Rebirth – True Truth Continued   Leave a comment

This is part of a series What If Truth Went Viral. Check it out.

Nicodemus came to Jesus for answers and his first question was “How can I be right with God?” Jesus’ answer perplexed this teacher of theology. After saying “this is a true truth”, Jesus told him he had to be “reborn from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” John 3:4

Nicodemus chose to understand Jesus’ words literally. He assumed the expression “reborn from above” must refer to some kind of literal re-birth. There are scholars who will insist that Jesus’s choice of words forced Nicodemus in that direction, but I agree with other scholars who say Nicodemus did not wish to pursue the implications of the only other direction open to him. It is easier to scoff at the physical impossibility of a grown man reentering his mother’s womb. Jesus’ words can be brushed aside as ridiculous and absurd, if taken that way.

We have an advantage over Nicodemus. Reading John’s gospel, we know he has already identified Jesus as God. The creation of life was His work in the beginning, and that included creating spiritual life. We have also read that those who become God’s children are those born by a divine act of creation (John 1:12). Nicodemus had not had those lessons yet, so he embraced a crass literalism and scoffed at Jesus’ words, not because Jesus was wrong, but because Nicodemus didn’t understand him.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8

Once again, Jesus began His response to Nicodemus by indicating the true truth of what He was saying. He then answered Nicodemus’ objection Nicodemus: “… unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (verse 5).

I believe we can safely reason that to be “reborn from above” is synonymous with being “born of water and spirit.” People ask, “What is meant by the terms “water” and “spirit”? Some take the term “water” to refer to natural birth, while they believe “spirit” refers to one’s spiritual re-birth from above. If this is what Jesus intended, then He said that a man must first be born naturally (“of water”) and then supernaturally (“of the Spirit”). According to my Bible guides, the support for interpreting “water” in this way is not strong and frankly I don’t see it as necessary for Jesus to argue the need for both physical birth and spiritual birth.

I personally favor understanding the terms “water” and “spirit” as one expression, “water and spirit,” which together refer to spiritual rebirth. Again, according to the Bible analysis I have available, several Old Testament texts seem to justify the conclusion that both “water” and “spirit” refer to one’s spiritual rebirth:

“’For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring; They will spring up among the grass Like willows by the watercourses.’ One will say, ‘I am the LORD’s’; Another will call himself by the name of Jacob; Another will write with his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ And name himself by the name of Israel” (Isaiah 44:3-5, NKJV).

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:24-27, NKJV).

This work of regeneration is also described in the Old Testament as the work of the “wind”:

Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army (Ezekiel 37:9-10, NKJV).

The New Testament describes God’s work of salvation as the “washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit”:

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. But “when the kindness of God our Savior appeared and his love for mankind, He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).

I believe that the “water” of which Jesus spoke  here is also related to the “water” of baptism. The Pharisees are most concerned to know why John is baptizing (John 1:25). Immediately after Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus, John’s disciples express their concerns to him about the rising popularity of Jesus. Jesus has been spending time with His disciples and baptizing (3:22). John’s disciples then protest to John: “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified—see, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him!” (3:26). I believe the Savior’s baptism and John’s baptism are, at this point in time, one and the same. It is the baptism of repentance, in preparation for Messiah’s coming. Baptism was a part of the message and the ministry of both John and Jesus, and baptism by the Spirit is what John said distinguished the Messiah’s ministry from his own (John 1:33). Thus, to be born of water and the Spirit is to be “reborn from above,” to be saved.

Now let’s be clear (especially since we’re dealing in true truth here). Baptism is a good work that we perform as a result of salvation. It does not impart salvation and to push that theory would be to argue against what Jesus told Nicodemus. John’s baptism was viewed as preparatory to the coming of the Savior. It was a baptism of repentance. By being baptized, one testified that he or she was renouncing Judaism (law keeping) as the means of their salvation. This was precisely why unbelieving and unrepentant Pharisees refused baptism:

(Now all the people who heard this, even the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 However, the Pharisees and the experts in religious law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) (Luke 7:29-30)

Jesus was very careful to identity Himself with John and his ministry. If a Pharisee or anyone else wished to enter the kingdom of God, they must do so through the means God had appointed—identification with John and with Jesus, the One of whom John bore testimony.

I do believe baptism was expected, but Jesus did not emphasize human action, but rather the sovereign work of God in salvation. To be born from above is to be born of God. To be born of God is to be spiritually born by the work of His Spirit (born from above). Jesus then described the sovereign saving work of God through His Spirit by using the analogy of the wind.

The effects of the wind can be seen, but the wind itself is not seen. Neither can the wind be controlled. The wind goes where it wishes and does what it will. Men do not control the wind. The Spirit’s saving work is like this. The Spirit goes about His life-giving work, and no man controls Him. No one, by his own works or manipulation can direct the Spirit in His work. But when the Spirit brings about the new birth, the effects are evident. We know it is the work of God’s Spirit, unseen and beyond man’s control. In this sense, neither Nicodemus nor anyone else can save themselves, nor anyone else for that matter. Salvation is the sovereign work of God, accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Pharisaism saw itself as the guardian of the Law of Moses. It viewed itself as the pure remnant of Judaism – the “gatekeeper” of the kingdom, governit it by the rules and regulations it had added to the law through oral tradition (see Matthew 23:13-15). Like his peers, Nicodeumus felt as though the Pharisees had the kingdom under control. Jesus shocked him by saying that part from being reborn from above, Nicodemus and his fellow moralists would not be seeing heaven anytime soon. In fact, Jesus was set to blow this myth right out of the water.

Posted June 17, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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