“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Back in 1976, when Jimmy Carter made headlines by being interviewed in the pages of Playboy, he also arched some readers’ eyebrows by using the term “born again,” as in born-again Christian. As peculiar as the term might have seemed to the vast non-evangelical masses, it doesn’t biblical Christians as an odd term, coming straight out of this passage from John 3.
My Catholic sister-in-law, presumably representing a common Catholic reading of this passage, understands the “born of water,” the first of the two births mentioned here, to refer to baptism. Since that phrase follows hard on the heels of Nicodemus’ reference to climbing back into his mother’s womb, I think it much more likely to refer to that original birth. For me, it took place on December 28, 1962 and, like all human births, involved the shedding of some water.
Everyone who reads these words has experienced that first birth, the birth of water. That birth is the common legacy of all humanity. In fact, every human to come along since Adam and Eve has passed through that birth of water in one way or another. The person you love and appreciate the most has not experience birth of water any more than the worst ISIS militant or annoying driver on your morning commute.
The other birth, on the other hand, belongs only to those who, presumably like Jimmy Carter, have trusted in Christ and been regenerated, reborn, by the Holy Spirit. I mention President Carter because I find the man both fascinating and annoying. He’s the only U.S. President I’ve met. I admire his woodworking and his attempts as President to be a decent human being. On the other hand, he has stood for some things, over the years, that I would wholeheartedly stand against.
And in the end, Jimmy Carter will have to put up with me for eternity in the presence of God just as I will have to put up with him. We share–assuming that he was telling the truth to that interviewer, which I believe he was–that second birth, a birth of the Spirit.
Look around your church on Sunday. There are certain to be people who have, like you, experienced the second birth and who drive you bonkers. Maybe you argue with them on committees or just find them rude and abrasive. It doesn’t matter. We’re all stuck with each other.
Some day, perhaps soon, we’ll all–you, me, your annoying person, Jimmy Carter, and a host of others–will find ourselves, by virtue of our second birth, spending eternity with God. All those annoyances from this world, the world of the first birth, will seem like nothing in that day.