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I am preaching through John at one church on Sunday mornings.

I have preached the new birth for so long that I know it's easy to get entrenched and somewhat stagnated. I'm sure that I'm missing some things that I should be seeing.

What I wish to do is make this a very broad topic and discuss any and everything that you feel is related to being born again.

What does it mean?

Why is it necessary?

What actually happens?

How did Nicodemus understand it?

Tags: birth, new, regeneration

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The failure to understand that being "born again" is not talking about the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit taking up residence in believers during the NT or coming upon some people (not necessarily believers but often believers) during the OT but is referring to the human spirit, itself, being regenerated, is what leads objections based on the OT saints not all having the Holy Spirit's work, individually in their lives as NT believers, hence it cannot be a reference to something literally spiritual.

The human spirit is brought back to life via God's Holy Spirit. This is a truth from Adam onward.

The Holy Spirit taking up residence in the human being and making it a temple of God upon their faith in Christ is unique to the church age but this proprietary operation and protocol is not a reference to being "born again".  It is true that one must be "born again" for this phenomenon to occur during the church age, but the phenomenon (the Holy Spirit taking up residence and all of its auxiliary works) is not being "born again" itself. Being born again is the human spirit being brought back to life. And yes, God the Holy Spirit is the one that does this but again, God the Holy Spirit in you is not the phenomenon which refers to being "born again" or "regeneration".

As well, in the OT (more precisely before the church age because into what we call the NT there is still some OT protocol) the operation of the Holy Spirit where he may come upon people for periods of time for specific purposes, it, too, has nothing to do with regeneration, itself. That simply was another protocol of the Holy Spirit with respect to his operation among but God's. And in fact, during this time God the Holy Spirit coming upon someone did not assume or necessitate one was saved.

It is a lack of distinction of these contexts and their specific protocols which ends up leading people to talk about the new birth in non-spiritual terms since they begin with the misunderstanding that "regeneration" is defined as God the Holy Spirit being in a person. It may be true he is in believers but his residency in believers is not what refers to regeneration, rather it is their human spirit which the Holy Spirit regenerated or brought back to life which is what defines regeneration and this is true from Adam onward the moment one believed the promise of God for salvation in whatever form it was communicated.

Though immaterial, just as the soul, it is nevertheless real and each human is born with it congenitally dead and it is made alive, again, upon faith in Christ via the Holy Spirit which brings us into personal communion with God.

Alex,

Thanks for commenting.

This post has gone a direction that I didn't expect (most posts do). That being said, do you have anymore insights into the new birth? I'm trying to see if I'm missing anything due to familiarity causing me to overlook something.

Alex Guggenheim said:

The failure to understand that being "born again" is not talking about the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit taking up residence in believers during the NT or coming upon some people (not necessarily believers but often believers) during the OT but is referring to the human spirit, itself, being regenerated, is what leads objections based on the OT saints not all having the Holy Spirit's work, individually in their lives as NT believers, hence it cannot be a reference to something literally spiritual.

The human spirit is brought back to life via God's Holy Spirit. This is a truth from Adam onward.

The Holy Spirit taking up residence in the human being and making it a temple of God upon their faith in Christ is unique to the church age but this proprietary operation and protocol is not a reference to being "born again".  It is true that one must be "born again" for this phenomenon to occur during the church age, but the phenomenon (the Holy Spirit taking up residence and all of its auxiliary works) is not being "born again" itself. Being born again is the human spirit being brought back to life. And yes, God the Holy Spirit is the one that does this but again, God the Holy Spirit in you is not the phenomenon which refers to being "born again" or "regeneration".

As well, in the OT (more precisely before the church age because into what we call the NT there is still some OT protocol) the operation of the Holy Spirit where he may come upon people for periods of time for specific purposes, it, too, has nothing to do with regeneration, itself. That simply was another protocol of the Holy Spirit with respect to his operation among but God's. And in fact, during this time God the Holy Spirit coming upon someone did not assume or necessitate one was saved.

It is a lack of distinction of these contexts and their specific protocols which ends up leading people to talk about the new birth in non-spiritual terms since they begin with the misunderstanding that "regeneration" is defined as God the Holy Spirit being in a person. It may be true he is in believers but his residency in believers is not what refers to regeneration, rather it is their human spirit which the Holy Spirit regenerated or brought back to life which is what defines regeneration and this is true from Adam onward the moment one believed the promise of God for salvation in whatever form it was communicated.

Though immaterial, just as the soul, it is nevertheless real and each human is born with it congenitally dead and it is made alive, again, upon faith in Christ via the Holy Spirit which brings us into personal communion with God.

