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January 9, 2010
Back from the Dead – Part 1
Pastor Philip De Courcy
John 3:1-15

Purchase the CD of this sermon.


In this series of sermons, Philip De Courcy warns the church not to settle for two-thirds of God. Christians often fail to grasp that through faith in Christ, they were not only given the gift of eternal life, but they were also given the giver of eternal life—the Holy Spirit—as a further gift. That puts the Christian at a great advantage because the Holy Spirit lives to bring God, vast as He is, within the narrow circumference of our lives.

More From This Series


We’re back into our series on the Holy Spirit. Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie chaplain to the U.S senate said this, “Many Christians settle for two-thirds of God for them. The Father is way up there aloof and apart from their daily lives. Christ is out there between them and the Father, and the Holy Spirit is often viewed as some kind of vague force or impersonal power they have heard about but do not know intimately. But as we saw in our last study on the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God is no marginal figure in redemptive history. He is the near side of God’s presence in the life of the Christian and he is presented by John to be an adequate substitute for Christ not being on the earth. He is someone we can ill afford to be ignorant of. He has come to bring the work of Christ to us and he has come to do the work of God through us.”

We have looked at his person and this morning we’re going to begin to look at his work, his work in the Christian. We’re going to begin with that first and foremost work, the work of regeneration. Bringing us to a state of life in Christ out of a state of spiritual death and darkness. Then in succeeding months, we’re going to look at the sealing of the spirit, the filling of the spirit, the intercession of the spirit, the gifts of the spirit and some other things. I want us to look at this foundational work, this first and foremost work of the Holy Spirit, the work of regeneration, and if you’ve got your Bible, I want you to turn to John chapter three, John chapter three, as we encounter the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. We’re going to explain this passage in this session and the next.

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 were a teacher come from God for no one can do these things or these signs that you do unless God is with him. Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly 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, “Most assuredly 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 say to you, you must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes as you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes so is everyone who is born of the spirit.”

Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things? Most assuredly I say to you, we speak what we know and testify what we have seen and you do not receive our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe? If I tell you heavenly things. No one has ascended to heaven, but he who came down from heaven, that is the son of man who is in heaven, and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

When I was back in northern Ireland last summer, a friend of mine, Erich Lindsay, told me a really interesting story related to the famous Scottish preacher, Ebenezer Erskine. Ebenezer Erskine along with his brother were born after their mother had died. Now, let me explain. Margaret, their mother had died and was buried when the Saxton of the church returned that night to exhume the body because the body had been buried with a very valuable ring attached to the finger of Margaret. It was a ring that the family tried to get off her finger but couldn’t get off, and so she was buried with his very valuable ring. The Saxton had noted that, being the rascal that he was, he waited until this woman was buried, went back that night, exhumed the body and proceeded to cut the finger of Margaret Erskine off her hand. As he did this, she sat up, she was in a state of comatose and she proceeded to walk home to the manse only a few yards away. I think she stepped over the body of the Saxton on the way.

According to Erich Lindsay, she wraps the door of her home. Inside are the boys, the father, friends mourning the loss of this precious woman and as the door is wrapped, her husband turns to those who are inside the house and he says, “If I didn’t know better, I would swear that that’s Margaret’s knock,” and when the door was opened, you can only imagine the surprise and the shock. It’s a great story from the life of Ebenezer Erskine, back from the dead. What a story, but back from the dead is every Christian’s story. In the New Testament, salvation is pictured as a rebirth, as a new creation, as a coming out of a state of spiritual death into new life in Jesus Christ. Let me give you some examples from the Gospel of John alone. In John chapter one, verse 12 and 13, what do we read? As many as receive him, to them gives he the authority or the power to become the children of God who were born not of blood or the will of man, but of God, who’s the image of birth.

