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February 13, 2010
Back from the Dead – Part 2
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


Let’s take our Bibles and turn to John chapter three. If you’re with us for the first time this morning, we’re glad you’re here and we are in a series of monthly studies on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, a series we have entitled You Have The Advantage. The Christian has an advantage over the non-Christian because you and I are in dwelt by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus said? He said, “I go away and if I go away, that’s to your advantage. It’s expedient that I go away because in my going, you have the spirits coming.” And one of the great benefits of the New Covenant and Christian era is that unique the Christian is indwelt by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if you’ve ever been caught out on Christmas Day.

It happened to me once. I bought my girls digital cameras when we were living in Ohio, but I didn’t read the box. Christmas morning, they turned into it only to find batteries not included and they had to wait till the next day, till I ran around to Myers and got some lithium batteries. And it’s good to know that as you and I begin our walk with God and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the batteries are included. The power source is given to us at conversion. At the moment we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re immediately brought into a union with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, we’re baptized by him, we’re sealed by him, and those are great truths that you and I need to grasp. We don’t need to live defeated Christian lives. The batteries are included and this morning we’re coming back to look at what we might call the foundational and fundamental work of the Holy Spirit and that is in regeneration.

This is the doctrine we call being born again. Let’s read about it in John chapter three, verses one through 10. “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 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? He wasn’t getting it. He’s like, “What are you talking about? You can only be born once. You’re talking about being born twice.”

Verse five, “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. 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 and 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?”” He’s still not getting it. Jesus answered and said to him, and the inference of verse 10 is he should have got it, which kind of points to the fact that some of this truth of which Jesus is speaking is to be found in the Old Testament. He’s a teacher of Israel.

“You’re not getting this? You should know this.” Verse 10, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?” Back from the dead, that’s what we want to look at again this morning. Last time we were together, we grasped the fact that we need to underscore the reality that Christianity is not a matter of turning a new leaf. It’s a matter of experiencing a new life. There comes a point for a man or a woman on earth when they are born from above, something radical takes place. It’s not a reformation on the outside, it’s a matter of regeneration, new life on the inside. The Christian is not someone who’s been made better but someone who’s been made new. They’re a new creature in Christ and all things have passed away and all things have become new. We said that the New Testament pictures salvation as a rebirth, a new creation, a coming out of a state of spiritual death into a state of spiritual life.

I love that verse John 5:24 where we’re encouraged to put our belief in Jesus Christ and the one who sent them so that we might pass from death unto life and not come into the judgment. There’s a good definition of what it means to become a Christian. There comes a moment on earth when you’re born from above and through the work of the Holy Spirit, we move out of a state of spiritual death and separation from God into a state of spiritual life and friendship with God. My father used to tell me of meetings he used to go to in Belfast called the Coalmen’s mission. It was down in the harbor of Belfast. It was something that rocked so many years ago. So many people came to Christ. Lives were changed and it was led by a dynamic little evangelist called Sammy Spence or as he was affectionately known, Sammy Dodger Spence, and the unique thing about Sammy Dodger Spence was that he drove around in a hearse.

He had a black hearse. That’s what he drove around in and on the side of the hearse, he had these words painted, “From death to life.” A great illustration, isn’t it, of what really should take place in the life of a man or a woman who’s destined to leave earth for heaven because Jesus said here, didn’t he, “That unless you and I are born again, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven?” We said last time that the born again Christian is not a certain brand of Christianity. The born again Christian is the only type of Christian the Bible knows. If you are not a born again Christian, you are not a Christian. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” So let’s look somewhat further this morning at this issue of being born again and the doctrine of regeneration. This is a work of the Holy Spirit.

We started to look at three things and we want to close this out this morning. We looked at the necessity of the new birth. It’s unmistakable. Jesus requires that you and I be born again. You must be born again. That’s what Jesus says here in verse seven, and we need to be born again for two reasons. One centers upon our first birth and one centers upon the possibility of a second death. You and I are born in a state of alienation, separation, and spiritual deadness towards God. We’re in Adam. His sin has been passed and imputed to us and we are born separated from God, dead to God and the things of God. We need to be born from above. That all needs to change in a relationship with the one who is God’s son come from heaven to earth that we might go from earth to heaven.

