You Must Be Born Again

Adam Ramsey | February 14th 2023

Read John 3:1-8

When you think about it, your birthday is kind of weird. Each year, you have an entire day dedicated to being celebrated, sung to, stuffed with cake, and congratulated by everyone around you, for something that you contributed absolutely nothing to. You got born. Your contribution to the day of your birth, was, well, not exactly something you can boast in. If you don’t believe me, just ask your mother.

No one wills themself into existence. We are given existence. If physical life is something that comes from outside of us, how much more so is spiritual life?

New Birth

Nicodemus is a good man. He loves God, he loves the Scriptures, he is a devoted theologian, he is moral and upright, and he is a respected leader in Israel. And Jesus basically says to him, It’s not enough.

The one thing Nicodemus needs is the one thing he cannot produce from within himself. He needs to be born again.

If physical life is something that comes from outside of us, how much more so is spiritual life?

George Whitefield, the famous 17th-century evangelist and preacher, was said to have preached on the subject of “You must be born again” an estimated 3,000 times through the course of his life. For perspective, that’s the equivalent of preaching the same text once a week for 57 years—a number made even more remarkable by the fact that Whitefield died at the age of 55. It’s said that when someone once asked him, “Why, Mr Whitefield, do you so often preach on ‘You must be born again?’” he replied, “Because... you must be born again!”

No one enters life with God by resolving to do better, turning over a new leaf, and trying their hardest.

The message of salvation is that God comes to us. The message of undeserved grace is that God moves toward us. Apart from his gracious initiative, we are, in the words of the apostle Paul, “dead in ... sins ... sons of disobedience ... by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The miracle is in the next verse: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (v 4-5). If salvation is by grace alone, then being a Christian is not merely the result of a good decision you made once; it’s a miracle.

“Seized by the power of a great affection”

And just as with your birthday, there is nothing for you to boast in. But there are ten thousand upon ten thousand reasons for you to rejoice in the gift you’ve been given. In his best-selling book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning describes the miracle of conversion like this:

“Over a hundred years ago in the Deep South, a phrase so common in our Christian culture today, born again, was seldom or never used. Rather, the phrase used to describe the breakthrough into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was, ‘I was seized by the power of a great affection.’ These words describe both the initiative of God and the explosion within the heart when Jesus ... becomes real, alive, and Lord of one’s life.”

When Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), he probably had in mind the promise given through Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses ... I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:25-26). God does all the giving in salvation; all we do is receive. Jesus wants Nicodemus to be convinced that, as with Nicodemus’ own birth, this new birth is something that comes from outside of himself. Why? So that Nicodemus would set his eyes and hope beyond himself rather than in himself.

Your Faith Is a Miracle

Remember today that your Christian faith is a miracle. You are standing in the midst of a miracle, and so your faith was supernatural in its origin, is supernatural in its outworking, and will be supernatural in its outcome. Salvation is “the initiative of God” that pursues us and an “explosion within the heart” that renews us. So sing gladly the lines of the old hymn: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” Stare amazed at the love of God, who “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5-6).


Lord, if you didn’t first love me, I would have never loved you. Thank you for taking the initiative to pursue me. Let me live out of the joy of my salvation today.


“Our first birth makes us sons of Adam; our second birth makes us sons of God. Born of the flesh, we inherit corruption—we must be born of the Spirit to inherit incorruption. We come into this world heirs of sorrow because we are sons of the fallen man. Our new life comes into the new world an heir of glory, because it is descended from the second man, the Lord from heaven.”

Charles Spurgeon, “Every Man’s Necessity”, Sermon #1455
This is an extract from Truly, truly I say to you by Adam Ramsey, a book of meditations on the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John. These devotions are ideal to use for Lent and at Easter. With insights from the 19th-century “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, you will encounter Jesus through these pages and experience the transforming power and tender comfort of his voice.

Adam Ramsey

Adam Ramsey leads Liberti Church on the Gold Coast, Australia and also serves as the director for Acts 29 Asia Pacific. The author of several books, including Truth on Fire and Truly, Truly, I Say to You, his favourite parts of life include being married to Kristina, making memories with their five kids, and preaching good news. Adam is quite serious about joy and an avid practitioner of laughter.

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