Sunday, October 28, 2007

Matters of Life and Death

I came across a thought provoking piece on Jesus and Nicodemus over at Possessing the Treasure:

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

“The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:1–8.

The conversation between Christ and Nicodemus, which begins with these verses, is one of the most important passages in the Bible. Nowhere else do we find stronger statements about those two mighty subjects: the new birth and salvation by faith in the Son of God.

The servant of Christ will do well to make himself thoroughly acquainted with this chapter. A man may be ignorant of many things in religion and yet be saved. But to be ignorant of the matters handled in this chapter is to be in the broad way which leadeth to destruction.

Notice first in these verses what a weak and feeble beginning a man may make in religion and yet finally prove a strong Christian. We are told of a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus who, feeling concerned about his soul, “came to Jesus by night.”

There can be little doubt that Nicodemus acted as he did on this occasion from the fear of man. He was afraid of what man would think or say or do if his visit to Jesus were known. He came “by night” because he had not faith and courage enough to come by day.

Yet there was a time afterwards when this very Nicodemus took our Lord’s part in open day in the council of the Jews. “Doth our law judge any man,” he said, “before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” (John 7:51). Nor was this all.

There came a time when this very Nicodemus was one of the only two men who did honor to our Lord’s dead body. He helped Joseph of Arimathaea bury Jesus, when even the apostles had forsaken their Master and fled.

His last things were more than his first. Though he began poorly, he ended well.

The history of Nicodemus is meant to teach us that we should never ‘despise the day of small things’ in religion (Zech. 4:10). We must not set down a man as having no grace just because his first steps toward God are timid and wavering and because the first movements of his soul are uncertain, hesitating and stamped with much imperfection. We must remember our Lord’s reception of Nicodemus. He did not ‘break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax,’ which He saw before Him (Matt. 12:20). Like Him, let us take inquirers by the hand and deal with them gently and lovingly. - J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle penned the excellent biblical portrait of the God-wrought miracle of regeneration shown above in his book Expository Notes on the Gospel. The stumbling, childlike faith of the truly born-again convert, a babe in Christ, can often be easily mistaken for the deceptive activities of a foot soldier from the enemy's camp.

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. (Mark 9:38-40)

Discernment of the Believer
Given the rampant apostasy, doctrinal error, compromise, and downright heresy that's currently pervading the broader professing church it's often challenging for discerning Christians - those Bereans and watchmen who earnestly contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints - to discriminate between the tares and the wheat, the goats and the sheep, the sons of perdition from the children of God. Of course God alone knows men's hearts, and there are some truly gifted actors out there who will outwardly live what seems by all appearances to be an exemplary Christian life, but who are inwardly full of dead men's bones and ravening.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:20)

Unfortunately the verse above lends itself to the self appointed "fruit watchers" who tend to measure strictly against outward works of righteousness as opposed to taking the more balanced - and Biblical - approach which takes into account the whole Christian. All aspects of a sinner are transformed when he is truly regenerated by the Spirit of God Almighty and becomes a born-again child of God who is rescued from spiritual death unto spiritual life.

Transformation of the Unbeliever
Sinners are at enmity with God's Word. It is an incontrovertible fact that the unredeemed will actively and virulently reject the knowledge of God as revealed in both nature and in the Holy Bible. When unbelievers encounter God's clear, direct, and obvious revelation in nature or in His self attesting Word they will naturally seek to evade or suppress it. This reaction is the product of the fall and is the result of the wholesale corruption of man sin nature. The natural man's reasoning no longer properly functions in submission to God Almighty, instead he sinfully reasons that he is autonomously ultimate and therefore he sets up his own sinful reasoning as the highest court of appeals through which all information about himself and the outside world is processed. This action results in man setting himself up as his own idol god.

However when a sinner is saved by grace through faith his mind will be turned from contention and enmity unto submission and obedience; that is to say the redeemed no longer harbor their prior resentment and hatred of God's revealed truths as found in nature and the Holy Bible, instead he will now rejoice and delight in God's manifold truth. Certainly regeneration doesn't supernaturally imbue the redeemed with perfect and infallible knowledge of God, His Word, and His creation, but it's absolutely certain that the redeemed will be inexorably drawn by the Holy Spirit to dwell in and prayerfully meditate upon the Holy Writ and with the old sin nature crucified with Christ the redeemed will no longer see themselves as an ultimate autonomous authority, but will process all information about themselves and the outside world in the light of inspired scripture; God's special, supernatural revelation to man which is inscripturated uniquely within the Holy Bible.

The Folly of Unbelief
Men who reject and attempt to suppress God's truth are fools. Please understand that I'm not saying this, God says this in His Word. The Bible isn't engaging in gratuitous ad hominem when it states men who reject God are fools, instead it's stating the truth. This truth is crystal clear for even the most secular humanist, atheistic philosopher to see. Men have been foolishly painting themselves into philosophical corners for thousands of years in their desperate and futile efforts to circumvent God's truth, yet professing themselves to be wise they became fools.

In seeking to evade or suppress the scriptures the natural man produces nothing for himself but intellectual folly and spiritual damnation. Friends, there are consequences to rejecting the good news about Christ and those who refuse to base their thoughts and lives on the words of Christ are fools who build their foundations on the shifting and ruinous sands (Matthew 7:24-27). Those who encounter the gospel and despise it as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-23), even though it comes "by powerful demonstration of the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 13) are witnesses against themselves who show that "God has made foolish the wisdom of this world" (1 Corinthians 1:20). This also demonstrates that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Therefore God's revelation of Himself in nature or in the gospel is so compellingly and obviously true that men are without excuse for rejecting the truth and thus they have their professed wisdom reduced to sheer folly. Unbelievers are marked by their irrational maneuvering and the mental gymnastics they employ in a futile effort to suppress God's truth in unrighteousness. Though they will attempt with all their might and with all their natural intellect to hinder the inescapable knowledge of God they will fail miserably and will, in the end, be condemned for denying the very truth they always knew in their heart of hearts despite their manifold and vigorous efforts to ignore and suppress it.

Denying and defying God is the most basic foundation of sin; this is to say by definition sin is the wilful setting aside of that which has been clearly identified to man as the will of God by God Himself. All men are guilty of sin and therefore are righteously justly condemned by the Infinite Creator and Judge of the universe. Yet this same indignant and righteous Judge is also our Kinsman Redeemer Who stepped off His throne of glory and stepped out of eternity and into time as the man Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Christ will receive as many as come to Him by grace through faith. In the natural we don't think it odd that a baby is born helpless and totally dependent on his parents for everything. We don't decry the babe for being unable to articulate his needs or feed himself. We don't upbraid or remonstrate with the infant for his inability to control his bodily functions. No, as loving parents we tenderly and lovingly care for him, day after day, month after month, and year after year rejoicing over him as he grows. I believe this natural growth process is a type of our spiritual birth and growth in the Lord. As sinners we are helpless and lost in our sins without Christ and without hope. We can't feed ourselves with His truth and left alone in our helpless condition we would surely perish. Sinners are wholly incapable of helping themselves. But God, Who is merciful and just bled and died that by His Spirit He might save men from their spiritually dead condition and miraculously cause them to be born-again unto life eternal. And like the infant we start out haltingly, uncertainly and furtively, but by the patience and mercy of God we will grow up in Him being strengthened daily by our portion in Him which is more than sufficient.