What do you think about when you hear the phrase ‘born again’. Sadly many of us tend to associate the phrase with one particular expression of the Christian faith, with (what might seem to us) the ill-fitting cultural clothing that comes with it. We may think of a fiery preacher in an expensive white suit yelling ‘you must be booooorn again’, or something equally memorable and unhelpful.
It is a great shame that the phrase has come into disrepute in recent years, because it’s one of the most important, dare I say it fundamental, phrases of the bible. And it wasn’t invented by Christians, not even folksy tabernacle evangelists. It was Jesus himself who said it. More than that, it wasn’t just something he recommended as a good way to look at the journey of faith: a nice idea we could use to illustrate a spiritual truth. He was far more insistent: ‘You must be born again.’
What’s the big deal? In the end it comes down to one of the great questions of life: how do we live the life that God wants us to? In the bible, the complexities of this question are neatly boiled down into one condensed but highly meaningful contrast: the flesh versus the Spirit. The ‘flesh’ is all about human effort: we live the life God wants by trying really hard – knowing all the rules and rituals, and then doing our best to follow them. This is how most religious worldviews operate, but there’s just one small problem – it doesn’t work. Our flesh is too easily corrupted, and even when we do the right things, we often do them for the wrong reasons.
The in-breaking kingdom of Jesus is totally different. When we follow him, his Spirit dwells in us and transforms us from the inside out. We begin a new life, indwelt by God. As our heart is changed and we develop Christlike virtues – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness – so we naturally ‘do’ the right things.
How can we describe this new life? Well, Jesus thought of one very good way: we are – you guessed it – ‘born again’ (v3, v6). Born of the Spirit (v5) i.e. to a new spiritual life, a God-infused heart which slowly learns to live as God wants. This is the Spiritual life, in the truest, most literal sense of the word. And, Jesus says, there is no other way: ‘no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless…’ (v5).
How can we tell where we are? Like the wind, we can’t ‘see’ God’s Spirit, but we can see its effects (v8). Take a few moments today to think about the ways you’ve changed and grown as a person as you’ve walked with God – that’s the effect of the divine Wind. And give thanks! Be encouraged that God continues to be at work in you.
And if you’re not yet sure about following Jesus, but would like to change, Jesus gives us the blueprint today. The great news is that it’s not about you, or your effort. It’s about having a heart which is open to Jesus, which lets him in to do what you can’t. Why not let God begin his new life in you today?