Saturday, May 7, 2011

That Most Needful Thing (John 3) Part 2 of 5

3:5-6 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
My original understanding of verse five was that “water and the Spirit” meant hearing the gospel followed by regeneration as the Holy Spirit came to dwell within a believer through faith. This is in fact how a man is saved. See Romans 10:9-10; 17; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5. But there is another possibility that this verse suggests that I have been duly considering of late. Nicodemus was clearly stuck in a physical mentality. Jesus said he had to be born again and the Rabbi thinks of coming out of the womb a second time.

To accentuate, Jesus informs him that one must be born of water and Spirit. The first birth (water) may in fact suggest the mother’s womb, and that man was given physical life this way. The second birth (Spirit) suggests another event in which a man is reborn by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Notice that Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest born of women (of water); but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he (born of the Spirit), Luke 7:28. John was not a member of the church; he was an Old Testament saint who was not born again so He was not a part of Christ’s bride; in fact John testified that he was a mere friend of the Bridegroom: namely Jesus Christ, John 3:29.

As with our physical birth, we have nothing to do with the second birth; this is the power and activity of God in us. Christ did all on the cross, and He does all within us when we simply humble ourselves and allow Him to. A drowning victim hardly has reason to boast if someone tries to save them and they permit it. Or a cancer patient has no reason to boast if a doctor prescribes a remedy and they agree to use it. In both cases it is the one acting on behalf of the other that garners praise; and the victim whose life was saved becomes a monument of the character of such an individual. So it is with God.

So in this rendering a man must be born of a woman (our physical birth), and then to lead Nicodemus in the way he needed to go, born of the Spirit (as suggested in Ezekiel 36:25-27). One birth won’t suffice; Jesus’ second statement affirms this. Do we have to be born again? The answer is an emphatic and nonnegotiable “yes.” That which is flesh is merely flesh. If you are born only once your fate is to die. You die physically as a result of the curse on this creation and then spiritually as a result of the separation from our Creator due to our sin. The second birth implies a new creation; in fact that is what we become when we are born again. We are new creatures in Jesus Christ; we are born again in the image (likeness) of Him (Jesus) who created us, 2nd Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:10.

Through physical birth we inherit the nature of our parents: being prone to sin and subject to sin’s penalty, which is death. Through the rebirth we inherit the nature of God: being incapable of sin where sin’s penalty is concerned, 1st John 3:9. Can a Christian still sin? The answer is two-fold. If by this question you are asking, “Can a Christian commit sin?” I would answer ‘yes.’ Christians are more than capable of sinning; that is the purpose of sanctification; it is salvation from sin’s power in our daily life. If you happen to mean “Can a Christian suffer eternal separation from God by sinning?” I would have to answer ‘no.’ The Bible teaches that when we are reborn we have passed from death to life and there is no more judgment. Sin’s penalty has been paid for in Christ. To charge me again for what Christ died to redeem me from is unjust. To suggest otherwise is to depart from biblical grace and enter legalism and works to retain one’s salvation.

The second birth assures our immortality. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The Bible declares that a day is coming when the material world will be shaken, perturbed, and overthrown. The earth and all its works will be burned up and there shall be no more place for those who chose the pleasures of this world instead of restored fellowship with God. Spiritual life, which is granted by Christ Jesus when we believe on Him, is forever. It is so because Jesus imparts His very life to us; we become partakers of Him. Since Christ possesses an endless life, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, we too have received of that life, Hebrews 7:16, 19. The life of Jesus in us, His righteousness exchanged for our sin, is the only reason we shall enter Heaven, 2nd Corinthians 5:21.

To forget this is to forfeit the vitality that makes Christianity the potent message that it is. Two thousand years does not dull the message. To anyone who says, “What an old, old story. I’m so tired of hearing the church beat this dead horse! What relevance can it have for me today?” Were you there two thousand years ago? To you and I the message is fresh, because this “same old story” is being poured into fresh minds and hearts. The message may be old, but reconciliation with our Creator will not go out of style. God’s method of salvation does not change like the fleeting ideas of men. Truth, absolute truth, is timeless. It is like saying that because math is so old we should just scrap it and start another system of keeping track of numbers. Either Christ’s message to Nicodemus is the most important message a man can hear, or Jesus must be disregarded because He was apparently ridiculously full of Himself.

