“There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus is a religious leader, so he isn’t a mere church-goer. He’s more like a modern-day fundamentalist. He’s devout – that means he’s committed to his religious system because it’s the primary source of information for his core beliefs and his identity is founded upon and wrapped up in that religious system. Jesus’ teaching and miracles, however, have struck a chord with Nick. Jesus has his attention and he wants to talk to him, so Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night when he won’t be as likely to be seen by his colleagues.
As a Pharisee, Nick is very dogmatic about his religion and how he sees God. He is hard and constricted; everything falls into neat little categories of winners and losers, who is in and who is out. He knows where everyone stands with God based on whether they are as religious as he is or not. In addition to knowing everyone else’s standing, he and the other Pharisees stand above all others. They are special and privileged. This is their individual identity, group identity and group belonging. Their ego, the false self, controls their religious engagement, how they see themselves and how they see God.
So, Jesus tells him if he wants to enter the Kingdom of God, he must be born again – go back and start over. In fact, he has to go so far back, he has to go all the way back to birth and start over.
Nick has to be reprogrammed. Existing neural pathways have to be filled in like jamming Spakle into a crack in the wall. Nick has to unlearn what he thinks he knows before he can come back and engage the same ideas, rituals, symbols and sacred texts in a new way.
It’s as though the new pathways that need formed are a river needing to be built adjacent to an existing channel. If it isn’t properly filled in first, the dividing matter will be too thin and collapse. This is such difficult work, that only the Holy Spirit can perform it.
This is just one of the layers of meaning to Jesus’ language of being “born again.” It certainly applies in a unique manner to religious people today who engage religious content related to Jesus, the Gospel, the New Testament and all that has the banner “Christian” over it. However, Jesus indicated in Matthew 25 that many of these people are far from him. Perhaps these are people who have a lot in common with Nicodemus – hard and constricted religious people whose egos have seized their religion, instead of their religion identifying and challenging their ego by showing them their True Self from their False Self.