The phrase ‘born again’ has come to identify a whole group of Christians.
But what did Jesus really have in mind when he used the phrase?
Can you finish the sentence?
“I tell you the truth, no one can ………………. unless they are born again.”
Have their sins forgiven?
Go to heaven when they die?
In my experience, these are the primary points most folks bring out in their reading or understanding. And while they will both tie in along the way, neither are what Jesus says or primarily means.
‘Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ John 3:3
Our problem with understanding this centers around our lack of understanding the kingdom of God.
Seeing the kingdom of God is not a reference to our hope for where we immediately go when we die. Jesus isn’t referring to what we commonly call heaven (what Jesus called paradise).
The kingdom of God is where God’s will is done and is populated by people who are learning God’s will and living into it.
It was his original intent for earth.
It is his eventual promise for a newly restored earth.
And it’s his desire for us to see and live in light of right now.
But in order for us to see, understand and live into it, we need a whole new start.
Jesus came to teach people – make disciples – who would learn to live in that kingdom now, and thus prepare ourselves for when Jesus will one day return and bring his kingdom rule in its fullness.
The other question I wondered when reading this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is, why only in this one place?
If being born again is the most important lens that we have for viewing the Christian faith, why isn’t Jesus walking around through all for gospels and telling everyone that they need to be born again?
I believe that he is telling everyone that they need to be born again. He’s just not using that term.
We’ve all grown up with with particular beliefs and values. Our parents, our teachers and our church have all taught us about how to navigate life and what’s important.
Nicodemus would have believed that he was automatically a part of God’s people and that everything that God was up to when their promised coming king arrived would be evident to him.
He was born into it.
Jesus said, no, you have to be born again.
To be born again is to learn to see the world and your place in it in a whole new way.
When Jesus invited his disciples to “Follow me,” he was inviting them to be born again.
No one can see the kingdom of God unless they start all over.
And Jesus’ disciples experienced that as he re-taught them how to think about themselves, God, and everything in the world around them.
Yes, there were still some vitally important aspects that hadn’t happened yet. The cross was still ahead and the unfathomable riches of what it means that Jesus died for us.
The resurrection solidified the reality that death was defeated.
The full indwelling empowerment of the Holy Spirit was yet to come.
But the invitation was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Come and follow me.
Learn to see and live in the kingdom.
Be born again.
Unless you are born again, you won’t see the kingdom of God.