Wednesday, June 28, 2006

John 3:1-21 (6)

Next is the statement, “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” There seems to be two equally valid ways of understanding this. First, it can refer to the manner in which spiritual birth occurs. The spiritual birth is like the wind. Second, the statement can refer to the born again person himself. Just as one can detect the effect of the wind but cannot fathom the activity of the wind itself, a natural man can see the effect of the spiritual man but cannot fathom the activity of the person who has been born again by the Spirit. The spiritual man is like the wind. Both interpretations are consistent with the passage and the rest of the Bible.

Now the first interpretation clearly follows more naturally from the previous verses, but the second interpretation foreshadows an idea expressed in the next several verses. To illustrate, Jesus says verse 11 says, “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.” The spiritual man perceives a realm of reality that the natural man knows nothing about. This is consistent with the idea that the born again person is as the “wind” to the natural man. Furthermore, the second interpretation complements verse 4, where we noticed Nicodemus’ real spiritual dullness. So because the natural man cannot understand spiritual things, he cannot understand the spiritual person.

Now, just as we turned to 1 Corinthians 2:14, which says that the man without the Spirit (natural man) does not accept spiritual things, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned,” to complement our understanding of verse 4, we can continue into 1 Corinthians 2:15 to learn more. Paul says, “The spiritual man discerns or makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.” The general principle here can be applied to all who are “spiritual,” all who have received the Spirit of God. No unbeliever can judge the Christian who has been born of the Spirit and who now walks in the Spirit.

Jesus says that flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit, and one who has been born in the flesh must also be born in the spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven. We inherit flesh-life by being born in the flesh, and spirit-life by being born by the Spirit. This means that the unbeliever is ignorant of this entire dimension of reality. The unbeliever cannot make an evaluation of the Christian. On other hand, the Christian is in contact with both flesh and spirit. He is aware of both dimensions of reality – he has been born into both, and he lives in both. Therefore, the Christian, the spiritual man, can judge or appraise “all things.” The Christian can understand and evaluate both the Christian and the non-Christian, but the non-Christian cannot understand and evaluate the Christian. So when I reject unbelief in favor of faith in Christ, it is not because I do not understand unbelief or the reasons and excuses the non-Christian gives for it. I am a Christian not because my judgment has been clouded, but because I have been enlightened by God’s grace. And when I reject wickedness in favor of righteousness, it is not because I do not understand wickedness, but I do understand wickedness and why the unbeliever transgresses. I can criticize and refute unbelief, and I can condemn wickedness, but the unbeliever cannot say anything about faith and righteousness. I know him better than he knows himself, but he does not know me and has no right to evaluate me. This is not at all a matter of experience, but of birth. In fact, the reason why a person can understand experience in any realm is because he has the faculty to process it in the first place.

A natural man is spiritually dead so that he can exercise only natural faculties. When he encounters the spiritual man, he uses natural categories to describe him, and so he is always wrong. But the spiritual man can evaluate the natural man with knowledge and authority. To summarize, unless God sovereignly gives spiritual life to a person, he cannot see or enter the kingdom of heaven. Spiritual things and spiritual persons will remain incomprehensible to him, not because these things are irrational, but because the natural man lacks the faculty to process and understand spiritual propositions. Spiritual things seem foolish to the natural man, because the natural man is foolish when it comes to spiritual things.

As noted, verses 5-8 represent Jesus’ answer to the rhetorical question from Nicodemus in verse 4, which in turn indicates the Pharisee’s failure to understand what Jesus says about being “born again” in verse 3. In verses 5-8, Jesus corrects the misunderstanding by first making a distinction between flesh and spirit, and then by explaining that He is referring to a spiritual birth when He talks about a person’s need to be “born again” or “born from above.” So now verse 9 captures Nicodemus’ reaction. He still has not received the Spirit’s illumination, so that after hearing the explanation in verses 5-8, he remains perplexed and asks, “How can this be?” And Jesus replies in verse 10, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” He literally calls Nicodemus, “the teacher of Israel” (NASB, NKJ, ESV). Thus he is to be blamed for being one of the best trained and most prominent scholars in the land, but at the same time failing to understand the most basic spiritual truths. We can hardly expect him to teach his people the biblical gospel of salvation.

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