I want to talk about being born of the spirit because I think it answers two important questions people have about Christian life.
First, what does it mean to be saved, and second what does it mean to be filled with the spirit, or baptized in the holy spirit.
Before I get into that, I want to set the groundwork by talking about the interaction between Christ and Nicodemus. I have to say sorry for the long quotation here, but it is necessary.
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
I know it has been much debated as to whether Nicodemus got saved or already was saved and if he really believed in Christ and put faith in him or not. However, that’s not the part of this interaction that sticks out to me.
Jesus turns the conversation immediately in a different direction than Nicodemus expected.
See, Nicodemus comes and says he can tell from his shrewd observations Jesus has it going on in spades. Maybe Nicodemus had a question to ask or a point to make, but if so we don’t know what that point was.
All we know is as soon as Jesus heard someone acknowledge he came from God, he took the opportunity to talk about the kingdom of God. He shifted the attention from himself and put it on what was most vital to the man in front of him.
This should be our response to the world. We should be waiting, eager, hopeful, and confident, for an opportunity to give people exactly what they need.
I don’t think Jesus was just waiting to talk about spiritual birth to the first person who showed up. I think he saw Nicodemus coming and in his Spirit, through his connection to the father, knew exactly what Nicodemus needed most, and was just waiting for an opportunity to give that to Nicodemus.
That’s the debate, right? Did Nicodemus get saved or not? Before Nicodemus ever brings it up, Jesus jumps right to it. He knew not only that salvation was the most important thing that needed to be discussed with Nicodemus, he knew the best parable to use to explain it for this man’s needs.
The same sort of thing happens in the story of the rich man asking Jesus how a man can obtain the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells him he needs to sell everything…. a very different response than being born again…. yet again exactly what the rich man needed to hear.
Jesus manages to come to the core of the issue in a way that is specific to the individual in front of him, and yet also universal.
In each answer, Jesus points out the only way to gain the Kingdom of God is to lose everything else. All your wealth is gone, reborn into a new life in the Spirit.
So it’s free, but it also asks us to give up everything. It requires us to believe in Christ, but it’s also a spiritual birth into a whole new identity and calls us to leave our old life behind.
In regards to the two points I mentioned earlier, a definition of salvation, and being filled with the holy spirit, it brings them both into a different perspective. Salvation is being born into a spiritual life.
Its hard to draw to many lines in the sand here, and I’m not too interested in making new lines, but I do think this breaks some old ones.
I think this shows being filled with the Holy Spirit can happen naturally as a result of being born again into a spiritual life.
I think it shows salvation is about more than rational belief. It’s about losing the old completely and gaining the new.
Of course, you can’t gain the new without believing in it, and gaining it means putting belief/faith in it. The key is the old must also be lost, and the new is different from the old by kind, not by type.
It’s not an inside cat becoming an outside cat, its a cat becoming a sparrow.
The cat can’t make itself a sparrow by believing it will become a sparrow, it has to go to the “transformation wizard” and submit itself for transformation.
So salvation is transformation. It requires both faith and submission. It costs us everything.
Those are the key points I wanted to get to from this story in this day and age where the definition of salvation is so much debated.
I don’t think those points offer a definitive definition of salvation, but I think they strongly set some required elements that can help us understand how to talk about salvation with both the saved and the unsaved.
So, like Jesus with Nicodemus, when we hear people talking, and see people hurting, we can be waiting eagerly and hopefully to give them what they need most. A personal bridge to the core of what it means to gain salvation.
We can let the Holy Spirit reveal to us what the primary block is between them and salvation. For Nicodemus it was his own life in the natural, for the Rich man it was his money.
What is it for the person you most want to see get saved? How might you lovingly speak to them about it if and when they offer you an opportunity to do so?
If you think they might not give you an opportunity, how might you build your relationship with that person so you can be able to have an opportunity?