Went on vacation up to the mountains with the Mooney clan over the weekend. Awesome trip, but ready to get back into the swing of things … starting with this blog post!
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews”, comes to Jesus in the middle of the night to talk to Jesus. This is Jesus’ first statement recorded by the apostle John to Nicodemus.
Most assuredly, you have to be born again.
You’ve been born once. You were cute and cried and hopefully lots of people were happy to see you, but that birth alone inhibits you from the revelation of the Kingdom of God.
If you have trouble with that, philosophically, you’re not alone. Nicodemus, a teacher of the scriptures and a ruler among the Jews, also had trouble with it.
Essentially, Jesus is looking at a Jew, one of the “chosen” people of God, and a teacher and a ruler among them, and Jesus says to this man, “Your physical birth can’t help you see the Kingdom of God.”
Kinda difficult for anyone to hear, but especially this guy. So Nicodemus expresses his confusion: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Again with the physical. The apostles and the writers of the gospels continually show that people focused on the physical JUST DON”T GET IT. Without fail. It’s not faith. Be careful when you veer in that direction.
Anyway, Jesus further explains what He means by “born again.”
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
Again with the “most assuredly.” You’d think that Jesus just saying it would be good enough, but it is such an important point that even Jesus has to make it clear that this is THE ONLY WAY.
In the first statement, we can all recognize that Jesus says, “cannot SEE the kingdom.” Now Jesus says, “cannot ENTER the kingdom of God.”
Here’s why. The kingdom of God is spiritual. Period. Jesus makes this clear in his “good confession” before Pilate. “My Kingdom is not of this world.” God isn’t waiting for a physical kingdom to manifest itself here, as in a kingdom of national borders and presidents or kings or rulers of this world. The kingdom of God is of the spiritual realm and must be entered and maintained in that way.
We must be born “of water and the spirit.” Let’s look at that for a moment. There are lots of interpretations of what it means to be born of “water”. Clearly, in context of the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus’ own ministry by His disciples and the subsequent importance placed on the act in Acts and the rest of the New Testament, this refers to baptism. Of course we could over-spiritualize it or make it a pure symbolic statement or deeper than it needs to be, but the point is that baptism represented repentance, a turning from the old life, the old man. To be born “of water” is to be fully repentant, and in the New Testament, they consistently dunked those people in water.
What does it mean to be fully repentant? Let’s see the list of what we’ve looked at so far: forsaking your possessions, your family, counting the cost, selling what you have and giving to those in need, and obeying without excuse. Seems pretty repentant to me.
I heard one time, “We often think repentance is of what we’ve done, but we need to repent of who we are.” The sins that we commit are only symptoms and manifestations of the state of our heart, the state of flesh, a state we are born into the first time but must be rectified if we are to enjoy a spiritual kingdom. If you look at the list so far, these are actions done for those who have died. And that is what Paul tells us in Romans happened at baptism.
Once fully repentant, repentant of who we are as beings of flesh, then we are born of the spirit.
Jesus further explains: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The state of how we operate must change. And the change of that state will have certain results. You were born of the flesh, so you operate according to the flesh. So you must be born again, by the Spirit, because that which is born of the Spirit operates accordingly.
And a person who operates according to the Spirit, who is truly born of the Spirit by full repentance, operates by an unseen force. Jesus uses the wind as a metaphor here. The world cannot see or hear or understand the things of the Spirit, and so therefore will not truly understand the ways and the testimony of those who operate by the Spirit of God. You can’t make sense of it in a worldly way. True disciples operate by something unseen, and yet it manifests in acts of obedience and righteousness and fruit and power.
A person who makes decisions by the Spirit will by nature be an enigma to others, the world especially, but also today many who call themselves Christians. It is the nature of the kingdom we are being discipled into, trained as sons of God to rule and reign alongside Christ.
As further truth of the need to be “born again” by the Spirit, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The things of the flesh (your ancestry, your earthly citizenship, your possessions, your career and earthly success, your talents and personality, your strengths and weaknesses) have no place in a spiritual kingdom and cannot inherit that kingdom.
The very nature of your being must change. The former nature is bound to sin. We must be made partakers of “the divine nature.” In being born of the Spirit, you are no longer created by God but begotten by Him. Jesus is the “firstborn of many brethren.” As someone truly born of repentance and the Spirit, your nature is now that of the uncreated Holy Spirit, the “incorruptible seed.” The New Covenant is not made with man but with the Christ in you by the Spirit, Christ in you, the “hope of glory.”
This is the New Creation. Not to make men better but to make men like God. And in order to be discipled by Jesus, to truly act like Jesus, we must be begotten by God as Jesus was begotten by God. It is futile otherwise.
We have been given something even Adam and Eve did not have in the garden. They were made in His image, or His likeness, a great gift indeed – nothing else in creation has that distinction, biblically. But in the New Covenant we’ve been made like God at the source, in the very nature, no longer created but eternal, and therefore made partakers of the very nature of Christ and our inheritance is the Kingdom of our Father.
Even the Israelites were not given this, hence the New Covenant opposed to the Old. The Old Covenant was designed to fail because it hinged on a people of the flesh to live up to one end of it. The book of Hebrews says something important as the writer discusses how the Israelites disobeyed because they did not have faith: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”
This is the New Creation, to be Christ on the earth by the indwelling Spirit.
You must be born again.