Article for the July edition of The Hillside Messenger
“Born of the Spirit and led by Him”
In my article for the June edition of our monthly newsletter, I referred to the importance of growing in the Holy Spirit day by day. Without being born of water and of the Holy Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God, as our Lord declared to Nicodemus in John 3:5. Jesus explains “born again” (John 3:3) as born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). The water Jesus refers to is the water of Holy Baptism, and from the Church’s earliest days, the Holy Spirit has been understood to be bestowed by God on the new believer in Christian Baptism. To this, St. Paul testifies:
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, KJV)
St. Paul in this way indicates that by means of the Holy Spirit believers are baptized into the Church, the Body of Christ, and given the Holy Spirit to drink, in a manner of speaking. St. John describes this Baptism in terms of being born again, or born from above (the same Greek word anōthen means “again” or “from above,” or “from heaven”), and more specifically being born of water and the Spirit. These terms taken together (baptized by one Spirit into one body, made to drink of one Spirit, and being born of water and the Spirit) all describe a radically new creation of God when a person is baptized. To underscore the difference between ordinary human birth and birth by the Spirit, the Lord further explained to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6, KJV).
Now this does not imply that a person who is not baptized and not a Christian has no human spirit, but that the spirit, the immortal soul of every human being that communicates with God, is given a new orientation and life by the Holy Spirit. One could even say that before the Holy Spirit gives birth to the human spirit, the latter spirit has no desire to do God’s will. But when the Holy Spirit gives birth to the human spirit, that spirit begins to love God, to love others, to desire to pray, to hear, read and study God’s word, to find out God’s will, and to obey it. A person’s priorities change completely, for he is a new creation in Christ:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
(2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV)
Being a new creature in Christ, a Christian must be directed by the Holy Spirit. All the moral commands and teachings in the New Testament, as well as the moral laws of the Old, have the purpose of directing God’s people away from what is sinful and unacceptable to him, and turning them to a whole new and holy way of life that is acceptable and pleasing to him, so preparing us for eternal life as God’s people. So when the Holy Spirit renews, revives, or gives spiritual rebirth to the human spirit, the human spirit receives the wisdom, knowledge, direction, divine perspective on life, that God intends us to have. God’s priorities for our lives outweigh by far the priorities of man’s own understanding, which is why these words are so relevant:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
Trusting in the Lord with all one’s heart, instead of relying on one’s own limited, rational understanding, and consulting the Lord for the direction of one’s life, fearing the Lord and departing from evil – these all characterize the Spirit-led life of the Christian.
But there is another aspect of the Spirit-led life of the Christian, which Jesus hints at during his conversation with Nicodemus. After stressing the distinction between being born of the flesh and born of the Spirit, the Lord tells Nicodemus not to marvel that he said that people must be born again, and then he adds this description of everyone who is born of the Spirit:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
(John 3:8, KJV)
The Greek word pneuma means “wind” as well as “spirit.” There is a word play here. But what does Jesus mean? The wind blows where it wills, and the ordinary person (not the meteorologist) hears its sound, but does not know where it is coming from or where it is going. The same is true, Jesus says, of everyone who is born of the Holy Spirit. Those who do not have the Spirit directing their lives do not know where the Christian comes from or where he is going (from God’s perspective). A literal manifestation of this happened in Acts 8 when Philip the Deacon and Evangelist had explained the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch and had baptized him: the Spirit of the Lord then caught away Philip and put him down at Azotus (Acts 8:39-40). From there he preached in all the cities he passed through until he came to Caesarea. When we next read of Philip in the Book of Acts, chapter 21, we see that St. Paul and his companions stayed with him at Caesarea, and Philip has four daughters who prophesy. So the Holy Spirit directed Philip the Deacon to settle in Caesarea. Yet he began his ministry as one of the first seven deacons ordained in Jerusalem to supervise the daily distribution of food to Christian widows in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-6).
As we reflect on the role we should play in spreading the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and sharing our faith, let us remember to pray for people to be born again, that they may have eternal life, and that the course of their lives in this world may be directed in all things by the Holy Spirit.