“Life is good.” In the mid-1990’s an apparel line was launched by Life is Good, Inc. According to their website, the company’s mission is to spread the power of optimism as they remind us that life is not perfect, life is not easy, but life is good. Featuring their eye-catching logo (pictured here), the apparel line quickly grew in popularity; I had a few of their t-shirts myself. This is a good, relevant, and healthy message. I like it. But in the grand scheme of things it is not complete.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again.’” John 3:5-7 ESV
Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is rich with meaning and insight. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a leader in the Jewish synagogue. The Pharisees as a group had been badgering Jesus with trick questions and false accusations since He began His ministry. Here, at night, Nicodemus approached Jesus in private, as if something in his heart was leading him to believe that Jesus was something more than a carpenter who taught with authority (verse 2). Nicodemus seems genuinely curious about the Lord, but to approach Him in a manner offering credibility and respect in public would likely have resulted in great personal trial for Nicodemus.
These days, we tend to toss the phrase “born again” about rather casually. But this is a big deal, really. In this passage, Jesus describes a changed person; one who evolves from having been born of the flesh to one who is now born of the Spirit. This is a new life; a life with a focus beyond the things of this world. It is a life rooted in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
One of the overriding principles of Scripture is that the person who truly loves the Lord knows, first and foremost, that his salvation is solely rooted in the sacrifice that Jesus made in our behalf on the cross. There is nothing any of us can do to earn our salvation.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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.” ~ John 3:16-17 ESV
Through Christ, God’s work of salvation is perfectly completed. We believers are the humble recipients of His mercy (not receiving the condemnation we rightly deserve) and His grace (receiving salvation from Him, even as undeserving as we are). What does this have to do with being born again? Having received the gift of salvation through Christ, our lives ought to change in response. When we are born again, our priorities ought to reflect God’s priorities, not those of the flesh: the sinful world in which we live. Sadly, however, this is not the case. If each of us is truly honest, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that we still cling to the things of this world even as we live under God’s mercy and grace.
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” ~ John 3:19-21 ESV
Friends, these words of Jesus ought to give each of us pause; they certainly do me. I have complete confidence in the redeeming work of my Savior, but I still catch myself living in the flesh every day. When I examine my life in the light, I realize there is still a lot of darkness that needs to be dealt with. And I want to deal with it. I want to change the things in my life that point to the flesh, and instead, point to my Lord – not because it is a requirement of salvation (it is not), but as a product of my love and gratitude for my Lord.
Such change is difficult, for we face significant headwind from our society, which appears to grow more in love with the darkness with each passing day. But even worse is the trend we are seeing in some Christian churches to embrace some sins of the flesh over God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. Don’t believe me? Consider, for example the casual approach to marriage and divorce in many churches or the trend towards legitimatizing LGBT relationships by practice and even by rite in some cases. The enemy wants us to reject a life under the Spirit and, instead, live by the flesh. Sadly, he has successfully influenced several major Christian denominations towards embracing such things. Indeed, living in the light under the Spirit is not easy, but it is what all Christians are called to do.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ~ Philippians 2:12-13
As believers, we are not to stand quietly on the sidelines and wait for something to happen. We must arm ourselves, not with weapons, but with the knowledge that comes from reading and studying God’s Word. We must read our Bibles daily. We must be in prayer, asking God to reveal His eternal truth through His Word and arm us with the loving words of witness to people, even some within the Church, that so desperately need to hear the Truth. Living the Christian life is about humbly accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation, sharing the good news with others, and living a holy and God-pleasing lifestyle in response; even in the face of criticism and persecution from secular society and misguided brothers and sisters in the church.
Jesus revealed to Nicodemus the Pharisee the fact that He is God and Lord, that He came to save the world from the eternal consequences of it’s sin, and that a life reborn of His mercy and grace is a different life, indeed. All believers are called to live that life. It isn’t easy and living under the Spirit does not make us perfect. But if you think that life is good living under the flesh, try putting yourself under the love, grace, authority and power of Jesus Christ. It is then that you will discover how truly good life can be.
My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to save me from my sins. Help me to respond by sharing the Gospel, even in the midst of deepening darkness, and by helping me live my life according to Your good and perfect will as revealed in Scripture. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.