We all like the idea of changing, of becoming something different than what we presently are.
Starting over again …
Reinventing ourselves …
Experiencing a new beginning.
Certainly, our culture is obsessed with change and self-improvement.
Cosmetic surgery has become very popular lately. People go to cosmetic surgeons wanting to look like their favorite movie stars, or perhaps a younger version of themselves. Sadly, they sometimes come out looking like an altogether different person!
I heard about a woman named Shirley who was from Beverly Hills. One day, she had a heart attack and was taken to Cedars-Sinai Hospital. While on the operating table, she had a near-death experience. She saw God and asked, “Is this it? Is my life over?”
God said, “No, don’t worry, you have another 40 years to live.”
Shirley figured that since she had another 40 years, she might as well make the most of it. Upon her recovery, she decided to stay in the hospital and have collagen shots, cheek implants, a facelift and liposuction – “the works!” She then had someone dye her hair.
When she walked out of Cedars-Sinai lobby, however, an ambulance speeding up to the hospital killed her. She arrived in front of God and said, “I thought you said I had another 40 years?”
God replied, “Shirley! I’m so sorry, but I didn’t RECOGNIZE YOU!”
Why this desire for change?
Anthony Elliot, professor of sociology at the University of Kent wrote:
The demand for instant identity transformations has never been so persuasive. People today want change and they want it instantly – from fame to the instant thrills of Botox or liposuction. In a world of short term contracts, endless downsizings, just-in-time deliveries and multiple careers, the capacity to reinvent yourself has become fundamental.
Nowadays, if people have a drug or alcohol problem, they just go to rehab. They re-emerge a month later “cured” (along with a fashion accessory ankle bracelet), but they fall back into the same problems again and again.
The problem is that all of these changes don’t get to the real issue: the issue of the heart. Because the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
The Bible tells the story of an elderly man named Nicodemus who came to Jesus one night, looking for answers and wanting change in his life.
After dark one evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to speak with Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you.”
Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again you can never see the kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” (John 3:1-4)
In nervous anticipation of this meeting, Nicodemus may have recited the lines over and over again. After all, he was famous and known to be a deeply religious man. Yet there was something missing in his life, so for him to call Jesus “Teacher” was quite an acknowledgement.
Maybe that’s how you feel. You respect Christian people in general. They are honest, considerate, friendly, perhaps a bit weird, but pretty good people.
And you’ve certainly always respected Jesus Christ. After all, He was a great moral teacher, perhaps the greatest of all.
That’s how Nicodemus felt. He also had great respect for Jesus and His teachings.
And he was probably hoping that Jesus would say something that would bring improvement to his life.
But what Jesus said was radical, revolutionary. Jesus immediately said to him, “You must be born again!”
But why did Jesus say that?
Jesus said that because He’s not looking for admiration or even deep respect. He is looking for followers. He doesn’t say, “Admire me,” but rather “Follow me!”
C.S. Lewis, the author of the famous “Chronicles of Narnia” and a Christian philosopher said:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a “great moral teacher.” He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Jesus wants more than our admiration. He wants our worship.
Jesus was saying, “Nicodemus, being religious and moral is not enough. Self-improvement is not enough. No, you must be born all over again.”
But what does that mean?
To be born again means to be “born from above.” It is a radical heart change that only God can do. But it comes from above, not from self-effort or from self-improvement programs.
You might think to yourself, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I’m not one of those ‘born again’ types.”
Newsflash – According to Jesus you can’t be a genuine Christian without being born again.
You might wonder, how does this actually happen?
We’ll deal with that next weekend.
If you can’t wait, just read Chapter 3 from the Gospel of John for the whole story.
There’s no better source than that.
Note: This article is excerpted from Greg’s forthcoming Baker book called “Walking With Jesus.”