Thursday, June 14, 2007

starting line or new eyes

The day before yesterday I read a devotional thingy (sorta like a daily bread for kids) to my boys before heading off to school. It was based on John 3:1-7, 16. The point of this reading stressed that what this passage was emphasizing was a cognitive decision to accept Christ in the act we have come to know as being born again. It suggested that no one would receive eternal life if they weren’t born again by accepting Jesus as their saviour. I squirmed through it cause something about they way they presented it made me uncomfortable. So I went back to the passage to look for clues as to why I was feeling the way I was. I think we have probably misinterpreted the point of chapter 3 in John.
Read it here or here.
Nicodemus approaches Jesus with an affirmation of who He is – likely an attempt to sorta butter him up to answer the burning question that was on his mind. But we never get a good clue if Nic got to ask Jesus the real question on his mind because Jesus sorta cuts him off.
You see what Nic has just done in v.1, 2 is describe how he has been convinced that Jesus is God. That’s revelation.
And Jesus wants to set him straight it seems – not about who he is but about how Nic looks at reality. Nic figures Jesus is legit because he does all these fantastic signs and wonders but Jesus blindsides him with a paradigm shift. What Jesus challenges Nic on is not on whether he has come to the right conclusion but on what Nic has actually seen (v.3, 8, and especially 12). When Jesus suggests that people must be born again, he seems to actually be talking about gaining a transformed spiritual perspective on reality – NOT – a new decision about what is what. And he says if you want to know how it happens exactly – well you can’t it’s a mystery – a hidden thing just like natural conception happens in a hidden mysterious way.
We have taken this passage to mean that just like being born naturally is the start of a human life so deciding to follow Jesus is the start of eternal life/salvation. I’m not sure we are right in interpreting this passage that way.
It often feels like we superimpose our ideas of in/out onto so much of what Jesus said. Now read me carefully here. I think making life altering decisions is a natural human tendency. But following through on those decisions is what is life altering. Think of Christopher Columbus as an example of this…
It is pretty obvious that he made a cognitive decision. This decision was based on a belief of how to reach the Indies which was based on his faith that the world was round (not a very commonly held belief at the time). Yet all of this would have been for naught unless he had acted on his faith and put his cognitive decision into action. It was the working out of his faith that led him to discover the Americas. His decision was the starting point but actually almost insignificant if he had not acted on it.
In many evangelical circles so much emphasis has been put on the cognitive decision to follow Christ that we have turned it into the standard by which we judge whether some has or does have salvation.
We use passages like the one here in John 3 as proof that we should go this way.
What Jesus seems to be suggesting here is a lot different than trying to define the starting point of salvation. I think he is trying to help Nic (and by extension all of us) to understand that we need a new perspective on reality in order to understand God. If I can summarize Jesus is saying:
“Look for God with new spiritual eyes. Ones that don’t look for proof in the obvious places that humans tend to gravitate to. Instead realize that this spiritual reality is something that is accomplished by the Spirit and it transforms you into a whole new way of living. You might think my credentials are in the miracle – but really my cred comes from the sacrifice which you will witness (v.16)”
Personally, I don’t think this really changes the reality of humans making decisions about who they are going to follow but really for me it changes what I have understood is the starting point of faith – namely following. So there you go…

1 comment:

jenivere said...

Due to some recent events, I have been forced to really examine what I believe about this. It seems to be a "black and white" vs. "gray area" conflict. We tend to want the distinction that a decision offers, b/c that way we can know for sure that we're saved. The more I explore this, the more I'm convinced that eternal life isn't meant to start in heaven, but right now (transformed spiritual perspective). I think its the difference between "fire insurance" and "new life in Christ." And I love the natural conception comparison.

Thanks for this post Dale, it was really timely for me!