The image Jesus picks up here in the very passage we just read says to Nicodemus, “Nicodemus, you must be born again. The conversion experience, an encounter with Jesus Christ is an encounter that moves us from a state of death to a state of life.” Is that not how Jesus describes it? In John chapter five, verse 24 where he says, “He who hears my word and believes in him who sent me will not come into judgment but will what pass from death onto life.” In fact, Paul, to go outside the context of the Gospel of John, he describes the encounter with Christ and conversion to Christianity in two Corinthians 5:17 like this, “If any man being Christ, he is what? A new creature, a new creation.” The new Testament view of salvation is pictured as a rebirth, a new creation, a movement from death to life.

Now listen to me, the born-again Christian is not a certain brand of Christianity. The born-again Christian is the only type of Christian the New Testament recognizes and knows. You were either born again or you’re not a Christian at all. You must be born again, says the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, in a sense to speak of a born-again Christian is to use language that is redundant. It is to speak of a tooth dentist. It is to speak of a female woman. There is no other kind. There’s only one kind of Christian. The born-again Christian, the Bible knows only one kind of Christianity and that is the kind that moved people from death to life in Jesus Christ suddenly, sovereignly, supernaturally. Then that’s important and you and I need to grasp that, because people have this mistaken idea that Christianity is the turning of a new leaf, a kind of an act of the will to be better, some kind of modification of your behavior based around the keeping of some rule. That is false, that is untrue, that’s a lie.

No, Christianity is not the turning of a new leaf. Christianity is the experiencing of a new life. It’s a rebirth. It’s a new creation. It’s not reformation on the outside, it’s regeneration on the inside. We’re looking today at the first and foremost work of the Holy Spirit in the soul of man being made alive who were once dead in sin. The Christian is not someone made better. The Christian is someone made new. Listen, the intent of Christ and the purpose of the Gospel is not merely to make bad man good or even good man better. It’s to bring dead man back to life. In fact, Jesus pictures that doesn’t he, in the return of the prodigal and what does the father say of the prodigal who has returned? “This is my son who was dead but now is alive. The relationship has been restored. A new day has dawned.”

I like the words of Adrian Rogers, he says this, “He that is spiritual has been born from above. He’s not merely a natural man who has been improved. He’s not like a tadpole who finally turned into a frog. He’s more like a frog who’s been transformed into a prince by the kiss of God’s grace.” It’s a great quote. Christians are not merely nice characters. They are new creatures and I want to get that down. I want you and I to grasp that this is a fundamental doctrine, the doctrine of regeneration. As I’ve studied it, there’s been so much I’ve gathered. Now, let me say a few things about the doctrine of regeneration. First of all, it’s no minor doctrine and you may get that idea due to the fact that the word itself regeneration only appears twice in the New Testament, once in relation to the regeneration of the earth on the last day spoken of in Matthew 19:28 and then twice.

The second is to be found in Titus three verse five where, “We read not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy, he has saved us through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” The word regeneration means new birth, to be born again, but if you look at the terms that are synonymous with that, born again, born of God, begotten made alive, this is more than a minor doctrine. This is a major doctrine. This is the description of what it means to be a Christian. Now, let’s define it. Let’s outline it. Let’s underline it just by way of reduction and then we’re going to look at the text and just look at one or two things this morning.

Let me define our term regeneration. Regeneration is that supernatural and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, which is performed in the life of the sinner and as it’s performed, the sinner is brought from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life. That comes about by the reception of a new heart, a new nature, making the sinner willing to turn to Christ in repentance and faith and it issues into a transformed life patterned after Jesus Christ.

That’s what we’re talking about. There was a lot there, but hopefully I’ll explain it as we go along. JC Ryle put it like this, “Regeneration means that change of heart and nature which a man goes through when he becomes a true Christian.” Now, let’s outline it. Let’s make a distinction between redemption and regeneration. Redemption is God’s work for us in Christ through the cross. Regeneration, however, is God’s work in us by the Holy Spirit through new birth whereby redemption accomplished is redemption applied. Christ has done the work for us. Our sins have been paid for, but the fruit of that, the good of that, the great of that has to be brought to bear upon our lives and that’s a work of the Holy Spirit. That which Christ has done for us, the Holy Spirit makes real to us by bringing us to faith after conviction of sin whereby we stake our holy eternity upon Christ.

