One of the most common sayings among Christians today is that you must be born again. And yet I often wonder how many times people using this expression truly understand what it means. The implications of these few words are mind boggling, as Nicodemus discovered when Jesus explained it to him in this section of the scriptures. Look at what he had to say.
First up we see Nicodemus come to Jesus. He was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, so he was someone of a high standing in the nation at that time. He was also a believer in Jesus Christ for he said as much. It said, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (verse 2)
First we must understand that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Although he believed, he did not want to be seen to be a believer, at least not yet. But he clearly recognized the power of God working through Jesus Christ.
So Jesus then speaks to him about the Kingdom of God and begins to teach him about how he or anyone else could enter God’s kingdom. His explanation is eye-opening for it shows us much.
Seeing the Kingdom of God
Firstly Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (verse 3) He immediately explains to Nicodemus that a person must be born again. But not just born again so that he can enter the kingdom, it is necessary to be born again just to SEE the kingdom of God. As Jesus says, unless you are born again you “cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Any person that has not been born again is not even able to see the kingdom of God. By this I take that an un-born again person is blind to the kingdom. They cannot perceive what it is, how it works and how they can enter it. It is invisible and incomprehensible to them.
If we consider the description of Moses after he came down from the mountain, it says he put a veil over his face so the people could to see the glory reflected in his face from the Lord. So too a person who is not born again cannot see the glory of the Lord that is seen in the kingdom of God.
So if we are to even be ale to see or comprehend the kingdom of God, not even to enter it yet, we must be born again. Seeing it is just the first step before we can begin to enter.
Entering the Kingdom of God
So then after this totally baffles Nicodemus, Jesus says to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (verse 5).
So now Jesus has moved on from just seeing the kingdom of God to explaining how we can enter the kingdom of God. There are two prerequisites for entry into the kingdom of God. We must be born again of water and born again of the Spirit. So what is Jesus talking about in this statement?
To be born again of water is water baptism. In baptism, as Paul shows in Romans, we are symbolically buried with Christ as we go down into the waters of baptism, and then we are resurrected and born again as new creations in Christ as we are lifted back out of the water. Just as Christ said it was necessary to be water baptized saying, “Let it be so now for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), so too it is a requirement for us to be water baptized. No one could use Jesus as an example to say that He was not baptized and thus it is not necessary, and so we too must be water baptized if we are to enter the kingdom of God. This is the first step and is part of the Great Commission. Jesus told the dispels to go out and make disciples of all the people’s of the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
What it means to be Born of the Spirit
Then we come to the second requirement for entry into the into the kingdom of God. You must be born again of the Spirit.
Being born again of the Spirit is to receive the Holy Spirit, either by the direct gift from God or through the laying on of hands. It is absolutely essential that we receive the Holy Spirit just as Jesus did, and the disciples, and Paul and many others that they all spoke to. The receiving of the Holy Spirit with the signs associated was a promise given to all mankind. When Peter stood and gave his oration on the day of Pentecost after the disciples first received the Holy Spirit, he told them this was the promise given through the prophet Joel. And he showed the people at that time much the same message concerning this promise as Jesus showed to Nicodemus. He said in Acts 2:38-39,
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
As Jesus said to Nicodemus that entry into the kingdom of God required being born again of water and the spirit, so too Peter says to the people that they should repent, be baptized and receive the holy spirit. He shows then in verse 39 that the promise is to everyone whom the Lord calls to himself. The Holy Spirit was not just for them, it is for us too, unless you think that you have not been called by Him!
So too the gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues. This is also for this day and age too and it was not given just so the early church could spread the gospel, as some people mistakenly believe. They say that tongues ceased when the perfection of the message was complete as we have in our bible and they use 1 Corinthians 13:8 to justify their position. It says, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” but I ask, has knowledge passed away? Is it not the reason we study the bible and seek the Lord in prayer because we are seeking knowledge of the truth? And if knowledge has not passed away, certainly neither has prophecy or speaking in tongues.
Jesus shows us that when we are born again of the Spirit a sign is given to show us that we have been reborn. He says in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The word translated here as wind is also the same word that is used for spirit. He says that we do not know where the wind comes from or where it goes to after it passes us by, but we only know the wind is there when we hear the sound of it. And in the same way we do not know where the Spirit comes from or goes to, other than it comes from God, but we know we have the Spirit when we hear the sound of it.
What is the sound of the Spirit? Well on each occasion where the various disciples received the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, we see that they spoke with tongues and they prophesied. This is the sound of the Spirit. How do you know that you have received the Holy Spirit? The same way they did back then, you hear the sound of the Spirit as you speak in new tongues and/or prophecy. And this too was part of the promise as new disciples were made under the Great Commission. As we see in Mark 16:17, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues…”
Why must we be Born Again?
The answer to this question is seen in verse 6. It says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” It says elsewhere that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 15:50) He says also that those who worship God must worship him in Spirit for God is Spirit. (John 4:23-24)
Thus if we are to come to God under His terms and worship him as He wants, we must become like him. We must learn how to live and walk in the Spirit and we cannot do that as men of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16-26) We must receive the Holy Spirit and allow the Spirit to transform us from one degree of glory to another into the image of Christ, who is Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
That is why we must be born again. And I would also add that the scriptures here that are translated as “born again” can also be translated, and are probably better translated as “born from above.” That is, to be born of God. Since we are to become the children of God, we must be born of God, and that process is commenced through baptism, (being born again of water), and receiving the Holy Spirit (being born again of the Spirit).
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng www.sxc.hu/ taken by Brenda Cacciatore of her first grandchild)