What does it mean to be born again? How are we born of water and the Spirit?
Let us understand the newness of a spirit life.
We will examine John 3:1-17, 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.
Nicodemus’ Belief was not Enough
Nicodemus was a believer in Jesus, but what kind of belief? Nick was impressed with the miracles that Jesus has performed but needed something more. He needed to start life all over again. He needed to be born from above. Nicodemus believed but did not see the real Jesus. Other people followed Jesus because of his miracles and wanted to crown him king. Even today like an evil and adulterous generation too many focus on miracles instead of the need to be born from above. Jesus was not anti-miracle. He performed miracles. He wanted Nick to go beyond that level of faith to something more. Many who have performed miracles in his name will not even enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). Paul says that miracles without love are worthless (1 Corinthians 13).
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 Above is also for the Elderly
Was Nicodemus old? Why do some elderly people tend to become bitter? Born again elderly people are not. The Greek word in John 3:3 is similar to a musician taking it “from the top” or from the top of the music score again. So too the Greek word can mean either born “again” or “from above”. Nicodemus took it to mean only born again, when it means so much more: born from above, from heaven. Popular understanding takes Nick’s interpretation instead of Jesus’. Being born from above is an act of God, not a human deed. It is regeneration, a change of orientation. We give up our earthly birthright, nationality, status, heritage and identity to receive a heavenly one from God above. Even in old age, life in Christ is new. We have reason to live with youthful joy.
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 condemning certain immoral 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. Remember: Jesus said this before his ascension. It means that Jesus’ unique position was someone 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.
How God Loved the World
Greek students ought to make their own translation of John 3:16. Often familiar verses have had their true meaning clouded by popular assumptions. The first word is outos in Greek. We take that to mean that God loved the world very much. It actually means in this way or in this manner God loved the world. We could also say that God loved the world in this manner. The King James Bible still influences translation committees because they have a hard time changing its familiar wording. “For this is how God loved the world.” (New Jerusalem Bible). “For God loved the world in this way” (Holman Bible). “For this is the way God loved the world” (New English Translation). How did God love the world? By lifting up his son on the cross as Moses lifted up the serpent.
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?
Non-Condemning, Non-Condoning Love
Jesus told a woman caught in a sexual sin neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more (John 8:1-11). He did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). Why do some Christians condemn the world? Our business is to join Jesus in his job of saving. Jesus' suggestion was that 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 we can have towards sin, becoming a hater or a lover. If we are to love our neighbor, then condemnation is sinful. Christ's own example was not one of condemnation but of love. The only legitimate Christian response 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. Even in our old age, we should be reborn from above with a new youthful spirit from heaven.