“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)
Jesus convicts with grace and truth. He does not condemn you. If you feel condemned because of thoughts such as, “You’re no good. You’re a helpless sinner. You’ll never get it right. You can’t possibly perform up to God’s requirements, so why try? If only people knew the real you. You’re a fake Christian. God simply cannot like you, best to stay away from him for a while.” – they are not from God.
Now, if you hear, “Okay, that didn’t work out real well, did it? It’s time to stop behaving that way,” that is from God. Or, “You know I’m not happy with you living that way, acting that way, thinking that way, and you know you’re not happy with it, either. So stop it. It’s not healthy or helpful,” this is your Heavenly Father speaking truth.
Jesus convicts, not condemns – with grace and truth.
Grace says Jesus likes you as much as he loves you. The Truth says he wants to “rescue us from the dominion of darkness and bring us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13)
The truth is everyone must be rescued from the dominion of darkness, including you. If you haven’t been rescued, if you don’t think you need to be rescued, then please feel convicted, so that you are not ultimately condemned.
Nicodemus was almost sure he was in the light, and needed no such rescue. Almost sure, but not absolutely. So he went to see Jesus.
Nic is well respected at church, and you can bet around the community as well. His life is squeaky clean, his resume impressive, his performance faultless. Yet he somehow senses there has to be more. He is haunted by the thought, “Am I missing something?”
I see this all the time. People get to their 40’s or 50’s, and one of two things has happened: either they’ve been successful and for the most part squeaky clean, or they have flamed out with an affair, a divorce, a business failure, money issue or health issue. Either way, they look around at their life and wonder, “Isn’t there more?”
The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) is part of the Down & Out. Nicodemus is the Up & In. Yet he comes to Jesus seeking this “more.” But Jesus seems to cut right through the grace and go right for the truth: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” If I’m Nic I’m thinking, “What? Where did that come from? I thought I was here to talk about you.”
Nic came to discuss theology with Jesus, looking to perhaps see how Jesus might fit into his own religion. Jesus can see Nic is stuck in his church religion, and simply cannot see anything else, so in his own way of perfect grace, Jesus gives Nic what he so desperately needs, the loving truth:
“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
The down and out desperately need a softer grace, with the truth sprinkled in. The Up & In need grace as well, but often the grace they … we … need is blunt Truth: “There’s more. You’re missing it.”
In Nic’s case God’s grace was the blunt truth. Nic “had been a Christian all my life.” He was “in church every time the doors opened.” Nic knew all about God. But Nic did not know God. He comes looking to know more about Jesus; Jesus intends for Nic to know him. Nic thought the topic was Jesus; Jesus said, “No, the topic is you, Nicodemus.”
Jesus is saying, “I can tell you are starting to see there’s more, Nic, but you must know this: you won’t be able to see – really see – with spiritual 20-20, until you have spiritual eyes. And that only comes with being born again … born with the Holy Spirit.”
I can hardly wait to see Nicodemus in Heaven. I want to know what spurred him to go see Jesus. I want to ask him what he was thinking as he approached Jesus that first time. I want to ask what he was thinking about as he left Jesus that night. His mind must have been swirling.
We know the Light did indeed come on. Nicodemus goes on to defend Jesus in front of the angry Jewish rulers. (John 7) We know Nic helped Joseph of Arimethea bury Jesus. (John 19)His heart and his life were changed by his encounter with Jesus.
Mostly I want to ask him how the Light came on for him afterward. “Did you go home, Nic, troubled, not feeling condemned, but convicted to your core by Jesus? Did you spend time on your knees asking God, “Am I missing it? Is there more?” Did you do this over and over until the Light came on?”
Will you “be rescued from the dominion of darkness?”