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About this series
Jesus Unfiltered - Believe
When life gets really hard, because of choices you've made, or circumstances in which you find yourself, wouldn't it be great to know you've got the source of all wisdom and strength right there with you? That's what Jesus promised you could have. That's what He longs to do for you. Knowing the real Jesus is the most important relationship you will ever have. Chip Ingram reveals, from Scripture, who Jesus really is and how you can have this relationship - beginning today and for forever!More from this series
Jesus said, “You need to be born again.”
So what is “born again?” The phrase means, it has dual meaning. The word literally means: born a second time. And the word also means: to be born from above. So it is to be born a second time from above.
Well, I don’t know about you, but if you were a really smart guy and it’s been a long time since you were born and some radical teacher who does all these miracles says you need to be born a second time, what does Nicodemus do? Illogical. Right? How? Am I going to reenter my mother’s womb? That’s definitely not going to work. What do You mean?
Does Jesus change the conversation? What does He do? “I tell you the truth, unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” So the question ought to be: What does He mean: Water and the Spirit?
This is an honest guy asking an honest question. The answer is pretty simple.
So, you women who have had a baby, when something breaks, you know the baby is really coming and it’s when your water breaks. Right. Okay. Because little babies are inside the womb in this amniotic fluid and Jesus is saying, “Look, you need to be born of water.” There is a physical birth. “And just as nothing is alive, there is no power, there is no life until there is a physical birth, you need a spiritual birth! You need an encounter with God! You need to be regenerated, Nicodemus! It’s not religion, it’s not your good works, it’s not all your knowledge. It’s not what you know.”
Just as a baby is born and things change and they were – in the womb, I don’t know how it works. You know, the umbilical cord and they can live in water. Guess what, they have to live on air now. Just as there is a physical birth, you need a spiritual birth.
Now in the context, John the Baptist is in the scene, because water does have one symbolic thing that I think we can say, historically, is that thousands of people are going out to hear this wild man. He was really, I mean, if you were Nicodemus, this is an Old Testament prophet. He’s crazy. And yet you can tell God is working.
And the water meant what? Repent. People were going to him to say, “My life is messed up. I’m not the kind of dad, I’m not the kind of mom, I do have greed, I covet in my heart, I do sleep around, I do cheat. The stuff that comes out of my mouth, I have unresolved anger issues,” all the stuff that we have!
Multitudes were coming out and John said, “You have to repent,” and the word is: metanoeō. “Have a change of mind.” And they were coming to be baptized to say, “I want that old life and that old junk – I want it washed away and I want to walk with God now.” And that was preparation. So, you prepared and realized, Now what you need is the Spirit of God with the power to do that.
And so, Jesus is saying, “Nicodemus, the prostitute, the tax collectors, the people who see their need, they are going and they are being dipped in water.” But guess what, the religious rulers didn’t go there. The Pharisees didn’t go there. Well, why? That’s like admitting you have need.
“We’re the rulers! We’re the descendants of Abraham! We teach the Word of God! We fast! We do all the stuff!” To go be baptized would say, “I have need, my life is messed up, I covet in my heart, I may be squeaky clean on the outside, but I lust on the inside.”
And so, He is saying to him, “Nicodemus, you need a spiritual birth, and part of a spiritual birth is you have to repent and realize you have a need.”
And Nicodemus says, “How can this be?” And you know Jesus, illustration. “Look, Nicodemus, you can’t see the wind, right?” “Right.” “When the wind blows, though, if you go outside and you see a tree doing this, can you say, Oh, I see the wind? Or what can you say?” I know the wind is blowing because I see its effects.
And He is using a little play on words. The word in Greek for wind? Pneuma. The word in Greek for “Spirit” is pneuma. I’ll go over that again. You got it? Pneuma – pneuma. And so what He was saying to him is that when the Spirit of God gives birth in your life, you can’t see it or understand how it all works, it’s not your little formula, it’s not your self-effort, it’s not your performance, it’s not your religion.
There is power! There will be an effect! You’ll love, you’ll care, there will be change.
