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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

We Believe: In Freely Offered Good News

This is a sermon preview for the fourth sermon in the “We Believe: Back to Basics” series. To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.


Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

- John 3:1-21


"We believe that the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel....

- Article V. Of Justification, New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, 1833

"We believe that in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that...; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit"

- Article VI. Of the Freeness of Salvation, New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, 1833


Free. If you like me you almost expect to see an asterisk next to that word. In fact, whenever I see "FREE" on an advertisement, I look for that little "*" symbol which tells me there are more "terms and conditions," more small print at the bottom. In the business world, there's a saying: "There's no such thing as a free lunch." And if there's no free lunch, then it might be reasonable to question an idea like "free salvation."

The "blessings of salvation," to use the language of the New Hampshire Confession, may be free. But they can also be baffling. Such was the case with Nicodemus who asks of Jesus' talk on being "born again" or "born from above"

“How can someone be born when they are old?” .... Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)

Nicodemus' understanding of Jesus is true: he is a teacher who does signs because God is with him.

But his understanding is also incomplete.

Jesus replies that no one is able to enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born from above, (or born again).


That is, unless they are born Spiritually, by the action of God.

The 'children of God do not qualify as such by means of their physical birth, but only by the means of their new birth from God." - Marianne Meye Thompson

What does this, after all, have to do with whether salvation is free? While it's not obvious at first, I believe there is a connection.


Being born "from above" is an action of God. If by "free," one means "salvation changes nothing but your destination when you die; it certainly won't change your life in any sort of recognizable way," then - of course - salvation is not "free." But what sort of good thing really changes nothing around it?


But Salvation is free in that it is only the action of God that makes it possible to be one with God and one another. It is God's work that, in popular Christian terms, "saves."


Only the one who came from Heaven, the Son of Man (Jesus), can speak with authority about it.


Then we get to the most famous passage of scripture in the whole bible:

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.

To participate in Christ's life, and salvation, are one and the same.

This new birth is not a matter of our:

  • Skill at attaining spiritual knowledge for ourselves

  • Birth family or upbringing

  • Being found worthy by any particular emotional religious experience we can recall

Rather, it is our relationship and allegiance to Christ that matters.


The Son of man must be lifted up. He is lifted up on the cross.


The Children of God walk in the Light and do not shun it. Christ is the light of the world.


Reflection:

  1. John 3:20 speaks of those who "will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." Nicodemus himself begins this meeting with Jesus at nightfall. He begins in the darkness and encounters the one who is the light in his conversation with Jesus. Are there ways you are afraid of rejection or are afraid your sins might be exposed if you begin to pray, talk to God, or attend church? Can the message that "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (3:17) provide encouragement to those who fear rejection? ---

  2. The identity of Jesus is the main question here. Is God with him? Has he come from God? Jesus's words here show how understanding Jesus as merely "a good teacher," are not enough to explain what he says about himself. What would change in their life if a person were convinced Jesus was not merely a teacher, but "my Lord and my God" (as Thomas says later in John 20:28)? ---

  3. Many people talk about the experience of being "born again." Others struggle that they can't think of a particular moment or experience that sounds as dramatic or emotional as other's testimonies, even if they have faith in Christ. Such people might wonder if they're "really saved." How might it help you understand salvation can truly be secure to recognize being "born from above," or being "born again," has everything to do with Christ achieving our salvation?


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