Billy Graham – The New Birth
Now I want you to turn with me tonight to the third chapter of John’s Gospel. This man, Nicodemus, came to Jesus by night. Probably afraid of criticism or he had a desire for a private conversation, or maybe he wanted to give some more thought before committing himself to Jesus Christ. In any event, he came. And he asked Jesus some questions about spiritual life. And Jesus looked him up and down. And Jesus said, “Nicodemus, you need to be born again”. In fact he said, “Verily, verily”. And anytime that Jesus uses that expression that means that what is going to follow is very important. He said, “Verily, verily I say unto you, you must, you have to be born again, if you’re to enter the kingdom of heaven”.
Two years ago when we were touring Poland and while we were there we met a priest, a monsignor, who’s head of one of the largest theological seminaries in the world. And he said, “I want to tell you a story”. He said, “I got my PhD degree at the University of Chicago. And one day I was riding in a bus and sitting behind me was a black woman. And she punched me on the shoulder and she said, ‘sir, I beg your pardon, but have you ever been born again'”? And he said, “Well, I suppose I have”. He said, “I’m a priest”. She said, “That’s not the question I asked you, sir”. “I asked you, had you been born again”? And he said, “Well, I”… She said, “Have you been born again”?
And he said he went back to his rooms at the university and got his Bible down and turned to the third chapter of John and reread this passage. And this passage spoke to him and he said he got on his knees and he had an experience with Christ that’s he’s never been able to get away from. Now he said, “My theology would tell me that I was probably born again at a different period”. But he said, “Something happened. You can call it anything you want to: commitment, re-commitment, conversion, whatever. Something happened to me”.
Now the question I want to ask you tonight is has that ever happened to you? Give it some other title, some other name if you want. Call it conversion, call it commitment. Call it repentance, call it faith, call it whatever. Has it ever happened to you, many of you have thought a long time about religion and Christianity. Are you committed? Are you committed to Jesus Christ? Jesus said, “You must be born again”. Start with your hearts. Be born from above. You can be changed. The world could be changed. The country can be changed. A state can be changed. A family can be changed. A person can be changed. You can be changed.
Now Nicodemus must have been stunned when Jesus said that to him. Because if Christ had said that to Zacchaeus, who’s a tax collector, and they didn’t like tax collectors then any much more than they do now. But to say it to Nicodemus, one of the great religious leaders of his time. Nicodemus it says was a ruler. That meant that he was rich. He was religious. And yet, he was searching for reality. How many of you go to church but you’re still searching? There’s still an empty place in your heart. And something tells you inside that you’re not really right with God. You see Nicodemus fasted two days a week.
Do you know anybody in your church that does that? He spent two hours every day in prayer. How many people do you know that spends two hours every day in prayer? He tithed all his income. Not many people even do that these days. He was a professor at the theological school of theology. And he worked hard at religion. But Jesus said, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough! You must be born again”. Born from above. Now why did Jesus say that to Nicodemus? Because he could read the heart of Nicodemus. He saw what was in him. He saw that he had covered himself with religion, but he had not yet found the real thing: fellowship with God. What causes all of our troubles in the world? Lying and cheating and hate and prejudice and social inequality and ultimately war. Jesus said, “These things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart and they defile a man”. He said, “It’s in our heart”. He said, “Our hearts need to be changed”.
Psychologists and sociologists and psychiatrists all recognize there’s something wrong with man. They’re many words in scripture to describe it. I’ll take only three words. One is called a transgression. “Sin is a transgression of the law,” I John 3:4. Sin is a transgression of the law. What law? The law of Moses, the Ten Commandments. Have you ever broken one of those commandments? Then you’re guilty of all. It’s also the breaking of the law of conscience. Have you ever gone against your conscience at any time? Sure you have. And if you go against your conscience very long, your conscience becomes dull and duller and duller. Until after a while it’s a seared conscience and a dead conscience. And your conscience is no longer a safe guide to go by. It leads you astray. Because you’ve gone against it so much.
And then there’s another commandment, law, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all they heart and soul and strength and mind and thy neighbor as thyself”. Have you always done that? No. Then you’re a sinner, in need of forgiveness, in need of being born again. And then another word, carries with it the idea of missing the Mark, or coming short of your duty. And a failure to do what you ought to do. The Bible says, “All unrighteousness is sin”. All unrighteousness is sin. And yet, before you can get to heaven you must have righteousness. God says, “Be perfect as I’m perfect, holy as I’m holy”. Where are you going to get that perfection? You don’t have it now. Where are you going to get that holiness? You don’t have it now. But you can’t get to heaven if you don’t.
