The Apostle John, brother of James, wrote the Gospel of John sometime around 80 AD. The best internal evidence that points to John comes from the five points of deduction known as the “classic approach of Westcott,” which are the author of the fourth Gospel was (a) a Jew, (b) of Palestine, (c) an eye witness, (d) an apostle, i.e. one of the twelve, thus (e) the apostle John.
John wrote the Gospel of John to diaspora Jews, Gentiles attracted to the Jewish faith, and to the church at large. The Gospel of John only shares 8 percent of its content with the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which means 92 percent of John’s Gospel is unique information only found within it. Two major sections in the Gospel that teach unique information are: (a) The Born-Again Discourse with Nicodemus in John 3 and (b) The Upper Room Discourse in John 13-16.
It is from these two discourses, especially John 3, that the thesis of this paper is derived, which is, “The Role and Person of the Holy Spirit in the New Birth.”Therefore, it is my goal to teach from these unique and powerful passages the way in which the Holy Spirit is presented to accomplish the awesome work of spiritual renewal and regeneration.
First, the reason for choosing the work of the Holy Spirit in new birth was to show how God intends to save and bring new life to everyone who believes in Jesus.Second, to teach the person of the Holy Spirit as seen through regeneration.And lastly, how the role of Spirit works regeneration in the believer’s life.
Therefore, this paper will include the following points of discussion:
Main Points Discussed
1. The interpretation of the main passage used – John 3:1-8
2. The role of the Holy Spirit in the new birth as seen in John 3
3. The person of the Holy Spirit in the new birth as seen in John 3 & 14-16.
1. Interpretation of the Passage John 3:1-8
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spiritgives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘Youmust be born again.’ 8The 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.”
(vv. 1-2) This great passage starts by introducing its main character aside from Jesus, the Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus. We are told that he is a (i) a Pharisees: a group of strict followers of Jewish law from around the time of the Maccabees (150 BC), and (ii) a member of the Jewish ruling council: this was the term given to those who had a ruling position in the nation of Israel at his time.
Nicodemus is said to have come at night, which gives the impression he was deeply interested in Jesus, but not ready to be an open follower of His teachings.Thus, he wanted to come to Jesus privately and ask more questions to inform his decision of becoming a Christ-follower.His statement “no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him,” was the highest form of compliment this Pharisee could give Jesus.
The following basic truths can be made from his statement: (i) like Moses had signs from God, so did Jesus have signs from God (Exodus 4), (ii) as Moses and the prophets brought messages with their signs, Jesus had a message from God as well, and lastly, (iii) The message of Jesus was not clearly understood, thus Nicodemus need to affirm Jesus’ role before asking Him about His teachings.
(v. 3) The reply of Jesus is one of great power and confidence because Jesus neither praises Nicodemus’ insight, nor waits to be asked a question by him, but rather Jesus goes directly to the heart of Nicodemus’ visit, “how can a person receive God’s kingdom?” Jesus knew that all Jews, especially the leaders, were all awaiting the “kingdom of God.” The “kingdom of God” in this passage means, “the coming of the Messiah and his ruling of the world through the nation of Israel.”
Therefore, Jesus addressing the “kingdom of God” issue was His way of showing Nicodemus the following: (i) Jesus knew why Nicodemus was there, (ii) Jesus wanted to teach Nicodemus the first principle of entering the Kingdom of God, and (iii) the means by which a person can be born-again.
The term “born again” means, “to be given new life,” which in relation to the Kingdom of God was something Jesus was saying Nicodemus could receive in the present. Thus, the idea that Nicodemus had to wait until the end of the world to be resurrected to rule with the Messiah was incorrect. Jesus was teaching that being born again now was the only way someone could enter the Kingdom of God after the resurrection.
(v. 4) Nicodemus’ response shows how far the Jews were from understanding the Scriptures concerning the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. They seemed to have missed the simple meaning of important passages such as Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26 and there references to a “new heart” and “new spirit.” Therefore, he asks a question which was silly, but very revealing concerning his earthly perspective. Nicodemus could only see the physical things of God; such as the temple, rituals, and the visible signs and wonders. He had missed seeing the value of the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he takes Jesus’ statement about being born again and applies it to the physical world.
(v. 5) Jesus now begins to describe this process of being born again. He states that a person must be born of “water” and the “Spirit.” Over time there have been different meanings brought forth as to what the “water” refers to, such as: (i) being baptized (1 Peter 3:21), (ii) the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26 & James 1:18), (iii) the water breaking in a woman’s womb, thus teaching earthly birth than spiritual birth, and lastly, (iv) a reinforcement of the spiritual birth in symbolic terms (Titus 3:5). I choose to believe that the latter, a reinforcement of spiritual rebirth with symbolism, is the best answer.
