A Voice in the
"Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he is not able to 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 marvel that I said to you, You must be born from above." (vs5-7)
From the president of the United States, to Joe-citizen sitting in the church pews, there is this idea of what a "Christian" is. Well, actually, there are many variations of ideas, that gather to worship regularly. But most of them can be boiled down into Oprah's doctrine that, if you "just have faith", and "love in your heart", that that is all that is needed. On one hand, if you spend enough time around some 'holy man', that holiness will rub off, as some sort of "seed of faith" sprouts 'from within' and you then begin to "grow in your faith". On the other hand, what a person must do is look 'inward' and find that 'goodness' that is in there, and just bring it out and make it a part of your conscious thought. In both cases, essentially, a "christian" is a person who has striven at all these things and is now a "better person". Living a decent, moral life, possessed of "family values" and "love of God and country". This goodness was really there 'within' all along. It just needed to be found, nurtured, and helped to grow. Just "give your life to Jesus", and "make a committment". And of course, it helps to have somebody with the right words, so that a person can "repeat after me".
Notice that Nicodemus, a "ruler of the Jews" (vs1) comes to Jesus. It doesn't tell us 'why' he was coming to Jesus. But he obviously had a perception that Jesus was a "great" Man... a "holy" Man. That, at the least, "God [was] with Him" (vs2b) Was he hoping, as many do, to receive some of that holiness "by association"? Many people making claims to being "Christian" include in their 'resume' (Uh.."testimony") that they went forward "at So-n-so's crusade". Or, they met some Somebody-or-other (who coincidentally has some radio program, or is an author of so-many books, or has some certain set of letters behind his name due to his education, and is famous), and just "being in that person's presence" they "felt God's love", and something-or-other the person said sprouted the "seeds of faith", and ever since then, their faith has been growing to wherever it is they think they are now. And of course, the more 'famous' the person they talk to, the more sure is their 'faith'.
So, Nicodemus comes, and Jesus replies, Oh, come right on in Dr. Nic. Here, have a seat, and I'll have the secretary get you a cup of coffee. You were noting all My great works and miracles. (vs2) I'm sure you saw our newest building off to the side of the driveway as you came into this vast complex; that's going to be where I teach people the 'power of prayer'. The building across the road from that is where we coordinate our prayer warfare strategies. God has been blessing us marvelously, and we have been touching so many 'millions' of lives. Well, here... let Me take you on the grand tour of the place so you can see for yourself. Uh, Ms. Secretary, would you please hold all my calls; I'll be taking Dr. Nic out to lunch when we're finished with the tour; if you will have the chauffeur bring the limo around to the front to be ready for us. If it's an emergency, patch them through to my cel phone. Will you also please make a luncheon reservation for us at the Ritz.
But notice what Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God." (vs3) Bam!! (Forget what you think are "great works" and fame; let's get down to business) Yes, we know of Jesus' generic invitation to the multitudes, "Come unto Me.. I will give you rest" (11:28) But whenever Jesus speaks to individuals, He often places an obstacle before them; a conundrum. Something which looks 'different' than the question they thought they were asking. Ones wanting physical healing, He speaks of sins forgiven. (Mt9:2) The gentile woman, suggesting that "dogs" don't deserve anything. (Mt15:26) The prostitute, about water. (Jn4) And as Nicodemus is buttering Jesus up for what he expects to be a "glorious" conversation with a "great man", this great Man knocks him down. Whap! Essentially says, 'It is impossible to get into Heaven'. While the words say "he is not able"; the meaning implies that the matter is "an impossibility". It is NOT POSSIBLE...for a person to see the kingdom of God... unless...
Unless what? He repents -REAL HARD-? Makes a committment? Goes forward at an 'altar call'? Makes promises to God to become a better person?
No! Unless he is "born from above". What an 'impossible' situation! Nicodemus asks, How does one be born 'again'? Get into mother's womb again, and be born "a second time"? (vs4) Who has ever heard of such a thing! Humans do not get born, grow up to maturity, and then climb back into the womb and be born again. That's just not the way things work.
So now, Jesus gets to the root of the subject. This is a matter that, for all the popularity of Jn3:16 as the 'most famous' Salvation verse, people do not understand this next part Jesus explains to Nicodemus. They talk about faith. Some even also talk about repentance. But they do not understand 'what' it is their faith is based upon. They do not understand 'regarding what' they are repenting. Without understanding this, no amount of faith will get one to Heaven. Without the core, it doesn't matter "how hard" one repents. Please understand, after years of VW writings which talk about repentance and faith, we are not now suddenly expunging those truths. Not Hardly! When people object to and reject those doctrines, it is partly because they do not understand 'this' one we are now addressing.
