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We’ve spent the last two days in a very quick overview of Romans 1-7, setting up for our focus on Romans 8 next week. Despite the universal sinfulness of humanity, God has provided a way for us to be right with him – not by what we do, but by faith in Jesus, who became the sacrifice of atonement for our sin.
Romans 4:25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Yet we’re still left with the problem of how to live a life that pleases God, while we wait for the hope of God’s glory (5:2). We can’t just keep on sinning, now that we’ve died to sin. And the law has proven itself incapable of restraining our sinfulness – in some ways it’s incited sin all the more (chapter 7)! So God provided a new and better way:
Romans 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Chapter 8 explains what it means to “serve in the new way of the Spirit” as we live between-the-times. In preparation for next week, read all of chapter 8, and note down what it says about: (1) living by the Spirit; and (2) our future hope of sharing in God’s glory.
Although this is entitled “Romans 8 – Part Two” it’s really part two of our lightning-fast overview of Romans 1-7, which is important if we’re going to understand Romans 8 when we get to it on Monday. You really need to read yesterday’s post first.
By the end of chapter three we saw Paul arrive at the conclusion that all have sinned, and all are justified freely by faith, removing any grounds for one ethnic group to boast over against another.
Today, we begin a tour through one of the most important and profound passages of Scripture: chapter 8 of Romans. (Why? I’ve been asked to speak on Rom 8:17-28 in a few weeks, and I thought I’d take a bit of a run-up.)
It’s important and profound because it seeks to describe the new Spirit-led life we now have in light of what Christ has done. It encapsulates the truth that the first half of Romans has been building up to.
But today’s title is a little misleading. We’re not going to get to Romans 8 until next week. Why? Because we ourselves need to take a bit of a run-up, looking at what has come thus far.
This is the final instalment in our study of the first three chapters of John’s Gospel. (I’ve written on chapters 4 and 5 previously; you can search the archives if you want to continue the tour.) It’s a longer passage, but it deals mostly with two related ideas that we’ve met back in chapter 1: a comparison between John the Baptist and Jesus, and the importance of accepting Jesus as having been sent from God.
John 3:22-24 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.)
Last week, we saw Nicodemus secretly meet Jesus by night – he was still in the dark as to who Jesus was, but he was intrigued. Jesus told him he needed to be born again from above – to be born of water and Spirit. In other words, he needed the “new heart” that Ezekiel spoke about long before hand – the Spirit of God that would move people to obey him from the heart, rather than from external constraints like the Law.
How can we be born again?
But how does that work, exactly? We don’t know, because we’re not God. As Jesus says:
John 3:8 The wind blows wherever it pleases…
We’ll see the end of the Nicodemus story on Monday. You can either use today to catch up on some readings you’ve missed, or contemplate the two other New Testament passages where this idea of being “born again” turns up. What do Peter and Paul mean by the phrase?
1 Peter 1:13 – 2:3 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
3:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Titus 3:3-8 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Yesterday, we met Nicodemus. A Pharisee who came to visit Jesus secretly. In John’s Gospel, he represents those who are interested in who Jesus is, but aren’t yet ready to commit. Nicodemus questions Jesus, and Jesus famously tells him that he must be “born again.”
John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
What does it mean to be ‘Born again’?
Actually, the phrase is more naturally translated ‘born from above’. But since all of us (with the exception of Adam and Eve) have already been born once, then any subsequent ‘birth from above’ must be a second birth. So perhaps the best way of understanding what Jesus says is that we must be born again from above. That is, we must be born of God.
What does it mean to be ‘born again’? What is a born again Christian?
Now you might have a pretty clear idea of the concept. But for the vast majority of people in the world – they don’t get it! When those who aren’t use the label ‘born again’ it’s mostly in a negative sense. It’s come to be synonymous with ‘fundamentalist’, ‘fanatical’, and ‘self-righteous’. Which is kind of ironic, since the phrase ‘born again’ comes from the passage we’re looking at this week, in John chapter three. And in this passage, Jesus is talking to someone who was a member of one of the most fundamentalist, fanatical and self-righteous religious sects around – and he told him that he wasn’t born again!
But the fact remains that most of the world associates the term ‘born again Christian’ with being an extremist. Fanatical about converting others to Christianity. A holier-than-thou attitude. Perhaps even a little bit brainwashed. Yet what does it really mean?
Yesterday, Jesus drove out the money-changers and animal traders from the temple – maybe as a protest against how it excluded Gentiles or exploited pilgrims, but most probably as a general sign of judgement on how it had become all about performing outward ritual rather than having a right heart before God.
Naturally, this didn’t go down too well with the powers-that-be.
John 2:18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Having performed his debut “sign” at a wedding in the backwaters of Cana (see last week), the next event John narrates has Jesus in a much more public place: the temple. Here, too, he performs a sign – not a miracle, but a sign of judgement.
John 2:13-16 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
What’s going on here? Is Jesus just having a bad day? What could have prompted him to do such a provocative, violent act?