3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 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.” 3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
She was surprised to know that Jesus said that and like Nicodemus, she was a bit puzzled.
“What does this mean?” She asked.
Chuck Colson was Richard Nixon’s hammer man.
In 1971 he authored a sort of hit list of Nixon’s political “enemies”, and it was said that “Colson would walk over his own grandmother if necessary.”
He was not a good man…you can read his story online or in his own book, “Born Again”
In 1973 he resigned from the Whitehouse staff, plead guilty to obstruction of Justice in the Watergate scandal and was born again.
This last event (claim) sparked wide spread derision…how convenient for him, it was said…mocking his “fox hole conversion”
It was said to be a ploy to reduce his sentence…how that would work, I don’t know.
He served at a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama.
Three years later he founded Prison Fellowship, the largest prison ministry in the world.
He authored over 30 books, and founded the “Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview”
I have been to several prisons where his ministry has made a profound impact…they work in some of the world’s worst situations.
He finished his life well and was known for his integrity and kindness and authentic faith.
My favorite Colson quote, was when a skeptical friend said to him, “Chuck, why do you keep saying this stuff, you aren’t changing anyone.”
-Which wasn’t true
Colson replied, “Well, as long as I’m saying it, they aren’t changing me.”
He died in 2012 at the age of 80.
I’ve read many of his books, including his autobiography, “Born Again” written in 1976.
It was widely read and widely mocked and widely misunderstood…just as Jesus was misunderstood when he first coined the term.
Let’s go back to Jesus and Nicodemus.
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.” 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? 11 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. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him
This was from John’s gospel; this fall we have been in John’s letter.
Today, I want to focus in on John’s primary purpose for writing this letter.
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13
Back quickly to John’s gospel, Chapter 20
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Today we will focus on two words, and then two applications.
The two words are: Believe, Life
John wrote his gospel to unbelievers that they might believe in Jesus and be born again.
John wrote this letter to Christians, that having believed, they will know with certainty that they have life in Christ.
The false teachers had made them feel unsettled…questioning their relationship with God because they didn’t have some secret knowledge, or special experience.
This happens still…”How can you be a Christian if you don’t know this doctrine, latest theological cool thing or you haven’t had this happen to you, this experience.?”
John writes to say, “Nonsense, since you have believed in Jesus, you have received life from him…of this you can be certain.”
So, as we have seen throughout his letter, John has given them some tests, or objective criteria to establish their assurance.
- Doctrinal test: who is Jesus?
- Moral test: does your life reflect Jesus?
- Social test: do you love others as Jesus does?
The purpose was not so they would become more unsettled, live with test anxiety, but that they would live with certainty…because real followers of Christ were going to pass the tests.
“I have written so you would know.”
“Here’s the evidence…I see it in your lives…just look, open your eyes.”
Mohammed, died without certainty of having eternal life.
The very founder of Islam, himself did not live or die with certainty.
Jesus wants us to have certainty…and we can.
Because we don’t have to wait until the end to see if the good deeds outweigh the bad.
Our certainty is because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
If we believe who he is, and if we have received his gift for us…we can be certain of eternal life.
So, John, in this letter gives reasons to be certain.
“yes, I do believe that Jesus is the Son of God…he is God, man, savior.”
“Yes, I am changing…But I mess up a lot (Understood John says, we all do, so we confess and move on).
“Okay, then I have been changed…I do want to be more like Jesus.”
“Yes, I do love people…he has put this love in my heart…but I get impatient, annoyed, angry still…BUT…I am changing here as well…I do want to give my life for others and not just live for myself.”
“SEE!” John writes…these are “proof life”.
In movies, you often hear the demand that the kidnappers show “proof of life.”
How do we know for sure that our loved one is still alive? Give us conclusive evidence.
These, John writes, are the proofs of eternal life
All three are focused on Jesus: Who he is (God and man, savior), How he lived (obedient), How he loved (sacrificially).
What does John mean by “Believe”
We don’t need to get into the theological weeds on this…he means what common sense would tell us he means.
If I have a disease, and you say you are doctor and you have the cure…you can know if I believe you by whether I take the medicine or not.
If you say you are a skilled electrician and I let you wire my house…I believe you are who you say you are.
I have filled out many reference forms for people over the years…the best question they ask is this, “Would you let this person watch your kids?”
If the answer is “yes”…then you do actually “believe” in them.
Believe in Jesus means in your mind, you accept the facts of who he says he is…God, became man, to die for your sins.
Then it means you act in line with what those facts tell you…I will trust him over myself or anyone else. I will act on the facts of who he is.
Like a marriage…”I believe this person is who they have indicated themselves to be (some have been fooled) so I commit my life to them.
This single act of covenant commitment (I do) is followed by a million little “I still do’s”
But there is that initial, “I do”
I do what?
I do commit to love, cherish, obey, lead, to death…all that…because of what?
“I feel”…yeah, hopefully you feel, it is your wedding day…but hopefully your “I do” is not only because of “I feel”.
“I think”…yeah, I hope you have given this thought.
“Well, then I believe””…yeah, you believe…so you commit.
What do you believe?…they are who they appear to be and who they say are and who others say they are…so “I do!”
Belief in Jesus as the Messiah means you commit to him as he is.
Who is he?
God became man so save us.
He is a singularity in human history…one person in all of history, has ever been exceptionally good and wise, of world renown…and has claimed to be God and has backed it up with powerful actions.
He is God, so he I will claim him as Lord of my life…I surrender my will to him.
He is savior…I trust him alone to save me.
Second word, what happens when I believe?
I have Eternal Life
I am born again.
Notice, John didn’t say, “You will have eternal life someday.”
He said, “you may know that you do have eternal life.”
Whatever this life is, it is not pure future tense…it starts in the immediate present.
It is not “Fire insurance”…escape from hell when I die…but live however I want now.
It is life that starts at conversion (born again) and continues past death.
Notice how John ties the three tests together in this chapter.
V1: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God
V1: Everyone who loves God loves his kids
V2: We know we love God and his kids when we obey God.
Truth test, moral test, love test…all wrapped up with bow.
One of our kids upstairs recently sent me a question, Erin calls it “Questions from River Kids” I call it, “Stump the chump.”
They must have talked about heaven recently because three questions were:
-What would happen if there was no heaven?
-Was heaven a thing before Jesus came to earth?
-Are the stuff we love going to be in heaven?
Heaven is the presence of God.
Our future destiny as believers is to live with resurrected bodies in a new heaven and earth.
If you are a Christian, and you die before Christ’s return you will live in the presence of God, heaven…waiting for this new physical cosmos.
“Heaven” as we think of it…is God’s presence.
Our future destiny is much like our original state…living in a physical place in direct communion with God.
But between death and the final judgment…we will live in God’s presence, heaven.
Now, as Christians living as God’s kids on this planet, a place that is still in a state of rebellion…we live already but not yet in the Kingdom of God.
Already we have eternal life, not yet is it fully experienced by us.
Genesis says we are image bearers of God, we are made in his likeness.
Likeness indicates a special relationship with God…a father to son, or daughter.
Adam was said to have had a son in his own likeness, after his image.
So, this means we have special relationship with God, unlike the rest of creation we directly have this family resemblance…family connection.
And it means that we are in the “family “business…we are by birth, heirs to the throne…we will never be king or queen…but we are royal family.
We were given the role of “subduing” the earth.
We are not becoming little Gods…we are living as kids of the King…our role is to reflect his image and his work in the world.
We are now, post fall, pre-return of Christ…as born-again image bearers of our Father…working to restore what has been lost.
Worship of God is revealed in how we live our lives now.
Our personal lives are being ordered by the kingdom of God…as we obey God’s commands that are life themself…we are becoming more like Christ.
Rebellion against these commands leads to disintegrated lives; obedience leads to integrated or whole lives.
*This is pretty easy to see, if you look.
Look at your life, or your friends lives…as they walk in obedience to God’s commands…their lives come together over time.
Not perfectly…but certainly…and clearly…change comes to them.
It doesn’t mean we are protected from bad things happen (don’t be surprised when you suffer we are told by the apostles, and “expect trouble” Jesus said.”
At the same time…we are to expect to change…and we are changing.
Inner personally and interpersonally.
Our relationships are being ordered by the kingdom…as God’s Spirit empowers us to act like Christ towards one another…we give, and forgive, and we are forgiven.
This transforms friendships and families, and marriages…I’ve seen it many, many times.
“Yeah, but I’ve seen Christians fall out and families fall apart.”
Yes, it is possible to not live within your birthright…you can throw it all away…but that’s NOT evidence against the power of the gospel to bring change…the power is there, even if we don’t plug in to it.
This is kingdom life now…belief in Jesus, issuing in changed lives, and transformed relationships.
We have 7 heart attitudes on the wall because they reflect what it looks like to live with each other in Kingdom life now.
Transformed individual lives and interpersonal relationships.
Some believe that the primary way the kingdom of God is manifest now is in signs and wonders…I think that is entirely unbiblical and that it will, as a quest, take you way off the path.
I’ve experienced a couple or a few miraculous, humanly unexplainable events in my life…but they have weighed very little in terms of an overall impact on my life.
By God’s grace I have experienced them but I have not chased them.
Jesus, over and over, rebuked those who came to him because of signs and not because of the truth of who he is and the life that he offers.
The signs of Jesus pointed to who he is and what he came to do…to focus on the signs is miss the point of them entirely.
What weighs the most in terms of impact…is not special experiences…it is the cumulative effect of single, ordinary days of walking with Jesus, messing up, fessing up and moving on.
And the ordinary days, weeks, years of walking with others in community…also, messing up, fessing up, moving on.
This is where “His kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is most evidently seen.
