Summary: To be born again means trusting God enough to leave the safety of our old life
“Very truly, I tell you, no-one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Jesus always chose the words he used very carefully. To appreciate that this is true you only have to think about the stories he told to illustrate the message he was trying to get across. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, or the Prodigal Son. The images in these stories are so powerful that, although set in a culture that is 2000 miles and 2000 years distant from our own, they still speak clearly to us today.
So when Jesus wanted to explain to Nicodemus about how people would have to change in order to see the Kingdom of God, he didn’t say “people will have to be a bit different” or even “people will have to change a lot”. Instead he said “no-one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above”. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, this birth from above is not, of course, a physical rebirth, but a rebirth of “water and the Spirit”.
What does this rebirth imply? When a child is born she or he has to leave the warmth, comfort and security of the womb and be thrust out into a world which is noisy, confusing and uncertain. Some psychologists maintain that we carry the trauma of this experience throughout our lives even though we don’t remember it. I don’t know if this is true, but certainly some babies protest loudly at the proceedings!
So being born again might imply leaving the security of one, known existence for another, unknown one. That can be a frightening prospect. I think most of us fear change. We have a tendency to think that any changes will be for the worse, and often we have to make a point of reminding ourselves that change can indeed be for the better.
A baby, for example, may not initially like the change from womb to world, but without that change she or he would be limited to an existence in the dark, where experiences were limited and where the environment changed very little. But perhaps the most significant feature of the environment of the womb is that room for growth is severely limited! So while existence in the womb may be warm, comfortable and secure, it offers no chance for physical growth beyond a certain point and it offers only limited experiences with which to develop the intellect and personality. If we never left our mother’s womb we could never become the mature human beings that is our genetic inheritance.
If we do not trust God enough to leave the confines of ordinary existence and be born again of the Spirit, then we will not grow or develop spiritually and will never be the whole and complete people that God intends us to be.
What else is implied in rebirth? Birth is thought of as a beginning, so being born from above is a new beginning.
A baby’s birth is the first step on a long journey to adulthood and maturity. Newborn babies do not have the ability to sustain existence by themselves. They cannot move away from danger or towards help. Even if suitable food was just a few inches away they probably wouldn’t be able to focus their eyes to see and certainly wouldn’t be able to grasp it. They are so limited in their movements that they can’t even shiver and so even this natural mechanism for keeping warm is not available to them. New born babies are extraordinarily weak and helpless and have to rely on their parents and trust them to provide all the things necessary for their survival.