What Does It Mean To Be Born Again? To be born again is the means to enter God’s kingdom. What is God’s kingdom? The perfect kingdom. The perfect government. Understand this: Nicodemus seeks for a better government. Ironically, as a Pharisee, he is a ruler in a corrupt government. The incumbent rule is imperialistic and to him, oppressive. (Lots of things can be said of the Roman empire; but that’ll take another blog article.) So, in brief, Nicodemus’ government is bereft of anything that is perfect. He comes to Jesus by cover of the dark because he doesn’t want his constituents to suspect him of treason or mutiny or a conspiracy to overthrow the current government!
He wants to “see” what this kingdom of the other Rabbi’s is really like. He hears about it. He sees the miracles Jesus does, and these are things that can come only from the perfect kingdom! So he wants to know how he can “enter” into Jesus’ realm. He wants to be part of Jesus’ kingdom. Nicodemus’ question might as well have been: Teacher, you come from the perfect government, how do I get in? He must have thought: If Jesus’ kingdom is the same government that the Prophet Isaiah is talking about, you know that “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end…” (Isaiah 9:6—7), then I want in!
But to the chagrin of Nicodemus’ face, his bewilderment becomes almost palpable when Jesus tells him, “You have to be born again!”
Re-birth Is Physically Impossible. “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” So says Nicodemus back to Jesus. The impossibility of this re-birth is apparent in his question. To Jesus, however, re-birth is not impossible because this is done by the Spirit of God who is the energizing power behind (or hovering) the creation of the universe. The religious leader thinks in terms of the physical. Jesus talks back to him in terms of the Spiritual! (Although I don’t doubt that Jesus could make a man to enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born again just to give Nicodemus and us a theatrical illustration!)
Re-birth Is Spiritually Possible. Just as it is in the physical realm, where we need H2O and oxygen to be alive, the Spirit of God uses the life-giving resources of water and wind to make one born-again! Jesus says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit (in the original, wind) he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). As a Pharisee and apparently a great teacher of the Old Testament, Nicodemus would have been familiar with these references from Isaiah 44:3—5 and Ezekiel 37:9—10.
Isaiah speaks of the promise of the Spirit of God and the coming restoration of Israel, God’s chosen people: “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (44:3, emphasis mine).
Ezekiel, in the vision of the valley of dry bones, is commanded of God to: “Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, ‘Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.‘” (37:9). So the prophet preaches as he is commanded, “and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet” (37:10). About this phenomena, someone said: “He who made man so fearfully and wonderfully can in like manner make him new. Scattered atoms can be marshalled in their proper place and every bone can be made to come to its place by the same wisdom and power by which bones were first formed in the womb” (Kieth Brooks).
To Nicodemus, to be born again was impossible; but to Jesus, not at all!
Re-birth Is Possible By Water and Wind. Objection: But doesn’t ‘water’ speak of the baptism by water which has the power to cleanse and save you? No, John 3:5 doesn’t refer to water baptism or baptismal regeneration. It talks about the water of the word of God and the Spirit of God whose sword is the word of God.
The Apostle Paul says of Christ’s desire for the church is to “sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). In the same letter, Paul describes that the sword of the Spirit “is the word of God” (6:17).
And no, baptism by water doesn’t cleanse us from sin. It can cleanse us of physical filth and it does serve as an outward picture of the cleansing that happens inside; but H2O doesn’t all of the sudden become magical during a baptismal service! Water and wind refer to the word of God.
Re-birth Is Possible By the Means of Preaching The Word of God. So how does this “water and wind” life-giving resource happen? Well, it needs to be brought to the person seeking to be born again. That is, by preaching the word of God to the seeker. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). This is why Jesus tells Nicodemus of the word of God in the brass serpent of Moses’ historical narrative. Jesus, the faithful preacher, brings to remembrance the event recorded for us in Numbers 21. Nicodemus, being the Pharisee and Old Testament expert that he is, obviously knows the reference.
The people sinned against God by their complaining and detesting of God’s provision of heavenly bread. So God sent them venomous vipers as a just consequence of their sin. In essence God was telling them, “Okay, you reject my heavenly bread, I’ll give you earthly-bred snakes!”
Re-birth Is Possible By the Means of Repentance of Sin. As Moses records for us, “much people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6). The ones who were dying and realized their fatal error came to Moses and sought salvation and deliverance from death. Nicodemus has to realize the same thing. He is dead—dead in trespasses and sin (see Ephesians 2:1-3). He will never see the kingdom of God because he is dead. Thus the need to be alive, to be born again; to be alive to God, to be born the second time, of another kind! Someone has said, “The problem of man is not so much that he is bad and needed to be good. The problem of man is that he is dead and needed to be alive!” And that would be absolutely correct because as the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesians, “And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1).
As “we have sinned” (Numbers 21:7) was the confession of the people of Israel, Nicodemus must realize and repent of his sins as well. Repentance is the changing of mind about sin and this change will show in conduct, behavior, attitude and the bent in the life of the repentant. Repentance is the turning away from sin and simultaneously, the turning “toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Back to Moses’ bronze serpent story, God then instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent, set it on a pole, lift it up and preach to the dying to look on it and be saved.
Re-birth Is Possible By the Means of Believing In Jesus. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). If Nicodemus is to see and enter the kingdom of God, then he must look to Jesus. The people of Israel looked on the bronze serpent and they were delivered from death. If Nicodemus is to see and enter the realm and government of God, then he must believe that Jesus can give him the life-giving resource of water and wind. If Nicodemus is to be born again, then he must look on Christ, the one who later was lifted up on the cross!
Re-birth Is The Need of All People. How about you, friend? Have you been born again? Do you seek a better government? Do you search for a perfect utopia? Do you long for perfect peace? Hear the word of God. Listen to the gospel of Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The good news of Jesus Christ is the life-giving resource that will cause you to be born again. Turn from your sins and look to Jesus. Believe in Him and you will have eternal life!