Understand redemption is the work of Christ for us. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, bringing the work of Christ to us, experientially, personally in time historically. Through the work of the spirit, the believer experiences and enjoys the fruit of Christ’s labor. We have defined the term, we’ve outlined the thought. Let’s underlined the doctrine. Regeneration is God’s greatest work. God’s work in regeneration. Giving a sinner life is so great that Paul describes it as the making of a new creation. Doesn’t that we just quoted it two Corinthians 5:17, how awesome is that? You and I are described actually in Ephesians 2:10 as God’s masterpiece. God’s a workmanship. We are a greater work by the hand of God than the old creation itself. More has gone into making you and I, new creatures in Christ, than went into making the world itself.

The world cost God his breath, the new creation costs God his son, his blood himself. It’s a marvelous work. It’s a great work. That’s why the old Princeton theologian, Archibald Alexander said, “There is no more important event which occurs in our world when someone comes to Jesus Christ.” If you in your mind can remember that time in that place, in that event that brought you to faith in Jesus Christ, there was nothing more important going on in God’s world that day, that night, that morning than when you came to faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a great work, it’s a marvelous work and it’s the Spirit’s first and foremost work and that’s why I want to pour the foundation and use this morning and the next time we’re together and let’s rescue this word, this concept. It’s witty and it’s import and it’s glorious and it’s nature, but it’s a term and it’s a truth that has been stolen and sullied by false professions and the world taking it to themselves.

I think you would agree, wouldn’t you? This is a term that’s been trivialized. The whole idea of being born again, the world speaks of a run down district in a city being revitalized as that district being born again. Some has-been has reinvented himself on the sports field or on the silver screen and their career has been reinvented and we talk of actors being reborn or football players being reborn. That’s to trivialize this glorious term and then there are those who profess to be born again, but there’s no change, there’s no repentance, there’s no fruit in their lives. Man like Larry Flint who profess to be born again and maybe some naive Christians salivated until they found out that a month later he’s still purveying porn as clean sex. We have women stripping for Jesus, claiming to be born again since God give them a beautiful body. Why wouldn’t they use that for his glory?

How messed up is that? The whole idea of being born again has been stolen and sullied. You and I want to put the shine back on this glorious term, so let’s go to John chapter three. We’ll make a start. Now, in this passage we have the locus classicus of the doctrine of regeneration. We’re going to get no better insight into a no better look at this doctrine than here. This is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. The Nicodemus was a Pharisee, he was a religious man. He studied the law and he taught the law. We also read in verse one that he was a ruler of the Jews. He belonged to the Sanhedrin, that was a group of men, 70 in number who basically were the movers and shakers in the land of Israel. This was a religious man.

In fact, he was kind of an amalgamation of a Archbishop and a supreme court judge, and he comes to Jesus at night and we have this encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus and the call to Nicodemus from Jesus to be born again. Verse seven, “Do not marvel that I say to you, you must be born again, regenerated, made alive.” Jesus is calling Nicodemus to become finally and fully alive in his life for the first time. Now, this material is unique to the Gospel of John. This is a little sidebar if you don’t know this. Almost 90% of the Gospel of John is not to be found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. You won’t find the story of Nicodemus in the other Gospels, and Nicodemus comes to Jesus with a question. We find that in our English Bibles almost as a statement in verse two, but it’s really a question.

Let’s link chapter three with chapter two. Jesus has just spent the Passover week, the seven days of unleavened bread feasting and during that time he has done some signs and wonders, namely the miracle at Canaan. There’s buzz out there about who is this guy? Who is this man that does this kind of thing? Nicodemus, comes the ruler of the Jews, verse one. He comes by night, verse two, and he basically asked Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you’re a teacher come from God for no one can do these things that you do unless God is with them. Who are you? I’m thinking this through. You can’t do this if God’s not doing it. Are you a prophet? Miracle worker?” He comes with a question for Jesus to answer, but his question isn’t met with an answer. It’s met with a question. There’s kind of this abrupt change in the text where Jesus basically doesn’t, it’s like he’s not listening almost.

