After establishing that death is separation, we can now turn our attention to life, specifically spiritual life. Having a basic understanding of death will help us make sense of what spiritual life is.
Let’s start with Jesus Christ’s command to Nicodemus to be “born again.”
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:3, 7).
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the phrase “born again.” Some people think of it in terms of membership in a religion or denomination: he is a born again, he is a Catholic, he is a Buddhist, etc. It is often used incorrectly as a label to identify a religious affiliation.
But let’s go back to the definition of spiritual death as separation from God. If I became separated from God through spiritual death, then in order to be reunited to Him, I will need a spiritual birth. I will need to be born again. Not “born again” like a noun, but “born again” like a verb.
We place a lot of emphasis on religious membership, rituals, and rules, but the man that Jesus was talking to was very religious. He was a respected member of the highest sect of the religious Jews at the time. His religious practices likely included fasting twice a week and giving twenty percent of his income to the temple. He defended Jesus in front of his hostile peers and took care of the body of Jesus after His crucifixion.
And yet, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, Nicodemus was spiritually dead. How do we know? Because he told him that he must be born again. He had a physical birth that made him physically alive (obviously), but he needed a spiritual birth to make him spiritually alive (not so obvious).
“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?” (John 3:4).
We should give Nicodemus a lot of credit here because he asks the right questions. He is trying to understand a new concept, something unfamiliar to him. He doesn’t say, That’s just your opinion; I have my own religion; You think you are right and everyone else is wrong; I don’t need that; etc.
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5, 6).
The way Jesus answered is so beautiful because its directness revealed the sincerity of Nicodemus. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Nicodemus wasn’t trying to plant a trap for Jesus.
Look at verses 5 and 6 in parallel: “born of water” corresponds to “flesh is flesh”; while born “of the Spirit” corresponds to “Spirit is spirit.” The physical birth is a water birth, a birth of the flesh. The spiritual birth is a Spirit birth of the spirit.
There is a potential trap for us if we see water and automatically think of baptism as many religions do. These verses have nothing to do with baptism. The amniotic fluid that an unborn baby is carried in is commonly referred to as water. When a woman’s “water breaks” we know that the child’s birth is imminent. The entire context of the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus contrasts physical birth with spiritual birth, particularly in verses 5 and 6. Inserting baptism here only confuses the plain teaching of the passage.
Here is a passage that does mention baptism:
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
The Holy Spirit is the baptiser, the believer is being baptised—not into water—but into the body of Jesus Christ.
So this brings us full-circle: we started with spiritual death as separation from God because of sin. Now we have spiritual life being a reunion with God through the receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith. This is the consistent message of the entire New Testament.
I will finish with two passages that show that eternal life can be as certain as death. But first a question for you to ponder: are you spiritually dead or alive?
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, emphasis added).
“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:11–13, emphasis added).
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