In John Chapter 3, Jesus Christ had a nighttime encounter with Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee.
Some have praised Nicodemus for his “shrewdness” — in visiting the Savior at night, he was more likely to have an uninterrupted interview. Others have cast the gentleman in a less-than-favorable light, suggesting he came during the evening hours because he did not want to be noticed by his Pharisee peers.
The truth is, we simply are not told why Nicodemus chose to visit Christ when he did. At any rate, the content of their visit is much more important than the time of day it occurred.
Nicodemus began the conversation with a compliment: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God…” (John 3:2). This was a far kinder estimate than his colleagues entertained, who later would accuse Jesus of being demon-possessed (John 8:48).
The Lord, however, did not give notice to the winsome words of his visitor. As he often did, he answered what Nicodemus was thinking, rather than what he actually said. It must have startled the Pharisee when Jesus rather bluntly said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
It is likely that Nicodemus believed his proud Jewish heritage guaranteed him acceptance with God. This very mindset had caused John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner, to warn some: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). If Nicodemus was to be saved, he had to realize that pedigree does not count with God; rather, it is sincere obedience that the Lord desires (Hebrews 5:9).
This is why Jesus told him plainly, “You must be born again” John 3:7. As was true with Nicodemus, all must be “born again” if they would be saved.
It is tragic, however, that there is so much confusion in the religious world on this vital Bible subject. It is not uncommon, for example, to read of various clergymen boasting of scores being “born again” at their respective churches. Yet, when compared with the Scriptures, it is seen that the two do not always equate.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” To “enter the kingdom” is equivalent, of course, to being saved. In Matthew 19:23, Jesus spoke of the difficulty involved in a “rich man” entering the “kingdom of heaven.” When his disciples heard it, they were amazed, asking: “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25). Jesus did not suggest they were “off topic” — they were correct in their understanding that to enter the kingdom is to be saved.
By comparing John 3:3 with another text, Mark 16:16, the truth about the “new birth” comes to light. In giving the Great Commission, Jesus said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Notice how these verses complement one another: in John 3:3, “man” is “born again” to enter the “Kingdom”; in Mark 16:16, “He” who “believeth and is baptized” is “saved.”
It is clear that “man” in John 3:3 is parallel with “he” in Mark 16:16. Further, as we have noticed, to enter the “kingdom” is the same as being “saved.” Thus, whatever stands between the “man” of John 3:3 and the “kingdom” is the same thing separating the “he” of Mark 16:16 from salvation.
Well, what stands between the “man” and the “kingdom?” Being born again.
What stands between the “he” and “salvation?” Believing and being baptized.
How is an individual “born again,” thereby entering the Lord’s kingdom? By believing and being baptized.
Both items are essential to salvation, which is also seen in the fact that Jesus said: “You must be born again” (John 3:7). It logically follows that if being “born again” involves baptism (see John 3:5 – “born of water”), and if we “must” be born again in order to be saved (John 3:7), then baptism – along with faith (Mark 16:16), repentance (Acts 2:38) and confession of Christ (Matthew 10:32) – is a necessary component in the divine scheme of redemption.
How refreshing to sweep aside popular notions regarding the “new birth” and allow the Savior himself to define it for us, in his holy Word.
Thus, the question that confronted Nicodemus in the long ago confronts us today: Have you been “born again?”
— Brandon Renfroe, pastor, Ashville Church of Christ