On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind 2019

BLCF: leaving_your_baggage_behind

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind 2019’ 

© July 14, 2019, by Steve Mickelson

  BLCF Bulletin July 14, 2019

Based on Messages shared with BLCF Church on May 19, 2013, and January 24, 2016

BLCF Bulletin May 19, 2013

BLCF Bulletin January 24, 2016

Unwanted Baggage

Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer Prayer                                                    

Opening Hymn #546: Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus; Choruses                  

Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers                                                     

Responsive Reading #632 (God’s Redeeming Love – from John 3 and 1 John)

Message by Steve Mickelson: ‘On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind’

BLCF: excess_baggage

Let us pray…

Good morning and welcome to BLCF Church’s Sunday Morning Praise and Worship Service.

Today’s lesson is entitled: ‘On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind’ where we will not literally be talking about luggage that we travel around with, but the emotional and spiritual burdens that act to impede our Christian walk.

One of the biggest impediments to a non-Christian’s acceptance of the Gospel of Christ is the excess baggage, in the form of the cultural practices and values that the person carries. The excess baggage can include regrets, negative thinking, worries, drama and chaos, anger and hostility, resentment, pessimism, bad habits, useless fears, negative relationships, and toxic people.

These natural or worldly values cloud the person’s vision of the spiritual world, which is perceived by way of faith and trust.

This is what Paul meant when he wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV):

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Ironically, this lack of spiritual trust or perception, at times, caused problems amongst the disciples in understanding the message of our Lord. You may recall John’s account of the Pharisee named Nicodemus. Here are two definitions of a Pharisee (noun):

 1.  a member of an ancient Jewish sect that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious practices, liberal interpretation of the Bible, and adherence to oral laws and traditions.

 2.  A self-righteous person; a hypocrite.

Back to Nicodemus, John 3:1-14 (ESV):

You Must Be Born Again

BLCF: YouMustBeBornAgain

3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

While Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus in this passage as a Rabbi and a teacher sent by God, he chose to visit our Lord at night, so as not to be seen by other Pharisees.  Here a ruler of the Jews, whose understanding of the miracles and teachings of Christ are limited and restricted by a legalistic interpretation and understanding of these events. What is clear in this account is Nicodemus’ lack of spiritual insight evident by his question to Jesus about one being “born again” which describes a spiritual transformation, symbolized by baptism in the water.  Christians will often demonstrate their faith by being baptized or immersed in water, after making a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. It is the act of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit that makes one born again, not being immersed in a body of water.

Imagine an inmate locked inside a prison, where there is no available pool, river or even bath for immersion, making a decision to confess past sins and a sinful nature, accept gifts of salvation from Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This raises the question, “Does the absence of a body of water to baptize this prisoner, prevent the person from becoming a Christian?” After all, did the Holy Spirit not come upon Christ until after Jesus was baptized by John, the Baptist?

Well, for those of you who recall the lesson on the Day of Pentecost, shared here earlier at BLCF, may recall that the Holy Spirit came upon about 120 believers cloistered in a room for 10 days after Christ’s ascension, 50 after his resurrection. The account describes the Spirit arriving like a mighty wind, with each individual alighted by a flame-like glow. The detailed account of the Spirit’s arrival gives no mention of water baptism of those believers or of the 3,000 additional converts who received the Holy Spirit after hearing the Apostle Peter’s sermons and being convicted by the Spirit. The believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit, not in water.

Nicodemus did not understand, asking Jesus “How can these things be?” Jesus expressed a concern that this religious leader of the people of Israel not understanding something that is of the Spirit. For God, Heaven and even Jesus before he came to earth are not of the world, but of the Spirit.  How can one teach about things that are Holy and of the Spirit, when they have trouble understanding the Spirit’s purpose and actions in the world? It was evident that Nicodemus’ problem was the absence of belief or lack of faith.

