WHO IS IN THE KINGDOM

When the lawyer came to Jesus with the question about what the greatest commandment was, Jesus asked him how he read the law.  The man answered as Jesus had on other occasions with, it was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus said he had answered correctly and declared that he was not far from the kingdom of God.  When Jesus died on the cross and Joseph took down his body to bury it in his own new tomb it was said that he was looking for the kingdom and was a secret disciple of Jesus.  When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night with questions on his mind, Jesus quickly turned whatever the questions were he wanted to ask into a discussion about the kingdom. He noted that unless Nicodemus, the deeply religious Jewish leader was born again he couldn’t even get into the kingdom of God.  When he didn’t understand  Jesus explained that he had to be born of the water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom.  I have no doubt he was referring to one being baptized based on his faith and his turning from sin to God in repentance since baptism is the place where there is both water and the Spirit of God (Acts 2:38; I Corinthians 12:13).  But notice that Jesus didn’t stop in his effort to help Nicodemus understand about the kingdom.  He said, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from or where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

As one reads further in the text it is obvious Nicodemus is still very confused with what Jesus said.  Focus on some of the things that stand out in the whole discussion.  Even though Nicodemus was deeply religious, was a descendent of Abraham and was part of one of the strictest religious movements of his day as a Pharisee, he was not in the kingdom of God.  Why was he not in the kingdom?  Was it because he wasn’t one of God’s chosen ones and hadn’t be predestined to be saved?  Was it because he was so totally depraved in sin that he couldn’t act in any way to be saved?  Was it because the Spirit had not acted on him in an irresistible way to cause him to be saved?  NO! IT WASN’T FOR ANY OF THOSE REASONS AND IT IS NEVER FOR THOSE REASONS A PERSON ISN’T IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD!  He was in the chosen family of Israel, but he was still outside God’s kingdom.  It stands out powerfully here that one may be very religious with all the right background and still not be in the kingdom of God.  Why wasn’t he in the kingdom?

Jesus said it was because he hadn’t been born again of the water and the Spirit.  It is the case that one is born again when baptized in water and in the Spirit of God.  Both elements are vital for it to be the real new birth.  Too often we have people baptized in water without the Spirit and many wish to be born of the Spirit without being baptized in water.  I know there is a baptism of the Spirit described in Acts 2 and Acts 10 that was a miraculous thing to bring the church into being in chapter 2 and to bring Gentiles into the church in chapter 10.  But that wasn’t for their new birth.  Peter used the demonstration of the Gentiles being baptized in the Holy Spirit as evidence to his fellow Jewish Christians that Cornelius and his family should be baptized since God had given them the same gift that had been given to them at the beginning.  It is the Spirit of God that convicts one and leads one to want to be baptized.  The Spirit is an element of the baptism the same as water. When one is baptized in water under the authority of Jesus name they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Their body becomes a temple of the Spirit and the Spirit indwells them all the time length of their life for God.

What is the point of that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit?  While the contrast could certainly be between physical or fleshly birth and spiritual birth, I think there is more involved than just that.  Sometimes people are baptized in water without the Spirit’s involvement and it is simply being born of the flesh again.  It doesn’t lead to forgiveness of sins, new birth, a changed life or a determination to allow Jesus to reign as king in their lives.  When baptism is nothing more than a ritual to put one into a church or to get some family off our back it doesn’t have the Spirit involved at all.  A baptism that is forced on us by others about which we have no choice or decision is a fleshly baptism.   The evidence of one being born of the Spirit as well as the water is the change in their life that follows.  While they may stumble and struggle in many ways their commitment is to allow Christ to reign as their king and lead them through His Spirit all through their life for the Lord.

But what is all this wind business?  Is Jesus saying that the new birth is like the wind, we can’t see or understand it?  That isn’t what he said.  Notice when Jesus made the comparison to the wind blowing and us hearing the sound of it but not knowing where it comes from or where it is going he said, “SO IS EVERYONE WHO IS BORN OF THE SPIRIT.”  The whole wind comparison is to the person who is born again of the water and the Spirit.  When a person is born again of the water and the Spirit it is obvious that things have changed in their life.  Their attitude is different.  Their demeanor is different. They have very different interest than before.  But you can’t look at them and see what led to such a change.  You are only able to see that a mighty change has taken place.  This change is sometimes referred to as conversion.  In Romans 6:1-5 Paul compared it to being buried and raised from the dead as new creatures now in Christ.  When there is no change or the change in us is so minor that very few if any notice it something is missing in the whole thing.

This new birth is needed by every person, not because we are born in sin or we somehow have the sin of Adam in us, but because we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  One isn’t lost or saved because God predestined before the world began for them to be saved or lost.  God wants all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).  He sent us to preach the gospel to every creature and he who believes and is baptized will be saved ( Mark 16:15-16).  Jesus death on the cross wasn’t for some limited group of people but for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).  The result is that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people (Titus 2:11-14).  Don’t sit around waiting for the Spirit of God to hit you in some irresistible way to force me to be saved.  His Spirit convicts us but we must make the choice to accept his lead and obey His will.  God’s predestination is that we will be saved in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-7).  He predestines that those who follow him will be conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:28-30).  He doesn’t pick and choose which ones will be saved and which will be lost.  He gave us the opportunity to make that choice for ourselves by His amazing grace.

Who is in the kingdom?  All who hear the call and conviction of the Spirit of God in the gospel of Christ and willingly submit to him in faith and obedience, making Christ the king of their life in everything.  If He is our king we won’t refuse to do what he ask us to do or refuse to follow His lead in life.  We will be born again and live as new creatures in the world, shining as lights in the world to lead others to Christ.

About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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