John 3:1-13 Born Again to What?

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

Born Again to What?

The positioning of the passage with Nicodemus is important.  It is shrouded in darkness at the beginning of the book of John.  Nicodemus comes at night and the detail is not irrelevant.  Although he is a member of the council he participates with Joseph of Arimathea in the burial of Jesus (John 19:38-42).  Because we memorize John 3 we can fall into a trap of seeing the act of being ‘born again’ as the sum of the Christian life.  However, it is an entrance into the way that Jesus gives us in order to move from darkness to light or from night to day.  A person becomes born again not in order to be born again but in order to see the Kingdom of God.  For God to reign in the life of a person and all that they touch, they must completely restart their life.  The transition from a faithful religious life (Nicodemus was religious), to the new life that Jesus wishes for us requires a rebirth.

It was common at the time of Jesus for people to commit to a life of service to God through rule-keeping and the making of vows.  However, their approach to the whole purpose of life was backward.  The national identity of being born Jewish did not mean that one was spiritually in tune with the calling of the father of the nation, Abraham.  The true start to Christian living was to open the window to the wind of the Spirit and surrender oneself to God’s sovereignty.  Living a life where God is in control is different from a life of nationalistic entitlement or religious rule keeping.  If chapter 19 is anything to go by, one of Israel’s religious leaders understood that they were leading the nation the wrong way by demanding sacrifices and obedience without a heart devoted to God.


Jesus, help us to live a life for the Kingdom of God born anew by the Spirit.  Let us not be babies, living eternally in a state that is merely born and not grown.  Help us to see clearly the purpose of being born again.  When we evangelize let us call people to life in the Kingdom of God, as you did.  Let us not just call them to an instant of birth and leave them helpless in the delivery room.


  1. When and why does Nicodemus come to Jesus?
  2. Define ‘born again’.
  3. What is Nicodemus lacking despite a lifetime of theological training?
  4. How do people use ‘born again’ today?
  5. How would you lead Nicodemus from the instant he arrives in this scene to the bold commitment to bury Jesus’ body and anoint it at personal expense in chapter 19?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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18 Responses to John 3:1-13 Born Again to What?

  1. karas says:

    Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, and I believe he comes in order to seek truth. To be born again is to be born of the Spirit, which happens at conversion, when the Spirit indwells the believer.
    Nicodemus lacks true knowledge of God and how His kingdom actually works. Nowadays, I’ve hear people use ‘born again’ to mean salvation. I would suggest he cultivate a personal relationship with God, and honestly I think the best way at that time would be to follow and listen to Jesus. He definitely seemed to agree with His teachings, whether or not he was public about it.

  2. Jenna says:

    1. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, probably because he was afraid of what the other religious leaders would think of him coming to Jesus.
    2. To be born again means to be given then newness of life that comes through believing in Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit.
    3. Nicodemus lacks a spiritual new birth – a relationship with God and devotion to Him.
    4. People use the the term “born again” as synonymous with “saved” or “a Christian;” they might ask, “Are you born again?”
    5. I would encourage Nicodemus to be bold and follow Jesus, even if it cost him his reputation as a religious ruler; knowing the truth is worth being embarrassed. It looks like Nicodemus gets there in the end, but there’s no record of public faith in Jesus until His death.

  3. Sara Cavitt says:

    1) Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, because he had questions about being born again.
    2) Being born again means that a sinner is surrendering their life to Christ, because He is true life. It is repenting of one’s sins, believing in Jesus Christ and then living a life devoted and surrendered to Him.
    3) Nicodemus was missing the point of salvation. He was “religious,” but he had not been born again and had not surrendered his life to Christ.
    4) People may have had an experience of being “born again,” but their life does not change or show any fruit of being born again.
    5) I would explain that He needs to allow Christ to have complete control in his life and to allow Christ to change him.

  4. Nick says:

    Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, and according to my study bible, usually carries a symbolic overtone of spiritual darkness throughout John’s gospel. Born again does not mean being physically entering your mother’s womb for a second time like Nicodemus suggests. Being born again means to be renewed by the Holy Spirit in belief in God the Father. Nicodemus has not been born again with God and that is what he is lacking. People use born again today in sequence with words such as saved and salvation. I would lead him towards following and learning from Jesus and seeking a personal relationship with God.

