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John 3:5-10 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:58 mins 47 secs

Jesus Refutes All Human Viewpoint Systems, Regeneration
John 3:5-10
John Lesson #025
October 25, 1998

Obviously Nicodemus is troubled. Even though he is described as a ruler of the Jews, which means that he sat on the Sanhedrin, the council of 70 that ruled Jerusalem and Judea, he was a Pharisee, he had received all of the academic training that was  available to him at that time, he knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards, he knew all of the traditions of the rabbis in terms of their various interpretations, he knew all of the rituals that had been incorporated over the years and he was indeed a man of ritual and religion. He was a man who sought to gain approval from God through his ritual and religion.

Contrary to many people who live today he was a religious man who understood some basics about the character of God. We know that God is sovereign, the ruler of all creation. God is also absolute righteousness [+R]. He is just, which means all that God does, every decision he makes, He is absolutely fair with every creature. God is also perfect love. The problem is that most people want to take the love of God and blow that up so big that it overshadows every other attribute of God. All of the attributes of God work together, there is no conflict between them. God is also eternal life. There never was a time when God did not exist; He has no ending; He has no beginning. He is omniscient, which means that God knows all things. He is omnipresent. That means that He is present at every part of His creation  simultaneously; He is everywhere. He is not in His creation, He is distinct from His creation, but he is present to every aspect of His creation. God is also veracity. That means He is absolute truth. And He is immutable; He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Nicodemus understood the character of God, and yet as a Pharisee he focused more on the righteousness of God. So his concern was, How can I be righteous enough to enter into heaven? What we have learned in our study of the character of God is that these three characteristics must work together and always do work together in perfect harmony. We have seen that the perfect righteousness of God is His absolute standard. What the righteousness of God demands the justice of God supplies or executes, always motivated by the love of God and expressed through His grace policy. Nicodemus knew that God was perfect righteousness, but he also knew that mankind lacked righteousness because of sin. Therefore if man lacks righteousness his goal is to measure up to the perfect righteousness of God. For Nicodemus understood that what the righteousness of God rejected the justice of God would condemn. So the concern of the Pharisees was to use the ritualistic and religious system of the Mosaic Law to try to somehow acquire a righteousness that would conform to God's character and would acquire God's approval. So he was always concerned with, Am I righteous enough, am I good enough in order to gain God's approval?

We live in an era today where people are less concerned with righteousness and they want to put all of their emphasis on the love of God. They want to ask questions like, Well if God is really loving how could He send His creatures to the lake of fire? And they always have to focus on love and ignore righteousness. The problem with Nicodemus was that he focused on righteousness and ignored love. These three attributes always work together: what the righteousness of God rejects the justice of God condemns, but the love of God motivates Him to provide a grace solution. That grace solution is provided through the Lord Jesus Christ. Once we accept that provision by faith alone in Christ alone then we are given the perfect righteousness of Christ, so that what the righteousness of God accepts the justice of God blesses, motivated by the love of God and the grace of God.

Nicodemus did not understand all of this and as a Pharisee he came to the Lord really concerned and the underlying question that he is asking: How do I know if I am righteous or not in order to get into heaven? Is all my religious activity really good enough? This takes a tremendous amount of humility for Nicodemus and we ought to have a lot of respect for him at this point. Nicodemus has all of the respect and admiration of the Jews in Jerusalem. He could have operated on arrogance and prise and said, I know all the answers. But yet, like anybody who is truly humble and truly honest with themselves, Nicodemus was troubled deep inside. He really wasn't sure of his righteousness, if the rituals that he engaged in, was really good enough to get him into heaven. So he came to Jesus one night and said to Him: "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God {as} a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." They had certainty. It was not just Nicodemus but other members of the Sanhedrin as well. They had heard of the miracles that Jesus has performed and they know that they fit the credentials of the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. There is no doubt in his mind that no one else other than the Messiah could have done the things that Jesus had done.

The doctrine of regeneration

1)  Terminology. The first term that is used in the Greek is palingenesia [palingenesia]. It is from two words: palin means again; genesia has its root meaning as birth. So it literally means to be born a second time or born again. We find this word used twice in the New Testament. It is used in Titus 3:5 NASB "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." It is not by works of righteousness which we have done. It excludes all religion. Remember religion is defined as man's effort to acquire the approval of God through his own efforts: man does the word and God is supposed to bless us. But that is not what the Scripture says. How does God save us? By the washing of regeneration and renewal by means of the Holy Spirit. The second reference in the Greek is in John 3: gennao [gennaw], the verb to be born, and anothen [a)nwqen] which means again or from above. Literally it means born again or born from above and John uses this with this double meaning because both are true. 