While I am not on board with the "Reformed" view that "Regeneration Precedes Faith," I do believe the "individual" view of rebirth is indeed what is in view here.  It seems reasonable enough to me that Jesus expected Nicodemus to interpret the Old Testament allusions in light of contemporary rabbinical language and practices, and the testimony of John the Baptist.

Besides that, the words of Jesus here are the words the author John chose to record, and as far as the reader is concerned, should be interpreted in light of the rest of John's Gospel and also his epistles.  It's clear that John regards "enlivening" by God (via e.g. the "living water") and being "born" of God to be experiences of "individuals."



The Phit formerly known as Bod said:

Joanne, Jack's comment seems accurate to me, but is problematic for Reformed accounts of regeneration. The Old Testament knows nothing of God's Spirit working 'regeneration' on individuals who trust in God.

This, in turn, is problematic for the traditional Reformed reading of John 3, which you've offered, in that Jesus says Nicodemus ought to know what he is talking about, and yet what you understand him to be talking about is not part of Israel's scriptural inheritance. How would Nicodemus know about the reformed concept of  'Regeneration?'

OK.

We've debated individual vs national rebirth.

I think it is pretty simple to accept that nations are composed of individuals, so the point is moot.

What does individual rebirth mean? What takes place?

Help me be sure that I miss nothing here.

I see that what's lacking here is the understanding of the fact that John uses and plays on different meanings for Jews, Judaism and what constitutes salvation according to the Messiah. For the Jew, it's both considered part of their birthright and their heritage. And it's on that basis that Yeshua challenges the leader to see that it's not what comes by exclusive consideration as God's chosen people, but that it's made for each one as their choice in being chosen. 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God(John 1:12-13 ESV)

The entrance is by the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father, but by Him. It differentiates between being a son or child of God and simply being a son of Abraham. The latter doesn't make the former a slam dunk in the water.

Here's what I see, Jason:

God knew, before He created the world and filled it with life, that one day humankind would fall away from original righteousness and communion with Him. This is the primary story in Genesis 3, which also describes the nature of the temptations that led to the fall:

1) Doubting God’s goodness

2) Questioning God’s word

3) Desiring to be "as God" thinking one could have God’s position and authority.

With one fatal decision, the first man and first woman devastated all humanity and creation for millennia to come.

After their fall, Adam and Eve showed the effects of sin by hiding from God and by blaming others for their own wrongdoing. Though God described the specific and distinct ways sin would now affect them and their world, the chief consequence was the penalty of death which God had said would result if they chose to disobey His instructions.

1) Their spirits died: Their deep communion with God was now broken; they were terrified of God and hid from Him in the Garden.

2) Their natures died: They experienced a break down of their originally righteous and good character as they suppressed the truth, tried to cover themselves and laid the blame for their own sin on someone else.

3) Their bodies began to die: God said, "Dust you are, and to dust you will return."

Every person shows these effects of sin in their lives, further evidence of the sinfulness of all humankind. Instead of blessing, humankind introduced curses, corruption and death into the world, through sin. These three aspects of death are eternal.

So God intended to hit the rewind button. And the way God intended to do it was to die Himself, God the Son would give up His life and thereby redeem sinners, and really the whole of creation. The payment for redemption would be God’s blood. I don’t even know how you could calculate a value for the blood of God the Son. His death on the cross, and resurrection makes it possible to

1) Receive a new spirit which loves God, by the work of His indwelling Holy Spirit,

2) Receive a new nature (character, and revivification of the personality), which begins to live for God,

3) Eventually, along with every believer, receive a new body patterned on the resurrection body of Jesus, and have now a deposit on that resurrection power to live by faith.

The Jews regarded ritual baptism of gentile converts as a cleansing from the old way of life and a fresh start so total it was analogous to a new birth.  John the Baptist presented Jesus as One who would perform a greater baptism, in the Spirit instead of in water.  In the interview with Nicodemus, Jesus identified being born again/from above as being born of water, the Spirit, using language evocative of Eze. 36:25-27.  He then switches to another word-play that demonstrates the invisible and supernatural character of the birth, as well as evoking the next chapter of Ezekiel, 37:1-14.  So when we believe in Jesus, the Spirit enters us.  We are immersed in Him and cleansed.  We both "breathe" and "drink" Him in, and gain new life, freshly born of God, like Adam.  The Spirit of God comes to dwell in us, and our own spirits are made new.

If you want to move beyond John, "born again" occurs only in 1 Pet. 1:3, 23.  There the basis for new birth is God's mercy, and the agency is the word (presumably via faith in the preached word).

In Paul, the closest thing to being "born again" is "regeneration" or "rebirth" in Tit. 3:5-7.  There again are the themes of God's mercy and the Spirit's cleansing.  We also see that being reborn is the same as being saved and justified.  Slightly different from John, we see that "eternal life" is a future hope, while John seems to indicate it begins immediately on imbibing the Spirit.

