Jun P. Espina         12 min read
Updated on March 22nd, 2020
The term born again is prone to wild misuse. Its meaning is almost always clothed with mockery. Our Lord Jesus, seeing its future distortion by His enemies, spent eighteen long verses with Nicodemus in John chapter three that His teaching concerning man’s salvation through the second birth be made crystal clear.
C.H. Spurgeon once said that man is never bored with issues of vital importance like the rising price of commodities—though discussed daily! We are, it seems, justified in grinding Christ’s doctrine concerning the second birth, for it is the greatest of all life’s issues!
The question “Are you born again?” will have to be answered either in this life or before God’s angels “at the bar on high.”
The Second Birth is Tantamount to Looking at Christ for Salvation
Let us try to zoom in on one of Christ’s illustrations on how to be born again in verses 14 and 15 of John, third chapter. He said that “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.”
Note, at this point, that our Lord had Nicodemus before Him, the “ruler of the Jews” (cf. v. 1). When Christ discussed the second birth’s necessity, Nicodemus, in total confusion, asked: “How can these things be?” Replied Christ, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (v. 10)
Nicodemus was a master Scripture-teacher because he was a member of the Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. So Christ went over to the Old Testament to reach the former mentally. He paraphrased Numbers 21:9: “And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” Hence Christ words in John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness….”
An Illustration of the Born-Again Experience
Why did Christ choose this historical record in Numbers, referring to Moses’ brazen-serpent to illustrate the second birth? Our Catholic friends are fond of using it in justifying their serious idolatry. Yet they are mistaken, for “He…broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it” (2 Kings 18:4b).
Jesus did not have business with idol-worship. He told Nicodemus this incident, however, for it was the type of His own cross! “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Christ added (in the following verse), “that whoever believes may in Him [Christ] have eternal life.”
Remember that Christ opened His discussion with Nicodemus by saying: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). There is only one requirement to be saved and to live forever in heaven: that is to be born again! Christ did not say that one needs to be a member of a particular church, to be baptized, and so forth, to see or live in the kingdom of God. Although baptism and church membership are Christian duties, they are not valid means to be forgiven and to be saved. For, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Spurgeon once said that to be born again is just like saying unless you are an English-born citizen, decreed the King of England, you cannot enter the King’s Palace. One time, continued Spurgeon with his invented fable, an Indian approached the guards of the Palace and requested entrance. “No Sir,” answered the guards. “For the King’s law says that ‘unless you are an English-born citizen, you cannot enter the Palace.’”
Frustrated, the Indian returned home, changed his clothes to make him English-looking, mastered the English language, and did all the “rituals” a pure Englishman should observe.
Then he returned to the guards to request entrance again to the Palace. But the guards rejected him the second time. “Though you look and speak like an Englishman,” argued the guards, “we cannot allow you entrance, for the King’s law says ‘unless you are an English-born citizen, you cannot enter the Palace.’”
Perhaps Nicodemus left Christ that evening understanding nothing. Though Moses’ brazen serpent was clear in his mind, he could not see who was that “Son of Man” to be likened to a metal-serpent—to be raised up. Had Nicodemus known that Christ was talking about His atoning death on the cross, the former, at that moment with the Lord, would have been born again.
Behind the Cross and the Doctrine of the Second Birth
Christ’s allusion of the brazen serpent unveils the mystery of His cross and the doctrine of the second birth. While the carnal mind sees the second birth teaching with devilish contempt, the chosen ones in Christ are praising heaven for the utter simplicity of thought this doctrine brings.
In the course of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt through Moses, there came a point where “the people spoke against God and Moses.” They said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and water, and we loathe this miserable food [manna]” (Num. 21:5). How did God quench their open rebellion? “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Num. 21:6).
“So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us…. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live’” (Num. 21:7-8).
In a nutshell, we find that to be born again, based on Christ’s own analogy of the brazen-serpent, is simply to look at Him, through the eyes of our heart; to look at the Lord bleeding on the cruel cross because of our sins. As the Israelites acknowledge their sin against God, so we too have to acknowledge ours. Then let us look at Him—the Lord Jesus—in faith, who has the power to save us from the penalty of sin, which is eternal damnation in hell. That is how to be born again if we believe Christ’s words to Nicodemus over 2,000 years ago. It is merely looking at Him in faith as what the thief did at Calvary before he was saved and went with Christ 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 may in Him [Christ] have eternal life.”
