This morning we are beginning a new series of messages entitled “Experiencing the Holy Spirit”. This fall in many of our small group Bible studies, in our adult SS class, and in Pastor Laurie’s Sunday evening series on the Spiritual Gifts, we want to spend some time not only understanding the person and work of the Holy Spirit, but also to have a deeper experience of him in our lives. And so this is going to be our focus as well on Sunday mornings
This is an important theme because I think that today there is a lot of confusion & misunderstanding about the HS. Evangelical churches tend to move toward one of 2 extremes when it comes to the HS. In our more charismatic churches, sometimes we can become overly preoccupied with having a mystical, emotional encounter with the Spirit, with experiencing supernatural manifestations of the Spirit. But in reaction to this, others of us may go to the opposite extreme, and become fearful of having any kind of subjective experience of the HS. And so consequently, the HS tends to become overlooked as not all that important. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The HS is absolutely essential & vital in every area of our Christian lives, for reasons that we are going to discover over the next few weeks.
I believe one of the best places for us to begin a study of the HS, is with Jesus’ conversation with a man named Nicodemus in John 3. So here we are introduced to this man named Nicodemus, who we are told, was a Pharisee. As you probably know, the Pharisees are not given very good press in the gospels. Jesus had some very harsh things to say about them. But we must not forget that, in their day, the Pharisees were seen by their community as respectable, upstanding citizens. They were the leaders of the religious community, the pillars of the church. And Nicodemus was not just any Pharisee, but a member of the Sanhedrin, the elite Jewish ruling council. And so he was a very powerful, influential man. And here we read how, one night Nicodemus came to see Jesus. What was Nic's purpose in coming to Jesus? Obviously he had been impressed by Jesus' teaching & the miracles he had been performing. "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." Whether he had actually seen these miracles first hand or had just heard reports, we do not know. But he senses that there is something different about this man & he feels compelled to come & speak to him.
Initially, Nic is ready to concede 2 things about Jesus: 1. He is a great teacher, 2. He is from God. There are many people today who have a similar view of Jesus. They respect his teaching as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount. They feel God must have been with Jesus in some special way. But Jesus is much more than simply another in a series of great religious teacher or prophet. If that is all that we see him as, then we have missed the point. And that is really what Jesus is saying to Nic here: "I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nic was obviously taken aback by Jesus’ words here. He had come expecting to debate theology with Jesus, as one religious scholar to another. But Jesus gets right to the point. He says it doesn’t matter how educated or learned you are, it doesn’t matter how much religion or philosophy you have studied, unless you have been born again, you will never be able to enter the kingdom of God. But Nic protests: "What do you mean born again? How can a person who is already 20 or 40 or 60 years old, be born again? Is he going to crawl back into his mother's womb & be born a second time?"
Now Nic was an intelligent man, & I don't think that he was quite as dense as he makes out to be here. You & I both know that Jesus was talking about a spiritual, not a physical rebirth. And I suspect Nic knew it too. But he was probably very threatened by what Jesus was saying. Because what Jesus was really telling him was, that if he was going to enter the kingdom of God, then he had to be willing to start all over again from the beginning. He had to experience a new spiritual rebirth. And I suspec that initially Nic had a problem with that. Being a religious leader & scholar, he figured he was already a long way into the kingdom of God. But Jesus is saying to him, “You haven't even started yet.” You see sometimes the people who find it the hardest to come to Christ are the ones who think they know the most. Nic knew his Bible inside out. He was careful to obey every detail of the Law. But that didn't get him into the kingdom of God. Jesus says you may be the most religious person in the world, you may be a great scholar, but you still have to come to God in exactly the same way- "You must be born again"
So what exactly did Jesus mean when he talked about being born again? The term "born again" has used and misused in many ways, but here Jesus explains exactly what it means: "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." Jesus is saying that just as we must go thru physical birth to enter life, we must also go thru a spritual rebirth to enter the new life that God wants us to experience. And physical birth gives us a good analogy to what happens when we experience spiritual rebirth, or regeneration, as theologians call it. I can still vividly remember being there in the delivery room when our children were born. If you have ever witnessed the birth of a baby, you know that it is one of the most amazing things that you will probably ever see. While it may not be as apparent, the spiritual rebirth Jes is talking about here is every bit as amazing & mysterious