Therefore, the most important element in this verse is the Holy Spirit. The Greek word used for “spirit” is “pneuma,” which means, “wind, breath, or spirit.” The “spirit” being referenced by Jesus in this passage is clearly the same “Spirit of God” that had been referenced all throughout the Old Testament (Joel 2:28, Isaiah 32:15-20, & Ezekiel 36-37). As a result, Jesus is teaching Nicodemus that to enter into God’s Kingdom he must be given by the Holy Spirit “a inner renewal which cleanses from all idolatry and disobedience.”
(vv. 6-8) Jesus continues to teach that as “flesh gives birth to flesh” so it is with the Spirit, that God’s Spirit gives birth to man’s new regenerated spirit. Jesus uses the wind to describe the mystery of the spiritual nature by saying a person can hear the wind, but not see where it is going or where it comes from. Therefore, Jesus is teaching that being born again by the Spirit is something that cannot be seen like a temple or a ritual, but in fact it is a real experience and must be received by Nicodemus if he wants to enter into God’s Kingdom.
Theological Applications Concerning the Above Passage and Interpretation
Here is a summary with applications to the verses in John 3:1-8: (i) Jewish people loved Jesus for His signs, but missed His message and true purpose (John 3:1-2), therefore, today people can love the idea of Jesus and His miracles, yet miss His message and be lost; (ii) Being born again is a must for everyone to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:3), therefore, it does not matter how religious someone is, they must have a spiritual renew and cleansing to be saved; (iii) Religious people are not necessarily closer to God than those who are not (John 3:4), therefore, it does not matter how much a person knows about God, they must know God personally enter His Kingdom; and lastly, (iv) The Spirit of God is a mystery, yet very real (John 3:5-8), therefore, in a day of skepticism the greatest evidence to an unseen God is His work within the believer’s life by His Spirit.
2. The role of the Holy Spirit in the new birth as seen in John 3
The role of Holy Spirit in the new birth as seen in John 3 can be detailed in the following points, (i) The Holy Spirit comes from God to cleanse and renew man’s inner being as prophesied in the Old Testament and (ii) The Holy Spirit rebirth is in the present and remains active throughout the life of the believer.
(i) The Holy Spirit comes from God to cleanse and renew man’s inner being as prophesied in the Old Testament
When Jesus began His discourse with Nicodemus this was not the first time the Holy Spirit had been mentioned in such a way, but rather it was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.The main passage in which God showed His intentions to work renewal within the spirit of man by His Spirit was in Ezekiel 36:26-28,
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
Here in this passage in Ezekiel it is clear that God was intending at a certain time to make His Spirit available to everyone, not just the certain people at certain times.Prior to the time of Jesus the Spirit of God would simply come upon chosen people for special occasions and then lift when the need was done.Only a few unique men like Moses and David does the Spirit seem to “rest,” meaning it does not come and go (Numbers 11:17 & 1 Samuel 16:13).For examples of the Spirit coming upon people for a time look at the “seventy elders of Israel” in Numbers 11:25, Gideon in Judges 6:34, and Saul in 1 Samuel 10:6.
Therefore, when Jesus is telling Nicodemus the truth about being born again He is actually referring to this past prophecy and promising him that God will “cleanse him from all impurities” by the “washing of rebirth.” This passage in Ezekiel also goes with the other passage of Ezekiel in chapter 37,
26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Thus, it is by the Holy Spirit in the newly birthed spirit of man that God dwells.This comes only after the spirit of man is washed and cleansed because God is holy.As a result once a person is born again they not only have a inner relationship with God, they become the dwelling or temple of God Himself as seen restated in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 3:16).
(ii) The Holy Spirit rebirth is in the present and remains active throughout the life of the believer.
One of the main problems Nicodemus had with the concept of rebirth came from his “bad theology” of the end times. As a typical Jewish leader in his time he believed a much different line of events were to occur for God’s Kingdom to come. Here is a summery of what he most likely believed about the Kingdom of God: (a) The Messiah would come and conquer the world, (b) The Jewish nation would be the center of God’s kingdom, and (c) All true followers of God would be resurrected and reign with the Messiah upon the earth forever.
Therefore, he had no concept of the following prophecies: (a) the Messiah would be a suffering servant (Isaiah 53), (b) the Messiah would bring all nations into His Kingdom (Zechariah 2:11), and (c) God desired through the mediation of His Messiah and the presence of His Spirit an inner-spiritual relationship with His people (Ezekiel 36:26-28).
