Series: Itís All About Jesus!
Sermon: New Life in Christ
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
February 5, 2017
Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 CEB and John 3:1-21 NRSV
††††††††† Many people today are like Nicodemus. They are drawn to Christ, curious to learn more about the power that works in Jesus, but they arenít ready to go public in the light of day with faith in Jesus. They compartmentalize their life in such a way that six days a week Ė and maybe even seven Ė one would never suspect that they are a Christian. They blend in with the crowd of good people who do some good deeds and even hope for peace and justice, but they arenít ready to openly associate themselves with being a follower of Jesus.
††††††††† In our American culture of the last forty years there has been a growing divide amongst people. The term ďborn againĒ has become laden with political and sociological baggage that scares some people away. They might want to follow Jesus but they donít want to be labeled and shoved into a category of believers that doesnít describe who they are, what they value or encompass what they believe. So, what does it mean to be born again?
††††††††† Our New Revised Standard Version of the bible doesnít even use that now-loaded term, but instead translates it to read ďbeing born from above.Ē Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be born from above is to be born of water and the Spirit. To be born of the Spirit is to believe in Jesus and the result of believing in him is to have eternal life. So how does this Spirit work in humankind?
††††††††† Methodists call it Godís grace; first working in our hearts and lives before we are totally aware. Thatís Prevenient Grace. Godís Holy Spirit acts in our lives before we recognize or can name it. Like Nicodemus, curiosity grows about God and how God works. We see people around us experiencing the fruit of faith as they go through difficult times, and come through it stronger because of the support they received through the work of the Spirit. Their curiosity continues as they begin reading the Bible and learning how God has worked through history. As John, the gospel writer might name it, they are drawn out of the darkness of sin and evil and into the light of Christís love. This is the work of Godís prevenient grace, drawing us in.
††††††††† As believers in free will and not predestination, we understand this grace to be at work in every life; available to all, not just some. Also like Nicodemus, it sometimes takes years for some people to open their hearts to Godís grace and accept Jesus as their savior. For others, we have grown up in the faith and donít remember a time when we didnít believe. That doesnít mean that Godís grace was not needed. It only means that we were, from birth, immersed in the love of God and as we learned about the world, we could already see Godís hand at work in our hearts and lives. Our faith grew as we grew, and we were surrounded with a community of believers who helped us wrestle with the questions and modeled for us what it looks like to have faith in the midst of uncertainty.
Life is good at supplying uncertainty. God loves us all and supplies the grace to see us through, growing our faith and ability to see the truth and trust in God.
††††††††† There comes a time when Godís Justifying Grace washes us clean of our sin. We believe and are given new birth by the Spirit. No longer hiding in the shadows, this believer is ready to go public and lets their faith inform their life. It affects the choices they make, the people they hang out with, how they spend their money and their free time. And they worship. Regularly. They cannot start the week without time with God as they gather with other believers to pray and praise God. To skip worship leaves a hole in their week. They miss the nurture they receive from the Holy Spirit as they come together to praise God.
††††††††† Some Christians would say this is all they need. To be born again by the Spirit is the be-all, end-all. In some ways they are right. God has changed this heart and life and their faith has set them on a new path. If they died that day they would have eternal life. But John Wesley believed that it is possible, and relatively easy, to fall away; to back-slide into old habits of heart and life. Old resentments and unforgiven things on a personís heart can cause them to question their faith. Temptations draw them away from living in the light, back into the darkness where what happens in darkness stays in darkness. Only it doesnít. God knows our hearts and sees all that we think, let alone say and do.
This is where Wesley named our need for Sanctifying Grace; that grace that comes after our profession of faith. It molds and shapes us as faithful disciples, continuing to heighten our awareness of just how much God loves us and the extent God has gone to save us. God sent his Son, Jesus, not to condemn us for our brokenness, but to set us free to a new life in Christ. This Sanctifying grace shines Godís light into the recesses of our soul, helping us to see what we were first blind to because of pride or fear. Rarely is it easy to acknowledge all that needs healing in us and God knows this takes time and encouragement.
Churches are not filled with perfect people. They are filled with people at various stages of this process. Some are just beginning to search for what it means to have faith in Jesus. They need mentors and guides, patience and love.
Others have professed faith and are somewhere on the path, trying to balance the expectations of the life with Godís hope and expectations. They may struggle with temptation, and we hope that the spiritually mature, faithful followers around them will help them stay accountable to following Jesusí narrow way that leads to life, not falling into living as if their faith means nothing. They need encouragement, connection, forgiveness and love.
Being born of the Spirit means the Spirit has an intention for us. We are strengthened to new life by that Spirit. We donít have to be perfect or have all the answers. None of us will instantly be saints. The Spirit helps us and nudges us along the way, growing in us, shaping and molding us to be more and more Christ-like. To have the mind of Christ is the goal.
We come to Christís table today from various walks of life. Jesus welcomes each of us and doesnít prevent anyone from coming to this table for communion. It is an act of faith to come and take the bread and juice into ourselves, as we seek to take on the mind of Christ.
May God give us the courage and strength to live in the light of Christ, every day, for the rest of our lives. Amen.