Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, January 30, 2009

IMPOSSIBLE - You Must Be Born Again, Part 2

In part one, we saw that the Lord considers our salvation humanly impossible, owing to the fact that our depravity leaves us almost completely oblivious to the Kingdom of God. As we read on in John chapter 3, He takes it even further . . .

John 3:4-7 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

There is something slightly humorous in this question from Nicodemus, but it is beyond all doubt the voice of unenlightened unbelief that is asking. He is incredulous. Notice the response from Jesus: "You MUST be born again, but you cannot do it. It is the work of the Spirit." And now the issue at stake is not just seeing the kingdom - it's entering the kingdom. Nicodemus had answered one impossibility with another, proving the very point Jesus is making. A prominent religious leader of Israel could not even comprehend the idea of a spiritual rebirth. Hadn't Jesus said, "You cannot see . . ." ?

Jesus analogizes spiritual birth with physical birth. In physical birth, we begin surrounded by water. We are protected and encased within the watery womb of our mothers. We did not place ourselves there. We were placed. We did not cause ourselves to grow and develop. We did not even will our way out of the womb and into the world. In the same way, our spiritual birth follows a time of being immersed in the Spirit of God, protected by His presence, receiving spiritual life from Him. He regenerates us, and enables us to receive Christ in faith. We are born of the Spirit, born with new eyes. Suddenly, though still immature and helpless, we SEE the kingdom. And we are IN the kingdom!

But Nicodemus doesn't get it, so the Lord draws another illustration:

John 3:8-11 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.

In Greek, the word "wind" is exactly the same as the word "Spirit." The Greek term is PNEUMA - the word from which we derive "pneumatics" and "pneumonia." Notice that the wind "blows where it wishes." When Jesus says "we know and testify," He is probably referring to Himself and the Holy Spirit. With these words, Jesus places Himself in an entirely different category of understanding, revealing that He has personal and intimate knowledge of the Spirit's work, and that He speaks as an eyewitness of the Spirit's activities. He SEES things we do not see.

Jesus emphasizes the mysterious quality of the new birth. Not only are we unable to SEE God's Kingdom in our natural state, we DO NOT KNOW the details of how His Spirit moves to bring about the salvation of sinners. We may hear the wind, but we still cannot KNOW its course.

Jesus gives Nicodemus this impossible command, "You must be born again." The idea here is not that Nicodemus needs to cause his own spiritual birth. No, he simply needs to surrender to the Lord and ask for it. He needs to admit that he knows nothing, sees nothing, comes to God with nothing. He needs to stop trusting in himself and his ability to perceive, and believe what Jesus says to him. Jesus is not impressed by his amazement, or his intellect, or his religious credentials. He calls Nicodemus to faith - a faith that trusts God to do what is impossible for man to do himself.

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