As a result, when Nicodemus is presented with the truth of spiritual rebirth, all he can think about is a physical rebirth because all he understands about God’s Kingdom is a physical, earthly rulership.Thus, Jesus teaches him that the Holy Spirit, which is like the wind, will be the “ticket” into God’s Kingdom.The Spirit of God was not going to just come for a moment, but actually come and live in the believer’s life and be the force that gives them life, just how the flesh everyday gives life to the body (Galatians 5:24-25).
3. The person of the Holy Spirit in the new birth as seen in John 3 & 15-16.
It is very important not to just see the role of the Holy Spirit, but also to see the very person and nature of the Holy Spirit. From the passage in John 3 and the discourse of Jesus in John 13-16 the personhood of the Holy Spirit becomes very clear. Here is a list of the points concerning His nature: (i) The Holy Spirit is more than just a force; He is the third person of the Godhead, and (ii) The Holy Spirit brings the Father and Son to the believer’s spiritual man in sweet communion and fellowship.
(i) The Holy Spirit is more than just a force; He is the third person of the Godhead
Looking back at John 3 Nicodemus probably shared the view that most Jews had during his time and that was the Holy Spirit was only a “force” that came upon a “special few,” then left.Therefore, Jesus was giving the Spirit a place in everyone’s life that seemed unfathomable to the religious mind of Nicodemus.First, he only understood the temple to be where God lived, not in everyone believer’s heart.And second, the Spirit was just a force, not the very personhood of God.
However, Jesus was teaching that in fact the dwelling place of God was going to be within man, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:27, “My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.” So for God to be in man, it must come be by His Spirit, as a result God is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Looking back on the discourse with Nicodemus one cannot be too judgmental of his lack of understanding because it was this same idea of God being three in one, which also caused great confusion for the disciples in the discourse found in chapters 14-16.Therefore, for Nicodemus it was a new teaching, but for God’s purposes it was a fulfillment of prophecy and desire of God Himself.
(ii) The Holy Spirit brings the Father and Son to the believer’s spiritual man in sweet communion and fellowship
One cannot divorce the teachings of John 3 from the discourse found in 14-16, because in fact they are complementary of each other.Though John 14-16 does not mention again the term “born-again” or deal directly with the renewal of the Holy Spirit, it does however give great insight to the person of the Holy Spirit.Therefore, it is valuable to include the following points into this paper on the role and person of the Holy Spirit as seen in the new birth.
The main points that relate to the personhood of the Holy Spirit at work in the new birth found in John 14-16 are as follows:
(a) Those who obey Jesus will receive the Counselor (Greek, “prarakletos”) the Spirit of truth (John 14:15-17). The Counselor is given at the new birth as mentioned in John 3 and is called “another,” which in Greek means, “another of the same kind.” Therefore, this gives proof that both the Son and the Spirit are the same substance as God the Father.
(b) The Holy Spirit will be sent by Jesus to teach believers all things (John 14:25 & 15:26-27), therefore this teaches that the Spirit is not just a force but a person because He is referred to with personal attributes, “he will teach,” “he will remind you,” and “he will testify.”
(c) The Holy Spirit will be the very person of God to draw people to salvation and give them their need to be born again by convicting them of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Therefore, no one can be born again unless the Holy Spirit brings His conviction (John 16:11).
(d) The Holy Spirit is equal to the Father and Son because He is able to guide the disciple into all truth; this takes possessing the divine attributes of being “all knowing” and “ever present.” Therefore, after the believer is born again their relationship with the Holy Spirit continues as He gives all that the Father has given Jesus to the disciples (John 16:12-15).
The Holy Spirit plays a very important role in the process of being born again. The following points can be made about this fact: (i) It is the Holy Spirit that convicts and draws people to salvation (John 16:7-11), (ii) The Holy Spirit is the person of God who rebirths the spirit of man (John 3:6), (iii) The Holy Spirit brings the actual presence and indwelling of God in man (John 14:15 & Ezekiel 36), and lastly (iv) It is the Holy Spirit that guides and leads the new born disciple in their walk with God (John 15:25).
Also, the personal nature of the Holy Spirit is very important in the role of being born again because of the reasons: (i) The Spirit is God (2 Corinthians 3:17), (ii) The Spirit is equal to the Father and Son (John 16:12-15), and lastly (iii) The Holy Spirit acts and operates as a person by teaching, reminding, and testifying (John 14:25 & 15:26-27).
In conclusion, the unique discourse found in John 3 with Nicodemus is very important to understanding the role and person of the Holy Spirit. This passage of Scripture teaches that everyone must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God, how to be born again by the Holy Spirit, and the very nature of God’s Spirit. I pray that all who read this passage with become born again and have a great relationship with God through Jesus’ blood, the Spirit’s guidance, and the Father’s love!
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