Summary: It is the Spirit who recreates us. Salvation is more than about being declared "not guilty", it is about new life brought by the Spirit
ReCreation: Spirit and Union. Series: The Holy Who?
Jn 3:1-8 May 18, 2003
Yesterday I had the opportunity to officiate in the marriage ceremony of Lisa Thompson and David Nadon – to celebrate their love and witness the exchange of their vows. Genesis 2:21-24 tells us,
“the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ’woman,’ for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
The passage tells us of a spiritual union that happens within the covenant of marriage – the two become one. This is something of a mysterious statement – we know that two people don’t suddenly morph into one person, and we know that they don’t cease to be unique, separate individuals. So what does it mean? It means that on a spiritual level, two people become intricately connected. They are united. They become one – they can no longer live life on their own without thinking about others, they no longer exercise sole control of their time or their money or their plans and goals for life. Now that two people have become one through marriage, they are choosing to, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Quick sidebar: most often, difficulties in marriage come from a root of selfishness – one or more often both people putting their needs ahead of their partners, focusing on themselves as an individual rather than on being united and communicating intimately. Instead of being “one”, trouble enters a relationship when two people are more “two” than they are “one.”
You might be wondering why I’m talking about marriage instead of the Holy Spirit. It is not because I’m just cheating and re-using yesterday’s wedding sermon… Here is why: it is the Holy Spirit that makes two people one when they enter into a marriage covenant relationship with one another. Likewise, it is the Holy Spirit that makes us one with Christ when we enter into a salvation covenant relationship. I’ll repeat that (repeat). Today I want to talk about the Holy Spirit’s work of uniting us with God in salvation.
More than “not guilty…”
Scripture uses several different analogies to try to illustrate what happens when we become a Christian. The most common, since Luther and the reformation, is the legal image: God the Father is the judge who pronounces us, even though we are guilty, as “not guilty” by virtue of the fact that Jesus took the penalty for our sin. We even have a special theological term for this: “justification” – we are “justified” when we put our faith in Jesus and accept His sacrifice on our behalf. And that is a Biblical, correct, graphic way to communicate what happens to us spiritually speaking when we become Christians.
But if that is the only image we have of salvation, we are in trouble. Because it is more than that – far more. In fact, the legal image of salvation is not even the primary Biblical image of salvation – it isn’t the most common Biblical picture of what happens in salvation. Acquittal is where it starts, but it is only the beginning.
A more common (Biblically) and more complete term to apply to what happens in salvation, is “Life”. “Life” is one that transforms our understanding from salvation as a one-time thing to a more Biblical view of salvation as a process. Here the Scriptural imagery is of us moving from spiritual death into spiritual life, which needs to be grown and nurtured and developed just like biological life. And in this understanding, we recognize more the work of the Holy Spirit. There are many places that speak in these terms, the clearest being in Jn 3:1-8. Let’s turn there now.
Are you a “born-again”?
Unfortunately, “born-again” has come to have negative connotations in our world. It has become associated with radicalism and exclusivity and confrontation rather than with the love of Christ, and so it is probably not a good term to use in sharing Christ with others unless you have opportunity to help someone understand this whole passage.
It is the latter part of what Jesus is saying that I want to key on, vs. 5-8.
Born of water and the Spirit (vs 5):
Jesus speaks of the requirements for “entering the kingdom of God.” He uses “life” imagery, insisting that entrance to the kingdom requires being “born of water and the Spirit.” (vs 5). It is an interesting phrase; I think the best understanding is of “water” referring to baptism and “Spirit” obviously being the Holy Spirit. Reading this I see both our part and God’s part – God the Holy Spirit re-creates us, brings us new life, works salvation out in us – and we have a responsibility to accept this and obey, as the reference to baptism indicates. And by the way, if you haven’t been baptized, why not? What are you waiting for?? Talk to me about it and we’ll gladly start the process!