Nicodemus had a “head” knowledge of God and the Holy Scriptures but lacked the faith to receive the Spirit’s help in understanding God’s purpose and plan. He was a captive, held prisoner by following the letter of the law, and not allowing the power of the Spirit to set him free from the captivity of legalism, Galatians 3:23-29 (ESV):

The Law and the Promise

BLCF: the_Law_and_the_Promise

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

So Christ came to the world, not to end or replace the law, but to assume the guilt, judgment and punishment under the law for everyone’s transgressions, Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV):

Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

BLCF: Covenant-of-Grace-chart

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In other words, the standards of the law are so great, no one can be considered righteous enough to enter Heaven. But God has a plan to enable us to overcome the guilt of sin by faith in Jesus, Romans 3:21-26 (ESV):

The Righteousness of God Through Faith

BLCF: righteousness-by-faith

 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

And by receiving righteousness through faith in Jesus, we must keep out faith and trust in Christ,   Colossians 2:6-14 (ESV):

Alive in Christ

BLCF: alive-in-Christ

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

There are many ways that the excess baggage we carry could hamper our walk in the Spirit. If like Nicodemus, we tend to rely strictly upon the letter of law, we will hamper the work of the Spirit in our faith walk. Satan uses such baggage to draw believers away from the Lord. Thus admonition: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Even after God sent Jesus to die for our sins and overcome the judgment for the law, we still hear those who non-spiritual questions, for example:  “What is the proper attire for the church; do I wear a suit and tie?” Or when in prayer we may ask: “Is it necessary to cover one’s head and must we observe a diet that is in agreement with the law?” And so on…

The original Ten Commandments God gave to Moses for the People of Israel, had literally hundreds of additional Mosaic Laws added by people over the following years, which I believe was not what God had intended to guide His People. Otherwise, Moses would have been given additional tablets to Moses in the first place!

We know Jesus condensed original ten down to two; loving God and loving your neighbour.

To test whether the law is given from God and being of the Spirit or from man and being of the world; we should ask whether it matches one of God’s Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai or the two given to us by Jesus. If the answer to this test is “no”, then the law came from man, not from God, and observing such a law may be more important to other men than it is to God. Jesus said that we cannot go to Heaven on good works but by faith.

Keeping any of His laws is meaningless without faith, as many people have a tendency to muddle and confuse God’s Law with worldly laws. That is why God provided a Spiritual solution to a worldly problem of sin.

Satan would love us be preoccupied as to whether we eat pork, or cover our heads in prayer, or should we be baptized in water, or ask which is more important: whether we observe the Sabbath on a Saturday or Sunday? All of these types of questions act to distract us from worship and perhaps even diminish our faith in Christ. Let us keep our focus on our faith in Jesus and our growth in the Spirit while observing God’s Laws. All the other things in this world are of little importance to God, except our faith in Him, which God desires most from us. To grow our faith, let us discard the excess baggage of the world, focus on the gift of the Holy Spirit and Gospel of the Lord.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #40: To God Be the Glory

Benediction: (Ephesians 1:3-4) – Spiritual Blessings in Christ:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

BLCF: by-Gods-grace

 

 

Freed From the Shackles of Sin by a Single Act of Righteousness

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Freed From the Shackles of Sin by a Single Act of Righteousness’

© June 24, 2018, by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin June 24, 2018

Based on a Message shared at BLCF on September 29, 2013

BLCF Bulletin September 29, 2013

Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer

Opening Hymn: #32: How Great Thou Art; Choruses

Prayer and Tithing: Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings; Prayer Requests

Responsive Reading #605: Prayer of Penitence (Psalm 51)

Message by Stephen Mickelson:                                                                                                                           

‘Freed From the Shackles of Sin by a Single Act of Righteousness ’

 

Let us pray…

Good morning and welcome to our Praise and Worship service at BLCF Church. Today’s lesson is entitled: Freed From the Shackles of Sin by a Single Act of Righteousness.’

