“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus was his name, a ruler of the Jews. This one came to him in the night and said to him: ‘Rabbi, we know that you as a teacher have come from God; for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.’”
– John 3:1-2
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest ruling council among the Jews. Many of the Pharisees accompanied Jesus as he toured the cities, acting as spies and posing questions in an attempt to trip him up so they could find some cause to arrest him. Nicodemus was one of those followers, but he was not one of the spies. He came to believe in Jesus, and so when he approached him this night, he came in his own right, not as an official delegate of the Sanhedrin. In fact, this evening’s visit was in secret. He wanted to know more without being seen by the multitudes. Jesus, perceiving that Nicodemus came to inquire about the Kingdom, told him:
“‘Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him: ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter into the womb of his mother a second time and be born, can he?’ Jesus answered: ‘Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. What has been born from the flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel because I told you, you people must be born again. The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone that has been born from the spirit.’”
– John 3:3-8
Jesus was laying the groundwork for entrance into the kingdom. By saying “What has been born from flesh is flesh,” Jesus was not talking about fleshly birth, or returning to a woman’s womb. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was no doubt righteous in works and faithful in keeping the law. But Jesus was showing that even the best of the flesh cannot enter the kingdom on that ground alone
And when he says that you may hear the sound of wind but not know from where it is coming, he means that being born from the spirit is not discernible by the eye. You can see the affect of the wind, but not the wind itself. Likewise, with your fleshly eyes, you may be able behold the manifestation of the spirit, but you cannot actually discern the spirit itself. Since the re-birth is not accomplished by fleshly actions, and it is not discernable to the eye, Nicodemus was still baffled.
“In answer Nicodemus said to him: ‘How can these things come about?’ In answer Jesus said to him: ‘Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things? Most truly I say to you, What we know we speak and what we have seen we bear witness of, but you people do not receive the witness we give. If I have told you earthly things and yet you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
– John 3:9-12
Jesus indicates that the answer lies in understanding heavenly things. So let’s take a journey into the “heavenly things” as they relate to spirit birth, beginning at the beginning – with our fleshly birth.
Born of Flesh
The flesh, the inherent nature of man, does not naturally bear the fruits of the divine spirit. In our natural form, we behave more animalistic. (Jude 19; James 3:15) The focus of natural man is on food and sustenance; he jealously guards his possessions; he is fierce and argumentative when it comes to perceived wrongs; he is mostly concerned with his physical pleasures and personal appearance which manifests his apparent power; and he brazenly takes what is not his for his own selfish advantage. Being born again means that we must get rid of these beastly qualities of the natural man – “the mark of the beast!”
We are not saying for a certainty that this is the meaning of the “mark of the beast” referred to in the book of Revelation (Revelation 13:16-17), but it is certainly a matter worth considering. What we can say for a certainty is that the animalistic behaviors referred to above are indeed marks of man’s beastly nature that must be done away with if we are to enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens. The Apostle Paul spoke of this conflict of the spirit and the flesh:
“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells nothing good; for ability to wish is present with me, but ability to work out what is fine is not [present]. For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice.”
– Romans 7:18-19
Unfortunately, we are suffering the consequences of a double deprivation of help in our task of progressive spiritual attainment. Satan’s rebellion precipitated world-wide confusion and robbed all subsequent generations of the moral assistance which a well-ordered society would have provided. And even more disastrous was the default of Adam and Eve which deprived us of the superior physical nature which would have been more conducive to spiritual aspirations.
Notwithstanding this double disaster to our nature and environment, we would experience less of this apparent warfare between the flesh and the spirit if we would enter the Kingdom of God – the spiritual brotherhood – as born again sons of the Father. As faith sons, we enjoy comparative deliverance from the slave-bondage of the flesh through our wholehearted devotion to doing the will of the Father in heaven. This relief was explained to the Roman congregation:
“For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will but through him that subjected it, on the basis of hope that the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.”
– Romans 8:19-22
Yes, until now. Jesus showed mankind a new way of mortal living whereby human beings may very largely escape the dire consequences of our pitiful physical state through our faith in Jesus.
“Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God, and everyone who loves the one that caused to be born loves him who has been born from that one. By this we gain the knowledge that we are loving the children of God, when we are loving God and doing his commandments. For this is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome, because everything that has been born from God conquers the world. And this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.”
– 1 John 5:1-5
We conquer our flesh by our faith that as Jesus was born from God, so we, too, can be born from God. Though we have the inheritance of animal tendencies, we also have within us the spirit of the Father (1 Corinthians 3:16), and we have around us the spirit of truth (John 16:13) which converge to assist us in subjecting our flesh more and more to the will of God.
The crystalized theories of even the highest religious doctrines are powerless to transform human character or to control mortal behavior.
“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners from the nations, knowing as we do that a man is declared righteous, not due to works of law, but only through faith toward Christ Jesus, even we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we may be declared righteous due to faith toward Christ, and not due to works of law, because due to works of law no flesh will be declared righteous.”
– Galatians 2:15-16
"For the Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in besides of a better hope did, through which we are drawing near to God.”
