Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."
In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. "
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is 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.
"You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him
There is a phenomenon these days where people are undergoing what they call a “seachange”. They are trading in all that the world has told them they need, a house in suburbia, mortgage and 9 to5 grind, and living peacefully in small homes in idyllic locations. And this phenomenon has grown. Now you can have a “Treechange”, and live in the forest, or in the bush, which is great, until a bushfire season like this one.
They are completely changing their whole environments. But can they change themselves? Can they wipe the slate clean of all the personality traits, habits, modes of speech and genetic traits that have made them who they are? Of course not.
So does that mean that we are stuck forever with who we are, with no hope of change?
How did you come to be a Christian? There are lots of different stories. I know that I was born into a Christian home, my father is a pastor. I was baptised, born again of water and the Spirit at the age of 26 days.
I was taught Gods way before I knew any other way. Sometimes I think that is a little boring. I wonder if it would have been better to have had a wild and exciting life, and find God later on in a blaze of glory. Mind you, it’s interesting, that the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” is so true. Because I have had folks who have had that wild pre-Christian experience and a huge conversion later in life say to me how much they envy those who have always known God.
There are many different ways that God brings us to the Christian faith, from lifelong learning to altar calls to foxhole conversions in war-time. But. some Christians insist on one particular way of coming to be part of Jesus Church. They insist on a "personal conversion of faith." and they insist that there was a moment where they “Invited Jesus into their heart.” We are going to hear why we believe that what they are talking about isn’t actually possible the way that they think it is.
Sometimes these folks are referred to as "The Born-Again Christians". I'm sure you've run into them too. Sometimes they can be a little embarrassing, or confronting to long-time Christians. We often don’t know what to do with their energy, their zeal.
I remember hearing a story about a young man who had a personal conversion experience and afterwards in his enthusiasm he was going around airports asking people when they were saved. And I assume it happened in America, because I didn’t hear of him getting punched, which would have been quite likely if it had happened in Australia.
"Excuse me, When were you saved!". Now, this was a pretty courageous action for a young person, since almost everyone would avert their eyes and walk by like the young man was invisible. But he persisted. An old man was sitting on a bench, in the airport watching the young man ask his question.
After a while the young man realized the older man was looking at him. Like a magnet, the young man walked over towards the old man. "Have you been saved?" "Yes" he replied. After a morning of rejection, the young man's eye's light up in solidarity, "When were you saved? I was saved June 15, 1996 at 7:35 PM". "Well, I was saved a little further in the past." quietly spoke the old man "I was saved about 2000 years ago, but ... I learned about it about 60 years ago from my folks." Now I don’t know if the old guy was Lutheran, but a part of me would like to think that he was. Because that is a very Lutheran answer to give.
The only way it could be more so was if he mentioned that it became his when he was baptised.
Although some people come to Christ by way of a conversion experience, this too often has come to be equated with "Being Born Again". Like that young man, these folks know the day and maybe the hour that they came to know about the Good News in Jesus Christ, but ..... "Being Born Again" means something a little bigger than they understand.
Some of this religious narrowness of scope, about being "born again", comes about for a number of reasons, one reason might be a misunderstanding of the word "repent". Many people speak of repenting from ones sin as being part of their conversion. They have regrets about the lives they have lead and "repent".
But the Greek word "Metanoia" that is sometimes translated as "repent", which gives the idea of falling on ones knees and saying sorry, is better translated as "changing directions", or "Turning around". And certainly some folks have changed the direction of their lives and returned to the "Way of Jesus" ... and in a sense this is "being born again".
But many Christians were set on the path of Jesus Way by their parents or came to Christianity before they had set out on a path that strongly led away from Christ. If these folks are part of the Church and walking in the way of Jesus, they certainly do not need to go through some conversion to be "Born Again". Perhaps then, "Being Born Again" has a different or Bigger meaning.
Every Christian is “born again”, because every Christian has been changed, whether earlier or later, from their way to God’s way. Notice the tense of the verb: “been changed”. They have not “changed” under their own power, but they have “been changed”. It is the work of the Spirit, a gift of God, that we can call God Father and Jesus Lord. This is another example of the divine passive that I spoke about a few weeks ago. God works in us, the arrow points this way (pointing downwards) , God always comes down. (See Reclaiming the "L" word, by Kelly Fryer"
It is pure gift, and the gift is two-fold. The reasoning behind it is spelled out for us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The first gift is Christ, God’s one and only son, come down to us. We celebrate this as God’s greatest gift to us. We give each other gifts at Christmas to commemorate the gift that he is to us. The second gift is the ability to believe in him, and that is something that cannot be done by human strength. That is the impossibility of entering a second time in to your Mother’s womb to be born again. As humans, we cannot do it.
The very ability to believe in Jesus Christ is being born again of the Spirit, the Spirit that comes to us through the word of God, and through the water of baptism, as a free gift from God. So our faith is a gift. It is something that comes down first. By the time we are able to “Invite Jesus into our heart”, God has already been hard at work in us. The arrow points this way. God always comes down. The Spirit has already been at work in us. He works in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. He works in the Word of God, the bible. These things that he works in we call the “means of Grace”.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse three, Paul says that no-one can say: “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit convinces us, he makes us able to see the truth of God’s word, and it is the Spirit who decides how and where we come to faith, and for what purpose.
To be Christian, to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, means to be born again, and to be part of God’s church. Whether we like it or not sometimes, that is the way that God has chosen to work in the creation of his kingdom, and we enter in by his rules, not by ours.
The Holy Spirit can and does do amazing things: Miraculous conversions, wondrous signs and acts of power, but these are not an end in themselves. They all point to Jesus Christ, the centre of our faith, and the one who we point to in this Lenten season. We look ahead to the time when he is lifted up.
Why was he lifted up on the cross?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life. It’s yours now. Though we live this life on earth, we are citizens of heaven. We are already born again. Yes, it is still before us all to die. But then we take up that eternal life which id sour possession right now, and we will never die again.
Thanks be to God,