The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke begin writing about Jesus’ public ministry after John the Baptist was put in prison. John, writing much later than the others, includes a few stories that predate the other writers by a year or so. These include the Wedding at Cana, Jesus clearing the temple (John 2), Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3), and Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4).
It is from these earlier stories that we find Jesus’ first commandment, that applies both to the person to whom He was speaking, and, also, to all people who choose to follow Him.
Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, a Pharisee, who would, ultimately, appear in the Gospels several times as a follower of Christ, came to Jesus, the first time, by night, to try and understand who exactly Jesus was. He knew Jesus was sent by God and that God was with Him. Jesus jumped straight to the crux of the matter.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Matthew 3:3 NLT
Jesus’ reply caught Nicodemus flat-footed, as it would have any of us who had come to Jesus stealthily, trying to understand Him firsthand. “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” (3:4)
Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ (3:5-7)
To be born again is the first commandment, the first way to weatherproof your life. Are you born again? If you desire true wholeness in life, to walk in obedience to Christ out of love, and enjoy the companionship of God’s grace and beauty in your life, start here.
Jesus said being born again is something the Holy Spirit does in a life, “the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” Traditionally, in the early church, this spiritual new birth was actualized through water baptism. The apostles Peter and Paul give us some clarity in the letters of 1 Peter, and Romans.
Peter writes: God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
May God give you more and more grace and peace.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation… 1 Peter 1:2-3
You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.
For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. 1 Peter 1:22-23
Peter says, “we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.” Then, “[our] sins were cleansed when [we] obeyed the truth…”
Born again because of the resurrection—cleansed from our sins…
These verses echo what Peter preached at Pentecost when the people cried out, “What must we do to be saved?” “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38 NLT
Of course, the balance of the new testament, including the writings of the apostle Paul tell us that our salvation is a product of grace alone and our only contribution is faith, but even the faith to be saved is given to us as a gift from God—so salvation is His work.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…” Ephesians 2:8 NKJV
But thankfully, Paul clarifies that being born again in baptism is not a fleshly work that is part of some unwritten check list for salvation. It is a sacramental moment when something truly holy happens. Our “old man” dies and is buried, in water, and the person who is raised out of the water is not the same, they are new, they are regenerated, born again, as Peter said, “because of the resurrection.” Paul explains it clearly in Romans chapter 6.
“Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” Romans 6:3-4 NLT
He describes the miracle of new birth through the rest of Romans chapter 6, including: “Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.” (v5-6)
The cross of Christ, the hinge-pin of history, was when the sin of all the world was piled on Christ’ shoulders and He died for all mankind. He took my sin, yours, and everyones, on the cross. When you meet or see a brutal sinner, even his or her sins have already been paid for, by Jesus Christ on the cross. And then He defeated the penalty for sin by defeating death and rising from the grave, victorious! In baptism we enter in to Christ’s victory of rebirth/new life.
Something very holy happens when you are baptized. The water, combined with your obedience to follow Jesus into His death, burial and resurrection, becomes a sacrament. That is, God takes something ordinary, plain and physical, in this case a pool of water, and He changes it into something else, by His presence. The water becomes a tomb for your old man, and a womb for the new man – and you arise from it born again by the Holy Spirit.
Saint Theophan the Recluse, a monk, priest and bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1800’s described it like this: “Baptism gives us what nothing else on earth can give us: It unites and combines with our natural being, Divine grace… Some new element, a supernatural one is added to our composition, and will remain inside us hidden and secretly acting…”
Leaving the mystery to God, St. Theophan simply acknowledges what the apostle Paul describes in depth, which is, when you are raised from baptism you are different, you have a different resource for life.
The path to a weatherproof life starts here, being born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus. It doesn’t stand alone, though, it is, for the person of faith, the first step in a life-long journey through drought, storm, want and plenty, learning the way of Christ, following in His steps, and observing His commandments.
And then, dear one, when the journey is complete, by His overflowing grace, and your unfeigned faith, you are welcomed into His arms of love.