A Look at John 3: Regeneration and the Kingdom

Jesus tells Nicodemus (3:3),

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.

This came as a shock to Nicodemus — I must be born again? How does this rebirth happen…must I enter my mother’s womb a second time?

Jesus clarifies (5),

Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus tells this Master of Israel that he should already know these things. In fact, Jesus is alluding to the various New Covenant passages from the OT.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Nicodemus is a ruler of Israel and he isn’t aware that a new heart must be created within him, that he must be born from above? The New Covenant is the culmination of all the biblical covenants — yet Nicodemus was somehow missing this?

Jesus says,

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Nicodemus is mere flesh and does not have the power to regenerate himself — furthermore, he cannot see the kingdom in his present state because the kingdom is reserved for and limited to those which have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus continues (7),

Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.

Jesus is actually using a pun here. The biblical translated “again” is ανωθεν (as used in verses 3 and 7). However, this Greek word can also mean “from above.”

“You must be born from above!”

A Greek word can have many meanings, but only one in any particular context — unless of course the author intended a double meaning. I believe that is what Jesus has done here. He is telling Nicodemus that a new and spiritual birth must take place and that it can only occur from above.

This narrative reveals truth about the kingdom and about regeneration:

(1) Men cannot regenerate themselves — it is an act of God on their behalf.

(2) Nobody will see the kingdom apart from regeneration.

Allow me to narrow my view significantly. The only thing that I can do to advance the kingdom is to preach the gospel so that the souls of men can be regenerated! If men are cured from AIDS, but not from sin, they will miss the kingdom. If their stomachs are full, but their souls empty of Jesus, they will miss the kingdom. If their mouths are satisfied, but their souls still thirsty, they will miss the kingdom. Will the kingdom involve physical blessings — I believe it will. However, is advancing kingdom-like physical blessings the same as advancing the kingdom? Absolutely not. It’s a cheap counterfeit. There is no real kingdom apart from regeneration.

  1. #1 by Phil on July 22, 2007 - 12:08 pm

    I think you are kind of jumping to a big conclusion here. Isn’t there a difference between getting in the Kingdom and staying in? It seems to me that Christians are clearly called elsewhere in the Scripture to do things like feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

    When Jesus fed the 5,000 was it a demonstration of the Kingdom? I believe it was, most definitely. Were all of those 5,000 born again? It seems most likely they were not. Yet these people were able to literally taste the Kingdom.

    I’m not arguing against preaching, but I think Christians can expand the Kingdom in a lot of ways. If you take the definition of the Kingdom as the realm where God’s will is done, it seems that could include a whole number of things in addition to evangelism.

  2. #2 by clearly on July 22, 2007 - 12:32 pm

    When Jesus fed the 5,000 it was a clear demonstration of Jesus power and deity. I don’t see any kingdom language in any of the gospel accounts (correct me I am wrong). You are correct, they were not born from above, but they weren’t tasting the kingdom either. Many times Jesus did miracles to validate his message (the people knew the prophecies that Messiah would heal the lame, etc) or to show forth his power.

    You said, “If you take the definition of the Kingdom as the realm where God’s will is done, it seems that could include a whole number of things in addition to evangelism.”

    What is God’s will? I can think of one specific aspect of it…he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. God’s will is that we preach the gospel to those who have no power to regenerate themselves…to those who are born of flesh, but desperately need to be born of the Spirit. This happens by faith — faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. I am all for clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, etc. However, the purpose is a spiritual — sharing spiritual truth with them.

  3. #3 by mark on July 25, 2007 - 1:18 pm

    You said: “…The only thing that I can do to advance the kingdom is to preach the gospel so that the souls of men can be regenerated!…”

    Rob Bell seems to be saying that you are only half right. You not only need to be “preaching” but you also need to be “living” a life like Jesus did. If you are not living the life here and now then you are just an empty clanging gong.

  4. #4 by clearly on July 25, 2007 - 2:32 pm


    This post didn’t even mention Rob Bell. Can you demonstrate how the post contradicts what you say about living a life as well as preaching? It seems as though Rob and others are confusing the “living the life” part with the “preaching the gospel” part.

  5. #5 by Gene on December 11, 2007 - 5:03 pm

    Here’s an interesting article I just found on a friend’s site regarding the current US fenomenon of “born-againism,” which is clearly not true regeneration. I agree that we must preach the gospel, and the right one at that.

  6. #6 by Samuel Laurence Guzman on December 12, 2007 - 12:49 pm

    I think it is interesting in the Ezekiel passage that God is the acting party. God does the regenerating. That is why Spirit-empowered preaching is so important.

    When we begin to believe that preaching is simply selling something, we will begin to use clever schemes and ploys to get people “saved.” What this too often constitutes is re-inventing and/or watering down the Gospel. After all, the Gospel is foolishness to the unconverted.

    If we are preaching the Gospel in our own power, without the power of the Holy Spirit, it is bound to fail. When it does fail, we will try to come to the rescue with out own methods. We twist the truth to be more appealing and less “foolish” or harsh. This does not apply only to liberal pastors; I have seen many fundamentalist pastors and other conservatives do the same thing. They tell heart wrenching stories, dim the lights, and play just as I am until someone comes forward. That is no more the power of the Holy Spirit than Rick Warren’s Circus Driven church or the truth denying emergents.

  7. #7 by clearly on December 12, 2007 - 8:28 pm

    Amen Sam!

    We are completely dependant on the Holy Spirit to do His work — and we know that He has chosen to work through the Gospel message as revealed in the Scriptures alone. May we be ever vigilant in preaching that message with both passion and faithful accuracy to the text, not using sleight of hand or trickery — simply a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

  8. #8 by Gene on December 14, 2007 - 4:18 am

    Well said Sam.

    On another point, I read an article recently which said that what we call Christian “missions” often is nothing more than acts of service. If missionaries dig a well so villagers can have fresh water, but do not preach the gospel, then it isn’t mission work but service. During Paul’s missionary journeys he preached the gospel. My pastor showed me 2 Thes 3:1 the other day, pointing out that we should pray for the spread of the gospel. Paul’s main concern was for the gospel of Christ, though he did have a heart for the poor. Nothing wrong with that, they go hand in hand.

    Let us remember Christ’s great commission and the one of the purposes of the pouring out of His Spirit–to evangelize the lost in His power, and to make disciples.

  9. #9 by Gene on December 17, 2007 - 3:57 pm

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