In the early verses of John chapter 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus in no uncertain terms, the absolute necessity of being born again (or born from above). Unless a man is first born again (regenerated) he can never enter or even see the kingdom of God. Jesus stresses the fact that this new birth is not merely an optional extra. It is imperative. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (3:7).
Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus what he must do to be born again. Why? Because it was not within Nicodemus’ power to perform this miracle. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) Flesh can only reproduce flesh. It takes the Spirit to regenerate the human spirit. This miracle of regeneration cannot be achieved by human effort, or by self performed surgery.
The new birth is not the improvement of the old nature, but the creation of an entirely new one. It is a birth, a new birth, and like the first one we experienced, it did not occur because of our decision to be born. Our will was not a factor in any way. We were born as a result of the will of others – that of our parents, and of course, God’s will to create us using the means of human, physical intimacy.
In contrast to our first birth, this new birth does not occur through human means. God alone brings about this new creation in Christ Jesus. As John, the Gospel writer had already pointed out in chapter 1:12, 13, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jesus makes it clear that human flesh can only reproduce flesh. It is the Holy Spirit alone who can recreate human spirits. The Holy Spirit is the sole Agent working regeneration in the human spirit.
In explaining this phenomenon of the new birth, Jesus then speaks of something very mysterious – the wind. Wind is mysterious, not because it is not real, but because it is not something we’ve ever actually seen. Though we know when it is around because of its effects, we’ve never actually observed wind with our eyes. Oh, we’ve seen trees swaying, leaves falling, papers flying through the air. Sometimes the effects of the wind are so powerful that the only word we can use for its effects would be devastation. The wind can cause havoc on a massive scale, as the victims of hurricanes can testify. But wind is mysterious because we can’t see it, and we are never sure about where it came from, or where it is going. It seems to have a mind of its own.
Concerning this, Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3:8)
The word “pneuma” in Greek, like the word “ruach” in Hebrew means “breath, wind or spirit.” Jesus uses an obvious play on words here, describing the activity of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.
The Working of the Holy Spirit
Of course, much more could and should be said about these opening verses in John chapter 3. But just for a moment, can we stop to appreciate the impact of verse 8? Here Jesus teaches us that when anyone is born of the Spirit, like the blowing of the wind, the invisible Sovereign Spirit of God has moved in mighty power. Yet in contrast to when a town or city experiences storm damage on a large scale, the effects of this “wind” are not in any way negative. Though powerful in the extreme, the Spirit’s work is amazingly precise.
When someone is born again, it is evidence of the fact that God, the Holy Spirit has performed extensive Divine surgery. He has taken out the stony heart and put in a heart of flesh (using the biblical imagery of Ezekiel, flesh is spoken of in contrast to stone, whereas Jesus, in John 3 is using the word flesh in a different way, speaking only of physical, human flesh). Ezekiel 36:26-27 declares, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” What an amazing miracle this is!
I remember going to a Christian service at age 14, not wanting to be there, hoping for the service to end (even though it had just begun). I was only there because my father had asked me to go. I had no interest in Christ, nor in what I was observing when the congregation sang, and certainly, had no interest in what the preacher had to say. But sometime during the message, my attitude changed. I became interested. In fact, I became intrigued. I was fascinated, and struck by the realities of heaven and hell, and the need for a Savior, and for the first time in my life, was attracted by a Treasure I had never seen before.
I didn’t know it then, but I know now, that what happened in a little metal shed-like building in Chester, England that Sunday night of May 10th, 1980 was this… God, the Holy Spirit, invisibly blew into that service, and while I was hearing the Gospel, in Sovereign and colossal power, yet with the skill of an expert Surgeon, went to work on my soul. In an instant in time, I was born from above, the old heart of stone was removed and a new heart was put in that with every beat, wanted to know the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus, so to speak, stepped off the old dusty pages of the Bible and became a living Person in my eyes. All of a sudden, I really wanted to know Him, I really wanted Him to save me, and I really wanted His will in my life. And when the Gospel appeal was made, I came to Christ willingly in repentance and faith.
Born of the Spirit
If you are born of the Spirit, God did the exact same thing for you. The Reformation sola of Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) simply expresses in doctrine what God has done for His people in experience. It is God and God alone who has saved us. All the credit for it goes to Him, because this birth had nothing to do with our intelligence (that we somehow worked out who Jesus was for ourselves), or our humility (we having conquered our own pride, were able to humble ourselves to be able to respond in faith to the Gospel). No, a thousand times, no! We are Christians because of the all conquering power of the mighty Spirit of God, who graciously stormed our hearts and worked His Sovereign will. He brought us forth by the word of truth, causing us to find sheer delight in the presence of God both now and for all eternity.
When Lazarus was raised from death, he did not immediately seek an attorney in order to sue Jesus for violating his right to stay dead! Nor did all the town’s people sue Jesus for not at the very same time raising all of their dead relatives from the graves. No, everyone marveled at the all-powerful call of Jesus. By the power of just His word, He actually brought a putrifying corpse back to life. Of course, no one was more thrilled with this Divine mercy than Lazarus himself.
Why do we speak so much about God’s grace? Because with Lazarus we can say that by the effectual call of God, grace has conquered our hearts and brought us to life. When we were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (the Greek word for dead in Ephesians 2:1, “necros” means “dead like a corpse”) God made us alive (Eph. 2:5).
C. H. Spurgeon once said, “The great King, immortal, invisible, the Divine person, called the Holy Spirit: it is He that stimulates the soul, or else it would lie dead forever; it is He that makes it tender, or else it would never feel; it is He that imparts power to the Word preached, or else it could never reach further than the ear; it is He who breaks the heart, it is He who makes it whole; He, from first to last, is the great worker of Salvation in us, just as Jesus Christ was the author of Salvation for us.”
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” Eph. 2:1-5
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me… Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved, how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.
Prayer: “Heavenly Father, Sovereign King, hear our cry. As Your gospel is heralded around the world, may the Holy Spirit of God, like a mighty triumphant wind, conquer dead human hearts today! It is man’s only hope! For Your great Name’s sake and for Your glory alone. Amen.”