[Jesus] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah. 1 Peter 3:18-20 (NIV) What does this have to do with...
“How can this be?” John 3:9 (NIV)
“Nicodemus, you must be born again! That’s what needs to happen in your life. Please understand—this does not lie in your power.” It’s not surprising that Nicodemus said “How can this be?”
“You must be born again” is not the gospel. It is the problem to which the gospel is the answer. If you tell someone “You must be born again,” and that is all you tell them, you have not told them the gospel. All you have done is told them the problem. That’s like a doctor giving a diagnosis without offering a prescription.
When Jesus says to Nicodemus “You must be born again,” he is identifying the problem: “The change that needs to happen in your life is more radical than you thought, AND it is beyond your power.” But you can’t end there.
When Nicodemus says, “How can this be? How can I be born of the Spirit?” He is not yet responding to the gospel. He’s responding to Jesus’ diagnosis: The house that you’ve been building your whole life needs to be torn down.
Seeing how Jesus answers Nicodemus will help us avoid two mistakes in evangelism:
Jesus does not say: “Well, it’s all up to God. It all depends on whether you are elect, whether or not you are predestined and, of course, there is nothing you can do about that.”
Jesus does not say: “Well, it’s all up to you. It depends on your faith and your response, and your repentance, and your obedience.” Instead, Jesus confronts Nicodemus with his own inability.
How could this be helpful to you in talking to a not-yet-believer in your life?