  5. “Born again.” It is not a one-time prayer accepting Jesus and asking Him to come into your heart. It is a commitment to be a part of His redemption story. It is dedicating your life to taking up your cross daily and sacrificing your self-life. Being born again is a recognition of the work that He has done to change you. When you commit your life to glorify Jesus, you are openly confessing His name as Lord and recognizing Him drawing you to Himself. Born again is being born of the spirit. You once were dead spiritually. Now, you are alive spiritually.

  6. Dylan says:

    1. Nicodemus comes to see Jesus at night likely because he is afraid of what the other Pharisees will think of him. He wants to poke Jesus’ brain. Nicodemus is an intellectual who comes for truth but ultimately finds Jesus. Simultaneously, Jesus is also drawing the lost man near to himself.
    2. Being ‘Born again’ is the new creation in Jesus Christ one experiences upon being saved by God, through faith.
    3. Nicodemus lacked a savior and had a sin problem to put it bluntly. He also lacked faith. This is mainly because he placed ultimate value on his religion and human reason rather than God (idolatry).
    4. Most often, I hear the term ‘born again’ used by secular people, speaking about Christians who are outspoken in their faith. And, this is almost always done in a negative light. I’ve heard “don’t worry, they’re not a born again Christian” several times. Usually the term user is afraid of being judged.
    5. To lead Nicodemus from lost to a servant of Christ, I would visit him regularly, sharing with him what I know about Jesus and his plan for us. I would admit I’m not so knowledgable in the doctrine of it all yet either, but that there’s beauty in the process of Jesus making known to us the Kingdom of God. He’s the dreamer, we’re the dream.

  7. Ashley says:

    1. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night because he is questioning Jesus’ ability to do miracles.
    2. Being born again is a rebirth. The first time we are born, we are born of a womb, but in order for a person to enter the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light, he must move from himself to Jesus, from darkness to light, from night to day, and from sin to freedom.
    3. Nicodemus lacks the ability to understand earthly things, and it is therefore extremely difficult for him to understand heavenly things.
    4. The phrase “born again” is commonly used when someone casually feels re-energized or redirected in life.
    5. I would explain to Nicodemus that life is meaningless if Jesus is not God and Lord of our lives.

  8. Chelsea says:

    Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night probably because he has the fear of man and not the fear of God. He does not understand that being “born again” means that we have been born into the family of God, that he has adopted us, made us new, and loves us as the Father loves the Son.

  9. Mary says:

    1. Nicodemus came to Jesus during the night because he had heard of the miracles that Jesus had been performing. He probably came at night because he didn’t want anyone to know about his visit.
    2. Being born again means to have been crucified, buried, and raised to new life with Christ through faith in Him; we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20).
    3. Nicodemus is lacking faith in Jesus and thus the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps us understand heavenly things.
    4. People often today use the phrase “born again” synonymously with being saved.
    5. It appears that Nicodemus secretly believed in Jesus after that: He kind of stood up for Jesus, saying that he deserved a trail (Jn. 7:50-51) and he also went with Joseph to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (Jn. 19:38-42), but he never came right out and said it. There is a cost associated with following Jesus as well as a blessing, (Mt. 5:10-11) and I would have encouraged Nicodemus to leave the Pharisees and follow Jesus openly. Mt. 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We are to let our light shine before others so that they too may come to know Jesus and give glory to the Father.

  10. Sarah Deurbrouck says:

    1. When and why does Nicodemus come to Jesus?
    Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. I believe the practical reason may be that he didn’t want anyone to see him coming to Jesus. But I believe it may also be a symbol of the darkness of the Pharisees.
    2. Define ‘born again’.
    To be born again is of the Spirit. It means not becoming physically alive, but spiritually alive.
    3. What is Nicodemus lacking despite a lifetime of theological training?
    Rebirth. The presence of the Holy Spirit within him.
    4. How do people use ‘born again’ today?
    To become a Christian is how people use the term today.
    5. How would you lead Nicodemus from the instant he arrives in this scene to the bold commitment to bury Jesus’ body and anoint it at personal expense in chapter 19?
    I am not quite sure what this is asking, but if I understand it correctly, there is nothing I can do to “lead” Nicodemus there. As Jesus says in the passage in verse 8, it is like the wind, you can hear it, but do not know where it comes from or where it is going. Sanctification is not something I can lead someone in, in some sense. We do have the command to disciple, teaching them to obey all the Lord’s commands, so I suppose I would start there. Yet beyond that, I believe it is out of my hands.

