Saturday, March 28, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 34: Born into the Kingdom of God

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" 
                                                                                                                                  (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God... Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:3,5 NASB)

"For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin. 
                                                                                                                     (Colossians 1:13,14 NASB) 

I hope you're not weary with all these posts about the kingdom of God, but these teachings are such fundamental parts of our faith (and we have such a tendency to drift over time) that it is worth a review. Today, we look at a topic that should properly have been at the very start of our study of the kingdom of God.

John relates the account of Nicodemus and his visit to Jesus in John 3. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He had both position and authority. He had heard of Jesus, recognized the truth of God in His words, and understood that the power in His miracles (or signs) was from God alone. Nicodemus had likely listened to Jesus in person, but he wanted to know more, so he "came to Him by night" to ask his questions. (It is not clear whether Nicodemus was trying to  avoid being seen by his fellow Pharisees by coming to Jesus at night or whether it was simply easier to gain access to Jesus at night. The important point is that he came.

Nicodemus began his interaction with Jesus by clearly stating that he understood Jesus was sent by God and that God was with Him in his work. Jesus answered, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Jesus knew that was the very thing Nicodemus most wanted to know more about. "How is this possible? Once you are old, you can't go back and be born from your mother all over again, so what are you talking about?" Nicodemus had understood that there was something more to knowing God than just being born Jewish. Jesus explained that there were two kinds of births. The "birth of water" is that physical birth that is accompanied by amniotic fluid (commonly referred to as "water"). Every person has that kind of birth.

There is a second birth, however, that is a spiritual birth. This is the "birth of the Spirit". Jesus went on to explain that we are all sinners and there is a price that must be paid for sin. We could never offer enough animal sacrifices to save ourselves. We could never bring ourselves out of the darkness of sin and into the light of redemption. God looked at our sinful state and made a judgment. "Light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil." What a heart-breaking truth! That sad reality is something we, too, must understand. I must look at the light of God and realize that I love the darkness more than His light. It is a moment of recognition that is essential for faith to come.

The amazing grace of God begins at that point. When  recognize that I love darkness more than light, sin more than holiness, I have a choice. I can stay in the darkness or I can embrace truth and come to the light of God found in Jesus. On my own, I could never make that step out of darkness into light. It is only by believing in Jesus that it is accomplished. 

The fundamental tenet of our faith is that "whoever believes may in Him have eternal life." (John 3:15 NASB) Eternal life doesn't comes from doing good deeds, making large donations, or spending inordinate amounts of time in church services. Eternal life comes from faith in the Son of God, and that only comes by the Spirit of God. It is only possible because of the love of God. That decision to stake my eternal destiny on faith in Christ is the "birth of the Spirit" and begins my new life with Jesus. It is the beginning of an amazing journey of faith, just as the birth of a baby is the beginning of our earthly journey.

Paul explains this a little further in Colossians. The problem is sin. The solution is forgiveness. That forgiveness can only be obtained by faith in Jesus, who paid the penalty for our sin with His death on the cross. My faith in Him is not just believing that He was a great man, nor that He was a great teacher. It is not just faith that He was the Son of God. My faith in Him is that He paid the penalty for my sin. I trade my sin for His righteousness. It seems like a terrible deal for Jesus, but it is the greatest deal possible for me because Jesus, and Jesus alone, delivers me from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. He gives me eternal life in Him. 

There is one more point for today. If I am delivered from the domain of darkness, I no longer dwell there. I no longer do the things I did in that domain. Certainly I will not be perfect and sin-free after I believe in Jesus, but I cannot remain unchanged and move from darkness into light. 

Paul described it as a transfer. When I accept Christ, I am transferred out of the kingdom of darkness. I cannot continue living in the kingdom of darkness if I have been transferred out of it. It's a simple as that. I cannot have it both ways. Accepting Christ means I begin to live like Him. I begin on the path of holiness. Just as a baby learning to walk will stumble and fall, so, too, I will have setbacks and failures. A failure, however, is not the same as never making a change at all. 

The beginning of the entire journey of faith comes at the point that we see ourselves as we are, sinners in need of a Savior. Until that recognition is accomplished, nothing else is possible. Remembering that sorry state in which we found ourselves is the very thing that confirms the amazing grace of God in us, and that which should fill every day with an overwhelming gratitude for the One who redeemed us when we could not save ourselves.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.