I am going to start with a bit of my personal history. My grandfather, on my dad’s side, was a church planter: he traveled to different areas, set up his tent and started preaching. When a group of followers were formed he sought out a preacher to pastor them, packed up the tent and moved to the next place. It sounds really quick when you say it like that but he would usually stay 2-3 years at each church. One of those churches he established was where I grew up and learned about Jesus.
To the best of my Grandmother’s ability she cataloged (11) churches organized/pastored and later in life, (7) churches pastored. No sending church, no mission board, only a steadfast faith that what God had called him to do He would see him through it. My grandfather was a carpenter on the side to fund his ministry; no one paid preachers back then. As a result of his skills he helped or completely built many of the church buildings that he organized.
My father was a minister and carpenter as well but God had a different plan for him, my grandfather lived to the age of 93 but my father died at the age of 40. I was 11 at the time.
I have a great heritage but being born into a good family does not get your name in the Book of Life. As I have already mentioned I was raised in one of the churches my Grandfather organized. My father, in my early years, was the pastor. I was taught as a youth about Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Daniel, King David, Goliath the Giant and many other bible characters fully illustrated on the flannel graph boards.
At an early age I went to an altar of prayer; even as a youth I had a working knowledge of the bible and knew what to say. After coming to the altar I was baptized in a creek by my father. By age 15 I was teaching a Sunday School Class and taking part in the services.
It was about this time, age 15, when I really felt the call of the world. I was somewhat sheltered and didn’t really participate in worldliness but that was changing as I entered into my mid-teens. I listened to things I had no business listening to. I went to places I should not have gone to. I watched/looked at things that should not have been seen. But, on Sunday Morning, Sunday Night and Wednesday I was in church. At the time I thought everything was all right.
By age 18 I had done many things I cannot characterize as anything other than worldly. All along I am hiding all this and pretending that I’m just sowing some “wild oats”. After all, I’m a preacher’s kid. I am still going to church and still participating. I always prayed after my evil deeds and asked God to forgive me so I was covered, or so I thought.
One night, after worshipping the god of this world, I finally hit bottom; not in a physical sense, I wasn’t in trouble or sick, I realized I was spiritually empty. I was fortunate in many ways, a merciful God who withheld my deserved punishment and a heritage that gave me the Words of Life. At home, on my bed, I cried out to God confessing my sin desiring nothing more than being able to perform the act of true repentance. Nothing was held back, all things were laid bare, I wanted to be free from the bondage of sin. That night God came into this sinner’s heart and did a work in me that only God can do. I learned that night why I had so much trouble resisting Satan’s temptations, I had never been saved. The next day the sky was bluer, the grass was greener, everything had changed. In my youth I was quick tempered: right after my salvation the guys my age, the ones I hung around with, could immediately tell I had changed. My hot blooded reactions were replaced with a peaceful existence. God had delivered me from my rage.
One of my favorite preachers, looking back over the last few hundred years, is John Wesley. Along with having his bible commentary I also have links to many of his sermons. He was born in England in 1703 and died in 1791. John and his brother Charles were evangelists at a young age, including a trip to the American Colonies, but something happened to him in 1738, he was graciously and wondrously saved. That’s a bit interesting in light of the fact that he had grown up in the Church of England, was appointed a fellow at a Christian School, along with his brother Charles formed the beginnings of what we call Methodists today and was ordained into the ministry all by the year 1728. The man had grown up doing religious acts never enjoying the relationship that God offers. He had preached many sermons and had warned church members about halfhearted service to God. Before his salvation in 1738 John Wesley sought to live holy but had inner doubts because, as he found out later, he had not been born again. In 1738 it all became clear to John Wesley and God used him in a mighty way for the cause of Christ after his conversion.
Nicodemus – John 3
There is a very famous verse in John chapter 3, now I expect most will say John 3:16, that is a good choice but not the one I’m referring to today. The first part of this chapter is the bible account of Nicodemus coming by night to talk to Jesus. Our scripture text will be taken from John 3:3 “…Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Let’s examine what it means to be born again.
The Man Without – Verse 1 (What the World Sees)
Nicodemus was a religious leader. A Pharisee and member of the great council called the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus would have been referred to as “Master” or “Rabbi” by the general public. (If we would put this in today’s church setting Nicodemus would be not only an ordained minister but he would be a leader in the ministerial executive committee.)
