The Spirit Provides New Birth

      Comments Off on The Spirit Provides New Birth

To listen to today’s reflection as a podcast, click here

During the month of November, we’re taking a look at 21 essential activities of the Holy Spirit, who represents God’s presence in and through every follower of Jesus.
Let’s face it: The New York Jets of the National Football League are just awful. 
This was supposed to be a magic season.  Maybe even a Super Bowl season.  Last spring, with great fanfare, the Jets secured the services of future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who tore one of his Achilles tendons after taking just his fourth snap back in September.
Rodgers’ backups have not played well.  The team is now 4-7, with virtually no chance of making the playoffs.  Last Friday, the third string quarterback threw a Hail Mary pass towards the end zone as time was expiring in the first half – only to have a Miami Dolphins player intercept the ball and return it 99 yards for a touchdown.  Black Friday, indeed.  
The time has come for action.  The New York Jets need help at quarterback, and I’m willing to step up.
What if I decided to go to Coach Robert Saleh and advertise my availability? 
I could do a short private workout – you know, just your basic scramble drills and a chance to demonstrate my laser rocket arm.  I’d let him see what I can do.  Then I’d say, “Robert – can I call you Bob? – don’t sugarcoat it.   What are my chances of being on the Jets’ roster by next Sunday?” 
I think Coach Saleh would say something like, “McDonald, you must be born again.  Literally.  Start by coming into the world in the 21st century instead of the middle of the 20th.  Get yourself some different chromosomes – a father who was 6-foot-five instead of five-foot-nine would help.  If you can pull that off and actually start exercising, give me a call.” 
In John chapter 3, Jesus is approached by a man named Nicodemus – a Pharisee who is deeply impressed with his teaching.  What would he need to do to become part of this new movement?
“You must be born again,” Jesus says (John 3:3). 
This is not a compliment.  Jesus is being entirely realistic about Nicodemus’ chances – and our chances as well – of joining his community of lifelong learners. 
Nicodemus is taken aback.  “You don’t mean I have to start over again in my mother’s womb, do you?”  No, Jesus is talking about spiritual rebirth.  We cannot participate in Jesus’ vision for the future unless we display new capacities, new motivations, and an entirely new nature that is capable of responding in a healthy way to God.
And that’s never going to happen through a rigorous self-improvement program.  We cannot personally conjure up the medicine we need to cure our sin-sick souls.  
The Greeks had two different words for “life:” bios and zoeBios is the root of the word biology.  Everyone who arrives in the maternity ward has received the gift of physical, organic life.  But the tragedy of our broken world is that not everybody experiences zoe – spiritual existence as it was meant to be. 
Jesus declares that the reason we are here is not to improve our biological circumstances.  All of us are called to be reborn into real, lasting lifezoe, that is – through a relationship with him.
And that can only happen through the work of the Holy Spirit. 
Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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” (John 3:5-8).   
We’re so used to hearing about “born again Christians” – and may well have been turned off by some of the foolish things they say and do in the name of Jesus – that we might have overlooked what the New Testament actually says about rebirth.
When we abandon ourselves to Jesus, God graciously puts a brand new nature into our bodies.  God doesn’t get rid of the old hardware.  We still have the same bodies we had when we came into this world.  But now our goal is to run the old hardware with the brand new software of the Holy Spirit.
And as with any systems upgrade, we can expect some start-up struggles and compatibility issues. 
So what changes as a result of spiritual rebirth? 
Your eye color will remain the same.  So will your fingerprints.  Your time running your community’s annual 5K race will not automatically improve.  Nor will you be empowered to go shopping for a new family of origin.  Your cooking skills will be, well, pretty much what they were before.
But being indwelt by the Holy Spirit means that you will experience a genuine desire to please God – an aching hunger to learn and grow.  Your identity will begin to undergo a major renovation.  You may have grown up believing you had to take care of number one, because no one else was ever going to do that for you.  But now you’ll experience fresh motivation to pursue God’s agenda instead of your own.
Here comes the tricky part.
When someone is born again, does that mean their same old problems disappear?  No, it doesn’t.  But now they have an indwelling Problem Solver who is equal to anything they are facing. 
When we experience rebirth, does that mean our most wretched habits are automatically banished?  No, it doesn’t.  It’s true that many followers of Jesus experience immediate deliverance from something that has burdened them for years – an addiction perhaps, or an inability to forgive, or a thought pattern that has crushed their spirit. 
Most of us, however, find that the same old wounds and painful memories are still lurking around somewhere. 
But that’s not the end of the story.  Now the redemptive work of the rest of our lives begins.  Equipped with fresh power and fresh hope, we learn to surrender more and more of ourselves to the Spirit – the very One who promises to provide substantial healing of our hurts and hearts.   
It doesn’t happen all at once.  But by God’s grace, it does indeed happen.    
I recently read about a humble follower of Jesus who said, “I am not really born again.  I’m in about my second trimester.” 
Maybe you’re there, too.  But that’s OK. 
The midwife of the Holy Spirit will make sure you’re safely born into a whole new way of life.