That’s why Christ died on the cross. He died on the cross and shed his blood to provide the righteousness for you. So that he provides you with the right kind of clothing to go to heaven. And the clothes that you must have are called the clothes of righteousness. And that was provided for you by Christ. And then there’s another word, iniquity. A turning aside from the straight path. Isaiah said, “We are like sheep, we’ve gone astray. We’ve turned every one to his own way”.
Now here in Idaho, I think this is a sheep state. Maybe the sheep state in the United States. I haven’t seen any goats around yet. And maybe you have goats too. In New Zealand, they cross the sheep and the goats and they call them “Geeps”. That’s a fact. And when we were in New Zealand I couldn’t get over the fact of what they were doing. I don’t know whether that improves them or destroys them. I don’t know. But some of you don’t know whether you’re a sheep or a goat.
Now you see, Jesus said at the judgment there’s going to be the goats on this side and the sheep on this side. And the sheep are going to enter into the Kingdom of God. Of course there he’s talking about the judgment of the nations. But it could be applied to individuals. Or it could be that you’re a goat. And the goats are going to be cast into outer darkness the Bible says. But one thing you’re not spiritually, you’re not a “Geep”. You can’t be both. You have to choose which one.
And if you would like to make that choice watching by television, pick up that telephone and call that number that you see on the screen right now (1-877-772-4559). And a counselor’s standing by to talk to you and to help you find Christ as your Lord and master. Help you with your spiritual problems. They are all over the country. So call right now. And if it’s busy, call again. They’ll be there all evening. If the lines are tied up, keep calling. Don’t give up. The Bible says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin: and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned”. Thus a radical change is needed by every person. We need those sins forgiven. We need to be clothed in the righteousness of God. For the purpose of finding fulfillment in this life. Finding something to commit yourself to.
What are you committed to? Are you a committed person? Do you really believe in a cause? Do you really believe in a person that symbolizes that cause? Why don’t you make your cause Christ and follow him? He’ll never let you down. And then not only to find complete fulfillment in this life, but also to be acceptable with God. To be acceptable by God. Now some of you would ask the question, “What is the new birth”? Nicodemus asked that question. He said, “How can a man be born when he’s old”? You see, Nicodemus, like you and me, he wanted to understand it. He wanted to understand it.
Now I used an illustration years ago that I couldn’t understand because I was born and reared on a dairy farm. And I still wake up at night with nightmares doing this way. Because I had to get up every morning during high school at three o’clock and milk twenty cows. And then when I came home from school I had to milk those same twenty in the afternoon. My father had a small dairy, had about sixty cows that we milked. Then we would sell the milk door to door. Have a little dairy truck that took the milk early in the morning. And that’s all I remember almost as I was a boy, because we worked hard on that dairy farm. But how can a black cow eat green grass and produce white milk and yellow butter? I don’t understand that.
Well, I’ll tell you what. Because I don’t understand it I’m never gonna drink milk again. I’ve got to understand that before I can drink milk. I almost quit milk when the cow stepped in the bucket and it just kept on milking. I don’t understand color television. Do you know that I am so old that I can remember when there was no television? Now I tell that to one of my grandchildren and they look at me as though I came out of the ark. I can remember when we didn’t have any radio. In fact, I remember the first station that came on the air was KDKA in Pittsburgh and my dad had an old crystal set. And he said, “I think we’ve got it”. And got earphones and we’d all stand around and try to listen. The only station on the air in the United States. That’s how old I am.
Why, you can’t imagine a world without paved highways. You oughta seen the two ruts in front of our house that went clear to town. There were only two paved streets in our whole town. Well suppose I would say, well because I don’t understand television, how somebody can be in Rome, or New York, or Jerusalem, or some place like that. And I can see him instantaneously on my set, I don’t understand it. I’m not going to watch it. And I push the button to turn it off. I’ve got to understand it first. Why, you’d say, “You’re crazy”. Why, of course. I don’t understand these computers. I don’t understand all these things they’re developing. This whole scientific age has passed me by. We didn’t study that in the school I went to but I accept it by faith.
