Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Two births

Our little Heidi is three weeks old today, and she is a priceless treasure! She is such a joy to hold and cuddle and rock to sleep. She’s eating well, and becoming more interactive every day. Someone once said that “a baby is a small member of the home that makes love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, the bankroll smaller, the home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.” I can relate to many of those things right now.

We are so thankful for our daughter. But even as we celebrate her birth and welcome this new member into our family, we have already begun praying for her “second birth.” What do I mean by “second birth”?

The idea of being “born again” comes directly out of John chapter 3. When a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus approaches Jesus late one night, Jesus says to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Then a few moments later, Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Because these verses are close to each other and have very similar wording, Jesus seems to be employing a common Hebrew literary device known as “synonymous parallelism.” He is saying that being “born again” and being “born of water and the Spirit” are one and the same event.

What, then, does it mean to be “born of water and the Spirit”? To understand this expression, we need to go back into the Old Testament (which Nicodemus would have been very familiar with). In the Old Testament, forgiveness of sin and spiritual cleansing were sometimes described as being washed with water. So, for example, Isaiah 4:4 speaks of the Lord one day “washing away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purging the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst.” Particularly important is Ezekiel 36:25-26, where God describes a future salvation in these terms:

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

This idea of cleansing and new life is precisely what Jesus is talking about when He says “You must be born again” (John 3:7). It's also what Peter means when He rejoices that God “caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

The first birth and second birth are two separate events. The first birth (our physical birth) begins with a mother's mild contractions and slowly crescendos into a time of intense labor and delivery. The first birth involves a human being navigating the birth canal and suddenly emerging into a whole new world full of bright lights.

The second birth, on the other hand, is a spiritual birth. It's a birth that belongs to those who turn from their sin and rely completely on the death of Christ for forgiveness. It's a journey out of spiritual darkness and into God’s marvelous light. And it's a transformation so radical, and so miraculous, that nothing less than “birth” can adequately describe the process.

Have you experienced this second birth? And if so, does your life demonstrate a visible change? The Bible says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I pray this for my daughter, and I pray this for each of you.

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