Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"
Our English Bibles translate what Jesus said in John 3:7 as "You must be born again." That word "must" has come across as a demand that I must do something, and unless I do it, I won't even be able to "see" the kingdom of God, let alone "enter" it. The problem is, we don't know how to do the something that we must do. Evangelists have told us three things we must do: (1) Study, (2) Pray, (3) Witness. But how can we know that we have studied, prayed, and witnessed enough? Are we to think of Jesus as demanding that we do something we don't know how to do?
The actual Greek of what He said turns out to be different. The little word is dei means literally, "it is needful for you to be born again." He didn't say, "You must take the initiative to do something in order to be born again!" What He said was, "The Holy Spirit must do something to create in you a new heart." Then He goes on in verse 8 to explain this work of the Holy Spirit--that it is He who takes the initiative in your new birth, not you!
The entire discourse as recorded in John 3 emphasizes a radically different idea than Christian legalism stresses ("do this, do that"; Laodicean lukewarmness). God has taken the initiative in your salvation, not vice versa; He is the Good Shepherd seeking His lost sheep, not vice versa (Luke 19:10); He is the Savior seeking fellowship with sinners, not vice versa (Luke 15:2).
Since you did not "born" yourself (your parents did that!), you cannot create your own "clean heart" (Psalm 51:10). You don't get to heaven by climbing up a ladder to get there, you "look," "behold," a Savior climbing down a ladder all the way to hell to find you (Rom. 10:7-10; Phil. 2:5-8). Bitten by a snake, you see Him "made" to be a snake on a pole, "made to be sin for [you], who knew no sin; that [you] might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). You see the Father's heart wrenched with agony as He "gives" (not lends!) His Son for eternity so that you might not "perish" (John 3:16).
And now, what finally, do you do? You believe the heart-melting "amen" of Abraham when he was justified by faith. Your richest gain you now count but loss, and pour contempt on all your pride. Were the whole realm of nature yours, that would be a tribute far too small; such love demands your heart, your life, your all. And lo, and behold,--you are born again!
--Robert J. Wieland
From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: June 10, 1999.
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