There are not many passages in scripture that get the play John 3 does. With the interest of Nicodemus and the “born from above” concept, there is seldom much tread left on the tire when it comes to discussing this passage. Nevertheless, there are a few things that came to my mind as I was reading this passage again the other day.
First – the actual concept of being “born from above.” I get it as do most people. However, the magnitude of that concept can often be overlooked and understated. After all, there is something VERY unique and spiritually exclusive in that concept. To my knowledge no other religion embraces that notion. Perhaps reincarnation is a parallel thought, but it fails to compare with what Jesus describes to Nicodemus.
Most evangelicals are so familiar with the passage and the “born again” terminology they let it roll off their tongue as though it were elementary. The fact is, it is perhaps the single most important concept in the NT outside the concept of grace. For a person to be born again/from above, carries with it the full weight of what it means to enter into a relationship with God. The parallel concept of physical birth with spiritual birth is evidence that God is intimately involved with his creation – at all levels. To be born from above is to be captured and compelled by the Holy Spirit to be other than we were. We become that new creation Paul talks about only in the sense that we are born anew. It is not a rehash of the old man, but a rebirth into the family of God specifically by God and for God.
The second issue that I believe is often overlooked is Jesus’ comment to Nicodemus as he struggled to get his mind around the concept of being born from above. In verse ten of John chapter 3 Jesus says this…”Are you a/the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”
If we translate the article “a” than Jesus brings an indictment against Nicodemus’ general lack of understanding. If we translate the article “the” then Jesus brings a specific indictment against Nicodemus as the specific teacher of the people of Israel and castigate his inability to understand the spiritual concept Jesus is referring to. Either way, and I believe it to be the latter, how could Nicodemus get his mind around the “born from above” concept when it would be so radically new and different from anything he may have read in the Torah? The concept is not something that is replete in the OT. In fact, it is difficult to find anything in the OT that might be in corollary with what Jesus has just described. It could be akin to the “new heart” described by the prophet Ezekiel. But that is a far cry from the idea of being “born from above.”
I don’t blame Nicodemus for asking Jesus, “How can these things be?” Indeed, how can they be? Sure, we talk about the born again concept like it was yesterday’s news. We even call people “born again” as though it is something readily apparent to the naked eye. But it is not.
Being born requires that their be growth. Just as an infant must grow, so must the believer who is born from above. Born again requires both a period of dependency and independence through maturation. This does not mean our spiritual life is lived independent of God. It means that as we mature our ability to walk the walk becomes, to some degree, natural and automatic. Just as we move from the milk of the word to the meat of the word, so we pass through different stages of maturity from that initial point of being born from above. It is no small matter. It takes work, diligence, discernment and dedication. Oh yes, and perseverance. We must not forget perseverance.
I’m sticking with Nic on this one. Perhaps he should have known what Jesus was referring to with the “born from above” analogy. Perhaps he should have understood the spiritual side of what Jesus was saying. But he didn’t – at least not then. Heck, I’m not sure I really understand the concept and I have the advantage of centuries filled with commentators who are more than willing to lay out the import of the passage. Yet, I’m not certain any one fully comprehends the concept of new birth.