How Can We Get Into Heaven?

Many people want to know how they can go to heaven. What do we need to do? Jesus said that in order to enter into the kingdom of God, we must be born again. There is no other way. But what does it mean to be “born again”? That was the very same question Nicodemus had, and he went to the one man who was talking about the kingdom of God.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the
Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi,
we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do
these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (3:1-2)
Nicodemus was a Pharisee; Pharisees were experts in the study of the law of God, and they were set apart to teach it to others. The Pharisees were the largest religious leaders of the Jews. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court and council. The Sanhedrin had great power over the Jews, but only as much as allowed by Roman law. They had authority to hear and decide civil disputes, but could not preside over criminal matters and could not condemn a person to death; only the Roman government could do that. The Sanhedrin was second only to the Romans in the power they held over the Jewish people.

The Bible does not say why Nicodemus came by night. We usually think it is because he wanted to keep his visit a secret, because he was afraid for other members of the Pharisees or the Sanhedrin to know he was visiting Jesus. However, it might just as easily been that, being a member of the Sanhedrin, he was busy with his own work all day; or maybe because the Lord Jesus had been occupied all the day with teaching and working miracles, so that there simply had been no opportunity for a long conversation. Since Jesus did not reprove him for coming to Him secretly by night, and the Bible mentions no bad motive on his part, we shouldn't be so quick to just assume what we think his motive might have been.

Rabbi was a title of respect conferred on distinguished Jewish teachers. Nicodemus showed his respect for and faith in Jesus by giving him that title. He did not yet fully understand but Nicodemus expressed his belief that Jesus came from God, and was therefore qualified and authorized to teach the way He did and do the miracles He did.

Jesus knew what was in Nidodemus' mind- a few verses earlier, we read that Jesus “knew what was in all men” (John 2:24-25) . He knew – and still knows - what was in all men because first, He was God (John 1:1) and second, He had made all men (John 1:3)
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (3:3)
Twenty-five times in the Gospel of John, Jesus used the double "Verily, verily..." The word in Greek is “Amen”and means “Yes!” or “So be it!” It is a firm and authoritative declaration. Whenever it is used in the Bible, it indicates that this is something sure and true, something we better pay close attention to. When it is repeated twice, as it is here, the concept being relayed is of utmost importance; the truth that is being spoken is one we better not miss!

Perhaps Nicodemus thinking of his own credentials, thinking he was qualified to enter the kingdom of God, being a child of Abraham, and a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus did not mention His credentials, or by what authority He spoke these things. He simply prefaced his words with the words “Verily, verily, I say unto you”, indicating both the truth and the authority with which He spoke. He was speaking personally, from the depth of his heart, making sure Nicodemus realized the importance of the concepts He was teaching him. If these things were important for followers of Jesus to understand then, they are certainly still important to us today.

The Greek term translated "again" can also mean “from above”, but the ancient versions all understood it as meaning again, as in the second time. It is evident that Nicodemus did not understand Jesus to mean a birth from above, for if he had he would not have asked the question in John 3:4. The word is better translated as "born anew". This is a great fundamental doctrine in the Gospel, the doctrine of regeneration, of being born again and becoming a new creature. It is the same doctrine spoken of in John 1:12-13.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the
children of God, even to them that believe on his name: Who were born,
not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Nicodemus had reason to believe he would enter the kingdom of heaven. First, like all Jews, he supposed that all who were born as Abraham's seed, naturally be citizens of the kingdom. Second, as a Pharisee, he believed that keeping all the Jewish laws would be sufficient. Jesus told him, however, that no one can be a new creature unless he is born anew. We are all born naturally into the kingdom of this world, to live the natural life; if we hope to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is a spiritual kingdom, it must be by a new, spiritual birth. 1 Corinthians 15:50 says: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”

There are several facets a person needs to understand about what it means to be “born again”. Some key facets include:
  1. It is a spiritual rebirth that occurs the moment a person accepts Jesus as their Lord & Savior, bring them from spiritual death into spiritual life. This is what makes it possible for them to have a personal relationship with God. At the moment of our salvation. We receive the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, to lead, guide, correct, and teach us. The Holy Spirit seals us until the day of redemption, and is also our "deposit", guaranteeing our eternal inheritance in heaven: "you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13b-14)

