by Rev. George F. Borghardt
Anothen. Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless someone is born Anothen, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Anothen is the Greek word for “from above."
“You can’t exactly go back into your mom’s womb and be born again!” Nicodemus gets that part right. Mom’s womb is exit only. That’s crazy talk! To be born anothen is to be born of water and the Spirit with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These aren’t just any old words—they are life-giving Spirit words, water words, baptismal words! These are His words, which bring us from death to life eternal.
Flesh gives birth to flesh. We work, we hold up our deeds before God, we sin, the Law condemns us, we die. And so on and so on and so on. But the Spirit gives birth to the Spirit. Life-giving, water-filled words raise us from the dead as certainly as Jesus has been raised from the dead. New life, new salvation, new existence—not from our own straining for it within us, but from above.
We don’t choose to be conceived or knock gently on mom’s belly when we decide to be born. And we certainly don’t give birth to ourselves. That’s just more crazy talk! We weren’t born like that the first time. We aren’t born like that for the “anothen” time either.
We are born “from above.” Passive! The Lord does all the work by the water and the Spirit. Eternal life isn’t earned or deserved—He washes it upon us. We are bathed in it. We are cleaned by it. We are baptized into eternal life in Christ.
For Christ is our eternal life. He’s heaven for us. He’s the kingdom of God among us. He took upon Himself our sins and He suffered and died for them.
Christ’s holy life and terrible sufferings and death save us—His life lived for us and His death for our death. His resurrection drips on us from above at the baptismal font. We died in Him. We rose in Him. We live in Him.
But what about faith? Don’t we have to believe for the anothen to work for us? Faith flows from the water and the Spirit and is created from above within us. We are baptized into the faith. We are in the faith in the waters of our baptism like we are in the water when we jump into a pool. Water is around us. It’s in us. Faith’s the same way!
Faith receives Christ who lived perfectly for you. It lays hold of Christ who died for your sins. Faith clings to that forgiveness for our sins and it believes this Word of Gospel in the water.
Faith is alive and active, working within us for others. It doesn’t live for itself but for others. We don’t live for ourselves anymore, but for others. That Spirit-filled water from our baptism seeps into all areas of our lives! We haven’t been born from above to keep on living the way we lived before or to be the walking dead. We were born anew to a faith-filled life, certain that the death and resurrection of Christ answers for our sins and the sins of the whole world.
You are not going to be alive anothen just some day in the future. You are raised anothen from the dead right now. You see the kingdom of God now by faith and you will enter it for certain on the Last Day.
You are alive this very moment to serve others. By faith you have been set loose to put their needs first—their wills before your will; their ways before your way. Why not? You’ve already died and been raised from the dead! You are born from above to live each moment of each day in service to those around you.
Will you fail? Will you mess up? Will you sin? Will you live like you haven’t been born from above? Duh. Of course you will—daily and much. Living from above isn’t living perfectly. It’s admitting to God when you haven’t lived as you should, and receiving His forgiveness. That’s by faith, too. You were born anothen into His life. You live anothen. You care for others anothen. You serve others anothen. When you sin, you receive forgiveness from Jesus anothen. When you fall asleep and you can’t do any more in this life, you will die anothen.
On that day, on the Last Day, He’ll raise you up anothen, too, and you’ll see just how much you were born to live from above by the water and the Spirit. You will see all the forgiveness and life that came to you from above in the waters of Holy Baptism. And you will live anothen with Him forever and ever.
Anothen. Anothen is “from above.” We are born from above. We live from above. “For whoever is born anothen shall see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Rev. George F. Borghardt is the president of Higher Things and serves as the senior pastor at Zion Ev. Lutheran Church in McHenry, Illinois.