You see, Nicodemus could see only the physical and the materialistic. And Jesus was talking about the spiritual. Jesus said, “You must be born again”. Now when he said that he did not mean that you can inherit it. You cannot inherit it. “Which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”. Your father and mother can be the greatest born again Christians in the world, but that doesn’t make you a born again Christian. I can be born in a garage. But that doesn’t make me a motor car. And there are many people that have the idea that because they’re born in a Christian home that they’re automatically Christians. Well you’re not! And you cannot work your way alone, “Not by works of righteousness which we’ve done but according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit”.
And then reformation is not enough. You can reform and say I’m gonna turn over a new leaf and I’m gonna have new year’s resolutions and all the rest of it. Isaiah said, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God”. If you take a pig and take him into your living room and into the bathroom and give him a good bath, wash him down with some channel number five. Put a ribbon around his neck. Bring him in the living room. You say, “Now I’ve got a new pig. He’s turned into a perfect gentleman. Look at him sitting over there”. You open the door, let the pig out and see where he goes. His heart hasn’t been changed. Only the outside has been changed.
And that’s the way with some of us. We’ve been changed some on the outside to conform to certain social standards or certain things that are expected of us in our churches. And yet, down inside we’ve never been changed. Now that’s what Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about. He said, “Nicodemus, you need changing inside”. And only the Holy Spirit can do that. You must be born from above. That’s a supernatural act of God. The Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin. Disturbs you about the fact that you’ve sinned against God. And then secondly, the Holy Spirit regenerates you. That’s when you are born again. And then the Holy Spirit comes to live in your heart to help you in your daily life. You don’t leave here alone without any help. The Spirit of God goes with you from now on, to give you assurance, to give you joy and to produce fruit in your life and to teach you the scriptures. You can’t reform, that’s not enough. And you can’t imitate. You try to imitate Christ.
There was a book Sheldon wrote called In His Steps. And people thought that all you had to do was try to follow Jesus and try to do the things he did and you’d get to heaven. You can’t do it. We can’t live up to the sermon on the mount. You try living up to the sermon on the mount literally. You can’t do it. You don’t have that kind of spiritual strength.
I told a story that happened many years ago from a couple in Oklahoma. And they had read about this play in New York called “My fair lady”. And they told everybody they were going to New York and they were going to see “My fair lady”. What they didn’t know was that it was sold out 4 or 5 months in advance. When they got there they couldn’t buy any tickets. So they said, “What are we gonna do? Our friends all back home will think we saw ‘my fair lady,’ we’re gonna be embarrassed”. So they hit upon a good idea. They went over and they bought one of the books that you could buy for a dollar that told all about the play. And then they waited till people started coming out of the theatre and they saw some of them throwing their tickets aside that had been cut in half.
And so they went over and picked up some tickets. Then they began to hum and sing “I could have danced all night” or “On the street where she lives” or one of those tunes in “My fair lady”. And when they got home they were humming the tune. They had the book that told about it and they had the tickets. And everybody thought they had been to see “My fair lady”. And that’s the way you are. You know the religious language. You can sing the songs. You can even pray the prayers. The only thing is you haven’t been to the foot of the cross and been born again. That’s the message Jesus was trying to get over to this religious leader.
Now to be born again means in Ezekiel 36 , “A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you”. In Romans Paul speaks of it as being alive from the dead. In ii Corinthians he calls it being a new creation. “Old things are passed away, behold all things become new”. In Peter , Peter says, “Partakers of a divine nature”. John calls it passing from death unto life. The new birth brings about a change in the whole philosophy and manner of living. Now how is it accomplished, what happens? Well, there’s a mystery. Jesus said, “The wind blows where it listeth. And you cannot tell from whence it cometh or where it goeth”. You can see the result.
Now the other day I did not see when we had that terrible storm, a couple of days ago. I did not see the wind, did you? I saw the effects of it. I saw limbs flying by, parts of a roof torn off, flying by. The dust going by. The willow trees bending over. I saw the results of the wind, but I never actually saw the wind and neither did you. You see, “The wind blows where it listeth,” Jesus said. There’s a mystery to it. And the analogy of natural birth, I think applies here. You see, natural birth is the moment of conception. Then there’s the nine months of gestation. And then there’s actual birth.