1st, This new birth is not something that we can accomplish or create within ourselves, any more than a new born baby has chosen to bring itself into existence What we are talking about is more than just a psychological experience, it's more than just resolving to change our lives, altho that is certainly part of it. The new birth is 1st & foremost a work of the Spirit of God within us. When we ask Christ to come into our lives, something very profound takes place within us at the moment of regeneration. God's Spirit enters the innermost core of our being, & brings to life that spiritual dimension within us that has been dormant up until that time. And in that moment, we receive all of the blessings & benefits that are ours in Christ: our sins are forgiven, & we are reconciled to God & adopted into his family as his sons & daughters. We may not be completely aware of all this initially, but if that Spiritual rebirth has truly taken place, then in the coming weeks & months those things will begin to take on new significance & importance to us. As a result, we then have a whole new spiritual power & dynamic at work within us. The Spirit enables us to experience the reality of God & commune with him, he helps us to understand the spiritual truths of the Bible, he empowers us to be able to walk in obedience to God. In short, it is the HS dwelling in us, who gives us the resources we need to live the way God wants us to live.
Now all that is great. But Jesus is not just saying "It would be nice for you to be born again" He says in v7 "You must be born again" Why is he so insistent on this? Surely there are other ways of entering God's kingdom? Isn't it enough that we just try to be the best people we can be? That had certainly been Nic's approach until now. If anyone should have deserved to be in God's kingdom on the basis of their own merit, it was probably Nicodemus. I have no doubt that he was as good a man as you could find. Whether you looked at him from an ethical or religious or educational standpoint, there was was none better. But even to Nic, Jesus said you must be born again. Why? The answer is found later on, in v17 & 18:“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” In effect Jesus is saying, "Nic, whether you know it or not, unless you trust in me, you are already a condemned man. Like everyone else in the whole human race, you are already under sentence of death. Your sin has alienated & estranged you from God." But Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it from its own self-destruction.
So then, if this is so important, How does a person experience this new birth that Jesus is talking about here? We need to be careful about reducing all this to a simple formula. There is an element of mystery to how this new birth takes place. Jesus uses the imagery of the wind in v8: "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." We can't see the wind, we can't predict which way it will blow, but we can see it's effects, as it blows the leaves off the trees in the fall, or stirs up waves across the lake. The Holy Spirit is like that too. We can't see him or predict how he will work - Sometimes the Spirit of God acts like a gentle breeze, but at other times it is a very powerful galeforce wind. So sometimes the new birth comes very dramatically & suddenly, other times it seems to be a gradual awakening in a person's life, as they come to faith. He doesn't always work at the same time, in the same way in every person's life.
And so while we cannot come up with a surefire formula of how a person can be born again, there are, I think 3 or 4 prerequisites that must take place in order for it to happen. Let me spell this out as simply as possible
1. We must recognize our need to be born again. Jesus said "I have come that you might have life, & have it to the full" Until we experience that new birth, there is an entire part of our lives that is missing. As we said earlier, without Christ in our lives, we stand condemned before God because of our sin. The first step in being born again, is to recognize there is something missing in our lives, something that needs to be made right.
2. We must repent, we must be willing to turn the whole direction of our lives from sin, & turn towards God.
3. We must believe that JC, God the son, came to the earth to die for our sins, & then rose again, so that we could experience that same resurrection life. Jn 3:16, really says it all. Why don't we say it together: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life."
4. Along with that believing, we must also receive Christ personally into our lives as Lord & savior. Jn 1:12: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, to them he gave the right to become children of God" Faith & Belief is more than just assent, saying, "Well, Yes, I agree that this is true" We must be willing to commit our lives into Christ's hands. Trusting him for everything he has promised to do. If you have never done so, I would encourage you to give your heart to Christ this morning. Maybe you're not sure if you have ever really done so. You can do that this morning, as we close together in prayer