Have you ever been asked: Are you a born again Christian?
For some, this question provides an opportunity for Christian witness; for others it feels like an insult, or even a threat! For many, it is a question that has no logical answer.
Here’s another thought … Have you noticed how often we speak of people in terms of their place of birth, their upbringing, or even their schooling? Even though these are matters over which no one has control, for some they matter – for some they matter a lot!
Today, Jesus is speaking to us about something far more serious than whether we can sum up our spiritual identity in a neat little formula, or whether we were born, reared and educated in the ‘right’ part of the ‘right’ county!
Jesus, who was himself vilified for his humble upbringing in Nazareth, is telling us that the reality of our spiritual birth is far more important than anything else.
What Jesus had to say to Nicodemus, late one night, may well upset those who lay such great store by human pedigree … but, they remain important words even to this day.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a respected and learned person in the Jewish community. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have valued highly the history … the antecedents … of his people.
The Jews in Jerusalem would have known each other’s ancestry – they would have known who belonged to the ‘great’ families … and who did not!
It was in this social and spiritual context that Nicodemus came to Jesus, overflowing with hesitant curiosity.
And yet, Nicodemus did not begin the meeting with a question. Rather, he made a statement: we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.
In the presence of Jesus, in the secrecy of the night-time, Nicodemus begins their conversation with remarks on where Jesus seems to have come from.
And Jesus’ response? Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
We may find it easy to translate Jesus’ words into ‘You must be born again’ … ‘You must be born anew’ … but, this was not an easy concept for Nicodemus to grasp.
Nicodemus responded to Jesus’ words with a sort of logic game revolving around the meaning of the word ‘born’.
We can easily find ourselves playing a similar game …
For many, the phrase born again conjures up images of slick, articulate, self-serving religious presentations which jar against our nice, controlled middle-class way of life. We hear the words … and then we dismiss them … and by dismissing them we put ourselves in the same place as Nicodemus.
- Jesus is not playing philosophical word games with us … Jesus is talking about the discipline of the Christian life.
- Jesus is not talking about defining our identity by earthly standards, but by spiritual standards… standards that are defined by God.
- Jesus is not dismissing the value of our earthly birth (no matter how humble) … but, rather, he is saying that we need to be born entirely anew … from above … from God himself!
- Jesus is saying that our identities need to be shaped by something other than our human ancestry, or the place where we grew up.
Jesus says: The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Listening for, and allowing ourselves to be blown by the wind of the Holy Spirit is one of the great disciplines of the Christian life.
The wind of re-birth is the wind of freedom and love … and it is far stronger than human parentage … stronger than that which Jesus calls the flesh.
And … because of that strength … even though it may blow us to new places … we are, in the Spirit, more stable, more grounded, more secure, than ever.
So … let me ask you a question …
Are you a born again Christian?
- Are you allowing God the Father to enter into your life through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?
- Are you letting the mighty wind of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God, blow you where he will rather than where you feel it is more comfortable to be blown?
- Are you ready to be born again, born into the life that God – who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – has prepared for you?
- Are you going to stay in the darkness from which Jesus is calling you …
- just as he called Nicodemus, the Pharisee who felt he knew all the answers …
- but also the Pharisee who found the courage to step out of the darkness into new life – the life of God’s marvellous light?