We need to be born again as it relates to our first birth because we’re born in a state of natural life but into a state of spiritual death and that needs to change and the Bible holds out the possibility and the specter that if you and I are not born again, we’ll never see the kingdom of heaven. And if we don’t go to heaven, we go to hell. The Bible describes that as a second death. And the first death is where our souls separated from our bodies and the second death, our souls are separated from God. Oh, we must be born again. We need life from above that we might indeed find ourselves one day in heaven. Then we started to look at what we might call the nature of new birth. What’s involved in being born again? We started to look at some manifest facts concerning the work of the spirit of God in the soul of man.

There’s three of them. We looked at one last time. It’s a singular work. You’re only born again once. You don’t become a Christian a dozen times in your life. That just is impossible because if you look at this whole metaphor and motif of birth, you only have one birth, right? And you only have one second birth. There are many ways to go out of this world but only one way to come into this world. I have one birthday, the 27th of September, 1961, and I have one spiritual birth, the 28th of January, 1978. You and I need to nail that down and we looked at that and if you haven’t heard the message from last month, you might want to get your hands on it, but let’s move on. There’s two other things we want to cover here.

In the nature of the new birth, what’s involved in it? It’s not only a singular work, it’s a sovereign work. It’s a sovereign work. The word regeneration is a doctrinal theological term for new life, being brought to a state of new life. Regeneration is something that God does for man, in man, and to man. If you and I are to be born again, it’s because of the work of God. We are simply recipients, not actors in this deal. If you and I are to be saved, we must be born from above and the movement is from heaven to earth and from God to man. I use the term “born from above” because the term born again can be translated that way, born again, born from above. God is the spring of redemption’s work. God is the antecedent of salvation. What do I mean by that? He’s behind every conversion. Standing behind a man’s conversion is God’s work. God produces that.

The psalmist in Psalm 3:8 and doesn’t Jonah in Jonah 2, verse 9 say that salvation belongs to the Lord? It’s his to give and it’s his to keep. Now you see this truth in the whole motif again of birth itself. Jesus tells us here in a couple of occasions, verse three, “You must be born again if you’re going to see the kingdom of heaven.” He repeats it again in verse seven. “Don’t marvel that I say that this needs to take place.” And the new birth, just like the natural birth, is something that happens to us apart from us. Do you consciously remember in your mother’s womb saying to yourself, “This is my day, my time?” No, you don’t because you had nothing to do with your birth. Your parents conceived you and your mother delivered you and you were passive, not active, in your natural birth, and what’s true of your natural birth is true of your spiritual birth. Birth is not something any one of us wills. None of us decided to bring ourselves to birth. While life has many choices, life for all of us was not a choice.

We had no control whatsoever over the hour we were conceived or over the day we were born. And sadly, sometimes truth comes out in a very negative way when a child in a fit of rage might be bold enough and cheeky enough to utter those horrible and hurtful words to a parent, “I didn’t ask to be born,” but there’s a truth in that, right? None of us asked to be born. We had no control over our conception or our delivery. What is true of natural birth is true of new birth. It is a sovereign work of God. The new birth is not something anyone can give himself or get for himself. We don’t will ourselves into salvation. Of course, we’ve got to embrace it. We’ve got to make a conscious, willful choice to choose for Jesus Christ, but standing behind our will is God’s will, bringing us to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And I think the more mature we come and the more biblical we are in an understanding, we’ll come to see that, that we didn’t will our salvation, God willed it. We didn’t will our natural birth and we didn’t will our new birth. In fact, to get a little grammatical here and I won’t lose you, all the verbs here in John 3 are in what’s called the passive voice in the Greek. You guys are smart enough. It simply means that the person being talked about or the thing being talked about is being produced from an outside source. If that was in the active voice, it would be saying, “You must be born again.” That is, “You need to do this,” but that’s not how the Greek puts it. It’s in the passive, “You must be born again,” implicitly. If it’s going to happen, someone else will do it.

And so here we see that salvation is a sovereign work. The takeaway from that is, and this is something that should bring us to a point of worship and prayers, that which we must do, we cannot do. That which we must do, we cannot do. The one thing that’s necessary is the very thing beyond our power to perform. Jesus says, “You must be born again,” but that’s going to happen from above. That’s not something Nicodemus will will or bring about. That’s something God will bring about in his life and Nicodemus need to respond to the work of God. If we are to be saved, God must do it. As Philip Ryken says, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit for spiritual rebirth as we are on our parents for physical birth. No matter how much we go into labor, reading self-improvement books, keeping religious rituals, following moral codes, living within the Ten Commandments, there’s no way we can deliver ourselves into a spiritual state of life.

