it naturalistically, identifying regeneration with a moral change or religious experience or construing it corporately as social renewal.
Rather than understanding the sacraments as signs to stir up faith and seals to confirm believers in possession of the blessings signified, later patristic and medieval theology came to regard baptism as conveying the regeneration that it signified (Titus 3:5) ex opere operato to those who did not obstruct its working. Since infants could not do this, all baptized infants were accordingly held to be regenerated. This view has persisted in all the non-Reformed churches of Christendom and among sacramentalists within Protestantism.
See also Call, Calling; Elect, Election; Order of Salvation; Salvation
Bibliography. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology; K. Burkhardt, The Biblical Doctrine of Regeneration; B. Citron, New Birth: A Study of the Evangelical Doctrine of Conversion in the Protestant Fathers; C. Hodge, Systematic Theology; P. Toon, Born Again: A Biblical and Theological Study of Regeneration; B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies; M. B. Wynkoop, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology.