What does it mean to be born again? How are we born of water and the Spirit?
Let us understand the Spirit life.
We will examine Nicodemus, regeneration, and why we are not to condemn others.
Nicodemus is also called Saint Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a senator in the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He appears three times in the Gospel of John. He visited Jesus by night to ask questions (John 3:1–2), he challenged condemning Jesus without a hearing (John 7:50-51) and assisted Joseph of Arimathea preparing Jesus for burial (John 19:38-39). He is possibly the Nicodemus ben Gurion in the Talmud, a wealthy and popular Jewish leader famous for miraculous powers. Jesus explained to him the mystery of regeneration as was taught in the prophets. Nicodemus was not offended at Jesus’ correction but received it in humility. He defended Jesus openly against the Pharisees, assisted at his burial and was later kicked out of the synagogue for believing in Christ. He retired to his country home where he died.
Symbolism of Nick and the night
The night time meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus was symbolic in two ways. First of all Nick was representing others who were not immediately present because he said “we know” (John 3:2) and so Jesus answered him in the plural speaking “unto thee” (you plural) and “ye” (you plural). Jesus was speaking to all those others for whom Nicodemus had spoken, other religious leaders, and perhaps also other believers and perhaps too all of us. Secondly, Nicodemus came at night, symbolic of the darkness that we all faced until light came into the world and we came into that light (verses 19-21). In the Old Testament the law was that light, now it is Christ. Even the most devout and moral people who may obey all the commandments can still be in darkness, because the true light is Jesus.
The circumstances of our birth can make a big difference in our worldly fortunes. Some are born into power and wealth. Others are born into subjugation and poverty. Equal opportunity simply does not exist. According to the Opportunity Index, income inequality is closely associated with opportunity inequality. That means that those from poor homes are less likely to have what is necessary to take advantage of opportunities. No matter what our circumstances are we have a better birth in God. To be born from the sky, from heaven above (John 3:3), is to belong to heaven. We owe our allegiance to a different kingdom not of this world. We are a child of God. Every level of status in this world is inferior to that which we have from heaven. In God we have the highest status of all.
Born from where
When we are born we inherit a name, a nationality, and a family history including all the skeletons in the family closet. When we are born again, we are actually born from above. The Greek word in John 3:3 is similar to what musicians say when they say “from the top”. It can mean from the top of the page or again. So too the Greek word can mean either born “again” or “from above”. Nicodemus took it to mean born again, when actually Jesus meant born from above, from heaven. It is a shame that popular understanding takes Nick’s interpretation instead of Jesus’. Being born from above is an act of God. It is regeneration, a change of orientation. We give up an earthly birthright, nationality, status, heritage and identity to receive a heavenly one from God above.
Born of water and the Spirit
Born from above or from heaven is also described as being born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Water is used in our baptism, Jesus turns water into wine and Jesus will later speak of living water. Our human rituals are insufficient without the transforming power of that living water from above. Christian baptism is not just a water ritual, but includes an unseen spiritual component. That unseen component is like the wind. We may know generally that cold winds come from colder regions or that warm winds come from the tropics, but we cannot tell specifically where they came from or where they are going to. Our new Spirit born life is as mysterious as the wind. Christianity is not about doing certain moral acts, but a life of faith trusting God where his Spirit may blow.
Jesus in two places at once
Some interpret John 3:13 to mean nobody goes to heaven when we die but await the resurrection while they lie unconscious in a grave. Others believe it means that Jesus ascended to heaven before he died. It means neither of those two things. Jesus’ unique position is of one who was on earth and at the same time “in heaven” in constant communion with the Father. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth. In a similar sense, all believers are “seated in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6) much as Jesus resided “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). Jesus is able to reveal heavenly secrets to Nicodemus because he “has ascended to heaven” and “is in heaven.” In Jesus, there is a bridge from heaven to earth which all those who are born from above experience.
Problem, Cause, Solution
Ancient Israel was often impatient with God. One one occasion, God punished them by sending poisonous snakes into their midst (Numbers 21:4-9). The people regretted their slander and Moses prayed and following God’s instructions made a bronze snake on a pole. When the people were bitten and looked on the bronze snake, they lived. The immediate problem was snakes. The cause was their lack of faith in God. The solution was to stimulate them to repentance and faith. In similar fashion humanity is in trouble and we are mostly to blame (John 3:14-15). Just as the solution to a snake problem came via a snake, so has the solution to our human dilemma come through the man Jesus Christ. He too was lifted up on a pole and we who keep our eyes on him will also live.