Now you may be in one of those stages tonight. This may be the moment of conception for you. It may be another stage of gestation or it may be actual birth. Only the Holy Spirit could answer that question. That’s the mystery of it. There is a mystery that I cannot explain to you. And Jesus did not attempt to explain it to Nicodemus. You see that’s why we’re to come by faith to Christ. We can never understand it. Our little finite minds cannot understand the infinite. Our finite minds cannot understand the mighty God. We come by simple child like faith and put our faith in Jesus Christ. And when you do, you are born again. But it happens this way. First, there has to be the reception of the Word of God. And I believe that is conception. I Peter 1:23 , “Being born again not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible by the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever”. And then Romans 10 , “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”.
Now tonight you are hearing and you’re hearing the Word of God. And that’s the first step. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching”, (or declaration or proclamation), “To save them that believe”. It sounds foolish that men can stand up and use words out of a Bible and that has power to penetrate your heart and change your life. But it does because it’s God’s holy word. This is not an ordinary book. This is a living book, a living word. And then there’s the work of the Holy Spirit as I’ve already explained. He convicts. “And when he has come he will reprove the world of sin and righteousness and judgment”.
And then he indwells. He changes us. He changes our wills, our affections, our objectives for living, our disposition. He gives us a new purpose, a new goal. “Old things pass away and everything becomes new”. And then he indwells. “Know ye not that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you”. Does God the Holy Spirit live in you? If there’s a doubt about it, pick up that telephone if you’re watching by television and call that number and a counselor will be there to help you to make sure that you have been born again.
You remember the story in the Bible of Naaman? Naaman was the general commander and chief of all the armies of Syria. And Syria’s much in the news these days. He was commander and chief. He had everything. The king had honored him. But he was a leper. And he knew that in a short time he was going to be thrown out of the military and he was going to be just a person going around with a little bell saying, “Keep away, keep away, keep away, I’m a leper, I’m a leper, I’m a leper”. And he heard a little slave girl from Israel tell about a wonderful man that could heal him over in Israel. And he went to his king and the king said, “If anybody in Israel can heal you, please go”. And he went.
And when he finally came to this man after a number of experiences the prophet said, “Go to the Jordan and dip seven times. And on the seventh time you will be healed”. Told a servant to tell him. In fact, the prophet didn’t even come out to see the general. The general was there in all of his uniform and all of his men. And the prophet just stayed back in the kitchen somewhere. Didn’t even come out and greet him. Just sent word to him. And the general turned away in disgust.
But one of his captains said to him, or one of his aides said, “Sir, if he’d have told you a hard thing you would have done it. He said go to the Jordan”. He said, “Yeah, but the Jordan river is muddy and our rivers are clearer. That Jordan river can’t do anything”. He said, “But why don’t you try, sir? You’re a leper. You’ve got to do something”. So the general went to the Jordan river. And he dipped himself four or five times. And he said, “See the leprosy’s still there. It doesn’t do any good”. “But sir, he said seven times”.
So Naaman went down for the seventh time and when he came up his skin was clean and whole. The thing that had saved him was the fact that he did what the prophet had told him. The greatest prophet of them all is Jesus Christ. And he says you must be born again. How do you become born again? Repenting of sin, that means you’re willing to change your way of living. And you’ll say to God, “I’m a sinner and I’m sorry”. Simple, child-like. And then by faith receive him as your Lord and master and Savior. And then be willing to follow him in a new life of obedience in which the Holy Spirit helps you as you read the Bible and pray and witness.
If there’s a doubt in your mind that you have been born again I hope you’ll settle it before you leave here tonight. Because the Bible says, “Now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation”. The Bible says, “He that hardeneth his heart being often reproved shall suddenly be cut off and that without remedy”. You just can’t come to God anytime you want to. You can only come when the Holy Spirit is drawing. And he’s speaking to you tonight in answer to the prayers of thousands of people in Idaho and throughout the country. Come to Christ tonight.
Why do I ask people to come publicly? We’ve seen several thousand people do what I’m going to ask you to do. I ask you to come publicly because Jesus said, “If you don’t acknowledge me before men I’ll not acknowledge you before my father which is in heaven”. He hung publicly for you on the cross. Certainly you can come in front of this audience in this beautiful stadium and receive him into your heart. I’m going to ask you to do that right now. If you’re with friends or relatives they’ll wait on you. But I’m going to ask you to come and stand here in front of the platform. And this is a symbolic act of an inward decision that you’re making. And after you’ve all come I’m going to say a word to you and have a prayer with you. And give you some literature. And then you can go back and join your friends. God bless you.
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