Christians becoming obedient to the will of God (and becoming more and more free in the process)
Christians living in growing relationship with each other (and revealing the kingdom of God here and now).
So, these are two very important words to understand, because of the realities these describe.
Belief and Life
Also, using these two words: belief and life
Believe the gospel.
Live in the certainty of eternal life now
- Belief the gospel…Jesus is the only way.
“But Terry, there are so many opinions out there, so much disagreement, it is hopeless to know for certain what is true.”
-Oh, it’s worse than you probably know…there are around 4,000 religions
-There are about 43,000 Christian denominations…subgroups of Christianity (not to mention of subgroups of the 4K religions)
“You are not helping.”
The Bible is about Jesus.
The gospel is the good news of Jesus.
There are not 4,000 or 43,000 real options regarding Jesus.
He either is, who he says he is or he is not.
In the gospel of John, 7 times Jesus said, “I am” followed by a descriptor.
I am the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection, the way, truth and life, the true vine.
All of these are like turning a jewel in the light revealing it’s many facets…it’s full beauty.
Then there are 7 times in John’s gospel where at key moments Jesus simply says, “I am”
Like John 8:58. “Before Abraham was born, I am”
This is God’s covenant name…when Moses asked God who should I tell Pharoah has sent me he was told, “I am has sent you.”
Jesus was either lying, he was crazy, or he was who he says he is…there are no other legitimate options.
He was not a liar and he was not crazy…he is the Lord.
John was an eyewitness of his glory.,
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”
Jesus is who he says he is, this is factually true.
Do you believe this?
If so, have you received his life by transferring trust from self to him?
“If we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead, we will be saved.”
The second application is for those who have believed.
John’s stated purpose in his letter is that those who have believed would live with certainty.
That is what we will focus on now.
If you have believed in Christ and have received eternal life…are you living in the certainty that is your inheritance now?
Certainty that you will not face eternal judgment…and certainty that God’s Spirit is in you and at work through you.
This certainty grows as we focus on Jesus…don’t get your head turned by all the noise and confusion…out there.
Or even the internal noise in here.
We are not oblivious to it…and it does impact us…but it cannot direct the course of our lives.
Jesus is Lord…his Spirit is in you…as evidenced by your desire to be holy (obey)…this desire is from God.
And your sorrow when you don’t obey is from the Spirit.
As is your love for others…and your sorrow when you fail to love them.
These are not merely learned human traits…they are the work of the Spirit in you.
Don’t look for showy signs of the Spirit’s works…chasing experience is a diversion from what God is doing in your life.
To become like Christ…train for godliness…the freedom and joy of obedience is the best “sign” of the Spirit’s work in you.
And when you fail to obey…the godly sorrow that we experience is the next best sign of the Spirit’s work in us.
Look to love others with a sacrificial love…this is the path of Joy.
You know it is true, we all do from experience.
When Jesus says to love one another, he is inviting us into his joy.
I won’t belabor this point, we focused on it last week…self-giving love is both evidence of your certainly, and cause for growth in your certainty of eternal life.
Live in the certainty of your inheritance…life in the Kingdom now…already.
You know what human history is about…not random, not directionless, not meaningless.
History unfolding before is often very tragic, heart breaking…but we do not look at it as those who don’t know the Lord of history
Christ is the center of it all…as he is the center of your life, he is your Lord.
You know what you are to be about…becoming like Christ in obedience and loving others with a self-giving sacrificial life.
You don’t have to guess; people are guessing, and we are terrible guessers…and to guess and to die guessing wrong…is horrible.
You know, you aren’t guessing.
You live with the certainty of this knowledge, and someday…as you grow this certainty…you will die with certainty.
*Finish with a word on Grit and Grace
I want to circle back around to those who are Christians but not living in their birthright.
Peter said we have been given all the power we need for life and godliness.
2 Peter 1 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
When we fail to live in the freedom of obedience and love…it is not a failure of God’s power but a failure to fully engage it.
Not a grace problem it is a grit problem.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
This should not induce guilt “I knew it, it’s all my fault.”
It should produce hope, “I have agency, I can choose to live in his power.”
If I am laying around wallowing in sin and guilt…little good it does me to think I have no say in all this.
You do…God has given it to you.
In battle, the common tendency of troops who come in contact with enemy fire…is to hunker down, dig in.
This only means the enemy can eventually land shells right on your position…hunker down and you die.
Leaders tell their troopers…”Get up, move forward.”
This is exactly what we can and must do.
His divine power has given us everything we need…FOR THIS REASON…make every effort.
Grace empowered grit…to live with certainty.
I know many of you well, and many others well enough to say…you have reason to be certain.
You do believe Jesus is the Christ.
There is evidence in your life of a desire to be holy, to be like him.
Your love for others is clearly demonstrated in your life…this too is evidence of the Holy Spirit.
Be encouraged…be certain…Paul wrote that God who has begun this good work in you will complete it…he certainly will, he certainly is.