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Gospel of John 3: 1-6 (NIV)
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (verse 6). Jesus is explicit that to be “born again” (or “born anew” or “born from above”) is not a physical birth as Nicodemus had tried to imagine. It is not birth from a human mother to which Jesus was referring but a spiritual birth; the birth of the spirit in a person is from, or inspired by, the Spirit of God.
The spirit within a person requires a wakening or a re-awakening to be in tune with God, connected with God and able to receive and participate fully in the things of God. One of Jesus’ disciples described the effect of Jesus’ words on a man’s spirit: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24: 32). The “burning” of the disciples’ hearts was not a physical heat but a spiritual sensation which they described in physical terms.
The NRSV translation of the Bible gives a slightly different emphasis to verse 6: “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” This suggests to me that what is born of the Spirit of God in a person can only be spiritual in nature. The Spirit of God is not attempting to work in the physical realm in relation to initiating a person’s connection with God or to the opening up of a person to God’s presence in that person. This is not to deny that the Spirit can change circumstances in the physical world that are not associated with quickening the spirit within an individual. The physical healing of a person by the Holy Spirit would be one manifestation of this power of the Spirit of God.
So how is one to be born again? This is the nub of Nicodemus’ question; his question remains valid today. Jesus did not give Nicodemus a concise response; he wanted this Pharisee to come to his own conclusion as to the true identity of the Son of Man.
Jesus did state clearly, however, “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3: 15). Eternal life is to be forever with Jesus in his kingdom, the kingdom of God. Entry to the kingdom of God, said Jesus, is available to those born of water and the Spirit. The starting point is to believe and put full trust in Jesus as Lord of all. Eventually Nicodemus reached that point of believing (John 19: 39-40). Have you? If not, what more do you need to ask of the Spirit of God?