John 3:3. Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
I remember when I was in college working at a Domino’s Pizza my manager asked me if I was one of those “born againers.” I must have been talking about my faith or about Jesus I suppose. I had a never heard Christians called “born againers” before. It sounded like an insult in my manager’s mouth. But actually it comes straight from the mouth of Jesus.
Except that “born again” is probably not what Jesus was trying to communicate that day. Let me explain.
Jesus’ phrase you must be born again comes in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and a very smart religious leader named Nicodemus. When Nicodemus sneaks out at night to chat with Jesus, mostly to figure out Jesus’ political agenda, Jesus refuses to have the conversation that Nicodemus wants to have. Jesus does have an agenda. But it’s not politics. It’s eternal life.
Nicodemus: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.
Nicodemus wants to talk about God’s glory in signs and wonders. But Jesus wants to talk about God’s salvation. God’s kingdom. God’s life.
Jesus: Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
The phrase “born again” is the Greek word anothen, which means “from above,” or from God or from Heaven. Now to be fair, anothen can also be translated as “born again.” So Nicodemus isn’t wrong in hearing it this way. And it explains why he starts talking about going back inside his mother’s womb (awkward).
But that’s not what Jesus is talking about. He’s talking about being born of God. He’s talking about a new birth from Heaven. The same kind of birth that John has already told his readers about back in chapter 1.
John 1:12-13. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
To be born again is to be born of God.
Nicodemus, like you and me, doesn’t need a political savior. His knowledge, and status, his religious deeds, none of this can save him. He needs a heavenly birth. A new divine life force. A new spirit and a new heart. And to prove that he isn’t just making this up, Jesus drills down deep into the scriptures with Nicodemus.
Jesus: unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
The water and the Spirit are all over the scriptures – Creation, the Exodus, priestly cleansing, and of course, Ezekiel’s vision of living water. Nicodemus should know this stuff. Jesus has taken Nicodemus deep into God’s promise through the prophet Ezekiel of a new covenant, a new heart, and a new spirit making us the new creation.
Ezekiel 36:26. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.
Nicodemus wanted to have a conversation about Jesus’ power and his political potential. But Jesus wanted to have a conversation about THE power of the new birth. The birth from above. The birth through the waters of the Spirit.
Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is truly remarkable. But the most amazing part is still to come. Nicodemus is still confused, asking, How can these things be? (3:9). But Jesus doesn’t say, “Keep studying, Nic. You’ll get it eventually.” No. He says look at ME.
I am the birth from above.
I am the cleansing water of the Spirit.
I am the promised new creation.
Jesus was literally born from above (not born again). In his incarnation, Jesus was born physically of the Spirit, becoming flesh, so that we might be born spiritually from above, becoming the new creation in Christ. He took on our humanity. Our corruption. Our curse. Our weakness. Our pain. Our desperation. He took it all to the cross.
John 3:14-15. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
He became the bronze serpent (see day 40) of God’s holy wrath toward sin lifted up on the cross so that we might believe in him, receive his life, and live.
“To live is Christ” means that we have been much more than “born again.” We have been born from above. God’s life our life. Christ’s eternal love and holiness ours in him. God’s Spirit in us as the person of Jesus Christ. This is the glory that all of scripture and every promise of God has brought us to see- Christ on a cross, lifted up for us, so that his eternal life may be ours in him.
Have you been born from above?
You in Christ
To be in Christ is to be born from God, his child. How does this give you hope and peace today?
Christ in you
How does being born from above make your life different?
Playlist: Songs of the New Birth.