I’m no preacher, but was asked to fill in for the sermon at my church last week. The text I was to preach on was the story of Nicodemus from John 3, with Jesus’ explanation that Nicodemus must be “born again” to see the Kingdom of God. As part of my sermon preparation, I decided to ask random people - from the streets, the marketplace and my workplace - what they thought Jesus meant when he said “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” It was a great way to begin multiple gospel conversations throughout the week, and I was reminded of the perceptions of this well-known term in the mind of the unbeliever.
I talked with 12 people, and 10 of the 12 believed it to refer to some sort of action we must take in order to bring about a positive change in our lives for God. Like Nicodemus, they believed it to be a change or commitment one must make on their own, rather than the sovereign act of God that it is. But it actually does mean what it says. We were born physically, and we need to be born spiritually. Just as we didn’t choose our physical birth, nether can we choose our spiritual birth.
Jesus went on to a second analogy, in which he compared this life-giving action of the Holy Spirit to the mysterious origin and destination of the wind. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” It can be easy to confuse the cause and effect of being born spiritually, but it shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t think that a tree sways on its own, causing the wind to occur. Likewise, we shouldn’t expect the soul that is dead in sin to be able to repent and believe, giving life to itself in the process.
So why call people to repentance and faith in Jesus when they are dead in sin and spiritually incapable of doing so? Because Jesus has defeated death and the grave, and God can bring the dead to life! And He chooses to use our prayers, our witness, and our preaching in the process. Rather than being discouraged by the inability of the spiritually dead to respond, our hope is in Jesus to bring people to life spiritually and give them power to respond, for he is the author and finisher of our faith.