Well, Nicodemus hears that and he goes, “You know, I’m still not quite getting it.” And so now Jesus is going to give him something that was very helpful for him and at least a little confusing for us. He said, “Okay, look, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him can have eternal life.”
I want you to turn to Numbers chapter 21, because the story about the serpent is pretty simple. It’s only about four verses.
And, again, I never opened the Bible until I was eighteen, and so Numbers is like, Where is that at? Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers. It’s the fourth book of the Bible, okay?
The story is the children of Israel. They have come through the Red Sea, God has miraculously delivered, there is a cloud by day, a fire by night. When it moves, they move. There are roughly two million, maybe two point five million people along with their animals. It’s very organized. There is the tent of meeting. And then north, south, east, and west – the different tribes are all organized.
And they are just, after all the miracle, miracle, miracle, they just get a very bad attitude and they rebel. And so, you pick up the story in Numbers chapter 21, beginning at verse 4. “They,” the children of Israel, “traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way. And they spoke against God and against Moses and said, ‘Why have you brought us out from Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread, there is no water, and we detest this miserable food,’” the manna.
“Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them, and they bit the people, and many Israelites died.” Sin always has consequences. God is forgiving; He is merciful. When I sin, when you sin, there are always consequences.
“The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned! We spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that He will take away these snakes from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.” And as he prayed, God said, “Here is the solution.”
And candidly, I’m just going to tell you, to me it’s really odd. I think this is a really odd solution. Now knowing God’s plan and how so many things are prefigured in the Old Testament to help us understand the New, but this is the solution. There are two million people in rebellion, there are a bunch of snakes, a lot of them have been bitten, there is no antidote, it takes a while to die from a snake bite.
“And God says to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole. And anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on the pole and then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
Now, let me give you the parallels. God commanded Moses to put this snake on a pole. It symbolized God is going to save His people who are dying. The cure was of faith. They didn’t do anything. They just believed that if you looked and if you did look at it, you would be healed. It was lifted up on a standard. And a standard would be a pole and then they would make the snake and then there would be a cross to hold it so it would be literally like the prefigure of a cross.
And every, single person’s destiny would be dictated by whether they believed in the statement and went and looked, or not.
Now, that’s an obscure Old Testament story. But now imagine yourself with this brilliant intellect, knowing all the Old Testament. And He says, “Just as Moses lifted this bronze snake, and people came and just looked and they were healed, so Jesus, the Son of Man, must be lifted up.”
And he gets it! Crucified. So whoever would look to Him shouldn’t perish but have eternal life. Translation. “Nicodemus, being born from above can never happen by good works or religiosity. You must believe that My death on the cross will pay or cover for the sin of all people of all time. If you believe and trust in that, you will have life. If you reject that offer, you will die.”
And so Nicodemus, in fact, we learn later he becomes a secret disciple. He was a little fearful and he doesn’t go public until after the resurrection. But he gets it. He really understands that his religion and his good works and, I’m good enough, and I’m better than most people and I think as long as you’re sincere, everyone is okay. All that stuff that is still going around today. And then, finally, we hear John the Baptist’s endorsement that makes this radical statement that says, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has,” present tense, “eternal life.”
Now, as you turn to the back page, let me summarize, because we still haven’t really touched on, So, what does it mean to believe?
It’s the theme. If you went through a little bit later in your little gospel of John or you can take your Bible and every time the word “believe,” or “faith,” circle, circle, circle, circle, circle, circle. I’ll tell you, it’s something you learn, is that belief happens by the Spirit of God and Jesus actually is completely astounded that this smart, wise, religious guy doesn’t get it.
And if you will, just on the side in your notes, write down, “Ezekiel 36, verses 25 to 27.” I won’t take you there right now, but God had promised that when the Messiah comes and this new covenant occurs, he says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. And I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh and I will take My Spirit and I will put My Spirit inside of you. And those of you who have My Spirit will, from the inside out, have a desire to obey My laws and decrees.”
In other words, that’s the New Covenant! That’s what the Messiah is going to do, that’s what was promised.