In my early years I remember people commending me, mostly due to my heritage. I was trusted even at an early age due to my involvement in church activities.
John Wesley, son of Samuel Wesley an Anglican Rector (a preacher and administrator) and Susanna, his mother, a daughter of a preacher.
On the outside we all looked like we were God’s servants.
The Yearning Within – Verse 2 (What We See)
As a member of the Sanhedrin Nicodemus was at the top of the religious heap; he wouldn’t seek council, he gave it. The ministry of Jesus had exposed emptiness inside; a void only God can fill. Salvation is only possible when two prerequisites are fulfilled. The first is implied here in scripture; you must be drawn of God. (John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him:) It is a serious matter when God calls out to a precious soul. Don’t let Satan tell you that salvation is available on your terms and whenever you want; it is God who decides these moments of opportunity. (By Invitation Only) The second prerequisite is coming to grips with the fact that we are incomplete. Nicodemus, drawn of God, sought council from Jesus. Nicodemus is still on the outside looking in but by the grace of God he stands at the door of salvation. Will he take the next step?
I have already told you how I came to a point in time where I knew I was going through the motions. John Wesley testified that he had to deal with doubt.
I have heard some say “you cannot lie to yourself”. In my experiences that is not at all true. Satan is more than willing to help you paint a rosy, but false, picture of your current estate. This is why it is so critical to heed God’s call on God’s terms; God will remove all the false sense of securities and expose us to who we really are. It happened to me, to John Wesley and to Nicodemus. Thanks be to God for the work of the Holy Ghost showing us our true estate with God.
The Purpose Withheld – Verse 4 (What Jesus Sees)
“The Purpose Withheld” What do I mean by that? How many times in scripture do we see descriptors like “blinded eyes” or “cannot hear” describing spiritual matters? I think the best example of this is in 2Cor 4:3-4 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
We know that Jesus, when he said you must be born again, was referring to a spiritual rebirth but Nicodemus was thinking literal. We have what seems to be an absurd response, how can I reenter the womb? The smokescreen is up now; he is in full scramble mode trying to save face. Nicodemus, like any other person confronted by an act of faith, struggled to put salvation into human terms. Couple that with Satan’s efforts to hide the gospel from us and you get absurd responses. There are many things within the bible that can be debated in an intellectual way but salvation has always been, is today and will always be an act of faith. Jesus told Nicodemus, in verses 6 and 7, that he wasn’t talking about our human existence; he was talking about the soul that will live eternally. The purpose withheld is what Satan wants you to see.
The Plan of Salvation
We have already discussed the prerequisites: you must be drawn of God and understand, at some level, that you are incomplete. Now get your bibles out and follow along in scripture.
> You must acknowledge you are a sinner. Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Isa 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…
> You must understand that the penalty of sin is death Rom 6:23a For the wages of sin is death; (The Greek word for death used here is thanatos. It means both a physical and spiritual death.)
> You must be willing to accept that Jesus paid that penalty for your sins. Rom 5:8 But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 6:23b …but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
> You must confess your sin and by faith accept Jesus Christ into your heart. Rom 10:9-10 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
John 14:6 …I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
How do we know if God is calling us? God, through the Holy Ghost, speaks to the heart. God will confirm his word as truth. I possess no special abilities that could stir a heart into action. I have sought to rightly divide the scripture depending exclusively on the drawing power of God to speak to hearts. Is your heart about to pound out of your chest? If so you are being drawn of God.
You might be a long time member of a church, respected and having a position of authority; is your name written in the book of life? Can you go back to a time when the ways of the world melted away and everything changed? 2Cor 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
You might be thinking “Yes, my heart is pounding inside, you have given me a lot to think about and I need to do some praying.” Satan would have you wait, do it later, just not now. Please hear me… God chooses the time and place, not us. Don’t let this moment slip away.
What will others think? (Deacon Board, Sunday School Superintendent or family) This will be one of Satan’s last ditch efforts to stop you. Satan will have you think of the moment as embarrassment; God wants you to join him in fellowship and be free from the bondage of sin. Your act of faith and courage to surrender to God’s invitation will show your family there is nothing more important than your relationship with God. This is especially true for you dad; by God’s design you are the spiritual leader of your home. Step up and lead your family as God intended.