BEING "BORN OF THE SPIRIT"
“The Spirit breaths where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who has been born of the Spirit” (Jno 3:8- T/S)
Most appropriately, the first spoken words recorded in Scripture are the words of the Most High giving the command for the commencement of Creative activity: “And Elohim said “Let there be light:” and there was light” (Gen 1:3). Indeed, as even a casual perusal of the Genesis narrative will show, that was the pattern followed throughout each creative day: “by the word of Yahweh were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6). His breath went forth in the form of a vocal command, and the word uttered did not return unto him void (Is 55:11), but rather accomplished that which He pleased, commencing with the illumination of an otherwise darkened orb, thus marking the first day of Creation.
It is even so in the case of the New Creation currently being formed out of the ruinous wastes of fallen Humanity. The preparation of a “new Heavens and a new earth” (2Pet 3:13) for the Habitation of the Father’s immortalised family gathered together in Christ (Eph 1:10, 3:15) also commenced with the shining of Divine Glory into a benighted world, void of light and hope: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor 4:6). This glorious light gains entry to receptive hearts through the preaching of the Word, as “the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ”. Yet not all are willing to be so illuminated; – the god of this world, as it’s “power of darkness” (Luke 22:53) which sought to extinguish the True Light who exposed it’s hypocrisies and folly, blinds the hearts of those who care not for these things: “if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2Cor 4:4). For the minority however, who receive the word in meekness, that word is able to save them as it becomes a powerful creative force within their hearts, generating a new life, a “new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col 3:10).
THE GERM OF A NEW LIFE
The Master himself spake of the entry of the Word into the believer’s heart, in terms of the seed, or germ of a new life being sown into varying types of soil:
“A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell upon good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold” (Luke 8:5-8).
And at the request of the disciples who desired to know “the mysteries of the kingdom of God”, the interpretation was given: “The seed is the word of God” and the varying types of ground are the various types of hearts into which it is sown (Luke 8:11-15). The Seed of the word is implanted, but how it grows – if at all – is largely dependent upon whether it be consumed by fleshly desires, or lacks fertility amongst the stony hearted. Likewise, even if that seed is permitted to grow in a fertile ground, whether or not the resultant plant survives to fruition, is dependent upon whether or not the plant becomes strangled by the greater cares of this life; the weeds and thorns of no value, but only to be rooted up and burned.
But when readily received into fertile ground and watered regularly by a continual ingestion of the nutrients of Scripture, when the recipient zealously guards that which is committed to his trust, the seed will grow strongly, and develop into a glorious plant yielding the fruit of the Spirit, by which the nature of the divine tree itself becomes known, even: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal 5:22), qualities adorning the lives of those who shall enter into the Kingdom of God. So it is, that in such hearts the word-seed finds a lodgement, and becomes a new life springing up as a willow by streams of water (cp Is 44:4) with a single purpose and objective – to bring forth those attributes pleasing to the Great Sower.
This emergence of a new spiritual life in the hearts of willing hearers, is described by the Spirit through Peter, as a kind of begettal: “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass; and all the glory of man is as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word by which the gospel is preached unto you” (1Pet 1:23). The seed sown is incorruptible – but yet it is sown into that which withers and fades – the fleshy tables of man’s hearts. But this is the point; the lives of men are transient and failing; that which will abide and pass into immortality is not the natural man; but the New man, born from the Incorruptible Word, that “new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4:24). Whether or not a man receives salvation at the last, is therefore utterly dependent upon how he has cared for the seed; whether he has permitted it to grow into something worth preserving or no. The Old man of the flesh is to perish either way, and our salvation depends on us allowing the Creator to form a new life within us by the indwelling of His incorruptible Word.
BORN FROM ABOVE
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the importance of this spiritual rebirth in his discourse with Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again (Greek: from above), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. Again, he further elaborated upon this, saying:
“Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (Jno 3:3-8).
But what is the sense that the Master intended to convey here? Plainly, Nicodemus, the man of the Night could not tell, for he had not as yet been subject to such a birth as that being referred to. The Seed had not as yet been permitted to enter into his darkened heart to give illuminance on matters pertaining to the Spirit. Thus, he enquired, “How can these things be?” To which the Master gave the rebuke “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” Truly, he did not know. He could not tell; but it is our privilege to look into these things with discernment, for we – as he later did, have received the word with all meekness, thus receiving enlightenment
Our opening quotation was from another translation of the Masters words:
“The Spirit breathes where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who has been born of the Spirit” (The Scriptures, 1998).
This also accords with Bro Thomas’ rendering of the verse; the word rendered in the AV “wind” is actually the same as that rendered “spirit”, and the context clearly indicates that the latter is to be preferred.
“The Spirit breathes where it wishes” – and in so doing, it emits a sound, or voice, concerning which Nicodemus could hear, but not understand. And this is so often the case today. At Creation, Yahweh sent forth the breath of his mouth in giving the command for Light to be. And it was done. Even so, Yahweh has caused his breath to go forth in imparting a revelation to man, which gives enlightenment to the hearers: “all Scripture is breathed of God (Greek), and is profitable for doctrine …” (2Tim 3:16), as “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2Pet 1:21). The Word contained in the pages of Scripture is the only Voice of the Spirit discernable in our day, and it certainly will achieve the Author’s intended purpose of forming a new creation for the habitation of His Glory, for Yahweh has thus decreed: “my word that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish in the thing whereunto I sent it” (Is 55:11).
