Jesus knows the hearts of all mankind. When he meets Nicodemus he speaks directly to the heart of the matter telling him he must be “born again” if he is to see the kingdom of God. Spiritual birth is a reference to the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s elect. Both Old and New Testament writers teach us about this glorious work of God to replace hearts of stone with new soft hearts. Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As believers in Jesus we are made new in our spirit by the Spirit. Nicodemus is not so sure about this doctrine for he was raised to believe that his righteous actions would lead to his right standing with God.
Jesus flips that teaching around with the metaphor of a new birth. Nicodemus will come to the correct conclusion that there is nothing he can do to be born once again. Exactly. It is God who enables regeneration, faith, and justification. Righteous actions are a right response to believing that God has done these things in Jesus. The Christian’s pursuit of holiness is called sanctification. Because we have been regenerated, and are new creations, sin can no longer lay claim in our lives. We are dead to sin and alive to God. It is the joy of Christians to pursue sanctification wholeheartedly. We do so, be it imperfectly, for God’s glory and for our good.
Nicodemus comes in the night to meet a rabbi. He leaves having interacted with the revealed, incarnate, Son of Man. His life will never be the same.