– Hebrew 7:19
Instead of laws, what the world of today needs is the living truth by means of the combined spirit forces. Jesus attempted to explain the power of the spirit forces to the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her:
“If you had known the free gift of God and who it is that says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. She said to him: ‘Sir, you have not even a bucket for drawing water, and the well is deep. From what source, therefore, do you have this living water? You are not greater than our forefather Jacob, who gave us the well and who himself together with his sons and his cattle drank out of it, are you?’ In answer Jesus said to her: ‘Everyone drinking from this water will get thirsty again. Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty at all, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.”
– John 4:10-14
It is the presence of the divine spirit forces, the waters of life, that prevents the consuming thirst of mortal discontent and that indescribable hunger of the fleshly mind. Spirit-motivated beings never thirst, for this spiritual water is a well of satisfaction “imparting everlasting life.” Such divinely watered souls are independent of the material environment for the joys of living and the satisfactions of earthly existence. They are spiritually illuminated and refreshed, morally strengthened and endowed. These are the Father’s children.
“Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”
– John 4:23-24
Yet, the spirit never drives, only leads. If we are willing learners, if we want to attain spirit levels and reach divine heights, if we sincerely desire to reach the eternal goal, then the divine spirit will gently and lovingly lead us along the pathway of sonship and spiritual progress. Every step we take must be one of willingness, and intelligent and cheerful co-operation. The domination of the spirit is never tainted with coercion nor compromised by compulsion.
When we live such a life of spirit guidance freely and intelligently accepted, there gradually develops within the human mind a positive consciousness of divine contact and assurance of spirit communion. And eventually:
“The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
– Romans 8:16
Already has the Father’s indwelling spirit told us of our kinship to God so that when the spirit of truth bears witness, we have an assurance that we will attain to our inheritance. We increasingly exhibit the characteristics of the spirit as would spirit-led individuals – “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), even without law.
Such spirit-guided and divinely illuminated mortals, while we yet tread the lowly paths of the human existence, soon begin to discern the lights of eternal life as they glimmer on the faraway shores of another world. Already have we begun to comprehend the reality of that inspiring and comforting truth:
“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him. For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:9-10
Perfecting our Faith as New Born Sons
We must do our utmost to eradicate the unhealthy fleshly desires and attitudes if we want to experience the eternal joys of being born again, entering into the Kingdom of the Heavens and reaching our divine destiny of embrace with our heavenly Father. Much is required. When Jesus began his ministry in the great Sermon on the Mount, after sharing with mankind the promises of God, he added:
“You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:48
Later, he told hem:
“Most truly I say to you, He that exercises faith in me, that one also will do the works that I do; and he will do works greater than these, because I am going my way to the Father.”
– John 14:12
And Paul referred to Jesus as the “Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) Clearly, the Father – a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) expects great things from us.
“‘For the thoughts of you people are not my thoughts, nor are my ways your ways,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For just as the pouring rain descends, and the snow, from the heavens and does not return to that place, unless it actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout, and seed is actually given to the sower and bread to the eater, so my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”
– Isaiah 55:8-11
So we can be certain that all who chose the Father’s way will eventually be perfect because Jesus will assist us in perfecting our faith; and we will do greater things than even Jesus did. It is rather obvious that we cannot achieve these goals while in the flesh. Therefore, we are confident that there is much more work and training of our personalities to be done in the heavens – the heavenly abodes.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Exercise faith in God, exercise faith also in me. In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be. And where I am going you know the way.”
– John 14:1-2
There we will be purged of all the remnants of our unfortunate animal heredity, our unwholesome environment, and our unspiritual planetary tendencies. The last remnants of the “mark of the beast” will there be eradicated. There, we will begin a new and more spiritual worship of the unseen Father, a habit that we will increasingly pursue all the way until we are received into the Father’s presence.
But we must begin the work of perfecting our faith and discarding the fleshly beast-like tendencies even now. We must accept the invitation to be sons of God and be born of the spirit. This is our ticket into the kingdom – our token of the spirit.
“But you also hoped in him after you heard the word of truth, the good news about you salvation. By means of him also, after you believed, you were sealed with the promised holy spirit, which is a token in advance of our inheritance, for the purpose of releasing by a ransom [God’s] own possession, to his glorious praise.”
– Ephesians 1:13-14
Paul reiterated that token to the Corinthian congregation:
“For no matter how many the promises of God are, they have become Yes by means of him. Therefore also through him is the “Amen” [said] to God for glory through us. But he who guarantees that you and we belong to Christ and he who has anointed us is God. He has also put his seal upon us and has given us the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit, in our hearts.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:20-22
Throughout every trial and in the presence of every hardship, spirit-born souls are sustained by that hope which transcends all fear because the love of God is spread abroad in all hearts by the presence of the divine Spirit. God-knowing men and women who have been born of the spirit operate on intellectual levels and live on spiritual planes far above the conflicts produced by unrestrained or unnatural physical desires. They become citizens of the kingdom of the heavens, while temporary residents here on earth. (1 Peter 2:11)
“Always rejoice in [the] Lord. Once more I will say, Rejoice! Let your reasonableness become known to all men. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 4:4-7
Having elected to pursue the new birth as faith sons of the Father in heaven, and having accepted the assignment as ambassadors substituting for Christ, we do not allow ourselves to be troubled by our occasional moments of doubt or of failure or of perplexing confusion. We do not falter and question our status and standing before God:
“For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.”
– Hebrews 6:10
For in every dark hour, at every crossroad in the forward struggle, the spirit of truth will always speak, saying, “This is the way. Walk in it” – (Isaiah 30:21)