Posted by: stpowen | July 16, 2010

The New Birth (5). The Way of the Wind

“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.”   (John 3:8). 

 In this chapter, we shall look at a further aspect of the nature of the New Birth.   A question that is often asked is this;  “Is there any sort of pattern to this great event by which I can perhaps judge my own experience to assess whether it is genuine?”.   The short answer is, “not really”.   Different people go through experiences when they are born again which differ enormously one from another both in length of time and depth of emotion.   The puritan, John Bunyan, in his book, Grace abounding to the chief of sinners(1), describes his conversion as lasting eighteen months, during which suffered the very depths of conviction of sin, hopelessness and despair before he came to know forgiveness.   For others, however, particularly in times of revival, conversion can be almost instantaneous, a veritable Damascus Road experience.   Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (2), on the other hand, would never put a date on his conversion.   His rebirth came upon him as a growing conviction that what he had once thought of as Christianity was really nothing of the sort.   All that unites these three examples is the knowledge those involved have that they have changed;  like the  man born blind in John 9, each of them could say, “One thing I know:  that though I was blind, now I see.”   We must not judge a Christian on his conversion experience, save to this limited extent;  Jesus Christ calls us to ‘repent and believe’ (Mark 1:15).   Surely, therefore, anyone who is born again must have seen himself as a sinner, turned away from sin and trusted in Christ for his salvation?   Deeper understanding will surely come later, but these three things must comprise an irreducible minimum.   They must come at the very outset of the Christian life

In the next chapter, we shall consider some of the terms used to describe different aspects of the New Birth.   First, however, we shall look at some  additional information that the Lord Jesus graciously gave to Nicodemus.  This poor fellow had shown himself to be completely confused about what our Lord was telling him.  So very patiently, Our Lord explained a little further.   To be born of the Spirit, He said (John 3:8), is something like the wind.   Now in Greek, Spirit and Wind are expressed by the same word, pneuma.   This has led some translators to suggest that verse eight should be rendered, ‘the Spirit blows where He wills’, but this idea does not stand up to scrutiny for our Lord is obviously making a comparison.   He starts off talking about the wind, and then concludes, “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit”.    There are four points that He makes about the wind, which, He says, can be compared to the operation of the Spirit.   We shall look at each of these in turn.

 1:  The wind blows.   There is reality.

‘Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you:

But when the leaves hang trembling,

The wind is passing through.’

‘Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads,

The wind is passing by.’     R. L. Stevenson

You can’t see the wind, you can’t touch it;  you can’t bottle it or parcel it up and take it home with you, but nevertheless, the wind blows.   Sometimes, it is the slightest breeze that cools us on a hot summer day.   At other times it is a mighty hurricane that can blow down trees and even demolish buildings.   The fact that it is invisible does not entitle anyone to suggest that there is no such thing as wind.   The Holy Spirit is just the same.   The Spirit is invisible and intangible but He is no myth.   Sometimes He is the ‘still, small voice’ of 1Kings 19:12, as the Lord whispers peace and forgiveness to some troubled soul.   On the Day of Pentecost, He was a tempest and blew three thousand souls into the Kingdom of God in a single day (Acts 2:41).   As we have observed, when some believers are born again, it is a dramatic event, with others it is so calm that they cannot name the day on which it occurred, but it is the same Spirit who gives new life in every case.   ‘But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.   Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. ……But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He Who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit Who dwells in you’(Rom. 8:9,11).

 2:  The wind blows where it wishes.    There is sovereignty.

One of my friends is a very keen sailor.   Some years ago he invited me to go for a sail in his new yacht.   Whilst we were preparing to set sail, he was telling me how fast the boat was and how responsive to the very lightest of winds.   Much to his chagrin, however, no sooner had we come out of harbour and reached the open sea than the wind dropped completely and there was a dead calm.   For an hour or more the boat rocked to and fro in the gentle swell whilst we waited in vain for even the least breath of wind, but there was none.

There was nothing we could do;  it was no good ‘phoning the coastguard or the meteorological office and asking them to supply a breeze for us- the wind blows where it wishes, and eventually we had to start the engine and make our way back to harbour.  

The same principle applies to the New Birth;  it can not be forced;  it is not in the gift of man.   Going to Sunday School as a child, attending church, reading the Bible- all these things are excellent, but none of them can, of itself , make anyone a Christian.   “No one can come to Me,” said Jesus (John 6:44), “Unless the Father Who sent Me draws him”.   We looked at this in Chapter Three, but it bears repetition;  the Gospel is, ‘The power of God to salvation’ (Rom. 1v16).   The truth of this can be seen from time to time in many Sunday schools.   One child attends regularly and seems very keen, whilst another is bored and restless and comes only occasionally;  but often it is the first who will fall away as he or she grows older and the things of the world become more interesting, and the second who, perhaps after many years, will return to the Lord, brought back to the fold by the Good Shepherd.   Likewise, Judas Iscariot was to all appearances a true follower of Jesus.   He lived, walked and talked with Him for three years, but his heart was never changed (John 12v6).   In the end, he followed his unregenerate instincts by betraying his Master for money.   On the other hand, there was no greater opponent and persecutor of Christ than Saul of Tarsus (eg. Acts 22v4).   If any member of the infant Church in Jerusalem had been asked who was the person least likely in the whole of Israel to become a Christian, Saul’s name would have been right at the top of the list!   Yet in the very midst of his persecutions, as he hurried on his way to Damascus to bring terror to the Christians in that city, the wind blew.   The light shone from Heaven, he heard the voice of the Lord and was changed forever.   The wind blows where it wills, and men and women are born again not by the will of man, but by the power of God.

