6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
JOHN 3:5-6 ESV
6 τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν.
JOHN 3:5-6 SBLGNT
Here is a conversation that seems extremely incoherent to any person; since this is also the first, Jesus makes a clear distinction between the material versus the spiritual. As Nicodemus was an individual knowledgable about the Old Testament teaching, this distinction provides a clear revelation to the objective state of an individual who pursues spiritual oneness with his Creator. Jesus brings the divine into the reality of the Nicodemus’s mortal existence. A pursuit that at one time only seems an illusion based on subjective actions. Jesus brings the reality of God into the existence of our mortal state.
As R. C. H. Lenski, in his book, “The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel,”
“Without a connective, Jesus takes up the remark of Nicodemus regarding the impossibility of physical rebirth and carries this to its ultimate limit—even if it were possible, a rebirth in the flesh would reproduce only flesh. Jesus formulates this as a general principle that is self-evident and final in its clearness and then sets beside it the opposite, the Spirit birth, again as a principle with the same evident finality. Moreover, the parallelism of the two principles once more brings out the necessity Jesus has twice stated that only by this latter birth can a man enter the kingdom.
That born of the flesh is flesh, and that born of the Spirit is spirit. “
D.A Carson in his commentary on the Book of John offers this view.
“Although the full construction ‘born of water and of the Spirit’ is not found in the Old Testament, the ingredients are there. At a minor level, the idea that Israel, the covenant community, was properly called ‘God’s son’ (Ex. 4:22; Dt. 32:6; Ho. 11:1) provides at least a little potential background for the notion of God’ begetting’ people, enough, Brown thinks, that it should have enabled Nicodemus ‘to understand that Jesus was proclaiming the arrival of the eschatological times when men would be God’s children’ (1. 139). Far more important is the Old Testament background to ‘water’ and ‘spirit’. The ‘spirit’ is constantly God’s principle of life, even in creation (e.g. Gn. 2:7; 6:3; Jb. 34:14); but many Old Testament writers look forward to a time when God’s ‘spirit’ will be poured out on humankind (Joel 2:28) with the result that there will be blessing and righteousness (Is. 32:15–20; 44:3; Ezk. 39:29), and inner renewal which cleanses God’s covenant people from their idolatry and disobedience (Ezk. 11:19–20; 36:26–27). When water is used figuratively in the Old Testament, it habitually refers to renewal or cleansing, especially when it is found in conjunction with ‘spirit’. This conjunction may be explicit, or may hide behind language depicting the ‘pouring out’ of the spirit (cf. Nu. 19:17–19; Ps. 51:9–10; Is.32:15; 44:3–5; 55:1–3; Je. 2:13; 17:13; Ezk. 47:9; Joel 2:28–29; Zc. 14:8). Most important of all is Ezekiel 36:25–27, where water and spirit come together so forcefully, the first to signify cleansing from impurity, and the second to depict the transformation of heart that will enable people to follow God wholly. And it is no accident that the account of the valley of dry bones, where Ezekiel preaches and the Spirit brings life to dry bones, follows hard after Ezekiel’s water/spirit passage. The language is reminiscent of the ‘new heart’ expressions that revolve around the promise of the new covenant (Je. 31:29ff.). Similar themes were sometimes picked up in later Judaism (e.g. Jubilees 1:23–25) .”
Any birth from flesh produces only flesh. A stream never rises higher than its source. The fact is axiomatic, and its statement is its proof. There is a contrast between the Greek used in σάρξ (sarkos – flesh) and πνεῦμα(pneuma – spirit). Therefore, this determines the former does not refer merely to the human body, nature or connotation of weakness and mortality, but “the flesh” in its full opposition to “the spirit”: our sinful human nature.
Thus σάρξ (sarkos – flesh) includes also the human soul, the human ψυχή (psyche – zoes) and the human πνεῦμα (pneuma – spirit), for sin has its real seat in the immaterial part of our nature which uses the gross material part as its instrument. A hundred rebirths from sinful flesh, whether one is old or young, would produce nothing but the same sinful flesh and leave one as far as ever from the kingdom.
Hence, this is not later Pauline theology, which the evangelist John puts into Jesus’ mouth and is thus beyond the mind of Nicodemus. We meet this same thought already in
Gen. 6:3 -3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”
Ps. 51:5- 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,” and
Job 14:4 – “4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.
It is so simple that it is clear to any man who has the least idea of what flesh means. Jesus does not say, “that born of the water and Spirit,” but only “that born of the Spirit,” although he refers to Baptism.
In this sacrament, the regenerator is not the water but the Spirit who uses this medium. Therefore, this also settles the question as to whether we must regard this second principle in a wholly abstract way, “that born of the spirit is spirit,” or more concretely, “that born of the Spirit is spirit.” The entire context decides for the latter, especially also the interpretative expression in v. 8, “one born of the Spirit” (not “of the spirit”).
In addition, the other translation would produce a false contrast, namely that of human flesh and that of the human spirit. Therefore, there is no such thing as a birth of the human spirit—in English, we should say, soul—apart from and in contrast with the human flesh. Only God’s Spirit produces a spiritual birth, a new nature and life, one that is πνεῦμα(pneuma – spirit), the opposite of σάρξ (sarkos – flesh). Underlying both axiomatic statements is the thought that “the flesh,” our sinful human nature, cannot possibly enter the kingdom but that only the “spirit,” the new life and new nature born of the Spirit, can do so. This, too, casts light on the kingdom itself, its nature, and the people who alone are partakers of it.
As Christians today, we cannot deceive ourselves into a false dichotomy that our proclamation of faith is sufficient. Christ makes it very clear there is a transformation of heart and soul that brings a person to full rebirth. What Jesus tells Nicodemus gives excellent insight into our faith. Jesus reveals that faith is a rebirth which implies a complete transformation of the heart and spirit of an individual. There is no materialistic change as long as we exist in our mortal state; our physical status remains, but our spiritual status morphysizes into a divine state that our objective psyche changes and reveals a new person.
As individuals, this reality or experience does not provide any psychological inclination, but our subjective behaviour becomes our display. It is what people around you observe and feel in your presence. You become the beacon through which our Lord Jesus Christ flows, and what people see is a mirror of our Saviour. Our weaknesses burden us, and God knows the yoke we carry, and it is God himself who carries it for us on the cross.
A rebirth is far greater than a physical transformation but a complete psychological, emotional and objective transformation that changes an individual and nullifies the ardent attack of the world around us. We are aware but unaffected by its attempts to subjugate our faith and focus away from God and the cross.
Look to Christ as our Savior and the transforming power to place us steadfast, upright, and armored against sin and degradation. Christ brings our rebirth, and through the cross and His blood, we are given new life.