Jason, I’m not sure the point I’m trying to make is a moot one. Perhaps so, but you equate community with a collection of individuals. There is no other way to simply render the distinction moot. Individualism is the key distinction of any Baptistic Ecclesiology; so I doubt there is much hope in talking you around the image, but I do want to point out that not everyone equates a community with the individuals that belong to it.

I agree that bags of marbles exist, but clusters of grapes exist too; and they are different things. This seems a very significant line of discussion, but more than I am up to having at the moment. Let’s just say that the story as scripture tells it has to do with the covenant God made with Israel. It cannot be told without the story of Israel. It is other than an abstract account of how individuals are allowed into heaven when they die.

Joanne’s account of New Birth is a helpful summary of Reformed Theology, but it is not an exegesis of the passage. If you are expounding Reformed Theology, then that is one (perhaps very valuable) thing to do. If you are exegeting John 3, that is perhaps another.

We need to be aware that Reformed theology often takes biblical terms, and assigns them new and specific meanings apart from their use in scripture. Nothing wrong with that as long as we are aware that it is going on, but that seems to have been forgotten in this passage.

Nicodemus is reprimanded for not understanding the need for a new birth. There is no indication of the Reformed Doctrine in the Old Testament. So Jesus must be talking about something else. To this I would add the passage's Spirit/flesh distinction, which signifies two different places, realms or ages in the New Testament, and that the promised Spirit was not poured out until Pentecost- it was still expected and hoped for in the gospels. This simply isn’t about the way every man, woman and child in all places and at all times is ‘saved.’

Rather, Jesus is telling Nicodemus about the New Reality that he is ushering into existence, what is required to have a part in it, and marveling that this is a surprise to the man. All of this is readily found in the Old Testament.

Which is to say that It‘s a discussion about entering the Kingdom of God. Here is another term that is often anachronistically read as referring to the place you go to when you die. That’s not how scripture uses it. Consider that Jesus says that John the Baptist is the greatest of those ‘born of woman’ (Matthew 11:11), but less than those who are in the kingdom of God. Being part of the Kingdom is not the same as being ‘saved,’ and whatever being part of the kingdom means, the distinction can be expressed in terms of being ‘born of a woman’ vs…. ‘being born from above,’ maybe? That at least is how I understand it.

To be born from above, Born Again, or regenerate is to participate in the great change of reality that Christ brought to pass. It is to participate in his New Birth- his passing from life to death. This is Peter’s point- we are born again by sharing in Christ’s resurrection. (1 Peter 1:3)

Christ’s resurrection and the subsequent pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost is the inauguration of the restoration of Israel, and through her, the rest of the world that God had promised to bring to pass. It was the 'end of the ages' that they had looked for. Through Christ, God pulled off a great time warp in which the future is in some way present today. The church by virtue of the Spirit is a colony of the future. Entering the kingdom is a matter of ‘when’ you are from- this age or the age to come.

Being a member of Christ’s body is not an abstract matter of knowing what will happen when you die. It is to be part of a colonizing force from the future.

Really.

We are ‘heaven’ bubbles come back in time. This is why are lives- especially in community-are characterized by cruciformity and forgiveness. Like a strange accent that gives the immigrant away, that’s just how we do things back on the motherworld.

That seems to me to be incredibly exciting, and important to know.

Gordon Fee has said that if he reentered the pastorate the number one thing he would strive to get across to his congregation- no matter how long it took- is the truth that they are an eschatological community.

Every October there is some Disney show  that has the parents sitting their teenage son down and explaining that their family- that he- is really an alien or werewolf. The story goes on to reveal the consequences that this small piece of information has for the young man. Its life altering, and every aspect of life is altered.

This is the message that you have to bring to your congregation. They look like typical human beings, but they aren’t. Through there baptism they have left this Age, and emerged like Marshall, Will and Holly in another. (Romans 6) Tell them that you have something that they need to know about themselves. It’s gonna complicate things, but life can never again be boring. They are the ones ‘on whom the end of the ages has come!’ 1 Cor 10:11, and they have a calling to be who they are!

Yes, you and I must be born again, but that isn’t simply a matter of being made a new creature. It is a matter of being included in a New Creation.

 

 

 

Two things:

1. Let’s just say that the story as scripture tells it has to do with the covenant God made with Israel. It cannot be told without the story of Israel. It is other than an abstract account of how individuals are allowed into heaven when they die.

I have not denied that. I agree with that.

You also assume very much about me when you make the statements that you do. I'm simply saying that you cannot divorce the individual and the group. If a Gentile wishes to enter the kingdom of God he must become a Jew inwardly by partaking of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, Israel, and all of us in Christ. He must believe. He must be born again.

Do I believe that is all there is to the issue? No.

