Letters to the Prison - Week 32

Hello, everyone.  
We’re taking a slow tour through Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3 because the idea of being born again (born from above) is so important.  Last week, we caught a glimpse of an Old Testament prediction from Ezekiel when Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).  Here is that passage from Ezekiel again:
•I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.                        
-Ezekiel 36:25-27
Here, God is speaking to his people --the Israelites-- of the restoration he will bring to them as a nation in the last days.  But Jesus, by bringing this verse to bear on his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, is showing how God will restore all of his people –all who believe in Him—in the same way… using the same process.  
Look again at all the things God says he will do.    
So many times, we find ourselves wondering what we need to do to “get right with God.”  Or, in many cases, we think of what we need to stop doing.  We think of habits we need to change, addictions we need to free ourselves from, attitudes and thoughts we need to stop having and thinking… actions we need to do or stop doing…  These are all things that (supposedly) we will do.  And we don’t… Or, we succeed for a little while and then fall back into our old ways…
So, we think we will never be able to make ourselves right with God because we are unable to do what we think it will take…  and maybe we give up trying.
Yet, look again. Look again at all the things God says he will do.
•God will “sprinkle clean water” on us.  This is not about literal “sprinkling” like a bath…  It’s about cleansing our souls… and our hearts and minds.
•God will cleanse us from all our idols –not just little statues that we worship –all the things in life that we put ahead of our relationship with him are idols.
•God will give us a new heart
•God will give us a new spirit
•God says it again:  God will replace our stony, hard hearts with new hearts
•And he says it again about the spirit:  God will give us his Spirit.
•And in this way, God will “cause us” to obey him.
This, friends, is what Jesus is talking about to Nicodemus.  This is what it looks like to be born again –to be born from above.  It is a work that God does in us.  And the evidence that God is doing that work is a little bit like watching the wind:
•The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”-John 3:8
Just as we can’t see or control the wind, so we can’t see or control God’s Spirit.  Yet, we know when we see the wind at work, and we can see when the Holy Spirit is working.
So, what does this tell us about what we really need to do?  Instead of trying to live according to a bunch of rules in our own strength and beating ourselves up when we fail (because we will fail, in our own strength), we instead need to ask God to do that spiritual work in us –that he would cause us to be born again—so that the salvation and restoration that work of God brings would give us the help we need to see real and lasting change in our lives.   We don’t sit back and wait for God to fix us, either.  Far from it.  Gaining real victory over sins and addictions and old bad habits takes work.  Hard work.  And we can’t do it without God’s help.
So, what we really need to do is ask:  Ask God to save us… to transform us… to change our lives from the inside out.  And then, we need to follow him and bring our efforts into line with the work he is doing in us.  And it is not a “magic wand” “one and done” easy fix.  Being born again is just the beginning.  God’s work of salvation is instant and forever, but the transformation of our lives that follows takes a lifetime to complete.
Going back to the conversation, Nicodemus still doesn’t get it:
•9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?                   -John 3:9-10
What is going on with Nicodemus that he still doesn’t understand?  He might easily be the wisest man in Israel.  Yet what Jesus is saying isn’t sinking in.  Jesus responds:
•Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.            -John 3:11
Here again is another “truly, truly” statement worthy of our attention:  Jesus is telling Nicodemus the reason why Nicodemus “doesn’t get it.”  When Jesus says, “you do not receive our testimony,” he’s saying that Nicodemus is having trouble understanding because Nicodemus doesn’t believe that Jesus is who he says he is.  Belief in Jesus is an important part of salvation.  It’s one thing to ask God to help you, but if you don’t believe he can do it… or if you don’t think that he even exists, what good do you think it will do to ask him for anything?  This is another place where one can say “I believe.  Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  God loves to answer such prayers.
We hope you find these letters encouraging.  Until next week… we love you!

Dean A.

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