12 September 2022

Born again: 'How can this be?'

Bible study by Major Linda Govier

Major Linda Govier examines the inconvenient truth of the new birth.

Key text

If it were possible, would you change the time or place of your birth? One thing all of us have in common is that we had no control over either.

You may have heard it said that it’s not where you start in life that matters but where you end up. Although there may be the odd notable exception, the circumstances of our births do shape our lives. Access to clean water, nourishing food, healthcare and education is denied to many people because of the place of their birth. Yet, there are those of whom it is said: ‘They were born with a silver spoon in their mouth.’

For some people, nationality – usually determined by one’s place of birth – is a source of pride and an integral part of their identity. This was true for Nicodemus.

As a Jew, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, he would have been considered one of God’s chosen people with a place in God’s Kingdom seemingly guaranteed. He had given his life to the study, interpretation and implementation of God’s Law, which was viewed as the way to spiritual renewal.

Pause and reflect

  • What can we learn from Nicodemus’s approach to Jesus?

In our study passage, Nicodemus states that Jesus is a teacher who has come from God, but does he recognise that the Kingdom of God is near?

Nicodemus believes he is part of the Kingdom. However, no one can see the Kingdom, never mind enter it, if they are not born again.

A Bible open at John 3 with the words 'you must be born again' highlighted

John 3:4

‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked.

Read the passage

Jesus prefaces his reply to Nicodemus with a phrase that emphasises the importance of his words: ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again’ (v3).

Pause and reflect

  • Is there a difference between knowledge and belief?

Nicodemus is surprised by what Jesus is saying. Although he is a teacher of God’s Law, he does not understand God’s work and is limited by human understanding. He wonders if Jesus really means that he, and those like him, will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven – they thought their citizenship of the Kingdom was a birthright.

Pause and reflect

  • How can we see that a person has been born again?
  • How is this different to self-reinvention?

What Jesus says is contrary to everything that made Nicodemus who he was. The scholar realises that Jesus isn’t talking about reinventing oneself or turning over a new leaf. He questions how it is possible to be born again (see v4). This is a good question that possibly everyone listening wanted to ask.

The next words of Jesus are again emphasised by the phrase ‘very truly I tell you’. He says that to enter the Kingdom of God a person must be reborn from above and that only God can bring this about. Just as our human birth was entirely out of our control, we don’t have to understand to experience rebirth.

Jesus likens the experience to the wind. We don’t know where it comes from or where it goes but we feel the wind when it blows. Similarly, we do not have to understand how God, through Christ, makes ‘new creations’ but we know that his work is done when we see lives transformed (see v8).

It seems hopeless if even the teachers of Israel cannot accept Jesus’ teaching. If they cannot accept, they will not believe. If they do not believe, they will not have eternal life. As Jesus continues his teaching, Nicodemus seems to disappear.

Jesus then recalls an event in the history of Israel: the wandering children of Israel complained against God, who sent venomous snakes that caused many of them to die. Realising that they had done wrong, the people asked Moses to pray that God would take the snakes away. God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who looked to it, he promised, would live.

Jesus says that he, too, will be lifted up so that ‘everyone who believes will have eternal life’ (v15). Looking to Jesus is the only way to be saved from certain death.

Pause and reflect

  • How do the events in Numbers 21:4–9 help us understand how we benefit from the cross of Jesus?

Everyone can be born again by believing in Jesus. Everyone can have eternal life in God’s Kingdom, but no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.

In this life, where we start is out of our control but where we end up we may control. Those who are born again from above are those who surrender control to the reign of God.

Bible study by

Linda Govier

Major Linda Govier

Divisional Mission Enabler, Central East

Let's pray

Father, we thank you that through your Son we have been given a new life. Not a changed life – but a whole new life in Jesus!


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