The essential new birth
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3, NIV)
Have you noticed how strange it is that some people understand Christianity, while others, who may know quite a bit about it, just don’t “get it” at all?
Christians may find themselves puzzled and frustrated that many of those around them just don’t understand real Christianity. Every follower of Jesus has a real, personal experience of God. It is not just subjective: it is shared by countless other Christians. Becoming a Christian is thrilling: Christ’s teaching makes such sense, and what He promises matches experience. Yet there are those around them who just can’t understand any of this, even though they may know a bit about Christianity. Why is this so?
Equally, the non-Christian has a puzzle. How are they to understand the Christians they meet? What’s animating them? Is there something invisible going on?
Jesus answers both lots of puzzled people in his famous conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus, a high-ranking religious official, comes to this new Teacher wanting to find out more. Jesus tells this enquirer that if he’s even to see the Kingdom of God, that is, to understand and experience it, he needs to be born again (John 3:3).
Nicodemus is puzzled by this, so Jesus explains. This new birth is a change worked in us by God’s Spirit: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (v6). God works in a person a radical change, a change as big as being born.
It is likely that behind what Jesus says is the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, in which God promises his hard-hearted, sinful people new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Sin both deadens and blinds: the answer to both, in John 3, is this new birth.
Everyone needs this. It is significant that Jesus tells Nicodemus, of all people, that he needs this - and he’s not a criminal, but a man of considerable piety! Indeed, Jesus is triply clear in this passage of the need for new birth: see verses 3, 5 and 7. We need God to do this work in us, or the kingdom of God will never be our experience. Every reader of this blog needs the new birth!
This, then, is Jesus’ explanation of the puzzle of some people “getting it”, while others don’t. To grasp real Christianity deeply and personally, we must have this new birth.
Jesus echoes the puzzle the Christian feels about those who don’t “get it” when He says to Nicodemus, “You are Israel’s teacher, and you do not understand these things?” (3:10). And He echoes the puzzle that the non-Christian has about Christians when He says, “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (3:8). Yes, there is something invisible going on, seen only by its effects: the work of God’s Spirit.
Have you discovered this? It’s God’s work in us, but Jesus tells us in John 3:14-15 how we can have it for ourselves
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