There are two natures: flesh and spirit. (vs6) When we are born as humans, we are born through the womb. That is the birth "of water". (vs5) But "flesh and blood is not able to inherit the kingdom of God" (1Cor15:50) Again: the meaning of "not able" is: "it is not possible" for flesh and blood to see Heaven. It is an impossibility.
You see, the problem with all the various ways by which people think they have become Christians are all man-based. They are of flesh. They spend time in the company of what they presume to be a "Christian", so they think they now are, too. They make promises. They work hard. They even dabble in "spirituality" and have experiences. After all, Jesus says, "water and the -Spirit-". And the way most translations word it, they read, "Ye must be born -again-". (vs7) So, they go about to "start over"; have a "fresh start"; a "new lease on life"; and they say they are "born again".
But the Word actually says, "You must be born FROM ABOVE". Nicodemus was thinking "again"; but Jesus was saying "above". This birth Jesus is talking about involves a new nature. This birth comes from a different place. As humans, our physical life comes from our 'earthly' parents, and is of this world. But the birth Jesus is explaining comes 'from God'; to become "children of God". (1:12) It is of "the Spirit". (vs5) Thus, we understand when Paul says, "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." (Rom8:9)
So, how, exactly, do we 'acquire' this Holy Spirit? Do we "pray" for Him to "fill" us? Is there something we "do" to acquire Him? Does it require worship, and if we worship enough, will He catch us away into ecstasy? Do we "speak in tongues"? How do we know when we "have" Him?
As we go into vs8, please understand that the word rendered in most translations "wind" is "pneuma". It is the root from which "pneumatic" comes, referring to things dealing with wind, air or air-driven tools, etc. However, this word is the word which, in Scripture, speaks of the Holy Spirit, or the spirit of man. "Unless one is born of water and Spirit [pneuma]" (vs5) "The Holy Spirit [pneuma] descended in bodily form.." (Lk3:22) "Father, Son and Holy Spirit [pneuma].." (Mt28:19) "..the Spirit [pneuma] of Truth.." (Jn14:17), etc.
After Jesus finishes explaining, Nicodemus asks, "How can these things be?" and Jesus chides, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?" (vs9-10) If Jesus is talking about a birth from above, of the Holy Spirit, why would He shift in mid-stream and start talking about the "wind blowing", like most translations say? This core doctrine has been hidden from the translators, because like Nicodemus, they didn't understand it, either... not being of God, themselves.
"The Spirit [pneuma] breathes where He wishes, and you hear His voice, but do not know where He comes from and where He goes. So is everyone who is born from the Spirit [pneuma]." (vs8)
(If Jesus' example is about "wind", then are we also born of "wind"? But wind does not blow "where it wishes", because, it blows in a God-ordained "circuit" (Ec1:6) The "way of the wind" is one of the "[works] of God who makes everything" (Ec11:5) Thus, if the verse closes by being "born from the Spirit"; then it is also the Spirit who breathes "where He wishes".)
A person who has been born "from above" will be able to understand this verse when the Lord knows it is the right time for them to understand. If you have not been born "from above", you will never understand it. Things of the Spirit are only understood by those who have the Holy Spirit. (1Cor2:11) If you are not of the Spirit, you will not understand this, and cannot hope to until and unless you receive this 'birth from above'. It is God who "reveals [it] to us" through the indwelling Holy Spirit. (1Cor2:10) What this is, is not the same as being "spirit-filled" that charismania promotes. This is not something where you feel all "tingly" in your emotions. You are not suddenly filled with euphoria. But this is the "still small voice". (1Kg19:12) Elijah had all those dramatic "manifestations" but it says, "Jehovah was not in..." those things. But where God spoke to him was through the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit speaks, you know Him. Often, satan tries to imitate and get one's attention, to confuse. But the Holy Spirit "bears witness with our spirit.." (Rom8:16) Other than that, there are no words to describe it, other than what Jesus spoke. The Believer hears His voice, and knows He is there... but how do you describe "where He comes and where He goes"? You cannot.
So... knowing this, perhaps we understand now why salvation is not something we do? When we are born into this world as babies, we had nothing to do with our birth. Our parents conceived and bore us. So, what makes us think that a 'birth' from Above is something that we can accomplish? And yet, that is precisely what christendom is based on. Most who call themselves "Christian" have only been born "again" through their own presumptions. Just like Nicodemus, whom Jesus chided, today's '[c]hristians' are not saved.
So, how does the birth from Above come about? Again, it is indescribable. But God gives it through the Holy Spirit.
