It’s fairly easy to get to the famous encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus and get bogged down in the details. What did Jesus mean when he said one has to be born of water and spirit? Does the word πνεῦμα in vs. 8 mean “wind” or “spirit?” Why did Nicodemus come by night? Was he sneaking in to talk to Jesus? These are all great questions and worth investigation, but there is one overarching message that Jesus is passing on to Nicodemus and it is simple: “Listen Nick, you must be born again.”
The broader world uses “born again” as a term of derision and folly as if someone who claims to be born again has lost their mind and just may need to be committed to an insane asylum. P. J. O’Rourke is a good example: Making fun of born-again Christians is like hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and scope. So no, we’re not going to get the world to pat us on the back for being born again, nor for telling them that they need to be born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus.
Jesus’ disciples got the message and it sank deep because the language of being born of God saturates their letters. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world, John writes (1 John 5.4). Indeed, it is the disciples who flesh out for us what it means to be born of God. Here are some of the things they say about the new birth:
- God has caused us to be born again (1 Pet 1.3)
- We are born again through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1.23)
- The evidence of being born again is that one practices righteousness (1 John 2.29)
- Love is a key characteristic of someone that is born of God (1 John 4.7)
- One is saved by the new birth, by being born again (Titus 3.5)
- The new birth involves believing in Jesus as the Son of God (John 3.34-36)
- One cannot see the kingdom of God without being born again (John 3.3)
How is one born again? It is a mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, as Christ points out in John 3.8:“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.” One is born again when the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see the truth of what Jesus says, not to mention the beauty of his character. We do, however, have Paul’s promise: If you confess with your mouth, Christ Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved (Rom 10.9).
I may not know exactly how the new birth comes, but I can show you what it looks like, or rather Holly Ordway can in her excellent little book Not God’s Type.Near the beginning of the book she writes: So then, the following pages are the account of how I turned from death to life—from denying God to committing myself to Christ, my Lord and Savior. It is not the account of how I came to love him: that came later, and, like the gift of knowing him, came without my asking.
Jesus himself said that to see the kingdom of God you must be born again. Are you born again?