Sunday, December 1, 2013

Jesus Speaks to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, About The Need of Being Born Again

SO HERE IN NICODEMUS YOU HAVE AN INSIDER, an altogether admirable person---pulled together, successful, disciplined moral, religious, yet open-minded. (from John 3)

And what does Jesus say to him?  He uses a different metaphor with the Insider (Nicodemus) than he one he used with the Outcast (the woman at the well). Rather than pressing him on his lack of satisfaction by saying 'I can give you living water', he's pressing him on his smug self-satisfaction.('You must be born again'). What did you have to do, Jesus is asking, with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your skillful planning? Not at all. You don't earn or contribute anything to being born.  It is a free gift of life.  And so it is with the new birth.  Salvation is by grace---there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it.  You must be born again.

This is an astounding thing to say to a man like Nicodemus.  Jesus is saying that the pimps and the prostitutes outside on the street are in the same position, spiritually, as he is.  There is Nicodemus, flush with his moral and spiritual accomplishments, and there is someone out on the street who is homeless and addicted, and as far as God is concerned they are equally lost.

How dare Jesus say that?

Jesus can say it because he is working on a deeper understanding of sin than most people have.  Let me bring the word back now with all its cultural baggage. Look at the woman at the well---the Outsider.  Most people probably understand why Jesus would regard her as a sinner in need of salvation.  But most people can't understand why Jesus treats the Insider, Nicodemus, they way he does. Why would Jesus tell this good man that he has done essentially nothing to earn a place in heaven?

Here is the surprising answer:  Sin is looking to something else besides God for your salvation.  It is putting yourself in the place of God, becoming your own savior and lord, as it were.  That's the biblical definition of sin---the first of the Ten Commandaments.  One way to do this is to break all the moral rules in your pursuit of pleasure and happiness, like the woman at the well. This makes sex or money or power into a kind of salvation.  But then there is the religious way to be your own savior and lord.  That is to act as if your good life and moral achievement will essentially require God to bless you and answer your prayers the way you want.

In this case, you are looking to your moral goodness and efforts to give you the significance and security that nonreligious people look to sex, money and power to give them. What is insiduous about thsi is that religious people constantly talk about trusting in God---but if you think your goodness is even contributing to your salvation, then you are actually being your own savior. You are trusting in yourself. While you may in this case not be committing adultery or literally robbing people, your heart will increasingly be filled with such pride, self-righteousness, insecurity, envy and spite that you made the world a miserable place to live for those around you.

So you see, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are equal sinners in need of Grace.  And so are well all. In every case, you are trying to be your own savior and lord, trying to put God in your debt, or at least trying to tilt the odds of the universe in your favor.

Either way, Jesus calls it sin. He says that you---we all---need living water and that you need to be born again to get it.  You need to repent, admit your need, ask God to receive you for Christ's sake, and be converted.

-----Tim Keller,  Encounters With Jesus

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