Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:1-3)
This was a bold move for Nicodemus. He was a respected Jewish leader, and yet he took the risk of coming to Jesus and expressing faith in him, knowing that the other religious leaders were highly critical of this new teacher.
Jesus’s response, which is our red letter statement for today, was equally bold. He told Nicodemus that more than belief would be required. The Pharisee would need to be born again.
What does it mean to be born again? We’ve heard this phrase so much that it can lose its impact.
Last week, I got the totally encouraging news that a long time friend of mine got baptized. I met her back in 2011 when she was a master’s student at Auburn University. We studied the Bible, and had many spiritual discussions over the years, but she wasn’t able to make a commitment of faith at that time. She continued her spiritual journey over many years, and it was so thrilling to me when I heard that she had finally come to the point where she completely gave her life to God.
She texted me, “Now I want to please God. Before I wasn’t interested in that. I just wanted to please others.” She went through a complete transformation. She was a different person after her baptism. She wasn’t just immersed in water. She didn’t just profess faith. She genuinely was born again.
For those of us who have been born again, I think it’s a good reminder that we also have been completely transformed. That means that we now have a different identity. I recently had coffee with a new friend who told me about her church. “I don’t understand why some of the members act like they’ve just kind of added God to their life, while others are completely committed,” she said. I thought she was pretty observant to notice this. She could see that some people make Christianity one of the things they do, while others make Christianity who they are. Being born again involves making Christianity who we are.
Is Christianity still who we are? We’ve been adopted as God’s children. Do we see ourselves as part of his family? I’ve been watching this reality series, “Relative Race,” in which the contestants travel around the country to see who can be the fastest to find blood relations they’ve never met. It’s super poignant, because some of the contestants were adopted, and never knew their birth family. To see them embrace their father, brother or sister for the first time is amazing. You can’t help but be tremendously moved.
Do we appreciate that we’ve found a whole new wonderful family — a spiritual family? What’s our identity as part of this family? My grandchildren are visiting us right now, and it’s very natural to pass on to them what it means to be a part of our family. They see our devotion to God as we go to church, pray together and talk about him. They see how we love and respect others. We teach them our values. We talk about how to behave. I sing them the songs I learned from my parents.
Family identity can be powerful. I remember my mother telling me about her father, who died before I was born. She told me how he was a cowboy, but he never used profanity. He said that cussing was for those who weren’t smart enough to think of other words. That story really made an impression on me. I decided to never use coarse language, because I wanted to follow my grandfather’s example. To this day, I’ve stuck with that.
The example of Jesus is even more powerful. It strongly inspires us to not only take on his behavior, but also his character. This is what we signed up for!
But sometimes, over time, we grow comfortable with where we are. We start to be more like Nicodemus, coming to Jesus and telling him how awesome he is, and missing the rebirth. We forget that complete transformation isn’t a one time thing. It’s ongoing.
It’s actually an adventure to work on being transformed! We can step out and do something with crazy faith. We can love someone, even when it doesn’t make sense. We can decide to live in total surrender. We can pour out ourselves in generosity. We can make a radical decision about our sin. We can thank God, no matter what. We can be joyful in tough circumstances.
Nicodemus thought he was making a bold move. Jesus was like, “You can have a bold new life! One that’s completely different than the one you had before. One that’s completely different from the people around you. One that’s vibrant and inspiring.”
You know, it’s interesting. My slogan in my life coaching business, Broad Tree Coaching, is “Support for Becoming All That You Are.” When I coach clients, I support them as they learn what their values, needs, talents and purposes are, and how to align their lives more closely with these. I support them in becoming authentic. I support them in building integrity, and being true to what is important to them.
Now it strikes me that what God does is support us as we learn to align our lives more closely with our spiritual values and purposes. He supports us in becoming authentic in our new identity.
Every day, we can choose to grow and live up to who we are. Every day, we can be born again.
“Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” Eph 4:24
“That way you won’t be guided by sinful human desires as you live the rest of your lives on earth. Instead, you will be guided by what God wants you to do.” I Peter 4:2
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices. . . Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (From Colossians 3)
“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” II Cor 5:16-17
“Do not conform to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2