 3:  You hear the sound of it.   There is evidence and observability.

Of itself, the wind makes no noise to the best of my knowledge.   The sound that you hear is that of the trees rustling as the wind passes through them or the sound of the air as it passes over various surfaces.   In the same way, the New Birth itself is silent and invisible but it invariably causes observable effects.   Some people weep when they are born again, other people may laugh;  many others do neither.   Emotional reactions depend on emotional disposition of those affected, and also on the circumstances.   If a person has been under deep conviction of sin for some time and then is brought to see that Christ has paid the price for his sin and stands able and willing to receive him, it is natural for that person to rejoice and perhaps even to laugh out loud.   On the other hand, if someone has been careless of his sinful condition and then comes suddenly to see the true wickedness of his heart, and how his sin drove the Lord Jesus to the cross, he might well be brought to tears.   Other people, however, who are less openly emotional, might feel just as deeply but keep their feelings inside.   Emotions are not a reliable guide to the genuineness of conversion.  I must say as an aside that personally I would love to see more emotion in the churches.  We’re a dry-eyed lot these days, and it seems strange to me that we can hear of the sufferings of our Lord without a tear, and of the glory that is laid up in heaven for us without an ‘Alleluia!’  What is the matter with us?

 However, the true indication that someone is born again is not emotion but a changed life.   This will be discussed (DV) more fully in a subsequent chapter, but let it be said here that if a man or women has been washed from sin, given a new heart and been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there must be a change in behaviour.   ‘If we say that we have fellowship with [God] and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practise the truth’ (1John 1:6).   Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say that the New Birth affected the whole man, mind, heart and will, and he quoted Romans 6:17 in support;  ‘But God be thanked that though you were slaves to sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered’.   Doctrine speaks of something which comes to the mind or intellect;  the heart is the centre of the emotions, and ‘obeyed’ tells of the will which must be submitted to what has been heard.   Modern-day claims of revival which are heard in America and elsewhere should be judged by the effect that they have on people’s behaviour.  ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’  After the great revival in Wales in 1904, crime dropped dramatically for several years and drunkenness decreased to such an extent that many brewers and distillers were threatened with financial ruin.   Similar effects have been observed in other revivals.   True regeneration will always prove itself by a changed lifestyle.

 Some readers may be thinking at this point, “hang on!   I thought that salvation was supposed to be by faith alone.”   So it is, but the faith that saves does not remain alone.   Faith is not mere intellectual acquiescence to a proposition or agreement with fact.   True biblical faith always leads to active obedience.   Consider the heroes of the faith listed in Hebrews 11;  every one of them was a man or a woman who went out and did something.   Imagine Abraham saying to himself, “I believe that God wants me to leave Ur of the Chaldees”, and then staying right where he was.   What sort of faith would that have been?   No, no. The God who saved Abraham also gave him a disposition to obey.   If someone puts his or her trust in Christ for salvation, the proof of that trust will be a life of obedience to God’s revealed will.   “If you love Me,” said the Lord Jesus to His disciples, “keep My commandments.”   Paul’s preaching declared that men and women, ‘should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance(Acts 26v20).  

 4:  [You] cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.   There is mystery.

‘Who can explain it, who can tell you why?

Fools may give you reasons; wise men never try.’   Rogers & Hammerstein

 That wind which is blowing past your house as you sit reading this article, where did it come from?   Where’s it going to and where will it end up?   A weather expert could perhaps tell you that it originated as a depression off the Azores, but that doesn’t really answer the question.   Despite all the advances in meteorology, we still cannot foretell the weather with any great accuracy much more than a day in advance, much less say where a particular piece of wind will end up in a week’s time.   There is a mystery to the wind;  how much more is there mystery to the New Birth!   The Christian is a puzzle and an amazement to himself.   What makes a man who has never been remotely interested in religion suddenly bury himself in his Bible for hours on end?   How does it happen that ‘adult’ T.V. programmes that he has always considered perfectly acceptable are now offensive to him?   Why is it that he hates to hear the name of his Lord profaned, when just a short while ago he used the same language himself?   Can it really be that he, who never so much as darkened the door of a church, is now found there three or four times a week?   The wind has blown and it has blown him not just into a new life but into a new Kingdom.   The Lord Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) and Christians no longer seek the things that the world can give them, ‘But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country’ (Heb. 11:16).    We can dissect and analyze all we will, but there comes a point at which we have to say, ‘this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church’ (Eph. 5:32) and ‘this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes’ (Psalm 118:23).

Notes.

(1) My copy is published by Whitaker House, 1993. ISBN 0-88368-259-1.

(2) See D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Vol 1(Banner of Truth, 1982. ISBN 0-85151-353-0), Chapter 4.

 

                   

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