Apparently this went out in one of my friend’s Christmas cards this year. I must have written it back in 2004, just as we were getting 721 started. Here it is unedited from 17 years ago…
Recently I realized exactly why Jesus used the term “Born again” with Nicodemus. It is so straightforward I cannot believe I didn’t see it before. It’s almost as if Jesus’ main emphasis is on the first birth, not the second (even though it is the second “birth” through which salvation is granted), precisely because the first birth is totally inadequate, meaningless – it means NOTHING with respect to your salvation.
We don’t like the tenn “Born again” for a variety of reasons – I know it offended me for years – but when we realize exactly why Jesus used that term, and relate that understanding to those whom it still offends, possibly some of the offensiveness will dissipate.
Nicodemus was born a Jew. He therefore by birthright would have presumed/been sure of/had total and complete confidence in his guarantee of salvation. He was born into God’s chosen race – His chosen people. Surely any Jew was destined for eternal life with Yahweh! Who could possibly doubt that?
So Jesus, recognizing that that false sense of security was lethal, and knowing He’s talking to the preeminent teacher of the Jews, and that He is talking to someone who is teaching this “salvation by birthright,” takes this opportunity to say, “Nicodemus, it’s not enough to be born a Jew. It’s not even enough to be born into God’s chosen people! No, there must be a spiritual change, a reckoning with God, a personal reconciliation, not a group reconciliation, not a reconciliation because of your family or church or nationality, nor of your social status nor bloodline nor, surely not!, based on your GOODNESS.
“No, there has to be a spiritual change so significant that it might as well be considered a new birth – so significant that an observer would have to say, “He’s like a new person!”
So, for us in the South, especially, Jesus’ message is: “Hey Sam, it is not enough that you were born into a great Christian family, raised at First Presbyterian church, baptized there, memorized the Shorter Catechism, had parents that were pillars of the church and incredibly Godly people, read the Bible twice and never robbed a bank or killed anybody. No, that is not enough. And you are not a Christian by default, just because you are not Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever.
As I said in Matthew 18:3: Unless you change and become like one of these (children) – unless there is a spiritual change in you so significant that your former buddies will say, ‘That is NOT the same Sam I knew!’, you are not going to spend eternity with Me, the most Holy God, El Shaddai, creator of the universe, in My perfect and perfectly holy Heaven! And by the way, you simply cannot make that change on your own – not in your own strength and willpower. So throw away your “I’m going to do better’ checklist”
We know that that change can only be realized through a surrender (Now that’s an offensive idea to many of us, men especially) to Jesus Christ and His, and only His, power to save.
I think it’s safe to say that if the Jews had a baptism ceremony that they presumed secured their salvation, instead of by their birthright, Jesus would have said something to the effect of, “Nicodemus, you must be in effect baptized again, but this time by the Spirit” Wait a minute. Jesus said just that!
John 3:5 “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is bom of water and the Spirit.”