We didn’t deliver ourselves naturally and we won’t deliver ourselves spiritually. This is a sovereign work and it is sovereign mercy and it should bring about in us a humble and worshipful heart as we look back to the day we were born again from above. That was all God. You weren’t smart enough and you weren’t alive enough to make that kind of decision by yourself. In fact, as someone said to me many years ago, “Philip, the only thing you contributed to your salvation was the thing that made it necessary, your sin.” It’s a great statement. In fact, you get this picture reinforced, don’t you, in the whole motif of the new creation? We’ve looked at different pictures of salvation. There’s a montage of images, birth, creation. If any man’s in Christ, he’s a new creation. Similar language, new birth, new creation. In birth, life is created, new life in Jesus Christ and that’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, “We are new creatures in Christ and just as all of physical life is a gift from God, so all of spiritual life is a gift from God.”

Did God consult you in the creation? No, he acted sovereignly, omnipotently, in ex nihilo. Out of nothing, he created everything. He stepped from behind the curtain of nowhere onto the platform of nothing and created everything. Sovereignly he brought about life. And I think what holds true for the old creation holds true for the new creation. In fact, Paul picks that theme up, doesn’t he? In 2 Corinthians four, verse six, he says this, “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness who’s shone in our hearts with the light of Jesus Christ.” What’s Paul saying? Just like God sovereignly and omnipotently spoke light into existence in the old creation, so he does that in the new creation. Life and light in Jesus Christ is brought about as an act of God. Guys, this should grind our pride to powder.

This should leave us with nowhere to stand with any thought, you know what, that we did this. For by grace, are we saved through faith that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. You and I need to grasp that fact. Listen to JC Ryle in his little book, Regeneration. “This change is one which no man can give to himself nor yet to another. It would be as reasonable to expect the dead to raise themselves or require an artist to give a marble statue life. The sons of God are born not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, not of the will of man, but of God.” John one verses 12 through 13. I haven’t read enough and I’m intrigued to read more of the life of CS Lewis. He’s hard to pin down in some areas theologically.

In fact, in some he’s clearly not where we are. But that aside, it seems that he went through a series of spiritual awakenings that brought him to confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But do you know that he describes himself in his own biography and his own conversion as the most reluctant convert in all of England? And remember that the next time you watch the Narnia Chronicles. He says, “I was a reluctant convert.” In fact, listen to some words from his book, Christian Reflections. “I never had the experience of looking for God. It was the other way round. He was the hunter, I was the deer. He stalked me like a redskin, took unerring aim and fired, and I am very thankful that it is how the first conscious meeting occurred. It forearms one against subsequent fears that the whole thing was only wishful thinking. Something one didn’t wish for can hardly be that.”

At this point, he didn’t go, “Oh, I’ll give Christianity a try.” No, God hunted him down, brought him to act against his own natural will and made him the most reluctant convert in all of England. It’s sovereign, it’s surprising, and it’s sweet. I love some of the old hymns and I hope we never lose them. One that is ministered to me for many, many years is that old hymn, Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me. You know the words of Toplady, “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands, could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, not for sin could these atone…” What is it? “Thou must save and thou alone.” Sovereign work. It’s a singular work. It’s a sovereign work. And finally under this thought, it’s a supernatural work. It’s a supernatural work. Jesus tells us that God is the antecedent to salvation and that is God through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes it clear if we’re going to be born again, it will be as a result of the supernatural actions of the Holy Spirit as he presses the claims of Christ upon our souls. Look at verse five. Jesus said, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” We cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we’re born again and we won’t be born again unless we’re born of water and the spirit. We’ll get to that phrase in a moment. It’s a difficult one and I could spend the rest of the morning on it, so I need to be careful just cutting bits out. But I want you to grapple with this because there’s a lot of misunderstanding about that phrase, but the point is this, the Christian is God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus onto good works, through the artistry of the Holy Spirit.

When a man becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, an authentic, aggressive follower of Jesus Christ, what you’re witnessing is something beyond the natural order. He didn’t will this. In fact, he might have been reluctantly brought to this, but the spirit of God has awakened him. He now has fallen into love with Jesus Christ and now he loves the things he once hated and hates the things he once loved. He’s been changed. And as you watch that transformation, you’ve got to realize beneath it and behind it stands the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing this man to new life. It’s a great thing to witness and we’ve witnessed it in some of your lives. The flesh gives rise to natural life, but the spirit gives rise to spiritual life. Look at verse six. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.”

