By John Fitzsimmons
Series: Holy Spirit
Bible Text: John 2:23-3:8
Last week I gave three aims I have for this series. This week I want to begin by adding one more. I don’t want this series to only be theological information about God the Holy Spirit, so we only have right understanding about who he is & what he does. Right understanding is important, & it’s vitally important regarding God, but it’s not the end goal. A growing friendship with the One we’re learning about is the primary goal of all good theology. This is the primary goal of these messages. Genuinely getting to know someone takes time...
In John 14:16-17 Jesus said: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” In these verses Jesus assures his disciples he will not leave them alone but will give them another advocate to help them & be with them forever. The Greek word for advocate could be translated with a number of English words – helper, upholder, supporter, comforter or counsellor. The Holy Spirit is all these & more. It’s also helpful to point out that the opposite of an advocate is a critic. But there’s another word advocate could be translated as & it’s the one Eugene Peterson uses in The Message; “I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you – this Friend is the Spirit of truth.”
This is the word I want us to really take to heart - Friend. The primary aim of this series is that we would all have a growing friendship with & appreciation for the Friend the Father has given... We talk of having best friends, & we thank God for them, but the Holy Spirit is the Best Friend ever given by God. He can do for us what no other friend can do. He comes not to criticize, but to help, counsel, uphold & comfort us. He is the biggest supporter we could ever have in our lives. He is 100% committed to our success in life. He comes to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
These messages are about the One who has come to be the best Friend of every believer in Jesus. He is the best Friend you can have whether you know it or not. You will not find another who knows you better, who can do more for you, who will always be with you. He will be honest enough to convict you but he will also give you the power to change & will never abandon you. These messages are about what he has done, can do & will do for, in & through you... Jesus said; “Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send him.” Peterson translates it; “It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.” The Friend has come, & he has come for our good & to do us good! God is more committed to our good than anyone else! In our Triune God we have the best Father, the best Brother & the best Friend we could ever ask for. Let’s ask our Friend to help us know him better...
The first subject I want to focus on is that our Friend the Holy Spirit has come to give us new life. The most important thing the Holy Spirit can ever do for you is make you born again! Therefore it is of enormous consequence that we know what being born again really means. Everything else is dependent on this! Let’s turn to & read John 2:23-3:8.
Born Again Christian is a term that has been banded about a lot, but I wonder how well it is actually understood. I was once witnessing to a man on the streets of Ballina. He said to me; ‘you’re not one of those born again Christian’s are you’. I said; ‘well that’s one way of putting it’. He said ‘you people just take one verse & make everything about being born again.’ I tried to explain why I didn’t entirely agree with him, but at the same time he did make me wonder. Is that how ‘Born Again Christian’s’ are perceived, as making too much of a single verse in the Bible?
The reality is, in house; we don’t actually talk that much about being Born Again anymore, do we? What does it mean to be a Born Again Christian? Are we Born Again Christians? Is it the best way to describe ourselves? It’s certainly one valid way, but is it the best way to distinguish ourselves? You can decide for yourself. All I want to do is show you this is the first & most important thing the Holy Spirit personally does in the life of every genuine Christian, he makes them born again. And I want us to see this is not a teaching dependant on one verse in the Bible.
The reason I included John 2:23-25 in the reading is because I want us to see something very important. These words set the scene for Jesus’ encounter with this man called Nicodemus. John records;
“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
Notice that many people, at some level, believed in Jesus because they saw the signs he was doing. However also notice that “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people” as John puts it. What does he mean? Simply, Jesus knew people can be fickle. People can get caught up in the excitement of a moment or an event... People change their minds... People can be for you one day & desert you the next... John 6:66 tells us many of these same disciples deserted Jesus just before the next big religious event - they found his teaching too hard. For this reason Jesus did not put much trust in their initial believing. Jesus knew that true & lasting faith rested on something much deeper, much more powerful & much more miraculous than human response or decision, it rested on a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in a human life.
It’s very significant that that John highlights this just before the Born Again discussion between Jesus & Nicodemus. Puritan William Gurnall wrote; “We have known many who have joined the army of Christ and liked being a soldier for a battle or two, but have soon had enough and end up deserting. They... are easily persuaded to take up a profession of religion, and are just as easily persuaded to lay it down.” Jesus knew this was the case & therefore Jesus knew something deeper had to happen in people if he was to make lasting disciples... The only persuasion that lasts is new birth... I can testify to this in my own life. I prayed a prayer of commitment to become a Christian a number of times in my childhood & teens; but none of them lasted or led to lasting change until the Holy Spirit done a deeper work in my life. A work that produced what I could not produce myself – genuine & enduring faith in Christ alone.
