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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No Such Thing As Deciding To Follow Jesus!

American economist Alan Greenspan is purported to have said, "I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you've probably misunderstood what I've said." As you read the Gospel of John, you often feel that Jesus uses the same approach. It seems he uses words that send us in one direction, but he really wants us to go in another. And, as the familiar saying says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” That's what was going on in the conversation he had with the respected judge Nicodemus who came to talk with him one night. When Nicodemus called Jesus Rabbi and one sent from God, Jesus said,
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." - Jhn 3:3 ESV
And Nicodemus completely misunderstood what Jesus said. Its that little word again that threw him off. In the Greek language the word is anohthen, a complex word with a couple meanings. The first part of the word, anoh, is used three times in John's Gospel, always referring to up, above or to the brim. So we read
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. - Jhn 2:7 ESV  
He said to them, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. - Jhn 8:23 ESV 
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. - Jhn 11:41 ESV
The second part of the word, the suffix then, generally means things are moving, as in . . .
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." - Jhn 3:8 ESV
Put the two parts together and you literally have a complex word that means from up or from above. This is always always what the adverb anohthen means in other contexts. For instance, when Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate about his authority as Roman Prefect he said,
"You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin." - Jhn 19:11 ESV
Ah, but Nicodemus misunderstood. He grabbed hold of a secondary meaning of the word. He felt that Jesus was saying you must be born again. We have a similar expression. We say, "OK, lets take it from the top." That means, "Lets do it again." And this is what Nicodemus heard, ". . . born again." And in so hearing he revealed his natural inclination to believe that in spiritual matters it all starts with ME! That's
why he wondered how anyone could pull that off. Notice his focus on himself as he asks,
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?" - Jhn 3:4 ESV
We still do the same thing to this very day as we use the very familiar expression born again Christians. Behind that expression is the assumption that in order for rebirth to happen you must make some kind of decision, as in the familiar hymn from India by S. Sundar Singh,


I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
No turning back, no turning back.

But, but, but . . . That's not what Jesus said! You, Sundar Singh and all those singing with you did not decide anything. You could not. Nor can anyone—anyone—any more than can a baby decide when he or she wants to be born or from which parents. This decision is made elsewhere. So it is with this spiritual born again business. It is not born again. It is always born from above! If you doubt that, read the entire third chapter of John very, very carefully. I'll get back to you next time to carry on the discussion.