ORIGINS AND DESTINY
The Word was sent forth as “the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ”, for the purpose of illuminating the hearts of those with ears to hear, that the work of a new Creation could take place. But for Nicodemus, whilst he certainly heard the sound of that Word, the Voice of the Eternal Spirit being breathed through the Son; at that stage, he did not recognise it for what it was. In the Master, “The Word Made Flesh” (Jno 1:14), or the voice of the Spirit corporealised; he saw nothing more than “a teacher come from God”. He did not truly perceive the nature of the Spirit that dwelt in Christ – either where it came from, or where it was going.
Likewise, none of the Pharisees to whom Nicodemus belonged, understood. The Spirit spake through the Son thus:
“I am the Light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The Pharisees therefore said unto Him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, “Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgement it true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me” (Jno 8:12-18).
Christ’s Origins were heavenly (Jno 6:38). He came forth from The Father, as the only Begotten Son sent by him. Yet, preferring to remain in the darkness, the Pharisees did not recognise this: “Ye neither know me, nor my Father” (v 19), as the Master himself, declared. And again, “I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he that sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word” (v 42). The Law in which the Pharisees professed to delight, stated that the testimony of two witnesses was to be accepted– and there was two witnesses, the Master Himself, and the Eternal Father-Spirit who dwelt in him. As he spake to Nicodemus: “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness” (Jno 3:11, compare Jno 8:38). The voice of the Spirit was heard, but not received. It’s origins were not recognised, and so it’s message went unheeded by those who “loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (verse 19).
WHITHER I GO YE CANNOT COME
Christ came from the Father, being His Son, and the habitation of the Spirit of Wisdom brought forth before the foundation of the world (Prov 8:22, cp 1Pet 1:11) – but where was he to go? This was the question of Peter:
“Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. Peter said unto Him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice” (Jno 13:36-38).
Here was Peter’s determination to follow His Master to the very end – and the Master’s foreknowledge of Peter’s human weakness, and future failing. Christ was going to the cross, before ascending up “where he was before” (Jno 6:62). He was going to Calvary to suffer, and bare the sins of many in offering himself up as the national sin-offering. And though Peter was adamant in his professions of allegiance to his Lord, though he desired to “follow the (sacrificial) lamb whithersoever he goeth” (cp Rev 14:4), yet he would not follow the Master then. But he would afterwards, as the Risen Christ later showed him, saying to him: “When thou wast young thou girded thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God” (Jno 21:19).
“SO IS EVERYONE THAT IS BORN OF THE SPIRIT”
These things went unperceived by the man of the night who approached the Lord Jesus. “Thou hearest the voice thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth”. But the Master did not end there, for he continued, “so is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (Jno 3:8). We also must be subject to the same, for without being born of the Spirit, we cannot “see the kingdom of God. The Lord Jesus himself was the “firstborn” (Col 1:18), implying that others would follow, and indeed it is so, as the opening of John’s Gospel informs us:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not … this was the true Light, which lighteth every man, that cometh into the world … and the world knew him not … but as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood; nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”. (Jno 1:1-13).
Having been brought to the Light, we become “children of the Light” (1Thes 5:5), having been born of God, who is “the father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow or turning. Of his own Will begat he us with the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18). Our origins, that is to say, the origins of the New Man of the Spirit; the “spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9) which is “formed” in us (Gal 4:19), is of Heaven, being the product of the Word received, and permitted to grow. And we have the same desire as Peter—to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth; even to the extent of sharing his death. Even so, the Spiritword thus received brings us into the aqueous grave in Baptism:
“therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life … knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed… now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God” (Rom 6:4-10).
This is “whither” the Voice of the Spirit, or “The Word made flesh” “goeth” – to the grave, but then to glory, living unto God having been truly ‘born of the spirit’, to become spirit: “the last Adam, a life-giving Spirit” (1Cor 15:45 T/S, 1998). And we, having received the Spirit of adoption, seek to follow him. True, we cannot be sinless as he was, for the Old man of the flesh is too strong for us to eradicate completely from our lives. The enemy is too great for us. But that which is ‘born of the spirit’, that “new creature”, or “new man” created by the Word is a powerful influence for good; yea, it cannot sin, though the natural man will, for thus it is written: “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin (or, “he is powerless to sin” T/S 1998), because he is born of God”.
The new man being formed in us, after the image of Christ, does not sin, because the Seed, the Word, remains within him. Though we may transgress, through the influence of the Old Man who refuses to be put to death (see Rom 7:20), we must seek to nurture that New Creation within us, watering it regularly with the Word, that it may grow to dominate our thoughts, that when the Old Man is finally put off for good, there may be found something within us worthy of perpetuation, yielding fruits to the glory of the Father. Only be being born of the Spirit can we follow the Lamb into the sacrificial grave – and only by the final glorification at his hand, can we follow him into the glories of the ages ahead.
(Christopher Maddocks, originally Published June 2001)