10. Supernatural

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

10. Supernatural

Jn 3:3-8   Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

And So? In the previous studies we made the point that to be a Christian, to be a member of the Church, is to be different, to be different from a sports club or a social club or even a political club, and the difference is – God! We are called by God, but calling is merely the start and so, in the days to come, we will examine in more detail how this calling comes about and where it goes. But we did also say that everything about ‘being a Christian’ is different from being an unbeliever, and that it what this series is really all about. But having said the first difference is that we have been called by God, the second difference is that God does NOT simply lay down a lifestyle and expect us to work on it and live it, He gives us the means to do it.  But in these verses in Jn 3 that we have above, Jesus uses three sets of words which are really important. This will be very basic but, for anyone who has never really thought these things through before, are really critical to this subject. The three sets of words we need to start examining are, the kingdom of God, being born again and the (Holy) Spirit.

Focus on the Kingdom: no one can see the kingdom of God unless…..”  So we start with the first ones, ‘the kingdom of God’. Put very simply it simply means the realm, or the existence, or the experience, of being under the rule of God. ‘Church’ we will go on to see later is simply an expression of the rule of God, expressed through the people He has called out as we considered previously. Now some people immediately get nervous about this because they don’t like being ‘told’ what to do and so talk of the ‘rule’ of God may conjure up pictures of a despot who has serfs who he bosses around, but what we have here could not be further from the truth. We are really in this paragraph jumping the gun because we will need to consider this in more detail in the days ahead but, if we are to understand this whole package, we need to understand what is at issue here. If I may explain in brief skeleton outline form what we will consider in detail later, the truth is twofold: first, we haven’t made a very good job of life so far, and second, God’s desire is to help us live the best possible life that a human being can live. As I say we’ll explain that more in the days to come, but for now can we just take that as read?.

When Jesus first appeared at the start of his three-year ministry we read, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Perhaps we might put that latter part, “Do a complete turn around and dare to believe the wonderful news that I am here to bring all of the love and goodness of God to this world.”  That is what we struggle to believe, that everything God has for us is an expression of His love and goodness and so when Jesus ‘ruled’ it was to get rid of sickness and cast out demons to free people and bless them.

Let’s use some different analogies. Suppose you go on holiday and part of the package is to learn rock-climbing. The instructor says I need you to do everything I tell you. Or suppose it was scuba diving and the instructor says the same thing. You wouldn’t get upset with that and respond, “I’m not going to have anyone boss me around and tell me what to do!”  That would make you stupid! Why? Because the instructor knows better than you and if you ignore them you may be putting your life or the life of someone else at risk. So we think we know better that Almighty God who designed and create this world? We need to give ourselves a severe talking to!

Born Again: So when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless….” he is saying, no one can come into the place where they can receive all of God’s love and goodness unless….. and that brings us on to the second phrase ‘born again’. “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Now good old Nicodemus tried to take this literally and so he starts chatting on about how you can’t restart life by going back into the womb. Absolutely not, Nicodemus, you’re completely right, so what does Jesus mean?

Water and Spirit: Jesus explains: “unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” Commentators get themselves in a bit of a twist over the water bit and go on about baptism, and indeed baptism does have a part to play as we’ll see in the future, but it is more likely that Jesus means ‘natural birth’ and ‘supernatural birth’. We talk about the ‘waters breaking’ as a woman goes into labour, and this understanding is reinforced when Jesus adds, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

In other words, to become a Christian and part of the Church, it requires a work of God, of the Holy Spirit, a work of the third person of the Trinity. Later when teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, he says, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17). Just to pick up one or two of the many references to the Spirit indwelling believers, let’s note the apostle Paul’s words, all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor 6:19) When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, it meant that from that moment on every real Christian, every true believer, would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, to use Jesus’ language, when we come to him and surrender our lives to follow him, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us. The apostle Paul was most specific about this: “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) i.e. no Holy Spirt = no Christian. Just in case I should be addressing anyone who has been a church goer for years and has considered themselves a Christian but who has never been ‘born again’, never come to that point of surrender to God, never received the empowering of the Holy Spirit, it’s never too late. It’s not about being religious, it’s not about ‘going to church’, it’s not about keeping the rules, it’s not about trying to be good, it is about surrendering to God and receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour as we spoke about earlier, so that he places his own Holy Spirit within you to empower you and provide a new channel of communication within you.

I think my testimony is fairly common. I was living on my own, heard the Gospel and so before I went to bed, knelt down and prayed and surrendered my life to God and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I then got into bed and fell asleep, and that was that. Except the only thing is that next morning when I woke up I realised I was a different person and went out and shared what had happened to me with others. I started to learn to pray and read my Bible but they were merely add-on things to what had already happened IN me. I was different, I was changed. Nothing about turning over a new leaf or making a resolution, this was an act of God. And that is what is available to whoever comes to God in humility so that He can not only put them on a new course in life, but also empower them to live it. You can pray in the same way.

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9. Believers

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

9. Believers

Jn 3:16   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.

Acts 2:44  All the believers were together and had everything in common.

