“You must be born again, Nicodemus”. When Jesus spoke these words, He was having an intimate conversation with a very good man, a righteous man, a faithful man. Jesus was NOT setting up a new definition for being a Christian, Jesus was NOT establishing a new hurdle for works to leap over, Jesus was NOT dividing His followers into Born Agains and Born Once-ers. What Jesus was doing was helping Nicodemus to see that the Spirit was moving in a new way, that the Kingdom was more fully present, and that God the Father was dispensing the grace of new life. Being human, like Nicodemus, we get it all muddled up I hope this morning to bring some clarity and some excitement to being a Christian.
Let’s begin with what the words “Born Again” mean. That is one translation of the Greek in which the New Testament was written. The Greek word “anothen” can be translated three ways: Born from the top down, completely and radically; born the second time; or born from above by God. We need to incorporate all those meanings into what Jesus was telling Nicodemus. We also need to understand that the word “YOU” is plural. Jesus is not telling Nicodemus to accept Him as his personal Saviour. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that all people who week after God must be “anothened”. Nicodemus would have understood that to mean all the Scribes and Pharisees and all the people of the Law. ALL needed the birth from above through the Spirit of God. Nicodemus was being challenged with the need of ALL humanity. Not just himself.
Until this point in time, Nicodemus like all righteous Jewish leaders, was consumed with acting righteously. Doing the works of righteousness. Nothing wrong with that! Where the difficulty comes in is the “why” behind the “wherefore”. Why do righteousness? In order to be saved is the answer of the Old Covenant. “Why do rightousness?” Because we can’t help it is the answer of the New Covenant.
Those two streams of thought are still much present in our culture. One stream believes that our works save us…that if we do righteous things, we will have the reward, or the wages, of salvation. We have earned it. The other stream believes that because we have salvation, we are enabled by God to do righteous things. We don’t earn anything, we are saying “thank you” for everything. Do you see the difference? It is critical.
To make it even simpler, asking a Christian if he or she is born again is like asking water if it is wet. ALL Christians have been born again, or born from above, or radically changed by the grace of God. There is no category of “born again” Christians. All Christians are simply sinners saved by grace. Period. And Amen.
Billy Graham speaks of knowing with a certainty the time, the date, the place and the exact circumstances of when he was born again. He had a dramatic conversion experience. His dear wife, Ruth, has had no such experience. She does not even remember a time she didn’t know and love Jesus. She was baptized as an infant, raised in a home which resonated with prayer and praise and love, and her growth in faith was smooth and artless and full of grace. Is Billy a Christian and Ruth not? Is Ruth a Christian and Billy not? Who would dare to make such a judgement, and yet it is done in the Christian church all the time by all manner of people.
Ruth has described her spiritual experience this way. In the country, where horses are cherished and foals are born every spring, it is the custom to place a light blanket on a foal within hours of birth. It would be about the weight of a baby’s receiving blanket. Then every few weeks the weight of the blanket is increased. When the weight of the blanket is equivalent to the weight of a training saddle, the rancher just slips on the old receiving blanket and the saddle, and the young horse isn’t even excited. The colt raised that way need never be broken to become a great saddle horse. On the other hand, a mustang colt born in the wild grows to adulthood completely unencumbered. Toss a blanket and a saddle on a mustang and watch out! Hooves will fly and the horse will do anything at all to buck it off. That horse becomes a great saddle horse only after much pain and resistance.
By the time the next summer’s visitors come to enjoy a ride through the hills, both colts will be equally great saddle horses. A visitor would have no idea that “how” they got that way differed so very much. In fact, “how” they got that way wouldn’t matter at all.
We are told that Abraham believed God and set off to a please he did not know. By faith, Abraham….By faith, Abraham….did so many things to follow after God. And so Abraham, who never knew Jesus at all, who never had any words spoken to him about being born again, Abraham was counted, or accepted by God, as righteous. By faith. He was righteous not because he went…he was righteous because he believed and trusted and acted in hope.
So are you a Christian? If so, then you are born again. And therefore, as you seek to hear and follow after God, you will become more and more “holy”…like Jesus. That is your re-birthrite ! ! !
If you are not sure if you are a Christian, you can be sure. And you start by saying “Thank you” for the gift of salvation.
Please pray with me….
“By faith, Holy Father, we agree with You that we need to be reborn by your Spirit just as Nicodemus and all the people of God needed. By faith, Holy Father, we thank You that your Holy Spirit makes us new and that we are reborn into a lively hope, a productive life of freedom in your service.
By faith, Holy Father, we thank you that Jesus gave His life that we may never be held to account for our sins and offenses, and give our pledge to forgive those who have sinned against us that we may not hold them to account. Make us more and more like Jesus, we pray.
And for those who aren’t sure, this prayer may help:
Lord Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God. Please help me, forgive me, live in me, rule in me and make me new so that I can follow you each day of my life for Jesus sake and in His name.