As believers in the Resurrected Christ, we profess our faith that while we were still sinners, Christ died for our sins, Romans 5:8 (ESV):

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But ask Christians: “What is meant by sin?”,  and you may get any of variety definitions: a sin is an act, it is state of grace or lack of, it is the legacy or birthright we carry as descendants of Adam and Eve; it is in our nature; it a manifestation of a defiant attitude towards our Maker; and so on.

No wonder there is some confusion among both believers and non-believers alike! It is very difficult to have a meaningful dialog or to witness about sin and salvation unless we have a mutual understanding and agreement of the terms that we discuss. The definition of salvation is fairly clear, but what about sin?

Let us have a look of how the Online Farlex Free Dictionary defines sin:

sin 1 (s n) n.

  1. A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate.
  2. Theology
  3. Deliberate disobedience to the known will of God.
  4. A condition of estrangement from God resulting from such disobedience.
  5. Something regarded as being shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.

intr.v. sinned, sin·ning, sins

  1. To violate a religious or moral law.
  2. To commit an offense or violation.

[Middle English sinne, from Old English synn; see es- in Indo-European roots.]

sin 2 (s n, s n) n.

The 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet. See Table at alphabet.

[Hebrew în, modeled on în, shin (the following letter).]

Sin (s n)

  1. Mythology

The Babylonian god of the moon.

[Akkadian Sîn.]

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Sin

We might have a better idea of what is a sin if we look at what Bible scholars commonly refer to as the original sin. In recent sermons, we looked at how Adam and Eve violated God’s singular rule: not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan stepped in and rationalized that eating the forbidden fruit would elevate them to the same level as God. Let us look at what happened after Adam and Eve chose to ignore God’s rule. In Genesis 3:17-18; 22-23 (ESV), we read:

17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

I find it interesting to note that the tree of life was not forbidden to Adam and Eve, which implies that they were able to eat from this tree and live forever before they ate from the tree of knowledge.

Note that Verse 18 states: in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; which indicates that Adam’s days are numbered and finite and eventually will end as indicated in Verse 19: 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

So the consequence of sin is death, but God has a plan, a solution, as we read in Paul’s epistle of Romans 5:12-18 (ESV):

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[a] because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass[b] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[c] leads to justification and life for all men.

Footnotes: a.Romans 5:12 The Greek word anthropoi refers here to both men and women; also twice in verse 18 b.Romans 5:18 Or the trespass of one c. Romans 5:18 Or the act of righteousness of one

But was sin the result of an act or the thought something else? Let us look at Romans 7:12-14 (ESV):

12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

“Sold under sin” sounds like slavery. This is confirmed in John 8:34 (ESV):

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[a] to sin.

 Footnotes: a. John 8:34 Greek bondservant

But if, by definition, a sinner is a slave to sin, then what is the remedy? The remedy is Christ, Galatians 5:1 (ESV):

Christ Has Set Us Free

5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

We have seen the consequences of sin and God’s solution in Jesus Christ. What does God expect from us in this equation? Let us next look at Colossians 3:5-6 (ESV):

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:[a] sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.[b]

Footnotes: a. Colossians 3:5 Greek therefore your members that are on the earth b. Colossians 3:6 Some manuscripts add upon the sons of disobedience

So from Colossians 3, we see some expressions of sin and understand that sin is earthly or worldly in contrast to being spiritual. And the solution the Lord provided to us for sin is unconditional, Romans 5:8 (ESV):

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Still, God expects us not to surrender our commitment and drive, but that instead of allowing ourselves to be slaves to sin, which is associated with things that are of the world which is Satan’s realm, we must surrender ourselves to matters of spiritual reality which is the domain of God, Romans 6:16-22 (ESV):

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[a] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Footnotes: a.Romans 6:16 For the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface (twice in this verse and verse 19; also once in verses 17, 20)

In addition to commitment to follow the righteous path which leads to sanctification and the promise of eternal life, we must remain vigilant to avoid temptation from Satan to given in to the impulses of our own carnal or worldly desires, which will lead us down the path to sin, James 1:12-15 (ESV):

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

God does not tempt us for He cannot be tempted. But knowing the law can lead to temptation. And temptation then leads to sin, Romans 3:20-25 (ESV):

20 For by works of the law no human being[a] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Righteousness of God Through Faith

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Footnotes: a. Romans 3:20 Greek flesh

So the sin of humanity, as initiated by Adam, was removed by the righteous act of Christ in the Death in Adam, and changed to the Life in Christ verse we read earlier in Romans 5:12:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.  Thus, requiring faith on our part, as we read in Romans 3:22, which then leads to a Redemption through Christ: 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

This passage indicates that though all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, all are entitled to redemption and grace to be received by faith. Faith or lack of faith is the key to sin. Adam and Eve sinned as a result of trusting Satan more than God. And the only way we can receive God’s redemption, grace and glory are to give up our faith in things of the world and return to having faith in God, by accepting the unconditional gift of Jesus Christ paid on the cross at Calvary.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn is #286: Years I Spent in Vanity and Pride

Benediction (2 Peter 1:2): May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

– Go in Peace of the Lord

 

On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind January 24, 2016

BLCF: leaving_your_baggage_behind

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind’

© January 24, 2016, by Steve Mickelson

Based on a Message shared with BLCF Church on Sunday, May 19, 2013

BLCF Bulletin January 24, 2016

Unwanted Baggage

Call to Worship: Responsive Reading #632 (God’s Redeeming Love – from John 3 and 1 John); Prayer                                                                                                 

Opening Hymn #546: Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus; Choruses                                        

Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers                                                     

 Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; John 3:1-14; Galatians 3:23-29

BLCF: excess_baggage                          

Let us pray…

Good morning and welcome to BLCF Church’s Sunday Morning Praise and Worship Service.

Today’s lesson is entitled: ‘On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind’ where we will not literally be talking about luggage that we travel around with, but the emotional and spiritual burdens that act to impede our Christian walk.

The biggest impediment to a non-Christian’s acceptance of the Gospel of Christ is the excess baggage, in the form of the cultural practices and values that the person carries. These natural or worldly values cloud the person’s vision of the spiritual world, which is perceived by faith and trust. This is what Paul meant when he wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV):

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Ironically, this lack of spiritual trust or perception, at times, caused problems amongst the disciples in understanding the message of our Lord. You may recall John’s account of the Pharisee named Nicodemus.

Here are two definitions of a Pharisee (noun):

1. a member of an ancient Jewish sect that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious practices, liberal interpretation of the Bible, and adherence to oral laws and traditions.

2. A self-righteous person; a hypocrite.

Back to Nicodemus, let us read the Scripture passage, John 3:1-14 (ESV):

You Must Be Born Again

BLCF: YouMustBeBornAgain

3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

While Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus in this passage as a Rabbi and a teacher sent by God, he chose to visit our Lord at night, so as not to be seen by other Pharisees. Here a ruler of the Jews, whose understanding of the miracles and teachings of Christ are limited and restricted by a legalistic interpretation and understanding of these events. What is clear in this account is Nicodemus lack of spiritual insight evident by his question to Jesus about one being “born again” which describes a spiritual transformation, symbolized by baptism in the water. Christians will often demonstrate their faith by being baptized or immersed in water, after making a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. It is the act of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit that makes one born again, not being immersed in a body of water.

Imagine an inmate locked inside a prison, where there is no available pool, river or even bath for immersion, making a decision to confess past sins and a sinful nature, accept gifts of the salvation from Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This raises the question, “Does the absence of a body of water to baptize this prisoner, prevent the person from becoming a Christian?” After all, did the Holy Spirit not come upon Christ until after Jesus was baptized by John, the Baptist?

