Unlocking the Nicodemus in each of us.

For years whilst attending church, Sunday School, Youth Fellowship, the Boys’ Brigade, the school Scripture Union; there was one message that I received constantly regarding coming to Christian faith.

And it was this.

That I had to be “born again” (John 3 v 3) and that to (shortened version) “get into heaven”, I had to ask Jesus into my heart because “God so loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son” (John 3 v 16). Salvation lay in terms of a formula that was easy to remember and easy to understand and in time (as a child) easy to make a response to.

Travel the Ulster roads during the 70’s, 80’s (and even up to today) and nailed to trees, lampposts and wee Gospel Hall notices, Jesus’s words to Nicodemus on a dark night in Jerusalem rang (ring) out in red paint on white wooden boards.

“Ye must be born again”. “For God so loved the world”.

Go shopping with Mum to any local town centre on a Saturday or even a visit to the “Big Smoke” (aka Belfast) and glum looking men and women standing behind their banners would bellow at passers by…

“Ye must be born again”. “For God so loved the world”.

(Have to confess for a few years (to be fair very formative years spiritually) I partook in such evangelism, semi-annoying/semi-intriguing holiday makers no doubt at a local holiday resort).

No one and I mean no one ever talked about a journey of faith and trust in Christ that did not employ a re-telling of John Chapter 3. Maybe the background to Christ’s encounter with Nicodemus was explored occasionally but whatever Gospel figure who happened to be mentioned in a talk or sermon always came back to a one size fits all evangelistic pitch…

“Ye must be born again” and “For God so loved the world”.

An evangelical emphasis on “coming to faith” became cliched for me. I became inured to this presentation of the Gospel, largely because it failed to help me account for times and situations in life that my faith did not have a “go to” immediate or “four steps to salvation” set of answers for. (Was it five steps? Quite possibly.) Truth be told, for years the sheer power of Christ’s encounter with Nicodemus, a religious and social leader of the time escaped me. I fully believed the message of John 3 v 16, but I found myself withdrawing from certain forms of how this message was delivered. I still do if truth be told.

I guess we encounter any Gospel passage through our own reading and understanding/interpretation. Understanding “hermeneutics” (how one or a community interprets sacred texts) is a critical skill in the search for truth. Of course one’s experiences of life in all its fullness and occasional brokenness can only but act as a window frame through which we see scripture and interpret scripture. There is a heck of a lot to be said for learning and understanding within a community context, indeed contexts.

Despite the baggage and my own blinkers, the story of Nicodemus being challenged to be “born again”(John 3 v 3) today rings more true than ever personally speaking.

I do, each day in my encounter with Christ, need a living faith, an engaged faith, (yes a questioning faith) a developing faith.

Like Nicodemus, as a religious person, I do need to be born again. And again. And again.

If I am to encounter anew…

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. (The Message).

Selah.

Picture courtesy of M. Lewis.

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