The New Birth: What We Can Learn From Jesus’ Conversation with Nicodemus

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Most of us would be familiar with John 3. This is the passage of Scripture in which Jesus shared with Nicodemus about the Second Birth and the character of the Holy Spirit. It is probably one of the most significant part of Scripture and within it is contained the large ideas of Adoption, the Bread of Life, Eternal Life, the Good News, Justification, the Kingdom of God, Renewal and Regeneration.


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Nicodemus recognized Jesus as a great teacher who had come from God. Jesus shared with him the secret to seeing the Kingdom of God and of eternal life. However, with all his knowledge of the Law, what Jesus shared appeared to Nicodemus to be mystical gibberish. Yet it was probably the most important message in his life.

We are all like Nicodemus in much of our life. We cannot help it. We all live in a procedural world full of causes and consequences, and the world itself seems governed by the very law that hold it in place. To many people today, how well we do in life seem to depend on a set of assessable instructions formulated by gurus and motivational speakers. We forget the main purpose of life and the very One who brought every single thing into existence. Too often we have made the law the main thing instead of the Creator who holds everything in place.

Solomon recognized this ages ago when he wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. In the end, the wisest of men found that all his wisdom and knowledge were vanity in the grand scheme of things. And in fact many of the religious people during Jesus’ time on Earth were not so very different from the adherents of self-help today. They knew the Law but they did not understand its purpose or its spirit.   

It is striking that Jesus used the analogy of water and wind to describe the Holy Spirit. Water and wind; fluid, and not rigid. You can feel the wind but it is not showy. Notably, water and wind are the bringers of nourishment and life. Foremost, the indication here is that God is beyond our set of rules. He does not need to display Himself such as a magician would or even explain Himself. And suddenly the ground falls from beneath our feet.


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If God and His Spirit are not defined by a set of rubrics such as scientific laws or our rationality, how do we recognize that we are truly following the leading of God’s Spirit? The knowledge of God can only arrive and grow through building an authentic relationship with Him. It is then by knowing God on a relational foundation that belief and faith comes. Jesus often spoke in parables but His parables are always clear in meaning and they are not riddles.

How do we have a relationship with God? Scripture very clearly tells us that it is a gift from God, given through His grace and mercy, without any merits of our own. Right here is the centrality of grace and love as God’s very nature, and as children of God – born of the Spirit in the Second Birth – it is therefore also our calling. Everything stems from this, and the phrase ‘New Birth’ brings to mind regeneration and renewal.


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Regeneration simply means to generate again. Jesus did not expound lengthily on the matter on that night but it is the most powerful thing that can happen in a person’s life. A person who was dead in the transgressions of sin, without hope, becomes alive again with Christ solely through God’s initiative. Regeneration signals a change in attitude and purpose and it occurs from the inside out. A regenerated person seeks, finds, and follows Christ. Though not yet perfect, there is growth in love, joy, and peace.

There is renewal every day for our God is a progressive God. God is never behind the times yet the message of the Gospel is still one that is primarily about reconciliation; the restoration of what was once broken, for we were once separated from God by sin and rebellion. Renewal takes place in multiple areas; a new covenant, a new heart to replace the old heart of rebellion, a new life to replace the old life destined to end in death, and a new mind to replace the old one.

Jesus Himself is the author of renewal and faith in Jesus is compared to the “new self” that looks like the humanity God always intended.  Our faith has always been laid upon bedrock of the context of family. Scriptural language itself reflects this. To God, an intimate and personal relationship with us matters above all else.

Why do we serve? It is because we love God and His people, and this because He first loved us. Why do we keep telling people about Christ? Again, it is because of love and because we are proud to be part of His family. Why do we persevere? Because there is something stronger than anything else in this world in the ties of a relationship; something that cannot be broken by anything. As the saying goes, “blood is thicker than water”, and blood has been paid for us.


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Like our natural families, we have a place within God’s family. We do not even have to formulate recipes for this. It has already been given to us; a direct access to Him, in our prayers, and by His word.      

This is what Jesus meant when He said that His yoke is easy. This is Good News indeed; within it there is healing and justification and restoration and revival and – crucially – eternal life and salvation. In the end, it is just like the homecoming of a prodigal child, back to the arms of the Father, where we belong. 


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Jason Law

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