I was recently made newly aware of an interesting rendering of a popular Scripture verse in John 3. Many good folks make much of Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus on the “new birth.” Some insist that this is the most important verse in all of Scripture. Essentially, unless you are “born again,” you have no access to Eternal Life. For many, it implies a true and definitive conversion moment along the journey of life.
The King James Version of the Bible (the one with which I grew up) is not considered the most accurate translation these days. But I find the rendering of Jesus’ words there to Nicodemus fascinating. I saw them on a roadside sign recently: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (3:3)
Perhaps this is a more accurate rendering of the Gospel writer’s intent, or Jesus intent? Perhaps this rendering more accurately reflects some of my own theological bias? Yet, Jesus does not seem to be talking about Heaven here. It is not about a ticket through the Pearly Gates. Rather, he is calling for “kingdom living.”
God has given us a new vision in Jesus of what the earthly journey should reflect. This new vision is about a Kingdom that is different from all earthly kingdoms—radically different. And unless you are “born anew” into (or grow into, or become increasingly aware of) what Jesus is all about, you cannot fully see or understand that Kingdom!
When you see life through Jesus’ eyes, you see a way of love, peace, justice, and compassion. When you have a rebirth of understanding as to what this life is really about, you see something so very different from the secular and competitive culture which surrounds you. Kingdom living is fresh, exciting, and enduring. I see in Jesus a total image of God’s intent.
When we are about “disciple formation” in the church, we are about assisting people to see and adopt that new vision. Not condemning the secular: it is not evil in itself. But offering a fresh and lasting alternative.
I find this an exciting way to read the New Testament as a whole, and to read John 3 in particular. I have a more secure grasp of what Jesus was trying to accomplish on his earthly journey, and what he calls me toward. I see this as an enticingly powerful way to live in the second decade of the 21st century. I may slip and fall on many occasions. I may miss the mark of the Kingdom fairly often. But I know what the goal truly is. I know what God asks of me. And I am grateful.
February 11, 2014