The Judge in Christ’s Exposition of the New Life in Him
The brazen serpent typifies the role of a savior—and also the role of a judge. Why brazen serpent and not brazen dog or bull? Because it tells something about being judged (bitten) by the serpent and saved by the serpent. Man’s Judge is Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 17:31) who Himself is man’s Savior. As His judgment to the sinner is death, so He went to the cross to die for the sinner—to die a substitutionary death—to pay off the sinner’s death penalty.
Offended Pride Versus the Second-Birth Phenomenon
If there’s one great Bible teaching, then it’s always the doctrine of the second birth—from which emanates all other eternal blessings. It is the “hinge of the gospel,” said Spurgeon. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
At least two prominent reasons bar man from actually enjoying the benefits of this teaching. First is superficial intellectualism or “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). One church pastor had a father who used to shout lengthy Bible verses before breakfast throughout his life. This man, however, was a church thief. He was church treasurer three times and was kicked out of office three times. Indeed, he would be marching his way toward hell, memorizing verses! For though in his head you will find Christ, in his heart, you will find Judas, the thief.
Second is pride or supreme self-confidence. Someone has said that man’s problem is not inferiority but superiority complex. Traffic jams are a vivid instance of man’s superior-mindedness, the attitude of pushing his own way through.
Christ’s teaching regarding the second birth is so simple that He calls it a gospel or good news. It is good news indeed to be saved and to live forever with God by merely “looking at,” or believing in Him. The Gospel, however, hurts man. For it radically dwarfs man’s natural feelings of self-worth.
The simplicity of the Gospel insults man’s innate capabilities to do things his own way. In every phase of his life, he wants to feel he is the exclusive star player. The devil’s greatest lie at Paradise continues to fool man today: “… you will be as gods knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5, KJV). Man is hurt of the Gospel, for he is not ego-involved. After all, he knows—or so he thinks he knows—good and evil! The concept of the second birth through the sacrifice of Another, that is Christ, is very seriously offensive to his darling pride.
Truly Looking at Him in Faith to Experience the Newness of Life
John Rice once said that God presents His plan for our salvation in many terms. For instance, to be born again one may come to Christ, believe or trust in Him, or look at Him in faith.
One day an old woman lost her knot of keys. Her Christian daughter told her to pause a little while and talk to God about her problem. Perhaps her whole day would be wasted away in looking for that bunch of extremely important keys. But said the old woman, “I’ll just do two things: praying and looking for it at the same time.”
Such an attitude speaks of man’s natural tendency to have a double-minded look at Christ. There is no such thing as “shooting two birds with one bullet” in religion. One should either love God above all things including oneself, or be damned. For you cannot serve God and mammon.
When the serpent-bitten Jews struggled between life and death, Moses told them just to look, if they want to live, at the brazen-serpent on a standard. Moses did not require them to shout, jump or do anything else.
Likewise, Christ told Nicodemus “that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” Wait, what kind of belief is it, for even the devil believes? Our Lord has the answer: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” In a word, Christ told Nicodemus that the kind of faith, which opens the gates of heaven, is that which is born out of acute need.
In the case of the snake-bitten Jew, from which instance the Lord expounded His teaching, his ultimate need for the moment was the complete pull out of that deadly venom which would soon terminate his life. But how could that poor brazen-serpent on a standard heal the dying victim? Looking at it per se means nothing! Merely looking at the pain reliever, for instance, won’t cure a headache. Christ gave Nicodemus the key to His second-birth teaching: “that whoever believes—in the climate of an ultimate need!—may in Him have eternal life.”
The Need Comes to Experience the Second Birth
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they heard their Maker calling: “Where are you?” From that time on God continued to call on the fallen man through His divine love and concern, sometimes in the form of afflictions or calamities.
