John 3 contains three points which sum up Christianity. Let’s notice:
1. The Cross of Christ
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Israel in the wilderness had sinned. They had murmured against God and against His servant Moses. God plagued the children of Israel with fiery serpents which bit the people, killing many. The people confessed their sin and asked Moses to pray to the LORD to take away the plague. The LORD told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set in on a pole. Those bitten could be saved by looking upon the bronze serpent (These things are recorded in Numbers 21:4-9). God provided salvation.
God today, provides salvation through the lifting up of the Son of Man. The reference is to Jesus’ crucifixion (John 3:14 cf. 12:32-33). Man is required to believe (literally keep on believing) in Him. [Understand that the term “believe,” sometimes means more than just mental belief. It is sometimes put for obedience. Thayer indicates that the word can mean “a conviction – conjoined with obedience.” Here are a few examples: (1) The believers in Acts 2:44 refers to those who had repented and had been baptized (Acts 2:37-38, 41). (2) Belief in Acts 10:43, certainly includes repentance (cf. Acts 11:18). (3) Belief in Acts 19:2 includes baptism (cf. Acts 19:3)]. God through His love has provided sinful man with the opportunity for salvation (John 3:16).
2. The Conversion of Man
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
What does it mean to be born of water? Water is connected with baptism in this very chapter (cf. John 3:23). William Walls, a church historian, of the Church of England has written, “There is not one Christian writer of any antiquity in any language but understands it of baptism… I believe Calvin was the first that ever denied this place to mean baptism. He gave another interpretation, which he confesses to be new” (John Hobbs, Searching For Biblical Truth, pp. 183-184). John Hobbs wrote, “Therefore, we can understand that, for the first 1,500 years of the church’s existence, all scholars without question understood the ‘water’ in John 3:5 to refer to Christian baptism. While the history of an interpretation of a passage does not make it right…1,500 years of understanding a passage in a certain way does give the view considerable weight” (ibid). Baptism is certainly necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
What does it mean to be born of the Spirit? (1) Some have thought that this refers to the human spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:20-24; Romans 12:1-2; Titus 3:5). That is, repentance. (2) Some have thought that this refers to the word which came forth from the Holy Spirit (a metonymy). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). The seed is the word (Luke 8:11). Man is begotten by the word (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22-23). He is begotten by the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15). The word leads us to obedience: “You have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit… having been born again… through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:22-23). The Spirit given word leads us to baptism: “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
John Hobbs commented, “Every birth has two elements. In the physical realm, we understand that in order to have a physical birth, there has to be an implantation of the seed of man into a woman. Yes, there is a gestation period of nine months. But, then there is a coming forth, a birth! …In the spiritual realm there has to be an implantation of the word of God into the heart of an individual. The parable of the sower emphatically teaches this! … The gestation period for one being born again can be a time period from a few minutes to never. It all depends on the heart of the hearer… the final coming forth… is being baptized” (ibid, p. 191).
Faith is needed (John 3:14-15). However, saving faith acts (cf. Hebrews 11; James 1:22; 2:24; etc.). Saving faith leads one to baptism (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12; 8:36-38). Saving faith accepts God’s terms for pardon.
What about verse 8, which reads – “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit”? This is a difficult verse. One difficulty is how to render the word “pneuma.” Should it be rendered “wind” or “spirit”? Though, the word can mean “wind,” this is not one of the words which is usually used for “wind” in the New Testament. However, it is the usual word for “spirit.” Guy Woods commented, “The word ‘pneuma’ occurs several hundred times in the Greek New Testament. In no other instance do the standard translations render it ‘wind.’ It occurs twice in this passage and is rendered ‘wind’ in the first clause and ‘spirit’ in the last” (A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, pp. 62-63). A second difficulty is whether to render “pnei” as “blows” or “breathes” (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). Once these things are decided, the question is – what is meant? Here are two suggestions: (1) Nicodemus, the Spirit’s role in the new birth is to breath out instructions. You cannot see Him, but the message is from God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13). No one can be born of the Spirit any other way. Guy Woods commented, “This is simply to say that one is born of water and the Spirit by receiving the Spirit’s message” (ibid). Marion Fox remarked, “The Spirit blowing or breathing is equal to the gift of inspiration, cf. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21. It is by means of the inspired word of God that man adopts a new spirit (disposition)…All who have been born of the Spirit were born in the same manner, which is by hearing (by synecdoche = obeying) the voice of the Spirit” (The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol. 1, pp. 153-154). (2) This is a double entendre metaphor. Nicodemus, you cannot see the wind, but you can see its effects. Even so, you cannot see the Spirit working in man (Philippians 2:13 cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13), but the effects can be seen (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10). John Hobbs comments, “When a person is born of the Spirit, one will not be able to see the fact that his sins have been remitted and forgiven. But, through the actions and lifestyle, one will be able to tell that a change has taken place” (Search for Biblical Truth, p. 197).
The translators have rendered this process as being “born again” (John 3:3,7). However the literal rendering is “born from above.” God is from above (cf. James 1:17 ; John 8:23). One needs to be born, not just of flesh, but of God (John 3:6 cf. Matthew 16:17).
3. A Christ-Exalting Life
“Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you testified – behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!’ John answered… ‘I am not the Christ… He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:25-30).
Jesus, through His disciples, was baptizing more than John – at least this was the report (cf. John 4:1-2). Was John envious? Not at all. He described himself as the friend of the bridegroom filled with joy (John 3:29).
Our ministry is not about us, but Him. “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:20-21).