On the 27th of September, 1961, I was born to William and Elizabeth De Courcy in the Belfast city hospital. Flesh gave rise to flesh. But on the 28th of January, 1978 in Anton Road Baptist Church in the north side of that city, I was born to the Holy Spirit and into the family of God. As I heard my youth leader speak on Matthew 24:44, “In such an hour as you think not the son of God is coming. As you come to him, will he come for you.” Oh my friend, this is a supernatural work. Let’s dig for a few moments. We’ll take about 10 minutes on this so I can get to the last point, but what is this that Jesus is speaking about here? Hang with me. This will get a little technical and theological, but you know what? You’ve got to grapple with this because your eternal destiny hangs in this. Misunderstand this phrase and you’re in trouble because Jesus said you must be born again and you must be born of water and spirit.

Now, there’s a variety of views. I’m going to move quickly. There’s four in all. Some see the word water as a reference to natural birth. They would argue this, that when Jesus talks about water, he’s talking about the amniotic fluid, right? We all know what our wives, their waters… What? Break, signals birth. Could it be Jesus is speaking about natural birth? And here’s the argument. Here’s what he’s saying. You have to be born once to be born twice. That would be the argument. Just as you’ve had a natural birth which brings you into a state of death in Adam, you need a spiritual birth that brings you into a state of life in Christ. So you must be born of water and the spirit. You must have a natural birth to have a spiritual birth. While there’s some things that commend that view, I think it’s weak on a number of areas.

The whole motif of water and birth isn’t consistent in the Old and the New Testament. Plus the Greek construction here, these two words are governed by one preposition which would make you read water and spirit as one conceptual unit. There’s a unity of thought here. They’re not two separate ideas. And then finally, we know that this is an equivalent to birth from above. It seems hard to press natural birth into that. Water and spirit must speak completely and be equivalent to born from above. Here’s number two, second view. Some see the word water as a reference to baptism. Okay, I’m going to stand on some toes this morning, but that’s okay. This could refer to either John’s baptism of repentance or Jesus baptism as a believer comes to faith in him and this persists to today. Roman Catholics teach that as a child in infancy are baptized and in the act of baptism, through the sacrament of baptism, your original sin is removed and you are infused with God’s grace and the beginning of spiritual life begins.

That is the clear teaching of the Roman Catholic system. Anglicanism and Lutheranism and others to varying degrees teach this also. In fact, Anglicanism especially teaches that infant baptism produces regeneration, that the child is made a child of God in the act of baptism. I think all that thinking’s a curse. Read the life of CH Spurgeon. He had two great controversies in his life. One was with the downgrade that the Baptists were moving away from the Bible and its authenticity and its inherency and the other was he wrote a sermon on baptismal regeneration which he cursed and damned as something unbiblical and something that brings people into a state of spiritual deception. Within a week or two, there was a quarter of a million copies of that sermon made and all sorts of controversy started up around it because he was attacking the Church of England, which was ingrained in Britain and saying, “You know what? Infant baptism is not biblical and this is not what Jesus means here when he talks about water and the spirit.”

This is a whole subject in itself, but let me give you a couple of quick reasons why it cannot be baptism here. Nowhere in the New Testament, nowhere, find it for me, will you find that salvation is administered or mediated through some external religious rite or action. Nowhere. In fact, in Galatians, Paul argues the opposite when he says, “Hey, if you talk about circumcision being a means of salvation, you’re making the cross void.” Empty, useless. Our salvation is completely and wholly through Christ, personally through Christ. That aside, what’s interesting is in the rest of this chapter, there’s no mention of baptism while there’s consistent mention of faith. Okay, look at chapter three here in John, verse 15, “Whoever believes in Christ should not perish but have everlasting life.” What’s the condition of receiving the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection? Faith, faith alone.

Look at verse 16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Look at verse 18. “He who believes in him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already.” There’s no mention of baptism and if baptism was clearly what was intended in water, you would think when Jesus here talks about how you get eternal life, how you get away from being under the condemnation of God, you would think he would clarify that, wouldn’t you? But he doesn’t because it’s consistently true throughout the New Testament, that belief alone in Christ is the condition upon which the soul comes to life in God. I won’t have enough time to turn you to these, but if this is an issue you need to think through… Maybe some of you still go to a church where baptism like this is practiced.

