The words of Jesus to Nicodemus, the Jewish teacher who came to him by night, are a challenge. We need to understand them in the context of the teaching of Jesus in John 2 and 3. Many Christians like to say they are “born again”, but let’s make sure we know what Jesus meant! Nicodemus admitted, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (3:2). His words lead Jesus to respond, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (verse 3). He then says, “unless one is born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (verse 5).
This refers to the action of God in responding to what He sees in the heart of the one seeking to be reborn. Being baptised in water, although vital, is only part of the process. We recall God’s words in Isaiah, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (57:15).
Thus there is a ‘rebirth’ in the heart of one who is “born again” because of an interaction with Him who is above. The visible action is when a person is ‘born of water’ as happened on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37,38). We note that John the Baptist’s disciples comment on how “all are going to him” (Jesus) and “look he is baptising” (John 3:22-26, 4:1,2), although it was the disciples of Jesus performing the baptisms. The later antagonism to Jesus shows that not all had been born of the spirit.
Who ever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (verse 33). The opposite to this is, “He who is of the earth, belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way” (verse 31). We must ask ourselves in what way do we speak. We must develop a conviction that, with God’s help, we will speak in that way for the rest of our lives. This proves we have been truly born again.