“Hey Nicodemus, I need to tell you this, unless one is born again,” I think Jesus is moving the argument forward. “Hey, I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the one who’s come from heaven above so that you might be born from above, that you might have life eternal and if you’re wanting to speak about my identity, let’s not think of prophethood and miracle working, let’s think of saviourhood, deity and amalgamation with humanity.” The God man, the mediator between God and man, the one who’s come from heaven so that we might go to heaven and so here’s where we’re at, this encounter. Jesus didn’t allow himself to be examined by Nicodemus, but Nicodemus found himself being examined by Jesus. Now, there’s three things I think I can substantiate in the text. If you’re taking notes, we’ll look at the necessity of the new birth. We’ll look at the nature of the new birth, and then we’ll look at the notice of the new birth.

It’s evidence, it’s manifestation in a life. We’ll only get so far this morning. This is good stuff and I want you to get it all. Let’s look at the necessity of the new birth. The passage is clear. Jesus unequivocal that Nicodemus just like everyone else, must be born again. He must experience a second birth. What do we read? Verse seven, “Do not marvel that I say to you, you must be born again.” Guys, there’s three things you and I must do. According to second Samuel 14 verse 14, we must die. A woman is speaking to David. It’s the context of Absalom’s rebellion and Absalom’s return, and in that context the woman says to David, “We must die,” and that’s a fact. Secondly, we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Second Corinthians five verse 10, “We must die,” but Paul says in second Corinthians 5:10, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”

There’s no ducking, no diving, and here in John three verse seven, we read, “We must be born again.” Given the fact that we will die, given the fact that we will stand before God, we must be born again. We must be born from above if we expect to live in God’s heaven above. This is the necessity of the new birth. Now, the point I’m making is to be found within the analogy itself. The analogy is of a birth. In fact, Nicodemus struggles with that a little bit, doesn’t he? When he kind of says, “Are you talking about me going back into my mother’s womb? That’s ridiculous, that’s impossible, that’s illogical.” That is the analogy. It’s a birth analogy, and the point we’re making about the necessity of the new birth is embedded in the analogy. There are many ways to get out of this world, but there’s only one way to get into it, by birth. There’s only one way of entering into temporal life, so there’s only a way of entering into eternal life and that’s the way of birth, new birth in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is not a matter of expediency, this is not a matter of desirability, this is a matter of necessity. No evasion is conceivable, no alternative is available. You must be born again or you will not see or enter the kingdom of heaven. The passage is clear. Jesus unequivocal. Spurgeon, but we love him. Every generation needs regeneration and it’s true. Jesus didn’t say, “I suggest that under certain extenuating circumstances it might be advisable or nice that you can consider being born again.” There’s a single get to eternal life. Jesus said he’s the door and you must be born again. Let me give you two reasons why. Let me remind you why you got saved in the first place or maybe there are those here this morning who do not know Christ. They’re part of a church like Nicodemus. They have a religious history to them, but they have never been born again, never truly saved.

Let’s remind ourselves whatever position we’re in this morning see if they’re unsaved, why we need to be saved. Two things out of the text, “Man’s depravity and man’s destiny.” Why did Nicodemus need to be born again? Because he was in a state of spiritual darkness and spiritual death. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night according to verse two, and we don’t want to make too much of that. He could have come because he wanted a private meeting with Jesus and so the night gave him that kind of cover and intimacy. He may have come at night because he didn’t want to arouse suspicion among his fellow Pharisees and those who belonged to the Sanhedrin, but many commentators, if not most commentators believe that this is John’s way of hinting at the fact that this man’s spiritual condition was clouded and shrouded in darkness. One of the motifs of John’s Gospel is the kind of contrast between light and darkness.

