The term “born again” is often used to describe victory over an addictive habit, a new leaf being turned in someone’s life, or a dramatic change of attitude and outlook. But when Jesus coined the term it meant something much more.
At first, Nicodemus took Jesus literally, “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’ answer provides even more mystery. “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.’ “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.” (John 3:4–8, NASB95)
Jesus’ phrase “born of water” is a bit of a mystery. Several interpretations have been suggested. Is it meaning physical birth? Or perhaps just another way to indicate Spirit? Another thought is a reference to water baptism. All of them have their place. It could be that Jesus had John’s baptism of repentance in mind. Turning to Jesus always has a sense of turning away from our sin and water is often symbolic of washing and cleansing. Paul put it this way, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5, NASB95)
If we hold that being born of water is repentance, then what is being born of the Spirit? Jesus gave us a clue in verse eight, “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.” Those born again from above have a willingness to follow Jesus, to be moved by the wind of the Spirit. Call it “total commitment” or Lordship or sold-out for Jesus or open to the Spirit’s call. The result is the same – a desire and willingness to go and speak and do as the Spirit leads. Being born again means allowing the indwelling Holy Spirit to be our prime motivator instead of the hundreds of other things that often move us.
“How can these things be?” Nicodemus asked Jesus in response. “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. “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:9–15, NASB95)
Jesus alludes to an event that had not happened yet – his death on the cross. The story about Moses is one that Nicodemus would have well known; it is recorded in Numbers 21:1-20. The long and short is that the Israelites murmured and complained. The scriptures record that God sent fiery serpents in response. Those bitten by the snakes painfully suffered and died. Moses interceded and God directed him to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole. All those who turned and looked at the bronze snake were healed. All who turn from their sin and look to Jesus, to His death and believe in His resurrection are also healed and saved from death. Or, in the context of John 3 are born again from above.
Notice Jesus’ progression. At first, He connects born again with seeing the Kingdom, then with entering the Kingdom, and finally with eternal life. Jesus is leading Nicodemus, and us, to seeing in a whole new way. A grand shift from appeasing God through sacrifice in the hope that He’ll do something to a new life which is rich with relationships and family, and abundant with love.
Seeing the kingdom, entering the kingdom, and having eternal life is not something for another day. The whole idea of being born again is that those things happen now. Eternity begins at that wonderful moment we turn our hearts to Jesus and ask Him to be our Savior and Lord. The kingdom is already here, yet not fully here. Eternity is already here, yet not fully experienced. Our new life in Jesus is not some waiting room or proving grounds, but a new life of following the winds of the Holy Spirit and discovering the Kingdom of God. But just like a baby is human but not yet mature, we too continue to learn, grow, and mature in our faith relationship with Father God, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.