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.
If we are to be truly born again, one of the first things we have to do is to acknowledge our weakness and our helplessness. We cannot sustain a spiritual life by ourselves. If we are to grow spiritually, we must learn to rely on God and trust him to provide all that we need for spiritual growth.
Babies needs love. Even if human parents provide all that is needed for the physical survival of their baby, if they don’t provide for his or her emotional needs, then that child will not thrive. Not only will they grow up emotionally stunted, they will probably not mature physically at the same rate as other children. Though human parents sometimes fail to love their children, God, our heavenly parent, never fails to love us. So when we are reborn of water and the spirit we are guaranteed a loving parent to watch over our development.
Another thing a baby needs is to learn. It has been said that babies learn more in their first year and a half than at any other time in their life. They learn to focus their eyes, to reach out and hold things, to sit, to crawl, to stand, to walk and to talk. But this is only the beginning of the learning process. As they grow children have to learn how to be social beings, to fit in and get on with other people. They have to learn to read, to write and to handle numbers. They have to learn right from wrong.