  2. It is the work of God alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that even when we were dead in our sins, God made us alive in Christ Jesus. None of our “credentials” matter, nothing we are or could ever do is good enough to give us this new life. Titus 3:5 tells us: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” In Philippians 3:4-5, Paul wrote: Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. “If anyone thinks that he has reason to trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; a Pharisee.” Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament, and he had great credentials, yet until he had been born again, all his credentials could not have gotten him into the kingdom of God.

  3. It is a completely new birth. Our old nature is sinful and corrupt, our hearts always inclined to evil. Nothing in our old nature is salvageable- we can't just “turn over a new leaf” or try to make ourselves do right. We have to be born again and become a new creature. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

  4. It is the beginning of a life-long process called sanctification. By the process of sanctification we grow spiritually, through the power of the Holy Spirit within us. This process requires putting to death our old sinful desires, and daily rejecting the temptations we all face. It also requires renewing our minds, so that we no longer think the way the world does. Rom. 12:2 says: “And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Both of these things – renewing our minds and rejecting our former sinful choices are only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We cannot do it by our own willpower, we will fail every time. Philippians 2:13 tells us “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
“How can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicoedemus asked him.
“Can a man enter his mother's womb a second time and be born? (3:4)
It was obvious Nicodemus didn't understand the concept Jesus was trying to teach him. His mind could only grasp the physical, not yet the spiritual. Part of the problem was the Jewish understanding of eternal life: to the Jews, their identity as children of Abraham automatically made them children of God, and their obedience to the law was their way to please God, thus gaining heaven and eternal life.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born
of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (3:5)
Jesus proceeds to give a more explicit statement concerning the new birth: No one is a member of the kingdom of God until he is born again of both water and of the Spirit. Being born of water most likely refers to natural birth, although there are some scholars who believe it refers to baptism. We have to be careful with that idea, though, because baptism is something we do, so it may seem to be making a human act part of the work of salvation. Scripture clearly indicates that salvation is from God alone. "Being born of the Spirit" refers to the inward, spiritual change that takes place when one is “born again”, and the Holy Spirit dwells within him.

This imagery of the water and the Spirit is seen in several passages in the Old Testament, like Ezekiel 36:25-27: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” Later on in verse 10, Jesus asks Nicodemus “Are you a teacher of Israel and don't know these things?”, suggesting that due to his knowledge of Scripture he should be aware of their significance.
Whatever is born of flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. (3:6-7)
Jesus again contrasts the two types of birth, physical and spiritual. In this context, “flesh” is not used as it is elsewhere in Scripture to indicate man's fallen, sinful nature; here it is used merely in the sense of physical birth. It is by being born of the flesh that we are born into this world, and by being born of the Spirit we become a child of God and can then enter into His kingdom.

We hear so many people say things like “We're all God's children” and “God loves all people, and would never send anyone to hell.” Yes, God does love all people, but no, we are NOT all God's children, and not everyone is going to heaven! We cannot let people believe those falsehoods! Jesus repeats over and over, we must be born again, of the Holy Spirit, to be a child of God and enter into the kingdom.
The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound
of it, but you cannot tell where it came from or where
it goes: so it is everyone born of the Spirit. (3:8)
There is an interesting play on words here: the term used for “water” and the one used for “Spirit” are the same words, both in Greek (pneuma) and in Hebrew (ruach). This shows the similarity of both the wind and the Spirit: The wind blows wherever it will, and we cannot SEE the wind, nor control it; yet we can hear it, feel it, and see the effects of it. In the same way, we cannot SEE the Holy Spirit, or control Him, but we can certainly feel Him, hear Him, and see the effect He has on our lives and in the life of other believers. This effects of the Holy Spirit is the evidence of a life changed by being spiritually reborn.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these
things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Are you a
Teacher of Israel, and know not these things? Verily, verily,
I say unto you, We speak what we do know, and testify what
we have seen; and you receive not our witness. (3:9-11)
Nicodemus is struggling to understand; this concept is totally foreign to him. Jesus again stressed the importance of His next statement by using the words “Verily, verily”. He knew the truth of what He taught, it wasn't hearsay or guesswork or fantasy. What He taught came from the Father, and as such, it had authority. Men could trust and believe it, and let it have its due influence over their hearts and lives.