When we contiually speak of "pretend-[c]hristians", invariably some of these very pretenders will retort back, "How can you say I'm not a Christian?!" (even though the specific person wasn't pinpointed by name). When we refer to the "repeat-after-me" prayers by which people think they are now saved, I've had some retort with, "I prayed a repeat-after-me prayer, and I'm saved." (Not that one of those 'prayers' might not be involved for some, in some cases, as they truly do meet the Lord in abject horror of their sin, and plead for His Saving Mercy) But then, usually, a few more comments later reveal the 'spirit' of which they are. A pretender doesn't understand how a True Believer can presume to suggest that the pretender is not saved. It's like the toddler who was video-taped in secret, doing something naughty; and being surprised that mommy and daddy know what they did. While the Holy Spirit "bears witness" within the Believer so he knows that he, himself, is a "child of God" (Rom8:16), the same Holy Spirit also bears witness to-or-against the spirits within others. If the spirit in that other person is the same Holy Spirit, the Lord "knows those who are His" (2Tm2:19), and the Believer then knows, because "we have the mind of Christ". (1Cor2:16)
The True Believer "knows something" the pretender hasn't a clue about. Jesus says, "We speak what We know and bear witness to what We have seen, and you do not receive Our testimony." (vs11) The True Believer "knows".
So now... notice what salvation is. The Son of Man had to be "lifted up" (vs14)... crucified. And then "everyone believing into Him [does] not perish but have eternal life". (vs15) Notice that, without Christ, mankind is perishing. That is man's condition. Man is "judged already" because he is without Christ. (vs18) Humanity doesn't have to do a single thing to perish. Just his mere existence WITHOUT CHRIST condemns him! We won't discuss here what we have in other places, how this condemnation came from Adam's sin (Rom5:12, 1Cor15:48); we are "conceived in sin" (Ps51:5); which is why unborn babies (who have never 'done' anything yet, right or wrong) are also condemned. (1Cor7:14) Why is there so much evil in the world? It is because mankind is without Christ. (vs19-20) Christ is Light. Mankind is in the darkness of sin, and they refuse to come to Christ, because they "loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil" (vs19)
But to those who "receive Him" (1:12), who "believe into Him" (3:15-16) they receive "Eternal Life". Notice again, a subtle word difference. Many translations speak of "Everlasting" Life. The difference between these two words is like the difference between being born "again" vs being born "from above". If we could somehow renew ourselves and call it being born "again", then, we could begin from where we are, and continue living forever, from-here-on-out, and our present life has now received an 'extension' so as to 'never end'. But such a life would then be 'our' life.
The word here is "aionios" = "without beginning, without end; a perpetuity of time". If we are creating our own salvation, were such a thing even possible, we might be able to live from-now-on forever. But if we are born 'from above', of the Holy Spirit, we are receiving a new life. We have a new nature. We are a "new creation" where old things are "passed away" and everything is now "new". (2Cor5:17) As God speaks to Israel of their restoration He speaks of the "new spirit" He will give them. (Ezek11:19) David asks, "create in me a clean heart" (Ps51:10) Notice that "create" is not the same as "fix". Oh, Lord, please "fix up my life". Or... Lord, here's my life, please help me fix it and make it better. No! Salvation involves a brand new heart. A new Holy Spirit. And thus, the Life we get is also a "new" one. If we only live "everlastingly" from-now-on...that is the same life we now have. But when we receive the Holy Spirit "from above", we are also given His Life. What is the nature of God? "..having neither beginning of days nor end of life.." (Heb7:3) The "same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb13:8) "from everlasting to everlasting" (Ps90;2)
That is the 'eternal' life the Believer receives! God's life. Do you see why today's typical invitations are sooo flawed? They invite, "give your life to Jesus". What good will that do? We are "DEAD in trespasses and sins.." (Eph2:1) What the sinner needs is to receive Jesus' life. The invitation should be worded more on the order of, "Won't you ask God to give you His Life, the life that comes from His Son, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit." As John says, "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." (1Jn5:11)
Now, notice that Nicodemus did not "repeat after Me". Jesus did not invite, "Won't you commit to Me now?" At the invitation, "Won't you come forward". Jesus begins by telling Nicodemus, essentially, YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE, where you are, the way you have in mind to do it! You think you're a great leader of Israel (his position before Israel was not unlike that of today's great/famous church/denomination leaders, teachers, seminary professors, and televangelists), and you don't even understand these basic things!! (vs10) But notice that Nicodemus apparently, after this conversation with Jesus, then did get saved. Later when his fellow-pharisees are condemning Jesus, he stands up for Him, and they taunt, "Are you also from Galilee?" (Jn7:50,52) And when Jesus has died on the cross, Nicodemus helps Joseph (of Arimathea) to bury the body.
Salvation does not come through christendom. "..not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." (Tit3:5)