But just like us, you know when you get locked into, You know, I’m supposed to read the Bible some, I should be a little bit better, moral person, but I’m better than most people. And it’s a multi-cultural, pluralistic society and who am I to say what is right or what is really wrong? So I will try and be a really good person and I’ll try and be sort of spiritual and I guess I’ll be okay because…
And Jesus cuts through all of that. If being good could ever get you right with God, here is the big question: Like, how good do you really need to be? How good is good enough?
I think in preparation for this message I had one of these knocks at my door yesterday. A young man in a tie, early thirties, delightful guy with his Watchtower information. He wanted to talk to me about how I could have life. And we had a great conversation. And we did. And we did.
And you know what? I treated him with such dignity and I wanted him to have a great experience with a Christian.
And I said, “We could probably argue about this, this, this, and this and you’re probably going to say these three or four things. Here’s what I want to tell you. You’re hoping to be one of the one hundred and forty-four thousand and you’re hoping someday, some way you can do enough good that you are going to get in and God will forgive you. Are you ready for this? I know without a doubt that I currently have eternal life and if I died tomorrow, I would be ushered into the presence of God. Because what God has saved me by is not what I do. He has saved me by His grace. And because I have His grace, see, I don’t do good things to get God’s favor. I already has His favor; His Son lives inside me by the Spirit of God and I do good things because that is the life of Christ in me.”
And he kind of looked at me and then I said, “Are you ready for this? This is the testimony that God has given us eternal life. And this life is in His Son. ‘He that has the Son has life. He that does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written unto you that you might know,’” and the word is, “know for sure,” that you have eternal life.
I said, “I know for sure.” And what I know about every ism, every cult, every religion that is based on some sort of works – they never know, because you can’t.
But if God demands absolute perfection, no amount of good gets there. He is that holy; He is that pure. And so, we need to ask the final question: What does it mean to believe so that you have eternal life?
On the back I have summarized our teaching so that you could go back and ponder it and maybe share it with a friend. What does John chapter 3 mean to you and me? Right? Now we are to the application.
I would really ask, I have no idea where you’re at in your journey, but I would ask you right now, before I go on, that however you talk to God, however you whisper in your mind, say, Oh, God, if there is something here that You want me to understand that I don’t, will You please open my mind and open my heart?
Number one: Being good and moral does not merit or earn eternal life. It’s as radical as it gets. I live in a day, you live in a day, if you’re sincere it doesn’t matter what you believe. I can sincerely believe diesel will work in my car. It doesn’t. Sincerity is never the test. I’m a good person. Based on what? By whose measurement and by whose standard? It’s always relative.
Second, spiritual life demands a spiritual birth. Babies don’t come into the world until they come out of the womb. And they breathe life and they move and they cry and there is life. Just as a physical birth demands life, a physical life, a physical life, you have to have an encounter with God that is a spiritual birth from the inside out. That’s what Nicodemus didn’t have. And he was more moral, I’ll guarantee, than anybody in this room. And more religious than anybody in this room. And that’s why I think Jesus chose him.
Third, God loves you and wants to give you eternal life as a free gift.
Last night, in the services, I tweaked my back a little bit doing some stuff. And so, these chairs kind of mess me up now and then. So I was sitting on the floor over there. And I can’t remember which song it was, but you know sometimes as you’re worshipping and a thought will come to your mind and then it will kind of explode and then it will be like – wow.
And I just looked at all the people in this room and I thought, God loves us! What do you think? He loves us! But it was more, I mean, “God so loved the world,” and that sort of gets to be, I know, I mean – what do I do to people I love? I love Theresa. You know what? I like to be with Theresa. I like to buy stuff for Theresa. I like to drink coffee with Theresa. I like to go on walks with Theresa. I have kids. I love them. I like to call them, I like to text them, I like to get together, I like to go on vacation. I have friends that I love. I want to hang out with them. The more stuff I have that I could help them – I love them! And I thought, That’s what God is like to us! See, the religion, we get involved in religion because down deep, we don’t believe God loves us! We think He is hard to please, we think He is down on us, we feel guilty, we think His job is that if anything is fun or good or exciting, He is probably against that.
