You Must Be Born From Above

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus his name, a chief of the Jews.” This one came to Him by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we are aware that Thou art a Teacher come from God, for no one can be doing these signs which Thou art doing, if God should not be with Him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Verily, verily, I am saying to you, If anyone should not be begotten anew, he can not perceive the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is saying to him, “How can a man, being a veteran, be begotten? He can not be entering into the womb of his mother a second time and be begotten!” Jesus answered, “Verily, verily, I am saying to you, If anyone should not be begotten of water and of spirit, he can not be entering into the kingdom of God.” That which is begotten by the flesh is flesh, and that which is begotten by the spirit is spirit.” You should not be marvelling that I said to you, ‘You must be begotten anew.'” The blast is blowing where it wills, and the sound of it you are hearing, but you are not aware whence it is coming and where it is going. Thus is everyone who is begotten by the water and the spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be? Jesus answered and said to him, “You are a teacher of Israel, and these things you do not know? Verily, verily, I am saying to you that of that which we have perceived are we speaking, and to that which we have seen are we testifying, and our testimony you are not getting.” If I told you of the terrestrial and you are not believing, how shall you be believing if I should be telling you of the celestial? And no one has ascended into heaven except He Who descends out of heaven, the Son of Mankind Who is in heaven.”And, according as Moses exalts the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of Mankind be exalted, that everyone believing on Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian.” For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian.” For God does not dispatch His Son into the world that He should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.” He who is believing in Him is not being judged; yet he who is not believing has been judged already, for he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” Now this is the judging: that the light has come into the world, and men love the darkness rather than the light, for their acts were wicked.” For everyone who is committing bad things is hating the light and is not coming to the light, lest his acts may be exposed.” Now he who is doing the truth is coming to the light that his acts may be made manifest, for they have been wrought in God.” (John Chapter 3:1-21 Concordant Literal New Testament)

When the Lord has implanted a heavenly life’s love in place of the infernal one then there are implanted affections of good and truth in place of the lusts of evil and falsity; and in place of the delights of the lusts of evil and falsity there are implanted the delights of the affections of good; and in place of the evils of infernal love there are implanted the goods of heavenly love. Then instead of cunning there is implanted thoughts of wisdom. Thus man is born again and becomes a new man. (Divine Providence 126)

We know that there is an impermanence of the self and that it comes under the spiritual law that states that, “creation is constant coming into being“. The implications of this law for our sense of self is that it is continually being re-created from moment to moment. We are constantly being brought into, and held in being. It is this dynamic nature of the self that makes change or spiritual transformation possible. If the self was something fixed then, by that very fact, change or transformation would not be possible.

So in this talk I would like us to explore the means provided by the Lord to bring about our rebirth. And to do that we are going to look at an exchange recorded in John’s Gospel between the Lord and a man named Nicodemus.

In John 3:3 Jesus says to Nicodemus…

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

The first thing to acknowledge is that to be born again means you actually have to be re-born. Now that may be stating the obvious, but have you really given thought to what this might mean for you? For Nicodemus this was a perplexing statement. His response to being put in front of this requirement was to ask, How can a man, being old, reenter his mothers womb to be reborn? And there’s the issue. Jesus was speaking of a spiritual birth, Nicodemus was hearing what He was saying in terms of physical rebirth. He was unable to raise his understanding up and out of natural concepts born of the senses.

And interestingly, further on in this exchange, we find Jesus pointing to this very fact when He says the following in verse 14…

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.

The serpent is a universal symbol of the lowest psychological plane of consciousness, this being born or generated from the objects of the senses. In the Bible it is that which is said to feed on the “dust of the ground”. In this verse the Lord connects the idea of “the serpent” with what’s called “the Son of Man”. The term “Son of Man” spiritually has a very specific meaning and refers to a person’s understanding of the Word. What this is saying is that unless our understanding of the Word is elevated above the senses, or the literal meaning of the Text, which is what it means to, “believe in Him”, we remain in that form of life that is perishing. That life that is called “eternal life” is only available when the “Son of Man” is “lifted up” or when the Word is read, understood, and applied spiritually.

Of course, we are all familiar with the idea that the Sacred Scripture deals with psychological states or spiritual realities belonging to the human mind. In keeping with this idea both Jesus and Nicodemus can be seen to represent two levels or faculties of consciousness. As such their exchange provides a window into the dynamic interchange that exists between a higher or, more interior, and a lower or, more exterior, psychological mode of being and thinking.

The lower mode of being and thinking, can be said to be born of the earth or, from the “dust of the ground”. This is what is meant by a natural birth spiritually speaking. It is who we have become, or that sense of self as defined by our attachment to things belonging to exterior life and the appearances of the senses. So, while the words of Nicodemus, from a purely literal understanding, seem to be focused on the idea of rebirth understood in terms of a physical birth, this is not what his words mean from a spiritual developmental perspective. It is not the physical body that needs to be reborn but rather, it is our sense of self that is psychologically tied to physicality. This is often referred to as the natural “man” or mind.

Nicodemus universally represents that natural level of mind in all who seek a spiritual awakening. All spiritual progression is experienced as a movement from an more natural state of mind toward a more spiritual state of mind. In reality of course, it is always the Lord as the Logos incarnated in what is of the earth or flesh, or the higher present in the lower, that draws the seeker to itself. In relation to the Lord, all are passive, He being the only life or active agent at work in His creation.