You’ll find out throughout his book, throughout his Gospel and the fact that he mentions that this man came to Jesus by night is a clue to his spiritual condition, and his spiritual condition is the condition of all men. What does Ephesians two verse one say? “We hath he made alive who were dead in sin.” That’s the natural condition of man. Look at what Jesus says in verse six. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” What is the flesh? Speaking of our natural birth, our first birth. Flesh refers to fallen humanity in the Bible in all its frailty and estrangement from God. We are born according to Psalm 51, right, in verse five, “On sin shaping in iniquity we’re born abandoned by God in estranged from God.” Nicodemus was blind to the fact that he was blind. He could not see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus was ignorant and ignorant of the fact that he was ignorant because Jesus in explaining how a man is born again, going back to Ezekiel and Jeremiah and the promise of a new heart and the work of the spirit of God and water and the spirit. Jesus says in verse 10, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things?” This man was blind. He was ignorant, he was dead in his sin. He was sitting in the shadow of death and that’s why he needed to be born again.

Listen to these words from RG Lee, the famous southern Baptist preacher. “It is not that the natural man is ignorant and needs instruction feeble and needs invigorating, sickly and needs doctoring. His case is far more. He lies spiritually lifeless and needs quickening, a spiritual corpse which needs bringing from death to life. The necessity of the new birth is shown and the fact that the natural man in his unregenerate state cannot understand the things of the spirit, he is blind. He is dead in his trespasses and sin, his understanding is darkened. His mind is full of evil thought and he is unable to please God.”

Nicodemus comes for all his religiosity and respectability. He’s blind, he’s dead, he’s ignorant and he’s in need of new life and he doesn’t see what Jesus sees and that’s why Jesus has to say to him, “You must be born again.” You were born in sin separated from God, your mind darkened, your heart strained your will and to your sin nature. You act out your sin, nature and sinful behavior and the clock is ticking and the dead is growing. You in spiritual debt, you’re in spiritual darkness, you’re in spiritual death, and you must therefore be given you life. You must be born from above, born again. Not only man’s depravity but man’s destiny. Nicodemus needed to be born again because without a second birth, there would be a second death.

We’ve talked about this before. Revelation 20 verse 14 talks about a second death. What is death? Death is separation. In the first death experience, our spirit separates from the body. In the second death experience, that spirit is separated from God apart from Jesus Christ to hell and to the lake of fire, which burns forever. If you’re going to avoid that, there needs to be a second birth to avoid the second death. If you’re born once, you’ll experience a second death. If you’re born twice, you can avoid that second death.

Without being born from above, Jesus said that Nicodemus would not see the kingdom of heaven. Kingdom means rule and there are different expressions to the rule of God within his kingdom where the king is there is the kingdom, and during this time it was an invisible kingdom that ruled over the hearts of man, but there was promises in the Old and New Testament that someday that rule would become visible over lands, over the whole earth in the millennial kingdom and then that rule would morph into an eternal rule. Then when you state in terms of heaven and earth and we can’t be exactly sure where Jesus wants us to land in the continuum of that, but if we can just in broad terms kind of think about this, Jesus is saying the Nicodemus that apart from being born again, he wouldn’t be found in or fit for heaven, for the eternal state, for the age to come.

Unless a man is born again, what do we read in verse three? He cannot see and we read in verse five that he will not enter the kingdom of heaven without a new birth. You sir, you madam, will never enter a new world. That’s just the flat-out truth according to the Lord Jesus Christ here. You and I need to be born again because of our depravity and because of our destiny. As one writer put it, “You and I, apart from Jesus Christ are no more fit for heaven than we are for the moon above or the ocean beneath.” Listen to these words. “It is equally true that a man is not suited to life in heaven. The problem is not a lack of oxygen or surfeit of water or inability to fly. Rather the problem is moral. In heaven, all things center on God and by nature, this is not man’s inclination.” As Archibald Alexander put it, “Heaven is a holy place and all the exercises and employments are holy. Therefore, without holiness, no man shall see the Lord and to be holy, you must be born again.”

