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. (John 3:3)
This question has been asked and answered by many, with a variety of answers. Many people believe that they are a Christian based on the mere fact that they live in America. This is is based on the idea that the United States is a Christian nation. While this may be true at least foundationally, this is obviously not the case in actual practice. What does the bible say? What does Jesus say?
Is it going to church?
Is it living a moral life?
Is it treating people right?
Is it living in America?
Is it keeping a list of rules?
Since the very beginning man has been seeking to cover himself by his own means. Lets first take a look at Genesis chapter 3:
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. (Gen.3:7-10)
Here’s what it is. Man has been seeking to cover himself by his own means ever since. We have our own ‘fig leaves’ that we use to cover our sin in an effort to put or keep ourselves in God’s ‘good graces.’ Whatever looks right and feels right must be alright, and God must approve of it–right? Not so fast. Before we fall into the world’s mindset and believe that God is a happy, tolerant, higher power who just wants us to be happy in whatever makes us happy, we must first search the scriptures. There we will find truth.
Those seeking to be justified by the things they do, by default, usually wind up saying things like the following to show that they are saved, or that at least they have a place in heaven:
But I’m educated
But I’m a member of the church
But I give to charity and feed the poor
But I’ve been baptized
But I give to the church
These are all works. These are all false hopes of salvation. But what does the bible say? For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph.2:8-9). When a person becomes a Christian, they enter into a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. As for the aforementioned actions deemed to be good enough to make one righteous, the bible says that there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the way thereof ends in death (Proverbs 14:12).
The Case of Nicodemus
Nicodemus was a good, religious and upstanding citizen. When I say ‘good’, I mean that at least he was considered good by the people. Being a Pharisee automatically placed him in the upper echelon of their community–and they knew it. They were, for the most part looked upon in favor by the people. Jesus however, saw them in a different light. While the Pharisees, almost to a man, looked upon themselves as righteous and accepted in God’s sight, Jesus told them the truth about themselves. Listen to Jesus’ own penetrating words:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:27)
Nicodemus may have also thought like the majority of the other Pharisees, that he was better than others. Here is a sampling of the Pharisaical mindset:
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Luke 18:9-14)
I am sure that when Jesus came on the scene, and Nicodemus heard him, while as stated, he may have had this particular mindset concerning himself, Jesus words arrested him. The Holy Spirit began His convicting work in Nicodemus’s heart. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he knew that there would be backlash aimed in his direction had his Pharisee brothers known that he had come to question Jesus concerning the things He spoke. Though Nicodemus had probably thought that he was righteous based on his status and the things he did, he now realized that something was missing. He came to Jesus to find out what it was. Jesus obliged him telling him that he needed to be born again.
The Case of Cornelius
Here was a man, by all intents and purposes, who, if you did not know the intricacies of what a Christian is, would be your model of what a Christian should be. Read his profile found in Acts 10:1-2:
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
Cornelius was doing things that some Christians don’t even do regularly! He was devout and respectful, and he had reverence for God. He was that type of person who would cross himself each time he walked past a church, cathedral or temple. Cornelius also had a heart for the poor, as scripture here says that he gave ‘much alms’, that is, charity to the less fortunate. Also, Cornelius did not just pray, he prayed always. In all he did, God saw his heart and knew his heart–but still–Cornelius was not saved. Had he died in that state, I shudder to think where he would have spent eternity. But God is gracious. God dispatched an angel to Cornelius who instructed him to seek out Peter who would in turn, speak words to him that would bring salvation to his soul, and as instructed by the Holy Ghost, this is just what Peter did. Cornelius and his family were saved, even before Peter could finish speaking!
In each case, both Peter and Jesus make it absolutely clear that becoming and being a Christian have nothing to with the good or righteous things we do. Being a Christian is not about turning over a new leaf, or deciding you’re just going to be better. Being a Christian means having a living, breathing, one on one relationship with Jesus Christ. Too many people believe that just by going to church over a period of time, or listening to gospel music of some kind–and enjoying it, or because they actually ‘like’ God, and try to do the best they can when they can, qualifies them as ‘Christian’. Here is the bottom line: when your life changes from the inside out, and not from the outside out; when His Word becomes what you do rather than just what you hear; when your sin, more than anyone elses, becomes an affront to you, and prompts you to run to His throne for mercy, then you have entered into relationship.
In closing, please allow me one final thought. Please stay away from religion. It will kill you spiritually and eventually send you off into eternity without ever knowing Jesus personally. It will also drive a wedge between you and God and give you a false sense of security. It’s what the Pharisees were. It’s what Cornelius was. The mercy and grace of God bought them out. When they placed faith in Christ, He in turn, gave them new life. There it is. The Christian life is about living a new life. His life, in us.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John14:6)
That’s the Word! Take it with you. God bless you.