You need to read the Bible. Read Matthew 28, verses 18 through 20. Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into all the world, make disciples, and then baptize.” Make disciples, bring people to follow me, know me, respond to me. That can’t happen in a child that’s totally unconscious of what’s going on. You’re a disciple first, then you’re baptized and you see this throughout the Book of Acts. Acts chapter two, verses 40 through 41 that they have Pentecost. Peter has preached the gospel and he says, “You know what? You need to save yourself from this wicked generation,” and here’s what it says in Acts 2:41. “They that gladly received the word were baptized.” Who were baptized? Those who received the gospel. They had heard Peter, they had responded to the claims of Jesus Christ and the invitation to eternal life and they were then baptized.

You’ll find that again in Acts chapter eight, verse 36 through 39, Ethiopian eunuch hears the gospel. He’s reading the Isaiah, Philip comes along, explains it, and then here’s the question that the Ethiopian eunuch has for Philip. “What’s stopping me being baptized?” The old King James would’ve put it like this, “What doth hinder me to be baptized? Can I be baptized now, Philip?” And Philip says, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?” And the Ethiopian eunuch says, “I do. I do believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. He is the one Isaiah talked about. He’s the one who died on the cross for our sins, was wounded for our transgressions,” and Philip and him go down into the water and he’s baptized. Who’s baptized? A believer is baptized.

The Bible knows nothing about infant baptism. It does know something about instant baptism, not infant but instant. The moment you and I believe is the moment you and I should as early as possible obey the command of Jesus Christ to be baptized. Again Acts chapter 16, we won’t turn to it. Philippian jailer, he gets saved. He puts his belief in Jesus Christ because Paul says… What? “You must believe in Jesus to be saved.” And it says he believes and his whole household believes and it says, “The whole household was baptized.” This fallacy that can continue to be promoted that, “You know what? See, there you go. The whole household was baptized, children and everybody.” No, read the text. It says, “And the household believed.” An infant can’t believe. Jesus isn’t talking about baptism here.

And you know what? The very fact that Jesus says in verse 10, “Nicodemus, you’re a teacher in Israel and you don’t know this?” Baptism was not part of the Jewish religion. Circumcision was the mark of entrance into that covenant community. And so whatever Jesus is talking about in relation to the water and the spirit, it’s in the Old Testament. But baptism is absent from the Old Testament, so it can’t be baptism. It really can’t. In fact, let me quote Spurgeon and we’ll move on. “I’m amazed that an unconscious babe should be made the partaker of an ordinance, which according to the planned teaching of scripture requires the conscious and complete trust of the recipient. Very few, if any, would argue that infants ought to receive the Lord’s Supper, but there is no more spiritual and scriptural warrant for bringing them to one ordinance and not bringing them to the other.” Even in those churches where baptism of infants takes place, which I believe is totally unbiblical and dangerous because there are thousands of people in this world and I’ve met hundreds of them who tell me they were born again when they were baptized.

That’s a damnable line. It’ll send people to hell, apart from regeneration and the spirit and the word. But it’s interesting, even in those churches, the child gets one of the ordinances but doesn’t get the other when the Christian’s meant to get both. Here’s the third view. Water may refer to the word itself, the Bible, the scriptures. I lean towards this one, but hold the thought. New birth certainly comes about by our response to the gospel, doesn’t it? We read in James chapter one, verse 18, that, “Of his own will, God begot us, God brought us to birth and put us into his family by the truth.” The means is the truth. You read in 1 Peter one verse 23 that, “We were born again not of corruptible seed but incorruptible seed,” and you read in the passage the incorruptible seed is… What? The scriptures. Jesus often likens the word to seed, doesn’t he? The whole Matthew 13, parable of the sower.

So this is very possible because just as every child has two parents, so every Christian has two parents, the spirit of God working through the word of God, bringing us to faith in the son of God, but hold that thought, I’ll come back to it. Here’s the fourth view, and this is the one I actually fully embrace. The fourth view is this. The fourth view is that the water speaks of the spirit himself. Given the fact that Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand this, we may confidently conclude that Jesus was talking about something in the Old Testament, and you know what? Water is often associated with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Let me give you a couple of verses quickly. Isaiah 44 and verse three, “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty and floods on the dry ground, I will pour my spirit on my descendants.”

