Spiritual Heart Disease

Born of the Spirit

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Text: John 3:1-21; Mt. 18:1-3

Introduction: I want us to talk about being born again or born from above or born of the Spirit as we are introduced to it by Jesus in John 3:1-21

  • Last night I told Jackie that I was struggling to find a way to be clear today. She was concerned, but I assured her that God would provide.
  • When God wakes you up! At 1:30 am, I was wide awake. Driving in I listened to a sermon by Martyn Lloyd-Jones given 59 years ago on 7/7/1963. I wept in my car as I listened. I wept in my office as I wrote. I had a great, overwhelming sense of God’s love and experienced a profound sense of joyful gratitude. (A link to the sermon audio is in the Notes section below)

Explore the Text

A Contemporary Problem with Talking about Born Again

  • A Problem: In contemporary thinking, being born again is often thought of as some very strong, emotional religious experience.
    • We must be honest: sometimes it is a deeply emotional event, but if we focus on rebirth as only a strong emotional experience (which it may be for some) we will generate a human and psychological explanation for it.
    • The result: we will then focus on conversion techniques designed by contemporary communication and media specialists to manipulate people to create an effect that we can control and count: something that appears to be a new birth experience, but that falls short and produces very different long-range results.
      • Seeing Top Gun Maverick in an immersive environment is a powerful experience!
      • The emotional experience of a movie is very different from the reality of a pilot.

A Personal Problem for Me and Some of You: Growing up I learned a way to think about my relationship with God.

  • Grateful for Things I Was Taught: My relationship with God was based on something that happened outside of me through Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross.
  • A problem with what I was Taught: I was taught to think that there was a way God once worked in the world, but God no longer works in that way.
    • We now have the Bible. God no longer operates in such an active way in the world to reveal Himself.
    • We were resistant to the idea of a living, vital relationship with Jesus.
    • We were resistant to the understanding of the ongoing, active work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to bring us to God and to work within us to form the life of Christ and to create a Spirit-filled community.
    • We expected no miracles. We did not think God would interfere with human freedom.
    • We developed effective techniques to create conversions and build great churches.
  • My Difficulty with What I Was Not Taught: much of Scripture was left behind and ignored. That made no sense to me. This became a discomfort that sometimes I did not handle well. It was something that would not go away until my heart was humbled, and I recognized the limits of my ability to solve this.

Our Challenge: Have a Mind that is Willing to Let Go of a Cherished Idea and Allow Scripture to Teach Us

  • Seeing Myself in Nicodemus: we want to intellectually figure out all these things and organize them into a systematic theology that we like.
    • Nicodemus tries to understand the unique person and the profound truth of Jesus on the basis of what he already knows. He seems ready to add the teaching of Jesus to what he already knows
    • Like adding a room onto a house, or to the temple (see John 2:13-22)
  • Jesus makes clear that something more radical is required.
    • Not an Addition but a New Creation: 2 Cor 5:16-21
    • Nicodemus is increasingly confused. His thinking is turned upside down.

The Work of the Spirit to Re-Create Life in Us

  • The problem that creates a necessity: We cannot understand Jesus on our own terms. We need God’s Help! see Is. 55:6-11; Ez. 36:24-28
  • Becoming children again to enter the kingdom of God: 18:1-3; Jn. 3:3-15—How do you hear Nicodemus’ voice as he asks Jesus questions?
  • The World’s Wisdom (and Established Religious Wisdom) is Foolish—the truth of God revealed in the one lifted up on the cross. 1 Cor 1:18-2:16
    • Our thinking must become obedient to scripture and we must be willing to do the work necessary to better understand (issues in interpretation). But we also must acknowledge that even here, we need the help of the Spirit!
    • Faithful humility.


  • I want to go back to an objection about this topic that I was taught that was an attempt to protect me from this doctrine: If God has to change something deep inside of me then that is a violation of my freedom.
  • If you were drowning in a cold, fast-rushing stream of water or if you were injured while backpacking in the woods, who would you want with you?
    • David, Gil, Mike, Rick (All four are medically trained and know how to deal with dangerous situations).
    • Why? They would want to help me and they would know how to help me. If they could not help me, their loving presence as a close friend would be a comfort and a strength in those final moments.
    • In such a moment, I would be foolish to insist: “I do not need you. I can help myself. I am free!!
  • Nicodemus was seeking out the right man in the darkness of his sophisticated religious confusion.
    • The help Jesus is offering is at first disorienting and confusing.
    • As the gospel of John unfolds, Nicodemus seems to be changing based on meditating on this conversation, and I believe, because the Spirit was acting on his heart to change his mind about Jesus.
  • Jesus knows how to help us & his loving presence is a comfort in a crisis.


Sermon by Martyn Lloyd-Jones Preached on 7/7/1963

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.

J. I. Packer Article on Regeneration in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (for a summary theological reflection on the idea).

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.

  1. I. Packer[1]
[1] Packer, J. I. (2017). Regeneration. In D. J. Treier & W. A. Elwell (Eds.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology(Third Edition, pp. 734–735). Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.