Lessons learned by Nicodemus
Longing to speak with Him, he came by night. Picture the scene! ‘No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him’ (John 3:2), Nicodemus declared. He was correct, but he still had much to learn.
Perhaps there was a look of bewilderment on his face when the Lord Jesus insisted that ‘unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3).
Nicodemus found it impossible to understand, asking, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ (John 3:4). The Lord explained that He was speaking about spiritual, not natural birth. To be ‘born of water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5) involved cleansing and receiving life from above. Since birth is the start of life, new birth is the start of new life, life ‘from above’, life from God. This was different from what Nicodemus had expected.
As the conversation developed, things became more personal. ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:7), was a direct challenge from the Lord Jesus Christ to Nicodemus himself. I wonder if Nicodemus was beginning to understand that, despite all his advantages, he lacked the life God offers. Was he starting to realise that he needed something only God can give?
Clearly, Nicodemus obeyed the command of the Lord Jesus because he became one of His disciples.
Only a few years later, along with a friend, he approached the cross on which the Lord Jesus had been crucified and carefully took down His body for burial in a new tomb. Nicodemus must then have thought of the price the Lord Jesus paid so that he (Nicodemus) could be cleansed from his sins and have life ‘from above.’
Regeneration, the basis of salvation:
Writing to Titus, a younger man tasked with correcting some problems that had arisen in various churches, Paul asked him to remind the Christians of what they were like before they were saved. In those days, they were ‘foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another’ (Titus 3:3,4). But now they could look back on their past deeds as history because they had experienced the ‘kindness and the love of God’ (Titus 3:4), for it was ‘according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5).
Christians are not saved by their own good works but by God’s mercy. This mercy is demonstrated in ‘the washing of regeneration’ and ‘renewing of the Holy Spirit,’ both of which are essential for salvation.
The washing of regeneration (v.5)
This is a spiritual work. Regeneration literally means to be born again; it comes from two Greek words, meaning ‘again’ (palin – 3825) and ‘birth’ (genesis – 1078). It is the act of God’s Holy Spirit whereby new life is implanted in a man. It affects the entire person so that a radical change is brought about: there is a sharp contrast between what we are before salvation and what we are afterwards.
The renewing of the Holy Spirit (v.5)
This accompanies the new birth; but while new birth is a single event, the renewing is a continuing reality. The same word is used when Paul speaks about the ‘renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). Believers are personally responsible to submit to the Holy Spirit’s work of renewing the mind. This renewal is only possible with the help of God, for it requires the ‘washing of water by the word’ (Ephesians 5:26): as we read scripture our lives are daily cleansed.
These wonderful blessings have been ‘poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour’ (v.6). The Christians Titus was teaching had personally experienced salvation through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the ‘pouring out’ of the Holy Spirit, which happened historically on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
Their salvation blessings were only possible because of the judgment borne by the Lord Jesus at the cross on account of their sin.
Not only were they born again but, because they had the Holy Spirit of God within, they were empowered to live a fruitful Christian life.
Finally, Paul indicates that because regeneration resulted in them ‘being justified by His grace,’ they were now ‘heirs according to the hope of eternal life’ (v.7).
These Christians, therefore, could contrast what they were with what they became:
They were by nature children of wrath – they had been made alive.
They had been idol-worshippers – they could now serve the living and true God.
They had been ungodly people ruled by worldly passions – they now had the indwelling Spirit enabling them to please God.