2)  Definition: Regeneration is defined as spiritual birth or being born again. At the moment a person expresses faith alone in Christ alone the Holy Spirit creates a human spirit for the imputation of eternal life and the believer passes from spiritual death to spiritual life.

3)  Background: a) Every human being is either dichotomous or trichotomous. Dichotomous refers to man being made up of two components: body, which is physical or material, and a soul, which is immaterial. Trichotomous sees man as being made up of body, soul and human spirit; b) When Adam and Eve were first created they were perfect and had everything. They were created trichotomous: physical body, human soul and human spirit. The human spirit interacts with the soul to give the soul the ability to understand spiritual phenomena and to have rapport with God so that we can have a relationship with God. God had a relationship with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and day by day, we are told, God would come and walk in the garden with them. There was continual fellowship; c) God announced that the immediate consequence of disobedience would be spiritual death, Genesis 2:17. Spiritual death is then defined: d) Death has as its central meaning not cessation of existence but separation. In physical death the immaterial part of man, the soul, is separated from the body, i.e. then material. In spiritual death man is separated from God, resulting in loss of rapport, loss of fellowship, loss of all relationship with God; e) Spiritual life is defined as that aspect of life that allows a human being to comprehend eternal truths, understand divine phenomena and have a relationship with God. Man is not born with a human spirit because Adam sinned and lost his human spirit, therefore every descendant of Adam and Eve is born dichotomous. That is why Jesus says there has to be a second birth. We have to receive a human spirit from the Holy Spirit in order to have eternal life.

Two things happened when man sinned. First of all he lost righteousness. He went from being perfect righteousness to minus righteousness, so that the best man can do is relative righteousness. He may do better than anybody else, but in Isaiah 64:6 God says NASB "And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." In other words, the best that man can do is garbage as far as God is concerned. So God has to provide the solution. If man cannot produce the perfect righteousness that God demands then God must do it for man. God does all the work; man accepts it, that is Christianity. It is a relationship based on God doing everything and man accepting it, and the consequences are that man is blessed because of what God does and not what man does. The second thing that happened at the fall was that man acquired a sin nature. Not only did he lose the capacity to produce perfect righteousness but he acquired a nature that had a propensity to sin and evil. Unless both aspects were taken care of—cleansing, which dealt with the sin nature, and the acquisition of perfect righteousness, which is justification and imputation—then there would be no salvation.

A barrier is erected between God and man and it is composed of different components. The first component is sin itself. Romans 3:23 NASB "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." No matter what we do we can never attain the absolute perfection God demands. The penalty of sin is the second problem: Romans 62:3 NASB "For the wages of sin is [spiritual] death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." The third brick in the barrier is the problem of physical birth. Man is born physically alive but spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:1 NASB "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." The fourth is the problem of relative righteousness. God demands perfect righteousness and we have minus righteousness [-R], so we cannot attain to the perfection that God demands. The next brick is the character of God. God is absolute perfection, absolute righteousness and cannot have fellowship with that which lacks perfect righteousness. The final brick in the barrier is that we are born in Adam, we are identified with Adam in his sin and that problem must be solved.

God in His remarkable grace provided manifold system that would solve every single problem that was generated by Adam. Man simply has to accept it. The sin problem is resolved through redemption. 1 Peter 1:18, 19 NASB "knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, {the blood} of Christ." The penalty of sin problem is solved through unlimited atonement: Jesus Christ paid for the sin problem for everybody. He is the Saviour of the whole world, not just those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10 NASB "…who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." The physical birth problem is resolved through regeneration. John 3:1-18; Titus 3:5. The relative righteousness problem is solved through imputation, which means that at the cross Jesus Christ had perfect righteousness and when we trust Christ as our Saviour God credits to our account His perfect righteousness. When God looks at that perfect righteousness which we now possess God declares us to be just. We are justified because of what Christ did, not because of what we have done. The character of God problem is solved by propitiation. When God the Father, who is perfect righteousness and justice, looked down on the cross he saw Jesus Christ pay the penalty and His absolute standard was satisfied by the perfection of Christ and His justice was satisfied, so God was propitiated. Romans 3:22-26; 1 John 2:2. Finally, our position in Adam is resolved because at the point of salvation we are identified with Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:22, we are now in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, {he is} a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

The reason this is important is found in 1 Corinthians 2:14, 15 NASB "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one." The word "natural" is the Greek word psuchikos [yuxikoj], derived from the Greek word psuche which is where we get our word "soul." So it is more technically translated "the soulish man." The soulish man is a dichotomous man, he has a body and soul but no human spirit. The Greek says that a soulish man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. That means that the unregenerate, unsaved person is soulish, he has no human spirit. He cannot understand divine phenomena or divine truth because those come from the Holy Spirit. He is blind; he is born spiritually brain dead.

