Unsettling words of Jesus

John 3:3-8  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  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?”  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.’  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.”

born-againThe term “born again” is not used very often in churches these days.  Christians tend to favor terms like “personal relationship with Jesus” rather than “born again.”  You are much more likely to hear the term used in the secular world, referring to a fresh start in a career, or in the name of a business. “Born again” IS a term Jesus used and He said we “MUST be born again!”

John Piper, in the introduction to a series on the new birth:

What happens in the new birth? Before I try to answer that question, let me mention a very earnest concern that I have about the way these messages will be heard. I am aware that this series of messages will be unsettling to many of you—just like the words of Jesus are unsettling to us again and again if we take them seriously. There are at least three reasons for this:

1) Because of Our Hopeless Condition

Jesus’ teaching about the new birth confronts us with our hopeless spiritual and moral and legal condition apart from God’s regenerating grace. Before the new birth happens to us, we are spiritually dead. We are morally selfish and rebellious. And we are legally guilty before God’s law and under his wrath. When Jesus tells us that we must be born again he is telling us that our present condition is hopelessly unresponsive, corrupt, and guilty. Apart from amazing grace in our lives, we don’t like to hear that about ourselves. So it is unsettling when Jesus tells us that we must be born again.

2) Because We Cannot Cause the New Birth

Teaching about the new birth is unsettling because it refers to something that is done to us, not something we do. John 1:13 emphasizes this. It refers to the children of God as those who “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Peter stresses the same thing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). We do not cause the new birth. God causes the new birth. Any good thing that we do is a result of the new birth, not a cause of the new birth. This means that the new birth is taken out of our hands. It is not in our control. And so it confronts us with our helplessness and our absolute dependence on Someone outside ourselves.

This is unsettling. We are told that we won’t see the kingdom of God if we’re not born again. And we’re told that we can’t make ourselves to be born again. This is unsettling.

3) Because the Absolute Freedom of God Confronts Us

And the third reason Jesus’ teaching about the new birth is unsettling, therefore, is that it confronts us with the absolute freedom of God. Apart from God, we are spiritually dead in our selfishness and rebellion. We are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Our rebellion is so deep that we cannot detect or desire the glory of Christ in the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore, we if we are going to be born again, it will rely decisively and ultimately on God. His decision to make us alive will not be a response to what we as spiritual corpses do, but what we do will be a response to his making us alive. For most people, at least at first, this is unsettling.

My Hope: Stabilize and Save, Not Just Unsettle

So, as I begin this series, I am aware of how unsettling this teaching on the new birth can be. And O how careful I want to be. I do not want to cause tender souls any unnecessary distress. And I do not want to give false hope to those who have confused morality or religion for spiritual life. Please pray for me. I feel like I am taking eternal souls in my hands in these days. And yet I know that I have no power in myself to give them life. But God does. And I am very hopeful that he will do what he says in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” God loves to magnify the riches of his life-giving grace where Christ is lifted up in truth. That is my hope: that this series will not just unsettle but stabilize and save.


One thought on “Unsettling words of Jesus

  1. I love this message and it is not unsettling at all… at least subjectively lol.
    1: I always said that we are not hopeless sinners unless we are hoping for streets of gold for our good behavior. We can’t just act moral, we have to become moral internally. That is why it is taught to know thyself and that the kingdom of heaven is within. I am not that well versed in the bible but I try not to study too deep into any book, rather trust my intuition and what is brought before me on my path since everybody’s way is somehow the “only” way. I am not wagering on anything that serves my flesh when I practice this.
    2: This one is simple I think. Anything forced, sought, controlled or constructed can only be temporary and ultimately false as it is just a construct. What IS can only be allowed to enter us.
    3: We will probably disagree with a few things, but that is OK right? I think we use the word God but we do not know what it means. I think the Bible was altered by human flesh with good intentions to control the madness of the population and that is why there are promises of riches and glory and other things that are only relevant to the flesh and the ego. It looks like marketing for a better society and I truly wish I could ever read the ancient scrolls and the original scriptures because I have a sense that they would be much more substantial and simplistic.
    I think if we are really hopeless our best bet is to worship and repent, but if we are not, then may we walk as Jesus did and stand with God together. I know Jesus taught that we must see past the deception which is everywhere and that the only time Jesus showed any sign of anger was toward the money changers and that the largest money changing center in the world is the Vatican. To be reborn is to allow the constructed by deception self die. All of the dependencies we have are illusions to control us as flesh, and what else can we expect when we behave as slaves to our own flesh? Even things that are good are used to control us with good intentions and horrible results. I believe that the tree of knowledge could be referred to as the tree of power as well because knowledge is power and power is control when sought by the flesh. I also believe that Christianity is but one potential door to what we call Heaven and that nobody is left out of the loop due to the cultural teachings that surround them while growing up, because no matter what door you use, it must lead within.

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