Thursday, December 5, 2013

John 3:1-10, the new birth, part III

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

The last things that we noted yesterday were the ideas that our new birth is because of our connection with Jesus, and that we are connected to Jesus through the Holy Spirit's gift of faith.
“Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (I John 5:4)
So today we look at our final study of this passage, and I would like for us to consider this -- the new birth is not an improvement to ourselves, it is the creation of a new "us" that is forgiven, cleansed, and is being transformed!
Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” What is He saying here?
Some denominations say that this is Christ's way of referring to natural birth (water) and spiritual re-birth (Spirit). Some say that He is noting the need for baptism. I'd like to look at this a little more simply -- sometimes the straightforward way of interpreting things is the best!

Can I ask you to bear with me, and turn in your Bible to the Old Testament? Check out Ezekiel 36:24-28 . . . well, instead of waiting for you to do that, let's just read it together:
 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
In this passage, Ezekiel is prophesying what God will do for His people. They were in exile, in the country of Babylon. They were longing for a word from God, just as we do today. And these words have just as much to do with us, under the new covenant, as they had to do with them. The ones that will live in the "land that I gave to your fathers" are the ones that will be cleansed -- and so, too, the ones that will live in the kingdom of God are the ones that will be cleansed and created anew.  There has to be a cleansing -- if our old self was completely obliterated, the whole concept of forgiveness would be irrelevant; there would be nothing from the past to forgive! But God will instead cleanse us and forgive us for those past sins, and let us remember them as a testimony of His grace and mercy.

The Bible tells us that our old self is crucified (Romans 6:6) and that we are to consider ourselves dead (Romans 6:11) and "put off the old self" (Ephesians 4:22). This means that there is an old nature, an old character, an old way of doing things, that needs to be radically changed. So our guilt will be washed away in the new birth, and cleansing with water is a lovely picture of that process.
We should pay close attention, though, to the passage in Ezekiel -- we're not done with that yet! It speaks of a new heart and a new spirit . . .
That heart of stone is the dead heart that was unfeeling and unresponsive; it's the heart we had before the new birth. We could respond with passion to lots of things, but our hearts were stone cold toward the truth and beauty of Christ, the glory of God, and the path of a holy life. Well, that has to change if we are to see the kingdom of God, so God takes out the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. That word doesn't just mean muscle and blood -- it means a responsive, living, feeling heart, soft to the touch of the Father. In the new birth, our dead, stone hearts are replaced with ones that are alive and know the worth of Jesus.
That new spirit is the working of the Holy Spirit to give shape and character, yes, even godliness, to our new heart. The scriptures compare our hearts and spirits to a lump of clay in the Potter's hands, shaping it to fulfill the potential He sees.

So, the new birth is not a religion, it's a new life. It's a supernatural life that is connected to Jesus by our faith in Him. And it's our receiving a new heart and spirit, that is being daily transformed to be more like Him.
The way that we experience all of this is through faith; I'd like to invite any who read this, and who have not yet received new life in Christ, to receive Him as the sin-forgiving, transforming Savior of your life.

We'll be studying more about this in the coming weeks, but if you have a question about becoming a child of God, and receiving Christ as your Savior, please feel free to leave a comment and I will respond to your questions. Or you can access the "What is Salvation?" page here at the blog, and read more there.


Cathy said...

And none of this can be done by ourselves. We can't save ourselves, we can't fix ourselves, we can't remodel the outside to look acceptable, because the inside is still dead. It would be kinda like what a mortician does to a dead body before the family and friends come to visit, making the dead body laying in that coffin look not quite so dead. Only God can do it, and all our prayers should be for Him to save us from our sins, and then for thanksgiving for that salvation.

Belinda said...

Amen Cathy!!

As I read this, I was thinking that before we are washed in the blood, saved, given new life and the Holy Spirit indwells us, our stony heart does not worry about whether we are pleasing God or not. We may have a moral compass of sorts, but we don't live our lives considering how God would feel about our actions and words. We just consider how it might affect us or others.

After we are renewed, reborn, given life giving "Water", our perspective changes. Not only do we care about how it affects others, but how it affects GOD. Whether we push that concern aside or not, it's there.