You see the character of heaven, it’s holy. It’s God-centered. It’s Christ-exalting. Unless you and I have a change of nature, unless you and I are born again, we are no more fit for that environment than we are for the moon outside a spacesuit or for the ocean beneath without scuba gear. You must be born again or you’ll not be found in or fit for the age to come. Whether that’s the millennial kingdom heaven or the eternal state. There is an imperative here. There is no concession, there is no other alternative. That’s why I like the story of the evangelist, George Whitfield. He was the Billy Graham in many ways of a number of generations ago. He was fond of preaching on this text, John 3:7, “You must be born again.” We believe he preached on it hundreds of times and there may even be reason to believe He preached on it thousands of times. So much so the one particular lady one day said to him, “Given the breadth of the Bible, Mr. Whitfield, why do you keep harping on this one string? You must be born again. You must be born again.”

With a disarming smile, he looked at her and he said, “Because you must be born again.” There’s no getting around that, huh? No getting around that, that’s the necessity of the new birth. It’s predicated upon our depravity. It’s predicated upon our eternal destiny. Footnote to this and then we’ll make one start on the next point. If it’s necessary, it’s urgent. Necessary things are urgent things. Could it be that Nicodemus came at night because the questions that Jesus miracles had raised in his mind needed answering that night and couldn’t be put off to the morning? There is an urgency regardless to the answer to that question, because there is no other way. There is no better time. You must be born again and if you must then die, because you’re dead in your sin and you can never please God in your flesh, apart from the work of the spirit of God. Bringing you by regeneration to life, giving you a new heart, new aspirations, new appetites in Jesus Christ, there is no other way.

There is no better time. It’s nigh that you must be born again, because to wait is to leave yourself with less days to repent in, more sins to repent of, with a heart that’s getting harder each and every day. Therefore, with a heart that’s harder to repent with. A man was being pressed by his pastor to be born again. He said, “Another day, maybe. He says, “Pastor, I have good time. Remember the thief on the cross?” Which the pastor wisely replied, “Which thief on the cross?” One was saved and one was lost, and you need to remember that even the one that was saved, it wasn’t his last chance, it was his first chance and he took it by the grace of God. The necessity of the new birth. Let’s make a start on the nature of the new birth. Having defined it, having underscored and understood that I trust to some degree the importance of being born again.

Let’s now look at what happens in the new birth. What is it? What happens? How does it happen? What’s its nature and what’s its parts? Now, I’m not sure we can nail this to the ground definitively because I think in the image of the wind that Jesus speaks of here in verse eight, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but it can of tell where it comes from and where it goes, so is everyone who is born of the spirit.” I think in the image of the wind, Jesus reminds us that just like the wind, the work of the Holy Spirit is evident and we’ll get into that next time. You maybe can’t see it but you’ll see it by its evidence. The branches will bend and paper will flutter in the air. The wind is unmanageable, Holy Spirit is sovereign, unmanageable, untamable and then respect’s inexplicable.

We don’t know where the wind comes from, where its origins, why it goes here and why it goes there, and so there’s a certain inexplicability to the new birth, a certain mystery. So much so that George Whitfield once said to Benjamin Franklin, “As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would not honestly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit the study of the mysteries of the new birth.” There is a mystery to it, but I think there are a number of things that are manageable and manifest. Three in all, just one as we close this morning. We’ll see three things here. It is a single work or a singular work. It is a sovereign work and it is a supernatural work. Let’s look at the first thought just this morning. It is a singular work. The new birth is a singular and sudden work of the Holy Spirit.

