“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn. 3:8)
First, I want to say a few words about the straightforward lesson in this verse. Then, I will provide a little more information about the use of metaphors such as the use of wind in this verse. Finally, I will briefly discuss being “born of the Spirit.”
When we are in a situation where there is variation in terrain or obstructions like trees it is very difficult to tell where a breeze is coming from or going. We hear the sound of the wind and see the leaves on the trees flutter or the trees sway in the wind but we cannot readily tell where the wind is coming from or going. The Lord Jesus is making the point that similarly, it is difficult, actually impossible, for us to know how the Spirit brings a person to be “born again.” Now, there is a great deal more we can learn from this passage. So, let’s pursue this subject further.
Metaphors are frequently used in Scripture. Often the metaphor is a simple word or phrase. Water, grain, trees, travelers, farm laborers (husbandmen) come immediately to mind. Such metaphors are given from a “phenomenological” perspective, that is from the perspective of human experience. In fact, once you start to recognize metaphors you have to be careful not to make the mistake of assuming something is a metaphor when it actually represents a real event or thing. The wind against Peter in Matthew 14:30 was very real in spite of the spiritual lesson we can draw from it. In addition, simply because a thing (like a door in Jn. 10:7) is a metaphor it does not mean it isn’t important. A metaphor always stands for something very real and very important.
In chapter three of John’s gospel, there are actually several metaphors. The one in the verse we are considering is especially interesting. Wind in particular has a number of characteristics worth thinking about. We know that at high altitudes the wind is very regular. In the northern hemisphere, it circulates toward the east. This is why flying eastward, like from San Francisco to New York, takes less time than going westward. In general, the farther the wind is from the surface of the earth the more regular its flow is. This provides a spiritual lesson for us. The less the world influences us the more we can be guided by the influence, or “wind”, of the Spirit. In addition, the eastward flow suggests the influence of the Spirit is toward the “Sun (or, Son) rising” (Mal. 4:2; Jn. 15:26).
In the verse we are looking at, the work of the Spirit in connection with one being born again is described as inscrutable like the blowing wind. Various translations render the phrase “born again” as “born from above” (NASB) or “born anew” (DBY). Each of these renderings emphasizes an aspect of this action by God. John 1:11-13 gives a well-known description:
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.John 1:11–13.
This passage explicitly excludes all human effort or intervention in this work which is totally of God.
“New birth” is a very appropriate metaphor for the work of God in making us His children. By natural birth we come into the realm of the living, those who live on earth. Similarly, by new birth we come into the realm of those who have a knowledge of and vital relationship to the living God. Again, the Lord, though John, describes this as eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn. 17:3).
Our part in this process is to “believe on his name” as the verses in John chapter one affirm. We learn of this through the Word. So, the apostle James tells us “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (Jas. 1:21) Titus brings the effect of receiving the Word and work of the Spirit together when he says, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).
This is truly a work of God and is beyond what we can understand. So, the figure of the wind blowing when we “do not know where it comes from or where it goes” is a perfect picture of God’s mysterious work in changing us from being “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) into “children of God” (Jn. 1:12).