But the Spirit Gives Birth to Spirit (John 3:5-6)
Rev. David French

If we only had the first and second articles of the Apostles’ Creed, despite all the beautiful truths we learn about God: the Father as creator, protector, and provider; God the Son, the Redeemer, the One who has redeemed all mankind from sin death and the power of the devil; we would still have nothing. There is an obvious truth in the words of our text, and that is this: contrary to popular opinion, in this case at least 2 out of 3 is bad. That is, if we only know God as the Creator and the Redeemer, we do not know the one true God at all.

It’s as we consider the third article we learn that just as it is the Father alone who created us and the Son alone who redeemed us, so also it is the Holy Spirit alone who calls, gathers, and enlightens us as He, through Word and sacrament, creates the faith in us which believes that God loves you so much He sent His only begotten Son to take upon Himself the punishment for your sins, and in exchange offers to clothe you with the robe of His Son’s righteousness and call you His own. Yes, by grace through faith, you and I and all who are in Christ stand, now and forevermore, spotless before our God. You and I, despite what we see in ourselves, have been declared innocent. And that is indeed Good News!

It’s in the third article of the Creed that we see how the incredible truth of forgiveness that was promised by the Father and earned by Christ so long ago becomes ours today. If not for the work of the Holy Spirit, there would be no way for us to receive what Christ offers to you right. There would be no way to know the peace or good will of the Father promised by angels on the eve of Christ’s birth. Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no saving knowledge of God at all. 

I assume, considering you were all taught from Luther’s Small Catechism, that when you think of the work of the Holy Spirit, you think of sanctification, which is good. But also remember, sanctification can be used in a wide or narrow sense. The wide sense is the working of the Holy Spirit to bring the unbeliever to faith (or to convert us) and enables us to lead a godly life. The narrow sense is the Spirit’s ongoing work throughout the rest of our lives, enabling us through those same means to lead a godly life. And that doesn’t mean a more perfect life, but a more repentant life. But this morning I’d like to consider the wide sense that is our spiritual birth. 

First, always keep in mind, as we find Christ saying in John 6:44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Clearly, if we are to know the blessings of Christ’s sacrifice in our day-to-day lives, we who have been running from God since the time of Adam, must not just be turned, but we must also then be drawn or dragged to Christ. Now as we sit here and think about our lives out there, you know in your heart the truth that is revealed in Scriptures, that is, we do “always resist Him.” And it’s just as clear that turning to God is not something we do ourselves or with a little help. This turning is accomplished by our merciful God, and that, for one reason - God loves you.

Next, read again in the gospel of John (1:12-13), “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” How comforting to know that we had no more choice in our spiritual birth than we did in our physical birth. And the truth is, as we all know, we had no choice; and yet here we are. Children born because of the love and will of others. 

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus clearly tells us who is responsible for our spiritual birth when He says, “… the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” That is, of course, the birth we celebrate in our baptism. It’s there that our life in Christ began. It’s there as we read in Acts 2, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 

And why does that matter? Well, it’s only by the working of the Holy Spirit that we can faithfully call Jesus our Lord and Savior as we read in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” 

Now, to be sure, an unbeliever can certainly have an intellectual understanding of the words written in the Scriptures, but they see them as foolish myths or fairytales. But then as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Simply put, apart from the Spirit of God, there is no understanding God’s Word and so, no true understanding of Him. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit through that same Word of God that opens eyes to see the truth about what we are by nature and brings light to darkened hearts with the promise of who we are in the One who truly loves us.

It doesn’t matter how hard we try; and we do, at times, really try. Still, on our own, we can never please God. You know as well as I do that, according to His Word, we are called to “be holy as (He is) Holy.” You also know we seek His forgiveness every day as individuals and every week as His body because we have fallen short of what He expects from us. Why? Because “flesh gives birth to flesh.” You see, we must be born again. All the arguing, all the quibbling, and all the denying in the world won’t change that one simple truth.

It seems to me, it’s just as clear that since the Spirit gives birth to spirit, we must come to where the Spirit has promised to be, and that is to God’s Word and sacraments. And so, no doubt, because of our lack of trust and love of signs, God mercifully assures us of our forgiveness and gift of His Spirit with this visible application of the Gospel. 

It’s at the font that you were grafted into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and He called you His child. It’s at His table that God feeds His children. The truth is the “one thing needful” for eternal life with Him in heaven is what He offers to you - right here in His house where His Word is proclaimed in it’s purity and His sacraments administered according to Christ’s command. It’s here that we find the door to heaven has been opened, and here that we hear the invitation for sinners to come.

The love that God has for you is a love without beginning or end. It’s a love that we all share, but not we alone. God’s love is for those who are born of sin because “… God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen.