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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
— John 3:1-21
Moses lifts up the snake in the desert
I’m having trouble getting my thoughts collected on this subject, but I wanted to write down some new thoughts I’m having on the idea being saved.
Christians have always made the John 3 passages about how do you get to heaven when you die. As I am learning more about the Kingdom of Heaven, I am thinking that the John 3 discussion has more to do with the “right now” instead of the “later”.
First of all, Nicodemus did not ask what he had to do to obtain eternal life like I had thought. He just starts a dialogue with Jesus by telling Jesus that he recognizes that Jesus came from God and that God is definitely with Him. Jesus then replies, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Then he says a second time, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Jesus was not saying. Here’s how you get to heaven, he was saying, here’s how you get into the kingdom of God. From what we have previously written, the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God is right now, God’s rule and reign now, where people are calling Him Lord and His will is being done.
His goal was not necessarily just to get a bunch of people to heaven, it’s his goal to get a community of people to be obedient, so that his kingdom is operating like it’s supposed to right now.
We have used the term “being saved” or “born-again” to signify the end of the process. We got saved and so now it’s settled, we have our papers, were going to heaven when we die. It seems to me that being saved is just the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven, it’s just the very beginning of the process. When you are saved, you realize for the first time that Jesus is who he said he was and you want to make Him your King by being obedient to Him for the rest of your days. You have seen his great acts of saving power, you call Him Lord and you obey – that is the Kingdom of Heaven. So being saved is just a starting place to begin that life of obedience. It’s not just did you get in the door, it’s a lifelong process. It’s like just getting married, that’s just the start of the process. If you’ve been married for 35 years and it’s been a lousy marriage, the whole time, does that make you married in God’s eyes? To be married for 35 years, and to have worked and gone through the hard times together and to learn to love and sacrifice for each other – that is a picture of the life of being saved. Obedience is what makes God happy, because you are revealing his nature to others. Obedience is not a burden, it is the answer to all the hurts and ills of Egypt. Being righteous really matters to God. This is a lifelong process and puts you in the kingdom of God. Then when you die, you will live with Him forever. Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. One other thing in this passage that I realized I had been teaching wrongly was Jesus’ statement “Unless you are born of the water and the Spirit”. I had always said you’re born of water the first time (natural birth), and then by the Spirit (spiritual birth). David Stern, in his Jewish New Testament commentary, says “Born of water” does not mean ordinary human birth, because if everyone was born of water ,in that sense, why would Jesus make a condition out of it and say “unless” you are born of water and the Spirit”. It now seems to me that “born of water” has to do with immersion, a ritual cleansing of the body for repentance, and “born of the Spirit” is referring to the Holy Spirit’s power to help you turn from sin and live a holy life. Both of these refer to aspects of purification.
In summary, Matthew 22:29 says “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” This is just more evidence to me that I really do not know much about the word. I’m glad God is stretching me and having some of my old thoughts challenged. One thing I do know is that I am being challenged to be obedient. I know that it is not just a one step process. “I’m saved”, I got that taken care of. I’m on my way to heaven, and I’ll live life the best I can. We are supposed to be a kingdom of priests; priests dedicated their lives to serving. How could we do any less? Lord, please help me with obedience. I want to be like you in every way.