I venture to say that many folks in America are familiar with the verse found in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
However, many might not know that this verse was part of a conversation that took place between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council (see John 3:1-21). Let’s take a look at the entire dialogue:
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Jesus specifically told Nicodemus that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (vv. 5-8).
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
What we learn from these few verses about the Holy Spirit is crucial to our understanding of how God works in the hearts and minds of those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ. These key points (from the verses above) are:
- “He [the Spirit of truth] will guide you into all truth” (v. 13a).
- “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (v. 13b).
- “He will glorify me [Jesus] because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (v. 14).
In the first chapter of Acts we learn that after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that “he presented himself to them [his apostles/followers] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (see Acts 1:3-4). Also, “on one occasion while he was eating with them he gave them this command” (see vv. 4-11):
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
And down through the ages since that time the mission of every single believer in Jesus Christ is the same as he gave to his first followers back then–to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” through the power of the Holy Spirit who’s mission is to impart the truth of Jesus to us so that we can tell others about him. And Jesus described the Spirit as the wind, and “the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (see John 3:8).
Often today it seems as if we (e.g., believers in Jesus Christ) have lost our main focus in the maze of everything that comes our way in our American culture. We coast along in neutral and feed on a weekly sermon from church (if we attend) which may or may not focus on Jesus Christ (which is, by the way, the only reason for the Church in the first place). We associate with other Christians but rarely talk about Jesus Christ to the nonbelievers around us and our lives look remarkably a lot like their lives, too. There is no power in our “witness” to convince them otherwise (or maybe even ourselves) as we’ve lost our power by coasting along in neutral and “going with the flow” instead of depending on “the wind of the Spirit” to show us how to live and where to go. In fact, I dare say we don’t even know what that “wind” feels like most of the time.
In a blog post I wrote back in November 2012 titled, “Moving Forward (It’s About Second Chances),” I mentioned a book that was originally published the year I was born titled, “Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike,” by J.B. Phillips (1906-1982). The book is available for free in PDF format (92 pages) at this link and is also available for purchase at this link. The book describes a number of ways we put “God in a box” by our own very limited understanding along with our own cultural and/or religious biases. The book is divided into two sections: (1) Destructive–unreal gods, and (2) Constructive–an adequate God. There is a long list in the “Destructive” section that I’m sure many of us can relate to–here’s some of the chapter titles: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” “Meek-and-Mild,” “Absolute Perfection,” “Heavenly Bosom,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Second-hand God,” “Perennial Grievance,” “Pale Galilean,” and “Projected Image.” Several of those titles most likely ring a bell in all of us as to how we personally view God. However, as I stated in my previous blog post, the one that really intrigued me was “God-in-a-Box.”
The chapter titled, “God-in-a-Box” (pp. 22-25 in the PDF download) specifically addresses the difference between “Christianity” and “Churchiness.” In the opening paragraphs, Phillips states:
The man who is outside all organized Christianity may have, and often does have, a certain reverence for God, and a certain genuine respect for Jesus Christ (though he has probably rarely considered Him and His claims with his adult mind). But what sticks in his throat about the Christianity of the Churches is not merely their differences in denomination, but the spirit of “churchiness” which seems to pervade them all. They seem to him to have captured and tamed and trained to their own liking Something that is really far too big ever to be forced into little man-made boxes with neat labels upon them. He may never think of putting it into words, but this is what he thinks and feels.
“If,” the Churches appear to be saying to him, “you will jump through our particular hoop or sign on our particular dotted line, then we will introduce you to God. But if not, then there is no God for you.” This seems to him to be nonsense, and nasty arrogant nonsense at that. “If there is a God at all,” he feels rather angrily, “then He’s here in the home and in the street, here in the pub and in the workshop. And if it’s true that He’s interested in me and wants me to love and serve Him, then He’s available for me and every other Tom, Dick, or Harry, who wants Him, without any interference from the professionals. If God is God, He’s BIG, and generous and magnificent, and I can’t see that anybody can say they’ve made a ‘corner’ in God, or shut Him up in their particular box.”
Of course, it is easy to leap to the defense of the Churches, and point out that every cause must be organized if it is to be effective, that every society must have its rules, that Christ Himself founded a Church, and so on. But if the Churches give the outsider the impression that God works almost exclusively through the machinery they have erected and, what is worse, damns all other machinery which does not bear their label, then they cannot be surprised if he finds their version of God cramped and inadequate and refuses to “join their union.”
There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into churchiness, and the narrowing of the Gospel for all mankind into a set of approved beliefs; but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god, a cramped and regulated god who is “a good churchman” according to the formulas of the worshipper. For actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship.
Read that last line again . . . “For the actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship.” Essentially, what that means is that we don’t really live out what we say we believe and it’s rather obvious to the rest of the culture at large. We look and act just like they do but tell them to come and see how Jesus can change their lives when he really hasn’t changed our lives all that much. And just look at all the infighting going on in the public square via the media regarding who we “accept” and who we “throw away” (for example, see a recent article titled, “The Mark Driscoll Controversy: How to Criticize Each Other,” published August 7, 2014, in Crosswalk.com). We sure know how to slander, criticize and/or shun each other but we don’t know how to love very well, or forgive, either. And Jesus was very big on both–love (read “The Greatest Commandment” in Matthew 22:34-39) and forgiveness–(read the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35).
If the “wind” we blow most of the time is mostly hot air, don’t think the rest of society hasn’t taken notice. If we spend our time criticizing, gossiping, and/or slandering others, something is missing. And the lack of love found in that kind of behavior is apparent to the whole world, too. Our behaviors betray what we say we believe, so why would anyone else want what we say we have? And what exactly is it that we have if we don’t have love for others . . . and that means all others?
If we want the true “wind of the Spirit” flowing through our lives we have to give up blowing our own hot air, and 1 John 1:5-10 has the solution:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . .” That should give us pause for thought when we start to slander or criticize someone, especially those who don’t fit into our particular mold or “box.” The only folks Jesus ever got angry with were the religious folks of his day, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, and even then the words he spoke to them he said to wake them up (for example, see Matthew 23). And instead of listening they crucified him.
However, his death was not in vain, and, in fact, was ordained from the beginning of time to bring salvation to those who will receive it. He rose from the dead on the third day to give us new life, and he sent his Spirit to live in us, to breathe through us, and to move in us by “the wind of the Spirit.” (See Paul’s statement in Acts 17:28—“For in him we live and move and have our being.”) But if we are full of ourselves, that can’t happen.
We need to lay aside our pettiness, our finger-pointing, our need to be right or to condemn others, and we need to be reminded of what the first three verses in I Corinthians 13 state:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
And as the last two verses in I Corinthians 13 state: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain . . .
“Faith, hope and love . . .
“But the greatest of these is love . . .”
Let’s choose love . . . .
YouTube Video: “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant: