IT IS BY GRACE, THROUGH FAITH

Born again!

Born again!

Apr 4, 2013

by Paul Sieveking

 

In his autobiography, the actor Sir Alec Guiness wrote about his confirmation day. His head was full of Bible stories and doctrine. The church was filled with parents, sponsors and friends. “I remember white hands and shaggy black eyebrows, a pale green light filtered through the windows, and at the age of 16, one early summer day, I arose from under the hands of the bishop a confirmed atheist. With a flash, I realized that I had never really believed what I had been taught.”

His story bothers me because it sounds too familiar.

His story is much like the story of Nicodemus, another man who struggled to believe. Nicodemus was a Jew, a teacher, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He knew the right answers. He kept all the rules. He performed all the rituals. Yet, something was still missing. He wanted more.

He went to Jesus to talk about religion. He simply shared the reasonable conclusion he had drawn from what he had seen, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Now it was up to Jesus to sell Himself and His cause.

Nicodemus was searching for something many people today—maybe even you—are searching for: faith that means something and does something. The question people are asking is, “So what? God loves me . . . so what? Jesus died for me . . . so what? He has risen . . . so what?”

Nicodemus didn’t need Jesus to convince him there is a god or that God had created the world or even that all the words of Scripture are true. He believed all of that. His question was, “So what?” He wanted more than empty rituals and pat answers that he had memorized. He wanted a faith that had meaning for his life.

Do you ever feel that your faith is bogged down? Are you just going through the motions? Are you looking for some power, joy and life in your faith? Maybe you need to slip away for a secret meeting with Jesus.

St. John wrote that Jesus “knew all men . . . He knew what was in a man” (2:24, 25 NIV). He knew the struggle in Nicodemus’ heart. He knows what’s in us too. Despite what we say and do, Jesus knows our motives, our desires, our inner thoughts, our secret sins. He knows them well, for He took them all from us and paid the penalty for them by dying on the cross.

Jesus didn’t talk to Nicodemus, nor does He talk to us, about rethinking our theology or changing our attitudes or cleaning up our act. He didn’t say, “Just try a little harder, do a few more good works or get more involved in your church.” He said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Born again—starting all over with a new heart and a new life.

That sounds pretty drastic!

Is our problem really that serious? Is it even possible to start over, to be born again? Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to start all over again, only this time do things differently and do things right? But the past cannot be undone. Everything you’ve done or failed to do, every word you’ve spoken, every thought you’ve had has made you who you are today. You cannot change that.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:5, 6).” You cannot change drastically enough to enter the kingdom of God. You can’t go back and undo, then redo your life any more than you could enter your mother’s womb and be born again.

But the Good News is that God can do it for you. God works this new birth through water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who has reconciled us to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:17, 18). You are a born again Christian. You are a “new creation.” God has given you His Holy Spirit to work this radical change in your life, to give you a vital faith!

Jesus said, “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” (John 3:7, 8). The Spirit works in you even though you may not feel it. Faith isn’t a feeling! The Spirit works in you even though you can’t see Him. You can’t see the wind either, but you can see its effects. The Spirit changed Nicodemus. He is mentioned two other times in the Bible. When his colleagues wanted to arrest Jesus, Nicodemus spoke in His defense and encouraged a fair hearing. The other time was at the cross. He bought the spices and helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Was Nicodemus born again? I believe so.

You shouldn’t be surprised that the Spirit can bring about that kind of change in you too. Born of the Spirit, you believe in God, and He produces that faith that is vital and powerful. Born of the Spirit, worship isn’t a dull routine but joyful praise. Born of the Spirit, you have the power to do some important things in the Lord’s work, to make a difference and bring some change to the world.

Alec Guiness may have been confirmed as an atheist, but some years later he returned to the church. He didn’t write much about the years in between. Occasionally, he read a religious book and went to a worship service. Then, one day, he went back to the church, “a quiet believer, 41 years old . . . born again.” He wrote, “There has been no emotional upheaval, no great insight, certainly no proper grasp of theological issues, just a sense of history and the fittingness of things, something impossible to explain.”

 

About The Author: The Rev. Paul Sieveking is president of the LCMS Iowa District West.

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