Well, for those of you who recall the lesson on the Day of Pentecost, shared here earlier at BLCF, may recall that the Holy Spirit came upon about 120 believers cloistered in a room for 10 days after Christ’s ascension, 50 after his resurrection. The account describes the Spirit arriving like a mighty wind, with each individual alighted by a flame-like glow. The detailed account of the Spirit’s arrival gives no mention of water baptism of those believers or of the 3,000 additional converts who received the Holy Spirit after hearing the Apostle Peter’s sermons and being convicted by the Spirit. The believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit, not in water.

Nicodemus did not understand, asking Jesus “How can these things be?” Jesus expressed a concern that this religious leader of the people of Israel not understanding something that is of the Spirit. For God, Heaven and even Jesus before he came to earth are not of the world, but of the Spirit. How can one teach about things that are Holy and of the Spirit, when they have trouble understanding the Spirit’s purpose and actions in the world? It was evident that Nicodemus’ problem was the absence of belief or lack of faith.

Nicodemus had a head knowledge of God and the Holy Scriptures but lacked the faith to receive the Spirit’s help in understanding God’s purpose and plan. He was a captive, held prisoner by following the letter of the law, and not allowing the power of the Spirit to set him free from captivity of legalism, Galatians 3:23-29 (ESV):

The Law and the Promise

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23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

So Christ came to the world, not to end or replace the law, but to assume the guilt, judgment and punishment under the law for everyone’s transgressions, Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV):

Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

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17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In other words, the standards of the law are so great, no one can be considered righteous enough to enter Heaven. But God has a plan to enable us to overcome the guilt of sin by faith in Jesus, Romans 3:21-26 (ESV):

The Righteousness of God Through Faith

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21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  

And by receiving righteousness through faith in Jesus, we must keep out faith and trust in Christ, Colossians 2:6-14 (ESV):

Alive in Christ

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6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,             12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

There are many ways that the excess baggage we carry could hamper our walk in the Spirit. If, like Nicodemus, we tend to rely strictly upon the letter of law, we will hamper the work of the Spirit in our faith walk. Satan uses such baggage to draw believers away from the Lord. Thus admonition: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Even after God sent Jesus to die for our sins and overcome the judgment for the law, we still hear those who non-spiritual questions, for example: “What is the proper attire for the church; do I wear a suit and tie?” Or when in prayer we may ask: “Is it necessary to cover one’s head and must we observe a diet that is in agreement with the law?” And so on…

The original Ten Commandments God gave to Moses for the People of Israel, had literally hundreds of additional Mosaic Laws added by people over the following years, which I believe was not what God had intended to guide His People. Otherwise Moses would have been given additional tablets to Moses in the first place!

We know Jesus condensed original ten down to two; loving God and loving your neighbour.

To test whether the law is given from God and being of the Spirit or from man and being of the world; we should ask whether it matches one of God’s Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai or the two given to us by Jesus. If the answer to this test is “no”, then the law came from man, not from God, and observing such a law may be more important to other men than it is to God. Jesus said that we cannot go to Heaven on good works but by faith.

Keeping any of His laws is meaningless without faith, as many people have a tendency to muddle and confuse God’s Law with worldly laws. That is why God provided a Spiritual solution to a worldly problem of sin.

Satan would love us be preoccupied as to whether we eat pork, or cover our heads in prayer, or should we be baptized in water, or ask which is more important: whether we observe the Sabbath on a Saturday or Sunday? All of these types of questions act to distract us from worship and perhaps even diminish our faith in Christ. Let us keep our focus on our faith in Jesus and our growth in the Spirit while observing God’s Laws. All the other things in this world are of little importance to God, except our faith in Him, which God desires most from us. To grow our faith, let us discard the excess baggage of the world, focus on the gift of the Holy Spirit and Gospel of the Lord.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #40: To God Be the Glory

Benediction: (Ephesians 1:3-4) – Spiritual Blessings in Christ:                        

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

 

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