Jesus said this to a religious leader named Nicodemus:
Jn 3:3 Jesus answered him, “ Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (ESVST)
There have been so many theories that lead to doctrines that contribute to theologies based on this passage. It is really simple to understand but you need a renewed mind. Maybe it is one of those chicken and egg thing. Or maybe not.
Remember it is so easy to step back into poisoned fruit thinking. The fruit in the garden that really got us in trouble brought us something we weren’t ready for. The knowledge of good and evil didn’t make us smarter it made us slaves. We stepped out of a loving dependent relationship based on trust and instead selfishly pursued our own interest in arrogance and pride. We never doubted God’s love and provision before devil-delivered-delights. After copious consumption of prideful-passion-fruit we found shame instead of wisdom. We gave up our divinely appointed position of predominance and dominion for fig leaves and fear. When we chose to think like a fallen Adam we will inevitably find ourselves in some kind of bondage and condemnation. We will fill the void of understanding with rules and conditions. We shove every concept into our sack of good and evil lists. Add a generous dose of self-righteousness fueled by religious-manufactured remorse and we have a pile of poop cocktail primed for pastors pulpits. All the while we are just a gift away from living in Grace, that is living in Jesus.
We get to embrace the good news, that is Jesus. We get to receive the ultimate gift of zoe life that is Jesus. We get to walk in purity and hope, that is Jesus. We get to love and be loved, that is Jesus. We get to walk in the truth power and authority, that is Jesus. We live in and walk in spirit and truth, that is Jesus. Get the picture? Yep that is Jesus too.
The issue is even those who have given their lives to Jesus often don’t ask Jesus into their lives. For many they receive the “dorea” gift of forgiveness (with all sorts of religious conditions) but never receive the “charisma” gift of Christ in us which is our hope in all goodness dominating in our lives (check out this post about the gifts). We may have received the practical gift of cleansing but have not received the supernatural gift of eternal life. We may have come to the cross but haven’t moved into resurrected living. We may have been baptized in repentance but we haven’t been baptized in the Holy Spirit. We live bound by the natural longing for a Heaven in another life when we have the Kingdom of Heaven in us in the Holy Spirit.
Rom 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (ESV)
Receiving both gifts that Paul talks about in Romans 5 (dorea and charisma) is what Jesus is talking about in John chapter 3. Here is the key verse:
John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (ESV)
The key word is “cannot.” The Greek word here is from the same root word as the word power in this verse:
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)
It is supernatural power from God. It is what happens when we receive the charisma gift. It is how God operates in us and through us as the Holy Spirit. It is the gift that so many reject. Instead the fear of man and the fear of the unknown keeps people at the foot of the cross waiting for death to rescue them. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that there is more to the story.
Jesus made it very clear that to see the Kingdom and participate in the Kingdom means we need to receive Him into us. We need the rebirth of the water and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings the ability and capability and power to step into the Kingdom and live from the Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is in us and we get to bring the Kingdom wherever we go. The born again experience of mercy and Grace is the “can” in our lives. We get to live like Jesus. We get to represent Jesus. We get to bring Jesus to others. It isn’t a well-groomed dissertation of thought-provoking facts we are brining. Our persuasive arguments are just hot air. The real wind is the breath of God. The real movement is the Holy Spirit. The clarity is from Him. We bring Him not the idea of Him.
This is what Jesus is talking about in John 3. It is a supernatural encounter with our loving God. It is a transformation. It is a new beginning. It is not a list of stuff that gets us a ticket to Heaven when we are dead. It is a transition from a legal, law-bound, fallen-fruit, Adam’s family existence to a new creation in Christ. All we have to do is accept it. That is what you do with gifts. So get yourself born again in mercy and Grace. Go ahead and be born again of water and Spirit. I recommend you keep receiving that gift. We all need more and more mercy in our lives to get past our self-generated and religion enforced condemnation. We all need the mercy of God for all the stuff we miss and mess up. We all need the Spirit of God to wash us and get rid of our stuff. We all need the Spirit of God to bring fire to refine us. We all need to be born of His love to become His love.