But why? There may be some of you who look at where we are and wonder why we need to spend time considering the most obvious of things about Christianity and the Church. My answer is that a) they may not be obvious to everyone and b) what we think of as obvious may have aspects to which we have not given much thought. In the previous study I distinguished church from clubs and from other ‘spiritual’ groups and maintained that the first big difference is that those who comprise ‘the Church’ are those who have been called by God. But it is a bit more complex than that.

Sufficient Knowledge? I recently was in a service where, at the end, a man responded to what had been going on and joyfully said, “I have found God in this service,” and I couldn’t help feeling, no you’ve been pointed in the right direction, but we need to introduce you to Jesus. If I had had the opportunity to question him, I might have asked, “What is it that you believe?” I suspect he might have answered, “Well, I believe there is a God and I have sensed His love in this service and that is wonderful.” Yes indeed, it is wonderful, but it isn’t the same as coming to Christian faith and becoming a believer in the terms that we find in the New Testament. I have written elsewhere on this in other series’, that I am sure when many of us do come to real and genuine faith, the extent of our knowledge is strictly limited but God sees that what we do know has provided a sufficient foundation for us to be ‘born again’ (which we’ll consider in the next study).

What Knowledge? If you are going to become a believer, one who constitutes the Church, a Christian believer, then there surely has to be a minimum of things we can say we believe. Now this can lead us into deep waters, some of which we need to explore in the coming studies and so I am reticent to lay out that ‘minimum’. However, let us rest in the fact that to be a Christian – and the Church is made up of Christians (sorry I took that for granted before) – there has to be a body of belief which led us through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13,14) and into this new life. Although being reticent in laying out too much detail at this point, nevertheless we should perhaps be definite that believing in Jesus really should have three aspects although, as I’ve said above, they often only filter into our consciousness in stages. They are that a) he is the unique Son of God, God in the flesh, b) he has come to be Saviour of the world, and also c) he is Lord. Let’s consider each of those briefly.

Son of God: So-called believers often appear unclear on their beliefs, even about Jesus, so let me ask various simple questions. First, would Jesus have been able to do the things he did if he were not the Son of God? The apostle Peter hinted at this in Acts 2:22. For Peter, in those early days, the emphasis was that Jesus was the Messiah expected by his audience (Acts 2:31,32, 3:30 accredited by the resurrection). It was only when Paul (ex-Saul) was saved that the message that Jesus was the Son of God was truly preached (see Acts 9:20) and written about (e.g. Rom 1:4,9, 5:10, 8:3,29 etc. etc.) The apostle John identifies him thus in his Gospel – written a lot later to remedy the earlier omissions (see Jn 1:49, also 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 19:7, 20:31).  Second, if the Scripture teaches that Jesus is our substitute (and it does), dying on the Cross to take our punishment, would anyone less than God Himself be ‘big enough’ to be able to do that for every single sinner who turns to Him? Third, what are we to make of Jesus’ teaching, seen most obviously in John’s Gospel, where Jesus claims divinity for himself, if he is less that the unique Son of God, God incarnate, God in the flesh? This must be the first foundation stone of belief.

Saviour of the World: The biggest problem we have to face (and we’ll look at this in more detail in a later study) is that every one of us is a guilty sinner who is confronted by a Holy God.

Justice demands that God cannot simply shrug His shoulders and say, “Oh well, very well, I forgive you, let’s forget about it.” No, justice demands that sins be punished and with the weight of all our sins that pile up through a lifetime, that bulk of sins, demands death. The angel instructed Joseph, you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Mt 1:21). Another form of ‘Jesus’ is ‘Jeshua’ or ‘Joshua’ which means deliverer. It was not to save his people from the Romans but to save them from their sins, from the sword of Damocles, the judgment of God, that hangs over every sinner as demanded by justice. We may come to accept the first point, that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God but unless we go the next step and see him as our saviour, we simply make him a disinterested deity who looks on and leaves us lost and helpless. But no, God did not send His Son into our awareness to do that: “he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

Lord: The apostle Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) Speaking about the salvation Jesus has bought us, he shows that by his revelation we will come to know, (in the words of the Message version, “(a) exactly what it is he is calling you to do, (b) grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him— (c) endless energy, boundless strength!” (My divisions to emphasise) There the Message suggests hope is about the life Jesus is leading us into, the riches are the incredibly blessed life he has for us, and that power is what enables us – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – to live that life. But it is all about Jesus leading the way into it and he can only do that if we let him or, to be more specific, if we follow his instructions, directions and commands, i.e. we let him be lord of our lives.

The work of God: So when Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent,” (Jn 6:29) he lays out the will of God for believers – to believe Jesus!  The Amplified Bible builds it out to include, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent.”  Believing is not merely mental assent, it is having a life that is changed by that assent, that doesn’t merely believe things about a Jesus who is ‘over there’ but lives out a real and living relationship with him.  Mental assent will mean a changed life. Believers reveal they are believers by the life that ensues, a life that is not merely good and loving but is obviously endued with power from on high, which we will consider next.