Passage: John 3:1–15
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
Over the past several weeks, we’ve looked at practices that define the Christian community. We need to remember, however, that these practices are what Christians do, not who Christians are. A Christian is someone who has experienced a complete internal change—someone who has been literally “born again” by God’s Spirit, in trusting reliance on Christ by faith. In Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus points to the need for this new birth, its implications, and the way in which it will come.
First, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3). This was particularly shocking, as Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, and as such would have been religiously scrupulous, and seen as an upstanding member of the community. If even Nicodemus needed to be born again, we all need to be born again. Christianity isn’t about self-improvement, nor is it only for a certain type of person, because we all need a complete overall, starting with a new birth.
The implications of this are vast. For one, Christianity is a religion of grace. Just as nobody prepares themselves for, or contributes to their own physical birth, so nobody prepares themselves for or contributes to their spiritual birth. It is a gift of God and his divine intervention. Another implication is that the change Jesus brings to a person is change from the inside-out, not outside-in. The new birth—“the life of God in the soul of man”—begins to change our desires and motives at a core level, so that we love and obey God from the heart, rather than from dutiful conformity to behavioral standards.
Finally, the new birth comes through the cross. Just as the wilderness generation looked on the lifted serpent and lived, so anyone who looks on Christ, lifted up on a cross for our sins, and trusts in him, will be saved from the consequences of ours sin, and receive this new life.
- The Need for the New Birth (3:1-8)
- Implications of the New Birth (3:5-6)
- The New Birth Comes Through the Cross (3:9-15)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage (John 3:1–15)
The Need for the New Birth (3:1-8)
Q) What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “born again?” What images and connotations does it evoke? Are they more positive or more negative, and why?
Q) Re-read verses 1-3. How is Nicodemus described? Why was it surprising that Nicodemus, of all people, needed to be born again?
Q) Re-read and meditate on verses 4-10. Consider together:
- Why does Jesus use the analogy of wind, to describe new birth by the Spirit? What is this meant to communicate about the new birth?
- Why does Jesus tell Nicodemus “not to marvel” at the statement “you must be born again”? Jesus seems to be saying “you should be well acquainted with this truth already” (he says this outright in verse 10). Why should Nicodemus, as a “teacher of Israel”, have already understood the need for a new birth?
Q) When were you first conscious of the awareness that you needed to be “born again,” and when—to the best of your knowledge—did you experience the new birth? What changed in you afterwards?
Implications of the New Birth (3:5-6)
Q) Re-read verses 5-6. When Jesus says, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh”, he is saying that we need something better than the best our human effort can produce. Was there ever a time in your life when you tried to live the Christian life on your own effort, before experiencing the new birth? What was it like?
Q) Think through some further implications of the new birth together. How might our universal need to be “born again” impact:
- The way we raise our children
- The way we do discipleship & evangelism in the local church
- The way we relate to our family & friends who are not yet Christians
Q) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby said that the Christian life involves being changed “from the inside out, not the outside in”. Is there any area of your life where you’ve been trying to change—or have hoped for someone else to change—from the “outside in”? What would it look like to change “from the inside out” instead, in this area?
The New Birth Comes Through the Cross (3:9-15)
Q) Re-read verses 9-15, and also the story from the Old Testament that Jesus references, in Numbers 21:4-9. How is Jesus’ death on a cross similar to a poisonous serpent being lifted up on a pole? What is this comparison communicating about:
- The effects of our sin?
- The nature of Jesus’ death?
- The response of trust God requires of us?
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.