Very clear reference to the spirit’s work and water being the kind of image of what He does. He refreshes, he brings life, he cleanses. Similar thought in Ezekiel chapter 36. We probably have the anticipation of the new covenant in the Lord Jesus Christ and in verse 24, “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all the countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit within you.” Verse 27, “I will put my Spirit within you.” This isn’t a literal cleansing, this is a spiritual cleansing. The Holy Spirit is like water. He cleanses and refreshes and brings life.

Isn’t that the very image that Paul picks up in Titus chapter three in verses four through six, that we are saved not by anything we do, but by God’s mercy and through the regenerating the water of the Spirit? Same image and we won’t go to John four and John seven where Jesus says to the woman who’s at the well at Samaria, whose life is rather empty. She’s gone from one husband to the next and she’s still not satisfied. Jesus said, “Hey, I’ve got water and if you drink it, you’ll never thirst again.” And he was speaking of the spirit. In John seven, the spirit is likened onto a stream or a well of water that bubbles up in the life of a Christian. Here’s what I want to do to conclude this just in two or three minutes here and get quickly to the last point.

I would fuse views three and four. I would fuse views three and four in that I think you and I are brought to faith in Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit and through the agency of the word of God, preached and received. That’s clearly the case. The spirit of God is the fundamental cause and the word of God and the gospel is the instrumental cause that brings us to put our faith in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And you’ve seen that at work in your own life, you’ve seen it at work in other people’s lives where the word of God is preached either in a pulpit or in personal conversation or on the street or someone’s reading it in a track or printed form and all of a sudden, they get it, they grasp it, they receive it because the spirit of God is opening their darkened minds.

The spirit of God is bringing their dead soul to life and they begin to see what they’ve never seen before. That’s why it’s amazing. One week they look like they’re as far from God as hell itself and the next week they are soundly saved and that’s the work of the spirit of God through the word of God. I have a friend back in Northern Ireland called David Hamilton, David “Packie” Hamilton, former Protestant terrorist. He belonged to the UVF, the Ulster Volunteer Force. He was caught on a number of occasions. He was sentenced three times and in his last sentence, he went down for 44 years. The day he was sentenced, his mom was sitting in David’s uncle’s house, despairing, concluding that her son was a hopeless case, another victim of the troubles of Northern Ireland. And in that house that day was an 83-year-old woman who said that, “God can change David, Mrs. Hamilton.”

She gave her a polite nod but certainly never believed it. And she said, “You know what, Mrs. Hamilton, I’m going to pray for David’s conversion every day of my life.” And she did. If you hear David tell a story, he’ll talk about at times when he was in prison and he had the Gideon’s Bible. He’d often rip one of the pages of the Bible out and roll his tobacco in it and have a smoke. He says, “I used to smoke the Bible, but then one day the Bible smoked me.” And that’s exactly what happened to him. If you read his conversion story, he’s sitting on the edge of his bed 14 months later drinking a cup of tea and he sees a gospel track in his cell because Gideon’s would work in and chaplains were going in and out and he grabs the track and he throws it out the window.

He says, “I got to get thought of church and Christianity out of my mind.” He says, “Prison’s bad, but church is worse.” Sitting there drinking tea and can’t get the thought out of his mind, begins to think about Christianity and even becoming a Christian. He said in his own words, “This is terrible. Someone has put dope in my tea. Why am I thinking like this?” And he pulls down his Bible and then he starts thinking to himself, “You know what? Hold on, hold the press. Even if I wanted to become a Christian, Christianity is for nice people, good people, not terrorists, Sitting out a 44 years sentence.” Leaves that Bible alone without opening it. And then he thinks to himself, “You know what? God has kept me alive for all these years.” In fact, the IRA had tried to kill him on three occasions and so he does pull the Bible down and he starts to read with the help of the flyleaf at the front, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The spirit, using the word of God, brings him to see that the gospel is not for good people. The gospel’s for bad people and his own words said, “I prayed that prayer on my knees on January 29th, 1980. I asked the Lord Jesus to save me. God changed me that day. I began to read the word of God and I can honestly say my life changed. That day, I stopped smoking, stopped taking dope, stopped drinking, everything changed.” And he actually today is an evangelist for Christ across the UK. He’s brought IRA terrorists to Christ. He’s brought sex offenders to Christ. He has seen people’s lives change like God changed him. It was done by the spirit of God. He’s another reluctant convert.