Neither have I expressed all that I believe here. I'm asking questions more than making statements.

Yes, you and I must be born again, but that isn’t simply a matter of being made a new creature. It is a matter of being included in a New Creation.

And I say, "AMEN," or as one man I know says "AAAAAIIIIIMUH!!!"

The Phit formerly known as Bod said:

Jason, I’m not sure the point I’m trying to make is a moot one. Perhaps so, but you equate community with a collection of individuals. There is no other way to simply render the distinction moot. Individualism is the key distinction of any Baptistic Ecclesiology; so I doubt there is much hope in talking you around the image, but I do want to point out that not everyone equates a community with the individuals that belong to it.

I agree that bags of marbles exist, but clusters of grapes exist too; and they are different things. This seems a very significant line of discussion, but more than I am up to having at the moment. Let’s just say that the story as scripture tells it has to do with the covenant God made with Israel. It cannot be told without the story of Israel. It is other than an abstract account of how individuals are allowed into heaven when they die.

Joanne’s account of New Birth is a helpful summary of Reformed Theology, but it is not an exegesis of the passage. If you are expounding Reformed Theology, then that is one (perhaps very valuable) thing to do. If you are exegeting John 3, that is perhaps another.

We need to be aware that Reformed theology often takes biblical terms, and assigns them new and specific meanings apart from their use in scripture. Nothing wrong with that as long as we are aware that it is going on, but that seems to have been forgotten in this passage.

Nicodemus is reprimanded for not understanding the need for a new birth. There is no indication of the Reformed Doctrine in the Old Testament. So Jesus must be talking about something else. To this I would add the passage's Spirit/flesh distinction, which signifies two different places, realms or ages in the New Testament, and that the promised Spirit was not poured out until Pentecost- it was still expected and hoped for in the gospels. This simply isn’t about the way every man, woman and child in all places and at all times is ‘saved.’

Rather, Jesus is telling Nicodemus about the New Reality that he is ushering into existence, what is required to have a part in it, and marveling that this is a surprise to the man. All of this is readily found in the Old Testament.

Which is to say that It‘s a discussion about entering the Kingdom of God. Here is another term that is often anachronistically read as referring to the place you go to when you die. That’s not how scripture uses it. Consider that Jesus says that John the Baptist is the greatest of those ‘born of woman’ (Matthew 11:11), but less than those who are in the kingdom of God. Being part of the Kingdom is not the same as being ‘saved,’ and whatever being part of the kingdom means, the distinction can be expressed in terms of being ‘born of a woman’ vs…. ‘being born from above,’ maybe? That at least is how I understand it.

To be born from above, Born Again, or regenerate is to participate in the great change of reality that Christ brought to pass. It is to participate in his New Birth- his passing from life to death. This is Peter’s point- we are born again by sharing in Christ’s resurrection. (1 Peter 1:3)

Christ’s resurrection and the subsequent pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost is the inauguration of the restoration of Israel, and through her, the rest of the world that God had promised to bring to pass. It was the 'end of the ages' that they had looked for. Through Christ, God pulled off a great time warp in which the future is in some way present today. The church by virtue of the Spirit is a colony of the future. Entering the kingdom is a matter of ‘when’ you are from- this age or the age to come.

Being a member of Christ’s body is not an abstract matter of knowing what will happen when you die. It is to be part of a colonizing force from the future.

Really.

We are ‘heaven’ bubbles come back in time. This is why are lives- especially in community-are characterized by cruciformity and forgiveness. Like a strange accent that gives the immigrant away, that’s just how we do things back on the motherworld.

That seems to me to be incredibly exciting, and important to know.

Gordon Fee has said that if he reentered the pastorate the number one thing he would strive to get across to his congregation- no matter how long it took- is the truth that they are an eschatological community.

Every October there is some Disney show  that has the parents sitting their teenage son down and explaining that their family- that he- is really an alien or werewolf. The story goes on to reveal the consequences that this small piece of information has for the young man. Its life altering, and every aspect of life is altered.

This is the message that you have to bring to your congregation. They look like typical human beings, but they aren’t. Through there baptism they have left this Age, and emerged like Marshall, Will and Holly in another. (Romans 6) Tell them that you have something that they need to know about themselves. It’s gonna complicate things, but life can never again be boring. They are the ones ‘on whom the end of the ages has come!’ 1 Cor 10:11, and they have a calling to be who they are!

Yes, you and I must be born again, but that isn’t simply a matter of being made a new creature. It is a matter of being included in a New Creation.

 

 

 

Can you show me in the sermons found in the book of Acts how the disciples preached the new birth of water and Spirit?

What does that have to do with anything?

Carol Jean said:

Can you show me in the sermons found in the book of Acts how the disciples preached the new birth of water and Spirit?

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