Loving the hateful
Think of a group of people who absolutely hate us. Maybe it is a country that hates ours. Maybe it is a group of hate-filled and demented terrorists whose only plans are our destruction. Maybe it is another class of individuals who despise us. Imagine then that we decide to die for that group out of love. That is what it means when the Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Amazing! The word world just about everywhere else in the Bible refers to those who hate God, yet "God with us," Jesus Christ died to save that same God-despising world. While we use faith to divide, God teaches us one simple rule, love that unites.
Non-judgmental yet discerning
Are Christians judgmental if they disagree with certain sins or bad teachings? Some may be, but that does not mean that everyone is. Can a Christian be non-judgmental yet discerning? In John 3:17 Jesus said that he did not come to condemn the world. Unfortunately some Christians do just the opposite, condemn. Does that mean that we may not disagree or discern that a particular idea is wrong? Of course not. In the same chapter where Jesus taught us not to judge (Matthew 7:1, 15) he also said to watch out for false prophets. There is a big difference between a condemning, hypercritical attitude and having an opinion that something is wrong. Jesus Christ is the final judge, not us. Our judgment now ought to be righteous — not a damnation, but a discernment of right from wrong.
When Christians condemn
When Christians criticize national leaders, neighbors and each other what should we think? We are all guilty of such judgmental behavior. Yet, at times when we are tempted to condemn other people, perhaps we should all rethink what Jesus said in John 3:17. He did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Of course, there are things in this world worthy of condemnation. Even in the church, surprise, surprise, there are things that occur which are just not right. That kind of thing occurs in every denomination without fail. Some Christians love to play Satan, the accuser of the brethren. Others just like to look down their noses at the shortcomings of others. Perhaps we all ought to reconsider our graceless approach of condemnation and realign ourselves with the mission of Jesus Christ.
What would Jesus say?
We are extremists. We either condemn adulterers, homosexuals, polygamists and cohabiting singles or we approve their actions. Jesus did neither. On one sexual sin, he said that in the beginning it was not so, but due to hardheartedness Moses allowed it. Jesus did not condemn a woman caught in a sexual sin, but told her to sin no more. He did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17). It does not mean that Jesus could not condemn the world, or that he will not at the judgment, but that he does not now. We also know that it is also not our business now to judge. So, what would Jesus say to sexual relationships that are different than was intended in the beginning? What would Jesus say to those who miss the sexual ideal? What should we say?
You might be a Liberal/Conservative if...
Do you remember the story of the woman caught in adultery? Can you also remember Jesus' reply to her at the end of the story? If you remember that he said to her neither do I condemn you, then you might be a liberal. If on the other hand, you remember that he said to her to go and sin no more, then you might be a conservative. He said both, but is it not strange how liberals and conservatives tend to remember different parts of the story?
The story is found in John 8:1-11. Conservatives can tend to jump straight through the story to Jesus telling her not to sin any more. However, liberals can tend to leave this part out or minimize it and emphasize Jesus' non-judgmental attitude. Both are part of the story and we need to see both to get the whole picture of how Jesus approaches sexual sin or any sin for that matter. We live in a world where Christians at both extremes of the debates over various sexual sins are verbally at war and often cannot see that the complete picture is neither one of condoning sin, nor not one of condemnation.
Jesus' first act was to defend the sinful woman from religious extremists who wanted to publicly shame and kill her. Do we defend sexual sinners from society's condemnation or do we act like those Christians who can only condemn those who cheat on a spouse, can only judge gay people or can only criticize those who have sex before marriage? Remember, non-judgmentalism is not the same as condoning. It is simply saying that we have no right to judge. It's none of our business. It is Christ's job and his alone at that great Judgment Day.
Even Jesus is not ready to judge now. In fact he did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). So what do some Christians do? We condemn the world. It's not our job and it's not our business. Our business is to join Jesus in his job of saving. Perhaps we should listen to Jesus' own words to the religious. Who is without sin cast the first stone. Before he even got to the "go and sin no more" part, he had already told her that he did not condemn her.
There are two reactions that Christians can have towards sin. One is becoming a hater and the other is becoming a lover. It is clear that if we are truly to love our neighbor, then the approach of condemnation is sinful. It is not even following Christ's own example. His example was not one of condemnation. His attitude was always one of love, and that is the bottom line. Let's ask ourselves if we are haters or lovers. The only legitimate response for liberal or conservative Christians is non-judgmental, non-condoning love.
While we recognize that sin exists in the world, we are not qualified to judge and condemn others. We should not remain as haters but allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into lovers.