Jesus deliberately used the plural "we" to include his disciples, who had seen Him perform many miracles. The Pharisees, these teachers of Israel, had themselves been witness to many of the miracles performed by Jesus, yet stubbornly refused to heed His words. Most of them rejected Him completely, considering His words and deeds to be blasphemous, but in reality their objections were because His teachings threatened their position and authority. There must have been a few that secretly believed Jesus, though, because Nicodemus had said "We know that thou art a teacher come from God...." when first approaching Jesus. His use of the plural indicates that there were more than just Nicodemus himself.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even
so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believes
in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (3:14-15)
Jesus referred to an episode in the wilderness wanderings of the Jews after the exodus from Egypt, where they complained so much about everything that God sent poisonous snakes among them. Many that were bit died, and they repented of their grievous sin against their God. They repented and asked Moses to intercede for them with God, which he did. God did not remove the snakes, but He did make a way for them to be saved. He instructed Moses to make an image of a snake and place it on a pole, and if anyone who got bitten would look up at it, they would recover. It was nothing Moses did for them, it was nothing they did for themselves, it was all God's work.

It was also a very simple thing to do – just look up at the snake image. Not get medical attention and look up at the snake image, not look at the snake image and try to suction the poison out yourself, just simply look at the snake image. Sometimes people try to add works to the gospel message, because it seems just too simple to just “believe” and have eternal life – it seems like we ought to have to work for it, at least a little bit. So people add “Believe and be baptized” or “Believe and join the church”. But anytime we add an “And” in there, we miss the whole point of the Gospel message. Jesus did it all, we can't add anything. We don't have to add anything. It is finished!

Jesus compared Moses's act of lifting up the bronze snake to His own death on the cross. “Son of Man” was one of His favorite titles for Himself, emphasizing His humanity. By saying He must be lifted up, He was expressing the means by which He was going to die, as part of God's plan of redemption. It also shows His willingness to obey the will of God, even to the point of dying on the cross. Dying on a cross was the most cruel, torturous death the Romans could devise, and was used for the worst criminals.

Belief in Jesus was the single condition to having eternal life. But belief is not just having a knowledge of facts about Him, it is to have a personal relationship with Him. Many people have a factual knowledge about Jesus in their heads, but no relationship with Him in their hearts. Believing in Him makes us want to draw closer to Him, to learn more about Him, to serve Him. Having a relationship with Jesus means becominging more and more obedient to His teachings. It means coming to know Jesus personally, in our hearts, not just our heads. And when we get to know Jesus, we get to know God the Father as well, because they are one. Jesus said in John 17:3:
“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only
true God, and the One You have sent, Jesus Christ.”
The Greek term translated “to know” is in the present tense, which indicates an ongoing, experiential type of knowledge. Like believing, knowing is not just about having a factual knowledge, but an ongoing personal relationship.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but
that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
John 3:16 is considered to be the Gospel in a nutshell. God proved His love for us when He sent His Son to die for our sins, so that we could be saved. His goal was not to condemn the world, but to save us. The Bible tells us in Romans 5:8: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Ultimately, our eternal destiny comes down to a single decision: To place our faith in Jesus Christ as God's own Son and Messiah, believing in Him to save us, or to reject Him. The ones who believe in Jesus will have eternal life, and will enter the kingdom of God.

However, we cannot forget that rejecting God's offer of His Son for our salvation has eternal consequences: those who refuse to believe in Jesus will spend eternity separated from God. While John 3:16 is a very encouraging verse, only 2 verses later we are warned of the result of NOT believing:
“He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes
not is condemned already, because he has not believed in
the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Jesus tells us, again using the double "Verily" for emphasis:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth
on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into
condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)

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