It happens, listen, once and for all, you need to think this through. It happens at a particular moment in the past, okay? If you’re born again, you were born again at a particular moment once and for all in the past, because that’s what birth involves. It’s a new birth. Although, there may be events and although there may be circumstances and although there may be influences leading up to it, it is not a process. You are not being born again. There comes a moment when you are born again. Although, it might take time for a person to be born again and they may sit under many sermons and reject many arguments in the process. The actual event when it happens will be singular and sudden. Charles Rari’s helpful here. He says this in his book on the Holy Spirit. “This idea is proved by the aorist tenses used in regeneration passages.”

Now, he’s getting into the grammar of the Greek text here, “For the aorist tense is a tense in the Greek that speaks to an event that happened prior to the moment you’re talking about it,” and that’s how we find the regeneration of believers described in John chapter one verse 13, John chapter three, verse three, five and seven. Those verbs are all in the aorist tense and they convey this idea that being born again is something that happens as an event in the past. Regeneration is a once in a lifetime deal. You can only be born again once. You can’t keep getting saved. You can’t keep walking the aisle. You can’t keep getting born again. You’re born again once. It’s a once in a lifetime deal, just like physical birth. How many times were you born? Once. How many birthdays do you have? One.

In fact, Nicodemus wrestles a little with this when Jesus tells him he’s got to be born again and he says, “What do you mean go back into my mother’s womb a second time?” Well, he’s right and he’s wrong. Of course, you can’t go back in, but Jesus isn’t talking about physical birth, he’s talking about spiritual birth. You have one of them and you’ll have one or the other and the mother will be the spirit of God bringing you to life in Jesus Christ.

No one is a Christian all their life. They’ve got to be born again at a certain point in their life to be a Christian. You cannot always have been a Christian anymore than you can always have been alive. Sometimes when I’m either interviewing someone or talking to someone, my antenna gets up when, “I’ve always been a Christian.” Well, sometimes when you get behind that they explain that they mean brought up in a Christian home and came to Christ early in life, but to be theologically correct, those are words that you and I cannot use. We cannot always have been a Christian. You’re not born a Christian by natural birth or citizenship. Because you’re an American doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. Because you were born in a Christian home doesn’t mean you’re a Christian anymore than sleeping in a garage would make you a car. That’s one of the analogies that Keith Green, the singer used to use.

No, when it comes to becoming a Christian, there is a time and there is a place and there is a beginning to your life in Jesus Christ and hopefully, you can identify that time this morning and rejoice afresh, that there was a time in your life by the gracious overtones, the spirit of God when he brought you to conviction and faith in Jesus Christ and in a moment instantly for me around about quarter to nine on a Sunday night on Antrim Road in Belfast, I was changed for all of eternity. I moved from darkness to life and the things I once loved, I began to hate, the things that once bored me, I began to begin intensely excited about. There has to be that time and that place in each of our lives.

Listen to these words by Erwin Lutzer, “The new birth is instantaneous. It happens at a specific moment in time. There are many events that lead up to it once it happens, but it’s sudden and complete. The new birth is never repeated.” Medieval theology taught that conversion was a process, a never-ending, often torturous experience on right to perfection, but not so. A healthy child is born complete everything in place. The baby will have 10 toes, 10 fingers, and even 10 fingernails. Its ears will be perfect, a tribute to God’s creative ability. In the same way when we are born spiritually, everything is in place. We are God’s children, partakers of the divine nature and made complete in Jesus Christ and the only thing we have to do is grow. Now, let me have a footnote and be done. I know this raises a question. It’s a question I’ve faced as a pastor. It’s a question I’ve faced in my home with one of my daughters and the question is this, what if you can’t, in your mind, categorically or clearly remember that time or that point?

Does that mean that you’re not born again? Maybe, but not necessarily. Not necessarily. Of course, there has to be a starting point, whether you remember it or not. With a young Christian who came to Christ early, the parents can remember that time. They can share that testimony but that time may not be vivid in the mind of the child and so questions are raised, “Am I saved? Because I don’t remember that night as clearly as mama dad does,” or perhaps you came to Christ, not violently, not clearly, but almost through a series of events and you’re not exactly sure within that series of events when you turn to corner and when your life was given to Christ. That’s a possibility. In fact, JC Ryle in his book on regeneration says that, “Of this, we may be sure there is a starting point in Christ,” but as JC Ryle notes, “With some, it is a sudden and violent change with others. It is a gentle and a more gradual change. Their winter becomes spring almost without their knowing it.”