So the unregenerate man cannot understand spiritual truth. He thinks he can, he thinks he has all kinds of knowledge. Nicodemus was that way. He thought he had all kinds of truth but something bothered him. He comes to Christ and wants to know if his righteousness is good enough and Jesus said: No it is not. So what happens when a pastor, an evangelist or some other person explains the gospel to a spiritually brain dead individual. God the Holy Spirit steps in at that point to make the gospel clear, to help them to understand it. But they have to use their volition. They can either accept the gospel or reject it. At the point when the Holy Spirit makes the gospel clear to the unbeliever it becomes what the Bible calls gnosis [gnwsij] which is academic knowledge. There are all kinds of people out there who understand what the Bible says, that you have to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. But they have to use their volition to accept it or reject it. If they accept it, then the result of that is that God the Holy Spirit creates a human spirit and they are regenerate. If they are negative they may have more opportunities but if they never accept the gospel the result is eternal condemnation.

Nicodemus was just floored at this point. Jesus says that there is a physical birth and there is a spiritual birth. Nicodemus is sort of awed by the whole thing but is not going anywhere with it. Jesus calls his attention and says: "Stop marvelling at this." John 3:7 NASB "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" In other words, "You have to go beyond this, Nicodemus, don't just marvel that I said to you, you must be born again. Don't stop there."

Then we get one of the most remarkable and sophisticated statements in all of Scripture. Most of us go right past what Jesus says and don't even catch what He is saying. He says in effect, "I want to point this out to you Nicodemus." In doing this He is not only going to destroy Nicodemus's whole reliance upon a legalistic system, but He is going to knock the props out from under every single human viewpoint religious system ever in one masterful stroke. John 3:8 NASB "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." That is the analogy. He says, Just like the wind that you can't understand, so is everyone who is born of the Spirit of God. Nicodemus, this is spiritual truth. You have to understand this to be saved but the natural man can't do it on natural systems. Wind is a natural phenomenon that is random, it is turbulent. Wind is at the very edge of human intellectual ability to comprehend and understand, because it is a random thing. You can't develop formulas on something that is purely random. You can't come up with laws, you can just describe certain things about it. Jesus is saying that just like wind, which is beyond our ability to fully comprehend, so spiritual truth is beyond human systems of knowledge—empiricism and rationalism. What Jesus is saying is that regeneration is in that category because it is spiritual phenomena.

Man tries to arrive at truth through various systems of knowledge. The first would be rationalism, exemplified by Plato in the ancient world and Descartes in the modern world. But the limits of rationalism is the human mind which can only go so far. If you analyse any system of logic or any system of human philosophy ultimately you get down to what is called first principles. When you reach first principles you are making assumptions. Every argument, every system, no matter what it is, relies on certain inherent assumptions that are adopted by faith. The second system is empiricism. If we are going to know anything about spiritual truth we have to get it from an authority who has been there, who knows something about spirituality. If we are going to construct our concepts of God based on human experience and human reason then it is going to fall apart because human experience is finite and we are talking about the infinite.  Nicodemus is just overwhelmed and asks: "How can these things be?"

Jesus says: John 3:11 NASB "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony." The conclusion of His argument: John 3:13 NASB "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man." So Jesus is saying right there: Nicodemus, you are not going to get there from rationalism or from empiricism. You can't find out about the spiritual realm through human effort. You can only find out if God comes out of the infinite and to the finite. If God comes from heaven, becomes a man and tells you, if there is revelation from God, that is the only way you are going to know about God for sure. Everything else is pure guesswork and that is what your religious system is based on, and I'm telling you Nicodemus that it you are not regenerate you will not see the kingdom of God.

This hit Nicodemus like a thunderbolt right between the eyes. And he was humble enough and honest enough in himself to realize that there was no life in what he taught and that life was only in Christ. Nicodemus put his faith alone in Christ alone and accepted Jesus—maybe not that night but we know that by John chapter eight and definitely by the end of the Gospel that he was among those who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.