Wednesday, 06 April 2011
We were in the passage of Jesus talking to Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. One of the more surprising questions that was blurted out immediately after reading the part where Jesus states that you need to be born again to see the Kingdom of God, was that what was meant by born again. He said that the term "born again" was bandied around a lot in his church, but he had no idea what it meant. It is a fair question and a lot of what we talk about works on an assumptions. Knowing the fundamental ideas of the church is an assumed prerequisite that we think that all people would be aware of.
The main ideas of being a "born again" Christian are expanded on by Jesus to Nicodemus who did not understand as well:
"Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit"
1. To be born again is to be born again of water and spirit. John Calvin in his exposition argues that when Jesus refers to the water and Spirit, he is employing the two words the same meaning.
"It is a frequent and common way of speaking in Scripture, when the Spirit is mentioned, to add the word Water or Fire, expressing his power. We sometimes meet with the statement that it is Christ who baptizes with the Holy Ghost and with fire." (Matthew 3:11;Luke 3:16)
I'm not sure if I agree, but it is a worthy idea. Jesus refers to those who are born again, as having been gone through water and Spirit. This is a reference to justification and sanctification. The water cleanses us from our sins, just as the Flood came and destroyed all that was on the earth, till only what was good remained. Furthermore, not only does water cleanse from sin, but it also waters the roots of parched land. It regenerates the land which it falls on, and reinvigorates the earth with life. Jesus is the Living Water and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit. Any Gospel without Jesus or the Spirit is a dead salvation, that will not see heaven.
2. To be born again is to be born of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that to be born again is a spiritual action, that is not according to any flesh. In many ways we see change as an external thing and rarely as an internal change. But even the best homeless man can dress in a suit, but to be cleansed from the inside out, then he can only he really have riches. To be born again is to be changed on the inside, and this overflows to our external actions which are observable then. Of being born again, this verse affirms that the Author of any grace and change is through the Holy Spirit.
"Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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. Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” "Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?" John 3:5-10 (English Standard Version)
Jesus could read the reaction of Nicodemus, and he told them not to marvel in this.
Pneuma, the Greek word where we get modern words like pneumatic tires and pneumonia, this is the word that Jesus uses for wind. The irony lies in the use of the same root word by Jesus previously to what is translated for spirit previously. The unpredictability of the Holy Spirit and how He moves is a mystery to us, as much as it was for Nicodemus. There is no pride in being born again, only thankfulness that the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in us.
We don't know the source of the wind, where it comes from and we cannot create the same effect within us, moreover, where it blows through we cannot decide. So then, similarly only the Holy Spirit can initiate salvation. To be born again, the Jews were mistaken that they could be holy through following the Law to legalism, but here Jesus is arguing for a faith through grace alone. Not by human effort, but through the Spirit are we changed and brought on a renewing of our minds to the glorious revelation that Jesus Christ saves us.
Nicodemus asked Jesus how these things could be. Imagine that even the most externally righteous of the Jews: the Pharisee, he did not understand these things. Even in our modern society, we have so many pretenders to be born again. They are the ones appearing on television asking for money for their ministry, they are also those in rooms by themselves searching for knowledge instead of God, they are the students who don't priorities their time and use their gifts correctly. They are academics who take pride in their ability to reference studies. There are times when I don't know if I am born again for the flesh overcomes the spirit so often within myself, but to continually be changed and filled with the Holy Spirit is my prayer in the darkest of nights.
Are you born again, or are you pretending? Where on this earth are the pretenders not to be found? Are there any places in your heart where you need to be trusting in the Holy Spirit more, and relying less on human effort?