John 3:5-6 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
This whole passage through verse 21 is thoroughly familiar, containing as it does the most famous verse in the whole Bible. In recent years I have paid a lot of attention to verses 19-21, which speak of truth and light. So, I was quite curious as to what the Lord would bring to my attention this morning. In the first place, it struck me that we owe Nicodemus a debt of gratitude, because it was his courage, as a member of the Sanhedrin, to seek Jesus out, even at night, that triggered this fountain of marvelous teaching. He got more than he could have imagined! Within all this marvelous teaching, I feel the Lord saying that it is this bit that is most being ignored in many churches. We give lip service to “being born again,” yet we don’t really teach on what it means and we hardly recognize it when it happens. With cultural Christianity we tend to feel people are born Christian from their mother’s womb, whether or not our church practices infant baptism. Churches have so little power because they operate in the flesh, when Jesus is saying clearly that is totally inadequate. Some people have used verse five to insist on “baptismal regeneration,” saying that we can’t be born again until we are immersed in the water of baptism, but there are too many other Bible passages that contradict that. I personally feel the “water” here refers to the very wet process of physical birth. In other words, everyone is born of water, but unless you are also born of the Spirit, you haven’t been born again. Some people are born again very dramatically and some people are born again over a period of time, but the nature of the person has to change, from flesh to spirit. I was in a pretty traditional church back in 1972 when a rodeo rider (we were in Denver) was dramatically born again. There were frankly not a few church members who were somewhat openly in opposition to him, because as a brand new Christian he hadn’t “dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s” of church life. After he moved on (since his work was transient) he wrote letters to our Sunday School class, and they sounded like they were straight from the hand of Paul! (Frankly, that didn’t sit too well with some people either!) We look at people and tend to chain them to their past, when being born again obviously means a new beginning. Infants are naturally infantile, spiritually as well as physically, but you’ve got to be born before you can really grow, and we tend to ignore spiritual birth.
As a pastor, this can be painful to think about. How many of my flock are genuinely born again? How many of the people I have baptized were born again when that happened, or are born again even now? I could be a poster child for cultural Christianity, when my parents were missionaries, one grandfather was a pastor and the other a seminary professor, and at least one great-grandfather was a pastor. I can’t remember ever not knowing about Jesus. We have records that I proclaimed my love for Jesus as young as five, and I clearly remember when, at age seven, I went to my parents saying that I wanted to be baptized because I wanted Jesus in my heart. None of that was bad or wrong, but I honestly cannot say exactly when I was born again. I can say, however, that God has rescued me from my flesh and given me life by His Spirit. I am painfully aware that I cannot save anyone, that I cannot force them to be born again. Accordingly, I need to let them know that it’s possible, and that God will do the job if they will repent and submit to Him in faith.
Father, sometimes I feel like I never volunteered for nursery duty, but that’s what being a pastor is. Help me function effectively as a midwife and a wet nurse, nurturing believers and teaching them to “chow down on” Your Word for themselves, so that they may be the healthy, active children You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!