born0again

Faith & Divine Re-making

Scripture Readings:

Romans 4:1–5 & John 3:1–17

As we wrestle with the questions of our lives, what really matters to us? In Romans 4, Paul calls on Abraham and demonstrates that Abraham was justified by God based on faith, not works. Abraham established the priority of faith over work. Both Abraham and his descendant, King David, enjoyed the status of righteousness solely by believing in God. Righteousness is attained by grace as a gift through faith. If we are credited with righteousness, it is only because we have believed God’s promises and received righteousness as a gift.

In John 2, the story of Nicodemus begins with the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ miracles and signs. Jesus distrusts them. Compared to the depths of Jesus’ teachings, their interest is shallow. In today’s text, Nicodemus is the one who comes to Jesus to find out more about him by night. Nicodemus plays a leadership role in his community. He is spiritually open and curious enough that he approaches Jesus to talk with him face to face and tries to figure out His actions.

He is not ready to go public with his interest in Jesus, so he goes to Jesus in the middle of the night when he can keep his faith secret. Nicodemus is not yet ready to declare his faith in public, not prepared to let it change his life. Nicodemus’ faith questions take him into the deep of night, we are challenged to figure out what really matters.

Many church members from all over the world have faith, sometimes deep faith, and they are spiritually curious, but they keep faith in their own sphere. We can call them Nicodemus-like Christian. However, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at least. If we are in the night, may we be still in the presence of God. In the stillness of the night, may we come to Jesus and experience His peace.

In today’s text, Jesus considers Nicodemus’ faith as incomplete and immature. Jesus compares his midnight encounter with Nicodemus to a child still safe in its mother’s womb. Jesus declares that believers must be born again. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born again by water and Spirit, he is asking Nicodemus to let God work in his life. Nicodemus does not immediately understand the metaphor of rebirth. However, God works hard for His people and us and our faith. He conceives us as Christians and nurtures us in the wombs of our faith.

In John’s Gospel, being born from above and believing in Jesus are not only related to one’s mind, but also connected to one’s life. In the gospel of John, believing and doing are inseparable. Nicodemus was the one who came to Jesus in the night secretly. He did not fully understand Jesus’ teaching when he encountered him for the first time, but he emerged publicly with Joseph of Arimathea after Jesus’ death. Nicodemus’s last appearance in the Gospel is to help Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of Jesus’ body (John 19). His faith journey was changed from night to daytime, darkness from light, private to public, question to faith, and from religious leader to follower of Jesus.

According to a theologian, Debora Kapp, it is God who will give birth in water and Spirit. Rebirth is God’s gift to give, God’s work to accomplish, and it is God who labours to bring us new life. This invitation to rebirth seems surprising and beyond the reality to Nicodemus and many contemporary Christians. It invites us to reconsider our relationship with God, which is the central focus of this Gospel. Jesus invites each of us to come into the light of day and become mature believers, full participants in the abundant life he offers.

The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is about what is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. In accordance with Jesus’ words, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (v.5) Jesus offered himself as the source of living water and sent the Holy Spirit who is the Advocate, Comforter, and Helper. (John 4,7, and 20) Today’s text needs to be situated and interpreted within the context and understanding of Jesus’ provision of water and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus draws some concrete lines between saved and unsaved, heaven and earth, those born of the Spirit and those who have not. However, everyone who believes in Jesus will not perish but will have eternal life. God gives us salvation and eternal life through rebirth and divine re-making. The meaning of rebirth has to do with divine re-making. May we be thankful to be born again and declare this faith in the light of day.

God is ready to give us birth by water and Spirit. God wants to lead that baby through the rebirth and divine re-making process into greater maturity, into fullness of faith. Jesus wants for Nicodemus and many others to be reborn by water and Spirit.

In the Gospel of John, “faith” is not a noun. Believing or faith from the John’s gospel is a verb. (3:15–16) It can be affected by all the uncertainty and decisiveness of being human. As in verse 16 and 17, “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.” We believe in Jesus who incarnated, crucified, and resurrected to save us. The incarnation ensures that eternal life includes life now, abiding in Jesus. Incarnational faith is needed as Jesus incarnated in the world to love and save us. Our faith needs to be expressed through words and deeds in the world, because faith is a verb. May we participate in the work of Jesus with incarnational faith.

Who among us has room to grow in our faith? True faith has God’s words and actions as its basis. Works that glorify God are always preceded by faith. May we move forward to the fullness of faith and glorify God together. On our Lenten journey to the cross, May we appreciate attaining righteousness by grace as a gift through faith and divine re-making.

Thanks be to God! Amen.
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)