“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 NKJV).
For the past couple of months I have been in Bangladesh. It was spring here when we arrived, and is now officially summer. As elsewhere, spring is a time of moderate weather and, generally, some wind or breeze. Those breezes typically lessen as summer arrives.
This year has been unusual in the strength and consistency of those breezes. There has only been one strong storm, a very brief one, but intense; but the breeze has been constant and stronger than normal.
I have always been fascinated by wind, and other weather patterns as well. Though modern meteorology may offer explanations as to how wind is generated and what causes it, those are still mysteries to most of us. I have always appreciated Jesus’ illustration in John 3. Most of us don’t know where the wind comes from (why it blows) or where it goes (why it stops). It is either there or it is not.
But what does he mean when he says, “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit?” Are we not told how one is born of the spirit (John 3:5)?
The Bible is clear that the Spirit of God is given to those who believe in and confess Jesus, repent of their sins, and are baptized in his name (Acts 2:38). What can we not know about where the Spirit (or one born of it) comes from or goes?
At least two ideas suggest themselves. First, it is hard to explain why one person who hears the gospel responds in faith and obedience and another, hearing the same gospel, does not.
Jesus’ parable of the sower describes varying conditions of the heart which determine the fruitfulness of the message received (Matthew 13:3-9; 18-23). But what makes one heart shallow and another hard? How does one come to be good ground while so many others are barren and unfruitful? Perhaps the lesson of John 3:8 has to do with the impossibility of humans predicting the effect of the gospel. We must not prejudge those to whom we will preach.
The other possible lesson is that the power of the Spirit is beyond human ability to measure.
Jesus’ lesson to Nicodemus is primarily that men cannot measure the power and influence of God’s Spirit. The Pharisee had praised Jesus as a teacher come from God. Jesus’ response was to give the credit to the Spirit. In so doing, he opened the possibility that others (even, potentially, everyone) can possess the same gifts and power.
The people of Palestine marveled at the miracles done by the Lord. Later they would also be amazed at those done by the apostles (Acts 5:12-13) and other Christians (Acts 8:13). As we read those accounts we should also note that the effect on human lives and society was equally amazing. People were changed (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The world was turned upside down (Acts 17:6). The power of the Spirit was not shown only by the healing of the sick or the ability to speak in tongues. Drunkards became sober. Thieves became honest workers. Greedy tax collectors began giving to the poor.
How does one transform one’s life (Romans 12:1) from sin to righteousness? Psychologists and counselors struggle to find answers. We often cynically profess that it simply cannot be done. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Or, “a leopard cannot change its spots.” But the Bible states otherwise. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
Like the wind, the Spirit of God is often unseen and impossible to fully understand. But it is there, and it has great power for good for all those who will receive it. We all may be cleansed, washed, and renewed by God’s Spirit.