In John 3:1-15, Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom one must be born again. Nicodemus’ response was asking how he would go back into his mother’s womb and be born again. He is not dense, he knows that this is a metaphor but he is responding to its application. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a well-trained religious leader, so he knew that Jesus didn’t mean being born again literally. He knew of Ezekiel 36:26-27, which prophecies the holy spirit coming to transform the hearts of people. That is the spiritual rebirth process itself, and the only people who get the holy spirit are the ones who receive it from Jesus by believing in him (John 14:15-17, Rom 8:5-11). This is why in John 3:16 -21 Jesus says that only those who believe in him get eternal life and the others get condemnation. Eternal Life is only given to those who are transformed by the holy spirit.
John 3:5 (NLT) Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’
Nicodemus’ struggle was more about the idea that even he, a religious leader, needed salvation. It’s likely that he thought his Torah knowledge, good deeds, and religious status made him righteous. Jesus never treated religious leaders as if they were any holier than the common people because all men need to be saved from sinful nature (Yetzer Hara) which exists in all of us because of Adam’s failure to trust God’s instructions. The Nicodemus conversation explains that no one can earn their salvation and in order to enter the kingdom we must receive the holy spirit (“be born of the Spirit”) by believing in Jesus. It’s not about what we can do for God, it’s about what God can do for us. We can only love God if we recognize that he first loved us (1 John 4:18), then we can receive his spirit and the spirit of God will transform us so that we can live holy (Rom 2:29, and Col 2:11).
How does one initiate being born again and what are the benefits? Are there consequences if we don’t get born again? Well, Jesus explains that in John 3:16-21.
John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. 18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.