Now, here’s the point I want you to get. I think this is helpful and I was helped in a sermon I listened to on the subject of regeneration by Adrian Rogers. He said this, “If you cannot know the day you were born, your life tells you that you were,” and his point is this, well, you might not be able to remember the time and the place. You can take a look at your life perhaps based on a book like first John, which says these things are written that you might know that you’re born again or that you might know that you have life, and while you may not be able to remember the time or the place, if you look at your life and your life bears the fruit of regeneration, the mark of the work of the Holy Spirit, sovereign and sudden and supernatural, where you love the brethren, where you turn from sin, where you have a correct theology of the person work of Jesus Christ.

If these things are true of you and you can see that your life is the work of the Spirit of God, then you may draw from that that there was a point in time when that work began. I like the story of Will Rogers going to get a passport. He needed it and so he got there and they asked him for his birth certificate. He said, “What for?” They said, “To prove your birth.” He looked at the lady and said, “I’m here, ain’t I?” I think something of that can be true in the life of someone who may not be able to clearly or categorically remember. Now, that should be the exception, by the way, rather than the rule. For most of us, and I think for most of us, most of the time, there should be a very clear and decisive understanding of when we came to Jesus Christ.

You could be born again and not know it, then you could lose your salvation and not miss it, but at the same time there are in certain souls or rather quiet, but nevertheless true conversion to Jesus Christ. It’s no less real than a violent, sudden, clear, definitive turning to Christ and on that analogy of the life, Adrian Rogers gave this analogy, which I’ll cannibalize and put it into our context. Imagine you and I going down to John Wayne airport this morning and catching a flight for Portland, Oregon. At some stage within the flight we will cross the border between California and the state of Oregon. Now, unless the pilot tells you that, you’re not going to know that. I’ll tell you how you know and when you know you’ve crossed the state line into Oregon when you get off the plane in Portland. You may not know when you crossed the state line, but when you get to Portland, you know you did cross the state line. Again, if you look at your life and you sense and know the willing and the work of the Spirit of God in your life, there has come about a change. You love the word, you love the son of God. You love the people of God. You hate what God hates. You love what God loves and you’re overcoming the world.

Your life tells you that you were born again by the Spirit of God. This is a great doctrine. It’s not minor, it’s major. It’s the first and foremost work of the Holy Spirit and we’ll come back to look at it some more. Next time, let’s pray.

Lord, I want to thank you this morning for that day and that hour in my own life at the age of 16 when I came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It seemed as if I was doing that for you. Yet as I’ve come to understand your word, I see more clearly that you were doing that in me. Your spirit was bringing me to life suddenly and singularly that evening, and I moved from going to hell to going to heaven, because I was born from above. Lord God, I thank you for marks of regeneration and signs of life, and I pray that each of us indeed would spend some time today and ask ourself that most fundamental of all questions, am I born again, for I must be born again or I will not see the Kingdom of Heaven or enter it.

Oh God. We need to urgently settle that question because we are born in sin separated from you and we will stay separated from you in a second death experience apart from grace. God, we do not want to be on the backside of your presence in the darkness of Hell forever. Lord God help us to know that singular moment, that definite time when indeed we closed in with your offer of mercy. Lord, help us to preach this message like George Whitfield. There are all around us, those who are in their depravity and who are to the wrong destiny. Help us Lord, to unflinchingly tell them they must be born again and when they tell us not to tell us, tell them. Help us to tell them once more. Lord, we pray that you will continue to help us to grasp the work of the spirit of God. We don’t want him to be some impersonal force, some vague power source. We want to know him intimately because he has come to bring the work of Christ to us and he has come to do the work of God through us. These things we ask and pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.