SwindollStudyBible-John - Flipbook - Page 21
J ohn 3 : 1 8
P E O P L E
P R O F I L E S
R E L I G I O N M E E T S R E G E N E R AT I O N
Q U I C K FA C T S
between religion and regen>> SETTING Jerusalem
eration. Correction: there’s an eternity’s difference. Religion
>> OCCUPATION Religious leader
says, “By an external system of deeds, you can gain God’s
>> CONTEMPORARIES Jesus, Annas,
favor.” Regeneration says, “No—by an internal gift of grace,
Caiaphas, Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea
God gives you His life through Jesus Christ.” Religion says,
“I can achieve God’s favor by what I do. When the Judgment
Day comes, God will see that my good outweighs my evil.”
>> God is able to change those we might
Regeneration says, “All my righteous actions are like filthy
rags. I have no good in myself. I can only rely on Christ’s
>> God is patient and persistent.
death on my behalf.” It’s in this context that we need to look
Nicodemus was part of the religious ruling class in
Nicodemus’s story is told in John 3:1-21;
Jesus’ day. He was a Pharisee, a member of a small but
7:50-51; and 19:38-42.
influential brotherhood known for meticulously following
the Old Testament law and, honestly, splitting religious hairs. He was a prominent member of the
Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. This was a man who carried a lot of influence.
It’s no wonder, then, that he would approach Jesus after dark (John 3:2). Nicodemus knew
that people around the city would see him if he came during the day. Furthermore, the night
hours afforded him a chance for conversation about a crucial issue with which he was wrestling.
I believe he came to Jesus in all sincerity, not knowing the conversation would take a dramatic
turn from the subject of religion to the concept of regeneration.
Note that Nicodemus acknowledged right up front that Jesus was a teacher sent from God
and was uniquely gifted (see John 3:2). He laid a bit of flattery on Jesus to break the ice. What did
Jesus think of that approach? He went straight to the issue: “I tell you the truth, unless you are
born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). What did Jesus’ response have to do
with what Nicodemus had just said? Zero! But Jesus knew exactly what Nicodemus needed.
Nicodemus was surprised by Jesus’ reference to being born again. The Lord clarified that
regeneration is something God prompts, not humans. Religion, on the other hand, is something humans push, not God. With his spiritually blind eyes wedged in the natural, Nicodemus
couldn’t get his mind around the concept of spiritual rebirth. Jesus knew that only a work of
grace through the power of the Holy Spirit could open Nicodemus’s spiritual eyes. In essence,
Jesus said to him, “This new birth is not that complicated. There must be an inward cleansing
that God will make possible through His Spirit” (see John 3:5-8).
To bring His point home, Jesus used a story that was near to Nicodemus’s heart. The ancient
account of the bronze snake in the desert (Num. 21:4-9) perfectly illustrates the diametric opposition of religion and regeneration. These ancient Israelites who had been bitten by venomous
snakes found themselves completely helpless, dependent on God’s mercy. They thought the best
strategy would be to implore God to take away the snakes, to come up with some extermination
process that would eliminate the problem. Yet God prompted Moses to do something a human
never would have thought of: make a bronze snake, attach it to a pole, and ask everyone to simply
look at it to be healed. Having reminded Nicodemus of that awesome scene, Jesus outlined for
him the same basic plan for eternal salvation from the venom of sin and death: “The Son of Man
must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
How can simple belief from the heart create new birth and such incredible transformation?
It’s the same basic plan today as it was when Jesus spoke these words to Nicodemus. We are
urged to believe it—and live.
THERE’S A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE