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Being Born Again

In John 3, there is the well-known story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. Probably concerned that his fellow Pharisees might find out about his interest in Jesus’ teachings, Nicodemus sought Jesus out at night. He confessed that he believed that Jesus had come from God. Jesus’ responded: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3) What??!! There’s no way! Nicodemus was astounded.

Jesus then explained that being born again meant being “born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.'” But Nicodemus had been surprised and, as far as the scripture in John 3 is concerned, there’s no indication that his conversation with Jesus had cleared things up for Nicodemus.

And, in truth, we can be somewhat uncertain about this passage of scripture. Or we may just overthink it at times. If we get too overwrought about how the water and the Spirit (especially the Spirit) work, we can miss the joy of what Jesus said. Think about it. Through Christ, we can start all over. We can be spiritually cleansed and experience the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23.

And there’s another thing we can miss about being born again and being part of the kingdom — if our quandary over Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus leads to dissension or confusion. We can miss what Jesus did and said in Matthew 18:2-3: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'”

If we are born again, don’t we necessarily become child-like? Connecting John 3 and Matthew 18 is important as part of our desire and quest to become part of the kingdom.

2 comments… add one
  • Bill Bauman March 31, 2016, 7:51 AM

    Is being born of water AND spirit meaning being born as in day 1 of your life (water) and being born of the spirit (accepting Christ) meaning indwell of the Holy Spirit? I’ve believed the first (water) is a physical dunking of the body, i.e. baptism. If that’s not correct, then where does immersion baptism fit in this passage? Thanks!

    • John B. Phillips March 31, 2016, 12:54 PM


      I think being born of water means water baptism. It’s something you can see and feel. I think it is an outward sign that one has accepted Christ.

      In light of the scripture in John 3:3, it would seem that being born of water and the spirit occurs simultaneously. However, I’m not sure that everyone born or baptized of and with water sees or feels something that represents the Spirit. For some, that happens, but for others, realizing the indwelling of the Holy Spirit seems to take a while.

      If you compare spiritual birth with physical birth, I think that waiting for the indwelling of the Spirit to take place after you are baptized with water makes sense. The baby is surrounded by water for about nine months. The miracle of birth is in process, but it’s not until the baby is born that we see and experience the miracle (although perhaps the mother is experiencing it all along). When we are baptized with water, the process of spiritual birth begins, but it’s not until we are baptized with the Spirit that spiritual birth is complete. Perhaps the sign of the baptism of the Spirit is when we become like a little child.

      Let me hasten to add that I don’t know if this is correct. I hope others will see fit to comment.

      As always, thanks for your input.


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