My reason for highlighting this is not to be overly pessimistic about human decisions, but because I personally know there is much more security & assurance to be found in God’s miraculous work in my life than any prayer, decision or commitment I ever made to him... For me the prayer did not work until the Holy Spirit did a work in me & made me born again – that’s my story! And more importantly it’s what Jesus is pointing out in this story.
V1-3 “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are 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.”
1. We Need New Life, Not New Religion
Being born again is not getting new religion but new life. John is very careful to include that Nicodemus was a Jewish religious leader. The Pharisees were the most rigorously committed of all Jewish groups... Here’s what we need to understand: All the religion in the world cannot replace the need for new birth. All the study, discipline, rule-keeping, good works, morality & devotion cannot replace the need for new birth. Jesus says; “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” NO ONE Jesus said – that includes you & me!
Genuine Christianity is not about finding religion, joining a new church, or a new stream of Christianity it’s about personally experiencing new life. This is what we need to understand. We could try every church & stream of Christianity there is but if there is no new birth in us we cannot see the kingdom of God. Why did the 12 stay with Jesus when the many deserted him? Peter answered; “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They saw life in the teaching of Jesus that they did not find in their own religion. A few verses before Jesus says; “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life” John 6:63. The fundamental need of every human being is new life if they are to see the kingdom of God.
Of course Nicodemus was physically alive. He was breathing, thinking & talking to Jesus. But Jesus sees no spiritual life in him – even though he is a rigorous religious leader & teacher – spiritually he is unborn. He needs life, not more theology, morality or religion – he has more of those things than most. He needs life.
Genuine Christianity is not fundamentally about going from bad to good, or good to great, or immoral to moral... It is fundamentally about going from death to life – it’s being raised from spiritual death to spiritual life so you can have a living relationship with a living God. As Paul writes to the Ephesians in 2:4-5, after highlighting the total depravity of mankind he writes; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Therefore the only genuine Christian is a Born Again Christian, that’s what we need to realise.
2. We Need To Experience God, Not Just Affirm Him
New Birth is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus, but experiencing the supernatural in yourself! Like the many at the end of chapter two, Nicodemus believed at some level Jesus had come from God. He said in V2 “Rabbi we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Nicodemus sees Jesus’ ministry as from God. He affirms Jesus is from God & that Jesus is doing the works of God. You would think this would impress Jesus since so many other Pharisees & religious leaders didn’t share Nicodemus’ belief. However Jesus says; “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” And he says very directly to Nicodemus in verse 7; “You must be born again.”
Affirming things about Jesus is not the same as being Born Again. All across this Island today there are people affirming things about Jesus at some level through liturgies, songs & prayers. This is not wrong but it does not mean they are born again because new birth is not merely affirming things about Jesus; it’s experiencing supernatural awakening to new life.
The demons affirmed Jesus at some level. In Mark 1:24 one said; “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” So affirming Jesus in & of itself is clearly not enough. We need to be born again as Jesus puts it. Jesus teaches us this is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. He says;
V5-8 “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. 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 is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
The Spirit is not part of this natural world. He is above nature. He is supernatural. He is God. He blows where he wills. We don’t control him. We can see his work but we cannot predict where is going to blow next. There is unpredictability about him but wherever he blows he brings new life. THIS MEANS HOPE FOR EVERYONE... He is the agent, the immediate cause of New Birth. We cannot become spiritually alive unless he breathes life into us. If we are spiritually dead we cannot hear, see, think or feel spiritually speaking. But new birth gives new eyes, new ears, new heart, new mind, new hope as well as new life. We’ll look more at these things next week. The Friend has come to do all this in us & for us. We were spiritually dead in sin but our Friend brings new life in Christ.
You may have failed at religion altogether or you may feel burned out doing good works. You may have failed at living a moral life or you may have lived a relatively good life but still feel there’s something missing. Or maybe you have spent your whole life affirming God at some level, but have you experienced the life Jesus brings? Have you been born again? Can you say you have a living relationship with a living God? 1 Peter 1:3 says; “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Can you say you have living hope in a living Jesus? This is what the Friend, the Holy Spirit, has come to do for you & in you so that you become fully alive.
New birth & Genuine Faith Come Together
We have seen already there is a fickle kind of believing but I also want us to see there is a born again kind of believing! A living faith in a living God! We’ll look more next week at the connection between new birth & faith in Jesus. However know this for now, the only kind of believing that lasts & endures is born again believing.
The fickle kind of believing is the easy come easy go kind, the give your life to Jesus until he says something you don’t like kind – this is the kind of believing Jesus did not entrust himself to at the end of chapter two. Have you got the born again kind of faith? If not ask God to give it to you. For this is the faith which is awakened by the new life the Holy Spirit brings. 1 John 5:4-5 says: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
New birth & true faith in Jesus come together.