A theological reflection on the steps to being born again (from above) Part 1.

 

Part one is all about thinking about the issues of salvation and eternal life and where we stand.  In the second part we are going to look at how Herman Bavinck explains the steps towards being born again.  Nowadays the term ‘born again’ gets thrown all over the place and it has lost its meaning in modern culture.  We forget about sin and the broken relationship with God.  For some people being born again is a lifestyle choice and there is no conviction of what sin actually is.  In some churches sin is probably not even mentioned because it causes offence. This is the whole point.  A patient has every right to know what the cause of the ailment is.  It is the same with spiritual truths.  Let us bite the bullet and look deeper into the social ills of our soul in the direction to finding the perfect cure.

I took this one evening when I went for a local walk.

 

“16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21”

For some people to be born again is a lifestyle choice.  Presidents have claimed to be born again and it has been a very large winning vote in some parts of the world.  Only God really knows if these politicians were sincere in their belief in Christ or whether it was because they wanted power. Ultimate power resides in heaven and not on earth. 

God works in mysterious ways that we will never understand but we can have some understanding of his nature as revealed through Holy Scripture. By the Holy Spirit we can have some glimpses into God’s motives.  So from a very basic level what are some of the characteristics of God.  Off the top of my head thinking about Scripture here is a short list:

·        God is Love

·        God is Holy

·        God is righteous

·        God is Judge

·        God is Creator

·        God is omnipotent

·        God is omnipresent

·        God is omniscient

·        God became a Man

·        God sent His Son and he died on a cross

·        God the son rose from the dead

·        God in Christ by the Holy Spirit loves his Church

I’m sure one could make this list even longer.  What about Man (humans)

·        Man has Broken his relationship with God because he wanted to be God

·        Man is a Sinner

·        Man is Self-centred

·        Man is marred by the Fall

·        Man is capricious can love one moment and hate the next

·        Man can be judgmental based on false motives

·        Man can create new ways to sin

·        Man is powerless although some fool themselves to thinking they have power

·        Man can only be in one place at one time even through the internet knowledge is finite

·        Man is completely lost, and he cannot save himself.

·        Man’s knowledge is limited.

When we look at these two lists, we can see that there are very big differences between the God of the Bible and the nature of humans.  As humans we are perishing and there is no sight of salvation on the horizon.  We are like a ship without a rudder in a stormy sea.  Is there any hope for us?  O look over there I see a light house.  It is God who switched the light on, it is God who has thrown us a line to come to him!   I want to now look at some verses from John’s Gospel and try to start to understand what the issues are about being born again:

“16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21”

“For God so loved the world”

When God created the world before the sin of Adam the world was perfect, and it was good.  The first chapter in Genesis tells us it was good.   Humans marred this beautiful creation yet even though this was the case God gave us a way through the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith.  God’s motive is love because his nature is love so it does not surprise me that the text continues to say,

” That He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The story of Noah points to this truth that we are all drowning, and we cannot save ourselves.  It is a salvage job by God to save a remnant.  From the two basic lists I made about God and Man at the beginning we could see that there was no way that Man can fix this broken relationship with God.  God have to take the first step.  God did a lot more than take the first step.  He sent His Son into the world and died for our sins.  This was a high cost.  Judgement is already on our heads because of the wrongs we have done.  Self-centredness is the biggest crime because it refuses God-centredness:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 

 

What about Nicodemus in the passage when Jesus says to him “you must be born again”?   The literal translation is born from above (ἄνωθεν John 3:3) the root being ‘ana’ = above.  Looking at the context of the whole passage we can see that Jesus is talking about how to enter God’s Kingdom, but Nicodemus interpreted it as entering into the womb a second time. The usual word for again is actually παλιν (again). Jesus did not use this word but this is how Nicodemus understood it.

As well as the adverb from above in the Nicodemus story, John uses it in other place too:

·        “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. John 3:31

·        And He was saying to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. John 8:23

·        Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason, he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11

 

I also found it interesting that James the Lord’s brother also uses ‘above’ with the same meaning as Christ:

·        Every good thing given, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17

·        This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. James 3:15

·        But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. James 3:17

So then why did Nicodemus ask the question; “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” John 3:4

Nicodemus was half correct but missed the main meaning.  Nicodemus had to have a new birth, but he interpreted it in an earthly physical way.  

Reflection

When Jesus made the statement in his answer to Nicodemus:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Or

 , “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born a new he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Or

, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

God by the Holy Spirit has to make the first move in order that we can even see God’s Kingdom.  Nicodemus was a pharisee and represented the Law.  He could not see the kingdom of God and it had to be explained to him from Jesus our Lord.  This tells us that the law although it is good because God sent it, it cannot save us from our sins.   In part 2 I will be going through Bavincks ethics as he explains to us the steps to becoming a follower of Christ.  

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