You think he got up that day and say, “I want to become a Christian?” In fact, when the thoughts started entering his mind, he said, “I got to get this stuff out of my mind. This is crazy.” The spirit of God, using the word of God, brings him to faith and he’s born again. Has there been a moment in your life like that? There has to be. Don’t be telling me about your baptism as a child. Don’t be to me about your good works. Remember, it’s not your work. It’s God’s work. Has God brought you to faith in Jesus Christ? Have you been born again? And if you have, your life would have changed. For the last five minutes, we look at the notice of the new birth. The notice of the new birth, it’s not explicit in the text, but it is implicit.

A new birth leads to new behavior, okay? Birth leads to life. Life follows birth. Just as you and I have physical life after our natural birth, we will evidence spiritual life after our new birth. You can’t have birth without life and you can have conversion without change. I love my brother, my contrarian, and sometimes when we’re playing golf or we’re just talking, he’ll talk about his exploits in the past and his craziness, but all of a sudden he’ll catch himself on because he doesn’t want a glory in that. And he’ll say, “Pastor, that was BC.” Get it? Before Christ, BC. There needs to be a BC in all of our lives and an AD, the before Christ and the after Christ when life is changed, radically changed. In fact, even in the image of the wind, while we can’t trace the wind’s origin, again, it’s sovereign like God’s work in the soul. You can see it’s a fact, can’t you?

You can see a tree blowing in the wind. You can hear the sails of a ship flapping down at Newport Harbor. Jesus says here, doesn’t he, about the spirit of God, verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes. You hear the sign of it but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes, so is everyone who is born of the spirit.” By natural birth, we inherit Adam’s nature and we act accordingly. But in new birth, we receive a new nature that makes us a new creature in Christ and we act accordingly. The old life passes and the new life comes. And like the wind, the spirit’s presence will be felt. The thief will become honest. The terrorists like David “Packie” Hamilton will become a peacemaker. The drunk will become dry, the immoral person will become pure and the proud will become humble and the callous will become loving. You’ve heard me say it before, but you’ll hear me say it many times as my old pastor, Ivan Thompson, who was a trophy of God’s grace himself said, “If there’s no change, there’s something strange because new birth leads to new behavior.”

The bad tree, Jesus said… What? Bad fruit. If the roots of our life are in Adam, bad fruit. But the good tree, good fruit. If the roots of our life are in Jesus Christ, good fruit. That won’t be a perfect change. We won’t all of a sudden become full-grown in Christ. That doesn’t mean we won’t be tempted. It doesn’t mean we won’t fall, but we’ll be getting up, cleaning ourselves in the blood of Jesus Christ and through the cleansing agency of the word, and we’ll be getting back onto the path of obedience, and our obedience will be greater than our disobedience. Guys, don’t fool yourself and don’t let others be fooled that you know. If there’s no change, something strange. People don’t come to church, if people don’t read their Bible, if people don’t get excited about worship, and I don’t care what style of music it is, because we worship in the spirit and in truth, if people don’t have a heart to see people saved.

Listening to someone there, they tell me about someone on the fringes of our church, they cannot do church at home. Really? “For seek not the assembling of yourselves together.” Your family isn’t God’s family in totality, and we’ve got to pursue Christ and pursue Christians and pursue non-Christians. I was intending to do a little excursion into 1 John, I don’t have time. But I command you, you must read 1 John, because the Gospel of John was written in John 20 and verse 21 that you might believe that Jesus is the son of God and have life, but the epistle, the first letter of John towards the back of your Bible was written, verse chapter five and verse 13, that you might know that you have eternal life.

And you’ll find all kinds of tests. I come up with six. I think there’s more in there and look out for these little phrases like, “We know that we know God if we love the brethren, we don’t keep on sinning, we confess Jesus to be the son of God, we’ve got a proper doctrine of Christ.” And there’s many, many more. Oh, it’ll read something like this. “Those that love are born of God because love is of God.” Another task. If you don’t love God’s people… I mean that was one of the evidences to me that I was converted. I grew up in a pretty small little church, wasn’t dynamic. If you don’t like the worship here, you should have heard the worship there. It was an organ and it wasn’t even played well. And an organ that’s not played well is crushing to the ears.

