While I often hear Christians refer to being "born again", I wonder if they have given much thought to what it means?
Some seem to equate it with some ritual or other they went through at some time, be it a baptism or an event where they "went forward" and said a "sinner's prayer."
But is that what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of being "born again"?
First, I'd like to point out that Jesus probably did not say that Nicodemus had to be "born again" but "born from above". The word "again" translates a Greek word which, every other time in John, means "from above." That's how we should take it here. Being born from above implies something that comes from God, not something that we do, and and implies a real and radical spiritual event.
Second, I think its important for us to recognize the importance of Jesus' switching terms in 3:5. There Jesus speaks of being born from above in terms of being born of water and spirit. It would be easy to think that Jesus is referring to two births, here, one of water, and the other by the Spirit. I don't think that's accurate though. I think Jesus is referring to a single birth by two modes.
In the OT water refers (figuratively) to renewal and cleansing, while Spirit is the divine principle of life, which, according to Joel 2:28, the Jews (like Nicodemus) were supposed to look forward to in the New Covenant. The two are linked in passages like Ps. 51:9,10; Is. 32:15; 44:3-5; 55:1-3. Most telling of all is Ezekiel 36:25-27. It is this passage which I think lies behind Jesus teaching about a birth that is of water and spirit. It speaks to the radical nature of the effect of being born from above.
But do we appreciate that?
I honestly have to say that it feels like we don't when we too readily associate it with going forward at a rally or crusade or a ritual like baptism. It feels like we are making something radical into something religious. But Nicodemus was of the religious establishment...
Something to think about.