The Holy Spirit & Your Salvation

      No one can enter into the kingdom of God by being religious. They must be born again. A guy in John three by the name of Nicodemus discovered this. He was a Pharisee. A devoutly religious man who believed in the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul. He would also have the responsibility of teaching others the way of God. One night as John recorded it, Nicodemus came to Jesus, as to not be seen, to say, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him" (John 3:2).

    Interestingly enough, Jesus just outright made this statement, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (3:3). Why would a religious guy be going to Jesus in the cover of night? Why would Jesus begin his conversation with Nicodemus not with a hello but a statement like he made? First, I think Nicodemus did not want to be seen by his fellow Pharisees who disliked Jesus. Secondly, I believe it is because though Nicodemus was a very religious man who devoutly followed the Word of God, there was something gnawing at him on the inside. Something was not right. A question that was causing turmoil in his soul. That question was: How do I get to heaven? So he went to Jesus, who Nicodemus clearly perceived was from God. And thirdly, I believe Jesus knew what was eating at Nicodemus, hence the reason he did not start with a hello but began his conversation the way he did.

    I would like to remind you that Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, would be someone who gave to the needy, prayed and fasted. He seemed to do all the right things. Yet it seemed that Jesus, to paraphrase, was saying, 'Nicodemus, you being devoutly religious, following a set of rules or principles, even if they are of God, no matter how much you give, how well or how long you pray, nor how often you fast, will cause you to enter into God's kingdom.' Is that right? Why is being religious not good enough?

   First, religious people follow the rules of God with wrong motive.  Let's take Matthew 23: 1-7 for example. Jesus is calling out the Pharisees and the scribes and calls them our for two major points. One, "they preach, but do not practice." We call this hypocrisy. Two, "they do all their deeds to be seen by others'. They treasure how they are viewed by man rather than God. Religion professes what to do without actually doing it, and when the religious do as they preach, their motive is typically to be viewed by man, thus glorifying themselves instead of glorifying God. That sort of righteousness is a self-righteousness and will never be allowed to enter into God's kingdom. Jesus teaches us this, "...unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20).

    Secondly, religious people will have an appearance of righteousness on the outside but on the inside are dirty. Jesus said it better in this way, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the pate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:25-28).

   Thirdly, religion obey's God's commands out of a sense of duty while salvation is obeying God's commands out of a sense of love and overflow of joy. John wrote in 1 John 5:3, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." When the love of God is in your heart it is not a burden to obey God's Word, it is a joy. However, if you are merely religious and the love of God does not abide in you, then the commands of God will prove burdensome. That is the difference between someone who is saved and one who is merely religious. Following Christ is a joy versus following Christ is a burdensome duty.

      So that is why mere religion is not good enough. Let's get back to the conversation with Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is now thinking very logically and questioning Jesus how it is possible to be re-born in the womb of his mother (3:4)? Jesus in verse 5 responds to Nicodemus' human rationale this way, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." It is Jesus saying, 'Nicodemus, to be born again is to be born by water and the Spirit."

   What does that mean? Is Jesus talking about the kind of water breaking when a mother enter's into labor? And what Spirit? Let us return to an old prophet to make sense of this. God spoke through Ezekiel in 36:25-27, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." This water is from heaven, it is the Holy Ghost, cleaning the temple (our bodies) that He might abide in us. And when He abides in us so does the love of God (1 John 4:13,16). And by the way this is why the commands of God can be a joy versus a burden, because the Spirit of God. When He abides in us He helps us to joyfully obey the commands of God.

   Why must we be re-born 'of water and the Spirit'? Jesus continued to explain it this way in the next verse, verse 6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." In other words that which is born of the flesh is sinful. Sin conceives sin and brings about death. Not so with the Spirit. Jesus said in John 6:63, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all". We must be born again by the Spirit of God to have life, and in this way become children of God.

   In conclusion, as astonishing as Jesus' teaching is on this subject, He tells Nicodemus not to be surprised in 3:8: "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again." Therefore, I would expect Jesus would say the same to us. As you read this, do not be astonished, do not marvel at Jesus' words "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God".

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