Welcome to Week 4 of our reflection series “Born Again.” The born again life is focused on Christ’s power and nothing else. Through this reflection series, we’re looking at the things that try to take center stage in our lives. This week, we’re studying what John 3 has to say about “Success.”
At the heart of every sin, since the original fall, is our inclination to look God in the face and say, “I know better. I can do it without you.” In the third chapter of John’s Gospel we have two individuals, and two differing approaches to Christ. The stories of both provide us direction and warning in becoming too aware of our knowledge and success, and how that relates to the process of spiritual rebirth.
It is no secret that Nicodemus had a sincere interest in Jesus and continued to take an interest in Jesus even following the Crucifixion. For a man to step onto the unpopular side of the line in the face of mounting criticism is commendable, and Nicodemus is honored by being included in the Gospel of John as the Pharisee quite unlike the rest. However, as one looks at this discourse between the Pharisee and Jesus, we see two things that we must become aware of when we look at being born again, in both his physical and spiritual approach to Jesus.
The first thing we see is that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. This is not a trivial piece of information. In fact, it says volumes about what is going through Nicodemus’ mind. The word is “secrecy.” Nicodemus does not want to be seen conversing with Jesus. His interest in Jesus, although sincere and genuine, is still enslaved by the potential judgment of his fellow colleagues, were they to hear that he met, “the teacher.” Likewise, as we approach the Gospel, it is easy to be concerned about how your new interest in life with Jesus will meet the ears of those close to you who, unlike you, have no interest in the Gospel.
Our place among friends, co-workers and family is important to all of us, and to do something that we know will jeopardize those delicate relationships is difficult, to say the least. In many ways, our identities are inextricably linked to these relationships, so to choose to do something that might threaten this bond or connection is like choosing to commit identity suicide. To do something so risky as to threaten these bonds is like losing your life. This is serious business in which not many are willing to engage. This is where we see Nicodemus. Although his interest is enough to get him in front of Jesus, the fear of committing identity suicide is far too great, and so he seeks Jesus in the dark.
One of the many things that happens upon being “reborn” is an inner augmentation of perspective. The more one starts to see Jesus as “the way, the truth, the life” the more we start to see all other things in this world as “a way, a truth, a life.” The larger Jesus gets in our hearts and minds, the smaller everything else gets. Or, to use his example, Jesus always refers to himself and his disciples by using the contrast of light and dark. So, in the area of spiritual rebirth, the more one steps into the light with Jesus, the more one wants to remain in the light with him.
The second thing we see with Nicodemus is a mental and spiritual barrier preventing him from understanding Jesus’ explanation about being “born again.” Nicodemus has been trained so effectively in one train of thought that it seems nearly impossible for the logic of Jesus to find any room in his reasoning. His mind was fixated on literal possibilities, while Jesus is speaking from a standpoint of Godly potential. But this aspect of rebirth is the most exciting part.
For most people, scripture is bland and two dimensional, and at times, life itself feels rather two-dimensional. However, when we are born again, we encounter “the Counselor,” the Holy Spirit, who testifies to the truth Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Upon his arrival in our lives, we move from two-dimensional perspectives into multidimensional realities with endless possibilities. To be born again is to become privy to the endless possibilities of God’s plans, wisdom and presence that, in a world where impossible is impossible, suddenly all things are possible through Christ.
John the Baptist
The second character we read about in this selection of scripture is John the Baptist. In many ways, John is an excellent representation of the born again spirit. During his preaching years he gathered a large and adoring crowd of followers. We learn many things from the life of John the Baptist, but no trait is better exemplified by his life than humility.
John had every right, according to the world, to think that he was something special. He had every right to think that he had unparalleled authority and power to do whatever he desired. But his behavior shows us the opposite. The portrait we see of John the Baptist is a humble servant who looks at Jesus “the Christ” and says, “He must become greater, and I must become less.” Being reborn means arriving at a critical point of restructuring. The born again life gets restructured internally and externally. Internally, we realize that in the presence of God we are nothing. We realize that without God we are nothing. We realize that because he is everything, with him we can finally be something.
Upon being reborn we lose our right to the throne, because it is forever occupied by Christ. This not only gives us profound respect and admiration for God, but it provides increasing confidence in his voice and character, and reveals our temporal and shake-able selves. Externally, we no longer expect our well-deserved and long overdue adulation from the world. We realize that, without the servant who suffered for us, we would be left with nothing real. Finally, we realize, in our awareness of our forgiven and sinful state, that our place among men is simply a sinner among sinners. With this yoke of pride and superiority removed from our necks, we are then free to give of ourselves in a way that puts us on an increasingly solid footing with our Friend and Savior Jesus Christ. The opportunity to experience him becomes our life’s desire and, rather than clinging to our old identities, we come into a shared existence with Jesus that overpowers our lust for worldly praise.