John 3:1-13

            “You must be born again.”  In the evangelical world this phrase is arguably the most famous and used statement in the whole of Holy Scripture.  Unfortunately, it is often reduced to a cliché, an almost formula-like approach to the Christian life.  Simply ask Jesus into your heart and you can be born again, that is, go to heaven.  The problem, however, lies in the fact that this is not really what Jesus said in John 3.  
             Jesus ministered in a religious world that needed deep transformation because it had become, uh-hem, reduced to formulas and clichés.  When Jesus stated that people need to be born again, he meant that there is a need for new life – not behavior modification, not re-arranging some things on the calendar, and not some more focused goals.  No, people need new life.  They need it so bad that it is like being born again.
             Just as a baby cannot create herself, make herself grow in the womb, and give birth to herself, so no one can experience total life change, being born again, on their own ingenuity, power, or ability.  We ought never to expect anything less than complete life transformation that comes through a total spiritual awakening, like being born again.  
             If that sounds downright radical, well, it is.  It is meant to be.  Jesus’ words to Nicodemus were so revolutionary to him that he had a hard time swallowing it.  But Jesus never dumbed-down spiritual truth in order to make it more palatable or understandable; he insisted on life change, and he taught it and lived it through preaching the kingdom of God and healing all kinds of people. 
             Only God can do such a work of bringing new life.  We are completely dependent upon the Spirit to birth us into a new reality through the person and work of Jesus.  We are also totally reliant upon the Spirit to use us as spiritual mid-wives, helping to birth new spiritual babies into God’s world.
             Saving God, you sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, to this world in order to give it new life.  Save me, O God, from myself and give me the change I need.  Help me to share this message of transformation with others who need to be born again, as well.  Amen.

You Must Be Born Again

It could be that being “born again” is a settled thing for you.  You are saved, sanctified, and redeemed by the blood; you have seen the one way track to on high and are on the Jesus train to heaven!   But consider this:  In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Nicodemus considered his relation to God as a settled matter.  Nicodemus was a good guy; an upstanding Jewish citizen; a devout and pious man; he had Old Testament Scripture quotes all over his Facebook page; a Fiddler on the Roof ringtone on his cell phone; he was a faithful Temple worship attender; and, a member of the most prestigious religious group around.  Nicodemus was not a bad guy; he was not a religious huckster; not a shady politician; and, not any kind of unsavory character.  And, yet, it was this very guy, Nicodemus, whom Jesus said:  “You must be born again.” 
            Why in the world would Jesus say this to such a good egg as Nicodemus?  He told Nicodemus that he must be born again because Nicodemus was a big fan of Jesus, but not really a committed follower of Jesus.  The Lord Jesus Christ is not looking for adoring admirers; he does not want thousands of fans sitting in the stands of life giving him cheers and props for being a godly teacher and performing some really cool miracles.  Jesus is looking for people to move from being cheerleaders and admirers to taking up their cross and following him no matter the cost.  For all his good deeds, Nicodemus needed to have a totally new life in following Jesus.
            The further away we are from birth, the easier it is to take God for granted and to have such a spiritually settled way of life that the mystery, wonder, and awe of life is slowly drained from us.  That’s why I think two-year-olds probably know more about God than anyone around – since they can articulate the wonder of life being only a few short years from their birth.  One night I came home and walked into the kitchen to find my four-year old grandson unashamedly crawling on all fours with his face barely off the floor.  I said, “Kolten, what in the world are you doing?”  He looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye and a serious tone in his voice and said, “I’m sniffing for clues.”  None of us will likely be found on our kitchen floors sniffing for clues, but would any of us be found by another sniffing for clues of God and doggedly pursuing him and following hard after him? 
            The problem with Nicodemus is that, because he was such a good guy, he did not see himself as in need of a new life.  Meeting Jesus at night was deeply symbolic of the fact that Nicodemus was literally “in the dark” about his true spiritual condition and the true reality of God’s ways and how the world works in God’s kingdom.  He was not willing to step into the light of the day and stand up for Jesus as a devoted follower.  Nicodemus was quite content to maintain his position as only a fan of Jesus.
            So, how do we move from being merely a fan to being a follower of Jesus?  We must believe in Jesus.  To truly believe in Jesus means that we must move from a mere intellectual faith that the teachings of Jesus are wise, just, right, and good.  To truly believe in Jesus means that we must move from having only a heartfelt faith that is warmed and cheered when seeing Jesus perform a miracle.  To truly believe in Jesus means we move to an actual spiritual life of complete and total trust in Jesus as a dedicated follower.  This is more than simply asking Jesus to help us get out of a jam or a bad situation; it is more than simply asking Jesus into my heart; it is telling Jesus that at last we are putting ourselves in his gracious hands so completely that we want Jesus to decide what to do with us and remove any and all shortcomings, character defects, and sins from us.  It is to be cleansed, like being born again and having a new life. 
            We cannot be deceived into thinking that all we need is a little spiritual elbow grease to have eternal life.  Instead, we must intentionally and deliberately relinquish control of our lives and of everything to Jesus and become his faithful followers.  Information is not transformation; and, observing transformation in another person’s life is not a substitute for transformation in my own life.
            Jesus does not want to have a bunch of groupies admiring him in the dark; he wants to save the world – which is why God sent his Son to be lifted up on a cross.  Maybe the biggest threat to Christ’s church today are fans who call themselves Christians but are not actually interested in following Jesus.  They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.  Fans, like Nicodemus, often confuse their admiration for devotion.  They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for an actual relationship with Jesus.  Fans assume that their good works and their good intentions make up for any need of being a full-time follower and living a new life.


            What does moving from being a fan to being a follower mean for us?  For some, it means taking the step of making a public profession of faith; for others it means believing in Jesus for the very first time, trusting that God has not only forgiven others of their sin, but forgives me as well through the cross; for some it means taking up the mantle of service in the church; for others it means becoming part of a small group or a bible study; for us all it means moving from hiding in the shadows to coming into the light of God’s truth and openly living for God in every facet of our lives.  May it be so.  Soli Deo Gloria.