Focal Passage: John 3:4-18
Over the years, I’ve found New Year’s Day to be so refreshing and encouraging. Have you ever felt this way?
Whether it’s psychological or practical, there is a sense in which beginning a new year offers closure to the failures and disappointments of the past, and provides hope, renewal and fresh motivation for what is ahead.
For many, this might mean a change in diet and exercise, or a commitment to be more financially responsible, or a plan to start a new project or goal. Whatever the case might be, Jan. 1 offers an invitation to start over and begin something new — and that can be very liberating to experience.
When it comes to a saving relationship with God, the Bible likewise emphasizes that a major restart is needed in our lives. But rather than us just making a few changes and improvements to who we are, the Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit must totally transform our hearts if we want to be right with God.
We find this truth explained in John 3 in a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus.
As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was considered to be one of the religious elites in Jewish culture. He was an expert of the law who appeared to live a nearly perfect life and had great spiritual authority over others.
In the eyes of locals, Nicodemus was holy and righteous, and he was fully deserving of an exalted place with God. However, after sensing a deep awareness that something was wrong in his heart, he approached Jesus in the darkness of night to find out what was missing.
Jesus plainly told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This statement confused Nicodemus.
Thinking in terms of biology, how could he reenter his mother’s womb, and why would this make any difference with God? But Jesus explained that it’s not a physical rebirth that’s needed, but a spiritual rebirth.
In other words, unless the Holy Spirit completely changes the heart — putting to death the original heart that is enslaved to the laws of sin and death and creating a new heart that is cleansed from sin and desires to love and obey God — no one will be saved.
Therefore, regardless of Nicodemus’ status, or how much he had learned or accomplished, because of his sinful nature, none of it would make a difference in his standing with God. Like everyone else in history, if he wanted to go to heaven he needed to be born again!
If there is a misunderstanding that the church must wage war against today, it’s the belief that salvation can be achieved by living a good life, going to church, helping others, etc. Countless people are like Nicodemus, assuming that they will get to heaven based on their own performance.
However, unless our hearts are made new in Christ through the Holy Spirit, we will never satisfy God. But this theological reality should also bring the church hope because it means that God has the power to change anyone’s life — regardless of age, ethnicity, education or past sins.
The reality of spiritual transformation is why Jesus promised salvation to “whoever believes” (v. 16). Soli Deo Gloria! B&R