What does it mean to be born again? Billy Graham explains in this 1982 sermon preached in Boise, Idaho.

from our archives the Billy Graham

clankers now I want you to turn with me


to the 3rd 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 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 she said have you

been born again and he said he went back

to his rooms at the home at the

University and got his Bible down and

turned to the 3rd 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 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 or

recommitment conversion whatever

something happened to me now the

question I want to ask you to

ideas has that ever happened to you give

it some other titles some of the name if

you want call it conversion call it

commitment call it repentance call it

faith call it what ever 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 it 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 spend two hours every day in prayer

he ties 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 the

man he said it’s in our heart he said

our hearts need to be changed

psychologists and sociologists and

psychiatrist all recognizes something

wrong with man there are many words in

Scripture to describe it

fifth I’ll take only three words one is

called a transgression sin is a

transgression of the law

first 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 one a commandment law thou shalt

love the Lord thy God with all thy heart

and soul and strength in 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 our 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 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 the

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 but Christ and then

there’s another word iniquity our

turning aside from the straight path

Isaiah said we’re like sheep we’ve gone

astray we have turned every one to his

own way now here in Idaho I know that I

think this is a sheep State maybe these

sheep State in the United States I

haven’t seen any goats around yet and

maybe you have goods too in New Zealand

they cross the sheep and the goats and

they call them Jeeps that’s a fact and

when we were new zealand i couldn’t get

over the fact of what they were doing

i don’t know whether that improves them

all destroys them i don’t know but some

of you don’t know whether you’re a sheep

or a goat

they say jesus said it 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

nation’s 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 Jeep 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 and a counselor

standing by to talk to you and to help

you find Christ as your Lord and Master

help you with your spiritual problems

they’re 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

sin 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 into 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 3 o’clock and milk 20 cows and

then when I came home from school I D

milk those same 20 in the afternoon my

father had a small dairy had about 60

cows that we milked and 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 they look at me as though

I came out of the ark I can remember

when they were we didn’t have any radio

in fact I remember the first station

that came on there was KDKA in

Pittsburgh and my dad had an old crystal

sket set and he said I think we’ve got

it and got earphones and we’d all stand

around to try to listen the only station

on there in the United States that’s how

old I am

well you can’t imagine a world without

paved highways you ought to seen the two

ruts in front of our house then went

clear to town they were on the two paved

streets in our whole town well suppose I

would say because I don’t understand

television how somebody can be in Rome

all new york a jerusalem or someplace

like that and i can see him

instantaneously on my set I don’t

understand it I’m not going to watch it

now push the button to turn it off I’ve

got to understand it first well you’d

say you’re crazy well of course I don’t

understand these computers I don’t

understand all these things that they’re

developing this whole scientific age has

passed me by we didn’t study that in the

school I went to but I accepted 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 and of the will

of the flesh and 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 motorcar and

there are many people that have the idea

that because they are born in a

Christian home that they’re

automatically Christians will you not

and you cannot work your way alone not

by works of righteousness which we have

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 going to turn over a new

leaf and I’m going to have new year’s

resolutions and all the rest of it

Isaiah said all our righteousnesses

filthy rags rags in the sight of God if

you take a pig and take him into your

living room and into the bathroom give

him a good bath wash him down with some

Chanel number 5 put a ribbon around his

neck bring him in the living room you

say now I’ve got a new pig he’s he’s

turned into a perfect gentleman look at

him sitting over there you opened the

door let the pig out and see where he

goes his heart hasn’t been changed only

the outside had 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’re 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

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 they

used to have there was a book Sheldon

wrote called in his steps and people

thought that all you had to do is 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 the 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 is that he was

sold out four or five months in advance

when they got there they couldn’t buy

any tickets so they said what are we

going to do our friends all back home

I’ll 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 they told all about the play

and then they saw people they waited til

people started coming out of the theater

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’d

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 religion

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 2nd Corinthians

he calls it being a new creation old

things have passed away behold all

things become new in Peter Peter says /

take us 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 listed and you cannot

tell from whence it cometh the word go

you can see the result now the other day

I did not see when we had that terrible

storm a couple days ago I did not see

the wind did you I saw the effects of it

I so limbs flying by parts of a roof

torn off flying by the dust going by the

will of 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 listed Jesus

says 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 childlike 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 first feet of

123 being born again not of corruptible

seed but of incorruptible by the Word of

God which liveth and abideth for ever

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 say then 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 is

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 and new goals all things pass

away and everything becomes new and then

he indwells know you not that you’re the

temple of God and that 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 naman was the general

command and chief of all the armies of

Syria and Syria’s much in the news these

days he was commanded 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 the little bells

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 attendant

in fact the Prophet didn’t even come out

to see the general the general was there

and all of his uniform and all of his

men and the Prophet just stayed back in

the kitchen somewhere I didn’t even come

out and grieve just sent word to and the

general turned away and discussed but

one of his captains said to him or one

of his aides said sir if he had told you

a hard thing you’d have done it he said

go to the Jordan he said yeah but the

Jordan River is muddy and our rivers are

clear that Jordan River can’t do

anything he said well 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 is still there

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 hold 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 childlike

and then by faith receive him as your

Lord and Master and Savior

and then be willing to follow him and 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 sudden to 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 asked 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 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 then

you can go back and join your friends

god bless you

it’s wonderful to know that tonight can

be a night of new beginning for you you

say well how take a moment to call that

number on your screen or to write the

milligram tonight or this week and let

him know about your desire and I will

send you some helps through the mails

that will encourage you and help you

make your decision for Jesus Christ if

you just prayed that prayer with my

father or if you have any questions

about a relationship with Jesus Christ

I’ll just call that number that is on

the screen there’ll be someone there to

talk with you pray with you and answer

those questions and remember God loves

you if you would like to commit your

life to Jesus Christ please call us

right now toll free yet one eight seven

seven seven seven two four five five

nine that’s one eight seven seven seven

seven two forty five fifty nine or you

can write to us at Billy Graham 1 Billy

Graham Parkway Department C Charlotte

North Carolina two eight two zero one or

you can contact us on the web 24/7 and

peace with God TV will get the same

helps to you that we give to everyone

who responds at the invitation on behalf

of Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham

Evangelistic Association thank you for

watching and thank you for your prayers


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