Nicodemus represents the highest state of development in spiritual knowledges possible for the natural man/mind. This state of mind being one that precedes any awakening to spiritual realities in any genuine sense. In verse one it states that he “was a man from out of the Pharisees”. The Pharisees were a Jewish religious sect whose handling of the Scriptures was rigidly literal with interpretations coloured so as to justify their religious traditions.

Nicodemus represents the best of what is born of an inherited or historical faith. As a natural psychological state in pursuit of what is spiritual he is able to recognise that the Lord is “…a Teacher having come from God..” and that God is with Him, for he confesses that… “no one is able to be constantly doing these signs which you are constantly doing unless God would continue being with him.” (John 3:2 Jonathan Mitchell’s New Testament)

Here we see that this mode of mind while, able to perceive that the Word/Logos is of a Divine origin, cannot be taken further so as to perceive that the Word is not just from God as a teaching but, is God Himself, the Divine Truth incarnate (John 1:1). This is why it is said that Nicodemus “… comes to Him by night…”. The term “night” refers to the obscurity with which natural reasoning based solely on what’s available through the physical senses views spiritual realities.

From a Logopraxis perspective this has interesting parallels. Every time we first approach the Text it can be said that we approach it in this state of mind called “Nicodemus“. The exchange between Nicodemus and the Lord mirrors the exchange that takes place when we come to be Word seeking to hear what the Spirit within it has to say to us. Unless we are born again or, unless our perceptive faculties are being generated from above in each and every contact so that our understanding is elevated above the literal meaning of the Word we will struggle to perceive what is of “the Kingdom of God” or “eternal life” within it.

To perceive what is of the Kingdom of God is to perceive the Word’s application to our interior life. We are not so much born again, but are in a process that involves continual renewal and rebirth. So, in coming to the Text we are to bring a mode of thinking that is process orientated and inwardly focused. The Word is only concerned with our psychological and spiritual states of mind and how it can bring about the regeneration of the human mind. If this idea is held firmly in mind as we approach the Text, its interior applications to our psychological life are more likely to present themselves.

What Nicodemus shows us is the limitation of the natural mind so far as its inability to grasp spiritual realities. This level of consciousness is born of earthly things or in the language of John’s Gospel here, it is born of the flesh and, of that, it states that

“The thing being birthed, having been born forth from out of the flesh, is flesh…” (3:3 Jonathan Mitchell’s New Testament)

The Lord declares in verse 13,

“Furthermore, no one has stepped up into heaven except the One stepping down from out of the midst of heaven: the Son of Man – Who is continuously existing within the midst of heaven.”

This is saying that only that which has come down from heaven can step back up into heaven and, even when this, having stepped down so as to be found within that lower plane of mind called “flesh”, it still continues to “exist within the midst of heaven.” For being in the world or, cosmos, it is not, nor has it ever been, of the world.

The natural mind that is born or generated from the reasoning function tied to the appearances of the senses is born of flesh and therefore cannot enter the kingdom of God. Nor can it even perceive what is of the Spirit. For that, there is needed a new mind that is born of the Spirit for “…the thing being birthed, having been born forth from out of the Spirit, is spirit.”

What’s meant by “flesh” and “spirit” are two completely different orders of existence. Nothing born of the flesh or of the external senses can penetrate into what is spiritual, “can step up into heaven”, let alone bring about the birth of a new sense of self.

That which has come down from heaven is the Logos, the Word which, when it enters into the natural level of the human mind, what is called “flesh“, becomes or gives rise to what is termed “the Son of Man”. This is what is meant by, “the Logos becoming flesh and tabernacling within us” (John 1:14). As truths are integrated into the life of the mind through their practice so a new understanding is created that can support a new will. The Word comes to be understood in terms of its psychological or spiritual applications so that new affections are born that lift the mind from out of a state of “earth” into a state of “heaven“. This is what it means to be reborn or born from above.

To access what is born of the kingdom of God within the Text we must think from a higher level. Through evoking spiritual principles to govern our thinking in response to the Text we are able to enter into the processes involved in the regeneration of the human mind. Without attention to what is higher, we too, will struggle to have thinking extracted from the kind of low level thinking represented by the character of Nicodemus in this story.

Nicodemus represents the peak to which sensual reasoning in spiritual matters can reach, if, and only if, there is a openness or willingness to engage with the texts of Divine Revelation with a view to inner transformation. The Logos or the Word is represented by the Lord in this exchange and this representation can be clearly seen from the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. So the story describes the processes that are continually unfolding within the human mind when truths from the Word are active, working to bring forth to view the true nature of the Word, this being the Lord Himself.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is being generated from above, he cannot be perceiving the Kingdom of God.” (3:3)

The Logos or the Word alone is that which re-generates the human mind so that it can be perceiving the Kingdom of God

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. (3:14)

The person with whom good is present is undergoing rebirth every moment, from earliest childhood to the final stage of his life in the world, and after that for ever. This is happening to him not only interiorly but also exteriorly; and this rebirth involves processes that are amazing. They are processes which for the most part constitute angelic wisdom, and that wisdom, as is well known, is indescribable, embracing such things as ear has not heard, nor eye seen, and such as have never entered man’s thought (1Corinthians 2:9). The internal sense (of the Word) deals with such matters and so is suited to angelic wisdom; and when this sense passes into the sense of the letter it becomes suited to human wisdom, and in an unseen way it stirs the affections of those who, motivated by good, have the desire to know truths received from the Word. (Arcana Coelestia 5202{4})

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