  11. Kathleen says:

    1. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. This was probably so no one else would see him.
    2. Born again means surrendering your life to Christ and becoming filled with the Holy Spirit.
    3. Nicodemus is lacking a relationship with God. He has not been born again. He is just a rule follower.
    4. We use the term ‘born again’ to mean saved. We use it as a synonym for salvation.
    5. Without Christ at the center and focus our lives are meaningless. Nicodemus needs to understand that he cannon be saved by works or following the law.

  12. Dominic Shortridge says:

    1. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night, which indicates that he wanted to keep his encounter secretive to avoid any persecution from his party. Although he was apprehensive he new that Jesus’ works showed that he was from God.
    2. Jesus describes the those of the spirit are moved and affected by it as the wind breezes through the land. “Born Again” is a complete surrender and openness, and will to being moved and shaped by the Holy Spirit.
    3. Nicodemus’ life lacks a spiritual understanding of life. Where Jesus uses a human example of birth, Nicodemus struggles to understand the metaphoric comparison, and is not able to comprehend spiritual birth.
    4. Born again can often refer to the time when someone comes to simply believe in Christ.
    5.Obviously the tension that Jesus creates in this interaction serves as the prime example of evangelism, and I am in no way qualified to lead a person as knowledgable in the law as Nicodemus. However,t I would try to help Nicodemus see the life in submission to Christ, and to allow himself to be changed by the Holy Spirit.

  13. Beth Coale says:

    1. He really wants to know more, but he’s prideful/ embarrassed so he comes when he thought he wouldn’t be seen. at night.
    2. Another word for repentance
    3. A change of heart
    4. so much that it’s losing it’s meaning, people may see it more as “turning over a new leaf” or a type of resolution to be better/ do better rather than a total transformation of one’s heart and life
    5. It seems he has been learning to commit and follow Christ. Bringing a 75 lb. mixture of myrrh and aloe was probably a public thing – he was no longer ashamed to show his desire to follow Christ.

  14. Rachel says:

    In the middle of the night, Nicodemus sneaks out to find this Messiah. He does not want to be seen. He, of all people, is supposed to have his religious life in order. When Jesus tells him that he must be “born again,” Nicodemus is confused. This birth is not natural, this is Spirit birth and denotes entry into Spirit life. However, Nicodemus is lacking a heart of contrition that leads to repentance and ultimately, to submission to the very man to whom he was speaking. In theological circles, being “born again” refers to salvation. In secular terms, the words “born again” could refer to metaphorical a new start at life. Eventually, Nicodemus does appear to have had a second birth, as his anointing of Jesus’ body in chapter 19 demonstrates. Although the fruit was not immediate, Nicodemus was another life profoundly transformed by the Messiah.

  15. nataliaria says:

    Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in order to discuss with Him some questions. Despite years of rabbinical education, Nicodemus does not have a grasp of the work of the Holy Spirit in man’s salvation.

    In order for one to be born again, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of non-believers, softening them and regenerating them, that they might repent and believe. In the moment that a person believes, they are “born again” of the Spirit, and begin to live a new life in the Spirit, growing more like Christ and deeper in unity with Him every day. Today, the phrase “born again” is often used rather flippantly (and potentially incorrectly) to indicate someone who professes religious involvement, regardless of the validity of their faith.

    I can imagine that Nicodemus’ journey of faith involved much growth as he pondered in his heart this conversation with Jesus, all the while watching (and maybe even experiencing) Jesus’ public ministry, until the day that Jesus was crucified quite publicly at Golgotha. I like to think that Nicodemus’ involvement in Jesus’ burial is evidence of his conviction that Jesus truly was who He claimed to be.

  16. Amy McCashen says:

    1. Nicodemus comes at night and tells Jesus that he believes that God is with him.
    2. Being born again is being born in spirit. That does not mean a literal rebirthing, it is a rebirthing into a new creation that God that God is making you into.
    3. Nicodemus is lacking this second birth into forgiveness and the Kingdom of God.
    4. Today will use the words born again to refer to a change in their life or a religious life that they live.
    5. I think the best thing for Nicodemus would be to continue to follow Jesus is teaching.

  17. Rebekah Thompson (Bekah) says:

    1) He comes to him because he has questions he wants answered. He knows that Jesus is the son of God but maybe he had fear of those who did not know such things.
    2) Being born again through the spirit of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for your sins and the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you to raise you up and make you a new creation;born again.
    3) Being born again
    4) being a “real” christian, or making a change, becoming a different person
    5) After his contact with Jesus, the change happened he examined his life and studied God’s word

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