And Jesus started it at a wedding so we could know, “I love you!” What if the all-knowing, all-powerful, omniscient, eternal, absolutely pure and holy Being who created all that there is and will be – what if He has a personal affection for you and His desire is for you to receive His Son for the payment of your sin to allow His Spirit to come live inside of you – that He wants to give you a better marriage, that He wants to give you direction for your life, that He wants to meet your needs.
Now, the pathway will often not be what you think. And it will require faith and you will have to own your stuff. But what if, who else could you trust, oh yeah, you could trust you. I’ll run my life. I know what’s best for me. No one is going to tell me what to do.
See, people do not come into the light if our deeds are dark, if we don’t recognize we need help. I just want to tell you, not someday, not some way, not if you do this, not if you start doing that, not if you come to church regularly, blah-blah-blah.
He wants to give you eternal life. See, when that happens, you’ll want to be with other Christians. You’ll want to read His Word. I can’t imagine saying, I love Theresa with all my heart. We get married and I say, “You know, I like California.” She says, “I like West Virginia.” “Great, you live there; I’ll live here.” Where she is, I want to be with her!
If you don’t want to be with Jesus, if you have no desire to love people, if you have no desire for His Word, I would just say it’s between you and God – examine yourself. Have I prayed a prayer or do I have eternal life?
Four, eternal life begins the moment you receive Christ as your Savior and Lord. See, today is the day of salvation. Moments from now, moments from now. It’s not something that is going to happen after you die. You can have the encounter that Jesus wanted for Nicodemus. You can be washed in the water, admit, Oh, God, I am not perfect and I am actually messed up in some areas and I need You. And I receive the life of Christ and His death on the cross as sole payment for my sin. And I am asking You to come into my life and be my Savior and the Lord and the CEO, He’ll do it.
The Scripture says, “Like newborn babes long for the pure milk of God’s Word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Babies need love and encouragement. And life is hard early. We are a family!
Number five: We must receive Christ by faith to begin that lifelong journey. Some of you, something boiling inside going, Okay, tell me how. Here’s how. “Jesus came and He came to His own, and those who were His own rejected Him. But as many as received Him, He gave the right or the authority to become children of God, as many as believed on His name.” So what does it mean to receive Christ? Jesus will come back to a church and talk to them in Revelation chapter 3. And I remember the first time I heard this, I had never opened the Bible, I had never heard of Jesus, I had never heard of a personal relationship. And there was a room about like this with six or eight hundred athletes.
And a man said, “Jesus said this, ‘Behold, I stand at the door of your heart and knock. If anyone hears My voice and will open the door, I will come in and live with you,’” and, literally, it’s an ancient Eastern picture, “and eat with you.” In other words, “You are mine. We are going to do life together.” And the thing about this door is there is no handle. There is no handle on the outside. He can’t open it for you.
And the eternal God of the universe says, “If you will open the door of your heart and turn from your sin and invite Christ and believe on Him, the Spirit of the living God will come permanently to live in you, seal you with His Spirit, give you spiritual gifts, direct your life, make you a part of a family, and transform you little, by little, by little, by little – that two, three, and four years from now, people will be astounded.” Why are you so kind? Why are you so others centered now? What happened to that addiction you had? You used to be a workaholic, crazy person. What happened to you? Because Christ’s will live His life out through you.
Finally, you can receive Christ today by placing your trust in His death and resurrection as the sole basis for forgiveness of your sins, to become a member of God’s family. Today may be the clearest and most powerful time that the Spirit of the living God will ever bring you to a point where you understand what you need to do and, believe me, it’s a wrestling match and there are implications, I get all that. Been there; done that.
On behalf of God, I implore you, if you are not one hundred percent sure that you have eternal life, that as we bow our heads now, that you, in your own words, tell God, I want You. I turn from my sin, I ask you to come into my life, I accept Your forgiveness.
Will you please pray with me?