There are so many instances in life where we seem to have been bitten by the “fiery serpents” of extreme affliction and distress. And this is where we come to realize of our absolute need of Someone Bigger. Said Slooten (quoted by Billy Graham’s magazine), “I was 16 years old, living in a family of nine in Soest, the Netherlands. My mom had had a nervous breakdown, and it was a very tense time at home. I was seeking….”
Have you seen a genuinely tough man among wrestlers? Watch him fall as dead. Then, as if by the stroke of pure mental discipline and determination, he would “resurrect” to life again in full strength. One wrestler stood still as if telling the man before him, “you can never beat me by your own poor strength!” Without responding, he allowed his opponent to box and kick him for a time; but he could not be moved. Disgusted, his opponent started biting his scalp and then pounding the wound until blood oozed down his checks. But the tough guy just stayed on.
Think of the insanity of wrestling. That’s how madly tough man is against the clarion call of the Lord in the form of pains and trials. Man won’t humble down before the Lord, as in the case of dying Voltaire who said: “the love of God does not mention that man.”
Therefore, “Blessed are the poor in spirit (or those who don’t have the fighting spirit!), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who considered themselves helpless against the venomous sting of sin, for they’ll completely trust in the Savior Jesus. Spurgeon said that the door of heaven is too low, that it is impossible to enter in without stooping. True humility, we may add, is best shown by that giraffe of old who bent his long neck and knees just to enter the door of Noah’s ark.
Charles Finney was a great revivalist. He was an aspiring lawyer then, before his conversion. God’s grace, however, began to dawn upon him when he started asking himself, “Charles, what will you do after passing the bar?” He imagined himself becoming very fulfilled in the practice of law until he reached the point where he asked himself: “After retiring, what will I do?” The idea of death suddenly exploded into his mind until that small still voice of conscience jammed into his subconscious with the words, “You’ll be judged, Charles, you’ll be judged!”
It was that very moment in his life when Finney was being bitten by the fiery serpent of conviction; and where he looked at Christ for help.
The Question About the Second Birth
One wicked old man told his friends that it was still too early to think about religion until his physician told him he was dying. As if beating a very pressing deadline, he went around the neighborhood looking for a priest, a pastor or a Mormon elder—anyone who looks like a saint! One thing was burning in his mind, though: he was dying and unsaved—his conscience told him he was guilty before God!
The Bible says that today is the day of salvation (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2). God knows that if you won’t accept Christ today as Lord and Savior of your soul, then you’ll do the same to Him tomorrow—reject Him in your heart as much as you can! Paul said that as a man gets older, so he will “proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Man is one step more wicked daily in the heart; he is one step away from heaven—yes, one step gospel-hardened every tick of the clock!
Wrote Billy Graham that all are improving except man. For he is spiritually dead, incapable of absorbing the things of God. Newspaper reports tell us that some habitual criminals are diploma-holders, graduates from great universities. Hitler, Marcos, among other dictators, were known bookworms. In fact, Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro was a former Jesuit priest. Great academes may produce great scholars. But only Christ can give the man a new heart—can produce saints out of demoniacs; or the Magdalenes, the thieves, the Sauls, the Zaccheuses of this world. Yes, in Christ, man can be born again!
Many choose to laugh at the doctrine of the second birth, as if God’s own plan for man’s entrance to His kingdom—that is the necessity to be reborn!—is worthy of man’s evil sarcasm. They have seen truly born-again men and women. But their hearts are simply too wicked to believe in Christ and in His words.
The hour will come, however, when their little brains will become much brighter; their memory, stronger; their conscience, sharper to discern the necessity of the second birth. And that very hour will be at the day of reckoning when their guilt will send them trembling in fear before the sole Judge of heaven and earth, Christ Jesus (cf. Acts 10:42). Not only that, for God will cause them to remember that one day they were being warned through reading this little piece of work.
Do You Want to Experience the Second Birth—Right Now?
Do you really want the second birth or, in short, to be born again? If so, the Spirit of God is urging you to bend the knees of your heart this moment; confess your sins, and by faith, receive Christ into your heart as your Lord and personal Savior. Do it now! And you will live forever, says the Lord.“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” Amen.