3:7-8 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Jesus anticipates Nicodemus’ shocked and bewildered reaction to this radical message. Perhaps that was an advantage of knowing men’s hearts. Or perhaps Nicodemus was so perplexed that his budding question was already present on his face before he spoke. Jesus is speaking with a factual practicality. Do not marvel that I said you must be born again. The physical birth of a man makes him fit to live in this present world of material laws. The new birth, being reborn, makes a man fit to exist in a heavenly abode. Scripture is clear: either we are born twice and must suffer death once (physical death), or we are only born once and must suffer the second death (physical death followed by spiritual death). Physical death is separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death which follows is separation of that soul from God, if the imputed life of God does not abide in that soul. The choice seems pathetically easy, but for most it is a choice they will never even approach making, which only means it has already been made. Christ our Lord said that anyone not for Him was against Him.

There is no need to postulate at this moment about the hypothetical man on the desert island who has never heard of Christ. Do you think that if God knew that man would believe the gospel that He couldn’t provide a Bible or a missionary or something to find that man? You limit God to what man is capable of; but my God can perform the impossible, Mark 10:27. No; rather be concerned about the people who have heard the gospel preached with clarity and power and have turned deaf ears to its message. They refuse to confess that they are sinners in need of God’s grace, yet it was only for sinners that Jesus Christ even came! To hear and reject the message is what I am more concerned about; I’ll let God worry about the hypothetical man on the island.

The agency of the wind, a physical object which everyone is familiar with, is invisible to the human eye; all a man sees is its affect on a given object. We know the wind has passed through the trees when the boughs bend and leaves are shuffled; we know the Holy Spirit has regenerated a man when his demeanor is transformed from the inside out. The only evidence to men that the wind exists is its affect on our body as it blows; that is what we perceive through our senses. Likewise the evidence to men of a life transformed, of spiritual life given, to a man is the change in what we see and hear from them, James 2:24. Jesus told us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. That is, what we have treasured in our hearts, that which we most enjoy, appreciate, admire or covet, that is what will drive the bulk of our daily conversation. We, born again Christians, are the sound of the Holy Spirit as He blows through our hearts. Do men see this evidence in us?

I believe that Jesus is also explaining to Nicodemus that the activity of the Holy Spirit is incongruent with man’s perception of how things are done. Twice in Scripture we are plainly told that man’s corrupted wisdom is incapable of perceiving God, Romans 1:21-22; 1st Corinthians 1:21. We perceive His influence in men’s lives, but are ignorant of His comings and goings; how and why He operates stem from thoughts infinitely higher than our own, Isaiah 55:9. Men (including the Pharisees and the Jews of Jesus’ day) conclude that right or moral living will make a man right with God. The Holy Spirit does not regenerate hearts trying to tidy themselves up through self-help; He regenerates the man who acknowledges his sin, and his inability to remove the stain of it. Men are hopelessly legalistic and formulaic; we think that salvation ought to come by merit. The Holy Spirit visits the heart humbled in child-like faith in Jesus Christ.

In the same regard so too does the child of God operate with a wisdom not of this world. Being born again, the foundation of our thinking and behavior should spring from a new source. The Holy Spirit is given to everyone born again by faith; from Him and through Him we are sanctified. That is, our internal being is renewed and in the process of being conformed into the image of God. As the unsaved do not receive the things of God, or by their natural wisdom know God, so too should the life of a child of God be an enigma to the unbelieving world. Everyone born of the Spirit is going to be misunderstood by the world, because the world did not recognize the day Christ came, but killed Him instead. If we are truly living by the faith in the Son of God then we are presently as He was in this world, and our lot is to be misunderstood daily. Our thinking hasn’t been elevated so much as it has been shifted; think of it not as being raised higher than anyone else. There are plenty of moral and ethical religions in this world that have pristine rules and guidelines. Instead, our thinking has moved horizontally toward God, who by His own confession is very far removed from how men think. Being born again, He calls on us to allow Him to lead us into this place where our thinking and acting (our motivation) begin to mirror and parallel His reasons. A loving child emulates his parent.

1 comment:

  1. As you pointed out, many want to argue about the man on a desert island. Romans 1:20 states, "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:" No man dies without the opportunity to know God, and as Acts 17:27 promises if they look he will reveal himself. "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:"

    Great post.


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