Believe it or not, for a period of my life when I wasn’t a believer, I was a skinhead. I had the crew cut, I had the jeans, I had the Dr. Martens boots, and I used to skulk my way into church because it was only a street or two away from our house. I didn’t want my friends to see me. I lived in utter fear of the boys seeing me, but I had no choice. My dad grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and brought me to church every Sunday. Kicking, screaming, whining, it didn’t matter because he knew that if I was to be saved, it would have to be the spirit of God and the word of God that would do it. And so when I got saved, it was amazing. I wasn’t ashamed to go to church. I carried my Scofield Bible right under my arm, walked down the street. Some of these people who I’d never have been seen dead with, now I was talking to them and learning from them and loving them.

An old man by the name of Mr. Bailey was like something out of a horror movie, black suit, bowler hat, stern face. If you met him in the restroom, it was like, “Whoa.” I started talking to him and I learned of his love for Christ and he started to help me grasp the Bible. He was still pretty stiff. I think he could have lightened up a little bit, but that’s the kind of change that goes on. Read 1 John that you might know that you have eternal life. These are the birthmarks of the believer. Of course, they won’t be manifest in everybody’s life to the same degree, but they will be there over time and in large measure. And if they’re not there, if those evidences of life in Christ are not there, you’ve only one thing to conclude. You’re still dead in your sin and in your trespasses and you are facing the second death because there’s never been the second birth.

WP Nicholson was a famous Irish evangelist God used mightily to bring some waves of revival to Northern Ireland, which is a story in itself, but he saw hundreds come to Christ. But as with Jesus, some of the conversions were true, Some of the conversions were false. We read in the gospels in John 6, “Those who followed him didn’t follow him anymore.” We read in the parable of the sower, some of the seed looks like it’s taking and then it doesn’t take. And one day he was walking the street and a man staggered out of a public house more than a little bit under the influence of alcohol, and a man nudged Nicholson said, “Hey, there’s one of your converts.” Nicholson said, “He is because he’s certainly not the Lord’s.” True conversion has certain marks to it.

Read about it in 1 John, birth issues into life, and as you and I seek God and surrender ourselves to God and the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, we do move from death to life and from darkness to light and the path of the justice as a light that keeps burning brighter and brighter grows more and more each and every day. Hopefully, you are born again. Don’t put any trust in your baptism. Don’t think that salvation is something you do for God. If that’s where you’re at, surrender to Jesus Christ today. Come to him by faith. Let this be your second birthday for without a second birthday, you’re going to face a second death.

When we were up at Masters having lunch with John MacArthur and Vince Evans and Garrett Anderson, John asked Garrett, who we know here at our church, “Garrett, what’s the greatest game in your professional life so far?” What do you think he said? What’s the greatest game, Garrett, in your professional life? The World Series, remember? No Garrett without thinking just said, “John, it was the day I made it to the major leagues. It was the day I walked out onto Angels field to play Oakland. I remember my first game, I remember my first hit.” He says, “In fact, I have forgotten whole seasons…” These are exact words. “I have forgotten whole seasons, but that day I can replay in my mind in slow motion from the locker room to the field.” It was the first day. It was the day he made it to the big leagues.

The greatest day in the life of any man or woman or child is the day that while on earth, they’re born from above and they go from a state of death into life and a state of darkness into light. I hope there is that day in your life because that final day is coming, and without that birth, there is nothing but unending death apart from Christ. Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for these men, for this meaty but marvelous study this morning. And Lord, we want to nail this down because really nothing else matters if we miss this or misunderstand this because we must be born again, and while the spirit of God will do many things in our life, he will fill us and seal us and help us to understand your word, he will give us gifts to be used in your body, it all begins here.

And I pray that each of us, myself included, will make our calling in election sure, that we can look back to a day when it all began, when we were changed, and we have never been to see him before. We think of that, the words of that old hymn, “Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful day, a day I will never forget.” Oh God, help us to live out our commitment to Jesus Christ. May he be seen more and more in us. Less of us, more of Him. Oh God, we thank you for your singular, sovereign, supernatural work in each of our lives. Continue what we pray. Make us more like him, make us greater followers of Him, and if someone today has not come to faith in Jesus Christ, may this day, they be born again, born from above. Lord, we pray that not ours but in Jesus’ name. Amen.