Born of the Spirit

I got my first real whiff of what being “born again” is like when our 6 year old granddaughter came to stay with us for a week. She was ecstatically happy to be with us, and for the life of me I couldn’t work out why. I’m a doddery old codger now and not much fun to be with, and I can’t run around like I used to. I’m risking injury just walking fast.

When she came to stay, therefore, I wondered what on earth we could do together to keep her occupied. She had the energy of three nuclear power stations, while I tottered in her wake on worn out batteries. Would she be so bored by Day 2 that she’d be crying for home?

By Day 6, however, she was still happy. She scampered down the front path each morning as happily as she did on Day 1. To her, it didn’t matter where we were going either, because wherever Granpy was going was just fine with her. And if all Granpy could manage was a trip to the Library where he collapsed in exhaustion with a newspaper, it was still fine, because for her being together was enough.

Her trust and contentment in whatever we did together was a joy – and a revelation, too, because this was John 3. In that chapter, Jesus is telling Nicodemus what being born again is like, and comes up with this remarkable explanation in verse 8: “The 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.”

When I’m born of the Spirit I have no idea where the Spirit’s taking me, just like my granddaughter had no idea where I was taking her each day. It was no problem for her, though. Granpy knew where he was going, and that’s all that mattered. She could scamper into each day in total trust and contentment. And that’s what it’s like being born of the Spirit. The Spirit knows where he’s going, so what else matters? And every morning it’s the same. Out we go together, the Spirit and I, just like I did with my granddaughter.

And Jesus said it would be like this in John 14:16-18, too. The Spirit would live with us and be with us forever. Every moment of every day, then, we’d have a Spirit guide. Where he’s going, we do not know, but he knows – and for my granddaughter with me as her guide – that was all that mattered.

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What’s so important about the Spirit?

     How important is the Spirit in a human life? In Romans 8 it is hugely important, for seven reasons:

     1) The Spirit sets us free from sin and death (verse 2)

     2) “Live according to the Spirit” and we can fully meet the righteous requirements of God’s law (verse 4), “put to death the misdeeds of the body (verse 13),” and we desire what the Spirit desires, not what our sinful nature desires (verse 5).

     3) A mind “controlled by the Spirit” is life and peace, meaning it’s no longer hostile to God, it has no trouble submitting to God’s law and it’s able to please God (verses 6-8).

     4) If the Spirit of God (or Christ) “lives” in us, we are not controlled by our sinful nature anymore (verse 9), we “belong to Christ (verse 9),” God gives life to our mortal bodies (verse 11) and our “spirit is alive (verse 10).”

     5) If we’re “led by the Spirit” we are “sons of God (verse 14),” we’ve received the “Spirit of sonship (verse 15),” and “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (and therefore) heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (verses 16-17).”

     6) We’ll never be slaves to a spirit of fear again (verse 15). 

     7) The Spirit “helps us in our weakness,” “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,” and “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (verses 26-27).”

     What more could we ask for? The Spirit frees us from what’s killing us, puts new desires in our heads that are good for us, creates a new and wonderful relationship with God for us, gives us life and peace, removes our fears, helps us when we’re weak, enables us to obey God’s will for our eternal benefit, and helps us realize we’re God’s children and we belong to him. There’s no reason, therefore, to go back to a life of worrying what’s going to happen to us. The Spirit takes care of our every need, past, present and future.  

     The wonderful result of having such a Spirit (as well as personal proof we’ve got the Spirit, too), is a confidence in God and our relationship with him. “We know,” as Paul writes in verse 28, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We just know God is always working everything out exactly according to his purpose for us. And how do we know? Because we have “the mind of the Spirit (verse 27)” that not only helps us helpless humans obey God, but also totally trust him, too.

Is the Holy Spirit a person or a power?

Whether person or power, the Holy Spirit is named separately from the Father and the Son. But it’s in relationship with the Father and Son that we discover who or what the Holy Spirit is – as we see in Acts 16:7, for instance, where the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Jesus.”

That’s because Jesus’ entire life was intimately related to the Spirit. He was conceived by the Spirit, identified by the Spirit at his baptism, led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and in his first public address Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” Luke 4:18. Jesus identified the Spirit as being in close, intimate relationship with him.

The Spirit is also called “the Spirit of your Father,” Matthew 10:20, so the Spirit is intimately related to the Father too. In John 14:26, the Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name, so in trying to discover who or what the Holy Spirit is, Scripture clearly identifies the Spirit in intimate relationship with both Father and Son.

And just as Jesus never said or did anything on his own authority (John 12:49-50), the Spirit does “not speak on his own (authority)” either, John 16:13. What we see in Scripture, then, is the Father, Son and Spirit operating in total harmony together. It’s a wonderful window into who and what God is. God is a communion of love, an intimate relationship, as we see again in the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Jesus, because Jesus’ great goal in his life, death, resurrection and ascension was to have the Holy Spirit given to us (John 14:16, 16:13, Acts 1:8, 2:38). But it’s the Spirit’s great purpose to bring us into union with Christ (Ephesians 3:16-17, 1 John 4:13).

So we’ve got Christ’s great desire being to unite us to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit’s great desire to unite us to Christ. In the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Jesus, then, we have the same window into God, and again it’s all about God being an intimate relationship of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We don’t see God primarily as persons or powers, we see God as a relationship always operating in total harmony together. And the Holy Spirit is identified as being part of that relationship, operating in exactly the same way as the Father and Son do, in close, intimate relationship together. When thinking of the Holy Spirit, therefore, it’s in relationship with the Father and Son, operating in total harmony together on our behalf. That’s the focus in Scripture, not on whether the Holy Spirit is a separate person or a power.