Grown-again Christian

Have you ever heard of a “Grown-again Christian”?  Me neither.  But that term came to me this morning.  It should be one.  I mean – too many Christians are “born-again”, but then never mature / grow / grow up.  It’s not like this is a new concept.  It’s just one that I don’t remember ever hearing.  And from Googling it – it seems to be more about body parts and beards growing again.  Weird.  But we cannot – should not – ignore the concept.  Because it’s not new.

grown-again ChristianBut for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast.  [1]Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Co 3:1–2). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

That not me.  That’s Paul.  From 1 Corinthians 3:1 – in The Message Translation.

Don’t get me wrong.  Being born-again is essential, as Jesus tells us.  As you read the passage below, keep in mind that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, visiting Jesus at great peril to himself.  He went at night because the other Jewish leaders would have turned against him if they knew what he was doing.  More on the significance of that in a little while.

Born Again

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

Jn 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jn 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’”

Jn 3:4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jn 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Jn 3:9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

Jn 3:10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Let’s break down a couple things from that passage.

no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again

Jn 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’”

Jn 3:4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus says we have to be born again to see the kingdom of God.  Clearly, Nicodemus has no idea what Jesus is talking about.  His reply about entering the womb again shows that Nicodemus is very much a “worldly” thinker.  That in itself should be both shocking and scary.  As a Pharisee, Nicodemus should be neither of those.  The table below shows most significant factions of Jewish leadership around the time of Jesus.

SadduceesPhariseesEssenes
Who they were:
Social ClassPriests, aristocratsCommon people[Unknown]
AuthorityPriests"Disciples of the Wise""Teacher of Righteousness"
PracticesEmphasis on priestly obligationsApplication of priestly laws to non-priests"Inspired Exegesis"
Attitude Toward:
HellenismForSelectiveAgainst
HasmoneansOpposed usurpation of priesthood by non-ZadokitesOpposed usurpation of monarchyPersonally opposed to Jonathan
Free will
YesMostlyNo
AfterlifeNoneResurrectionSpiritual Survival
BibleLiteralistSophisticated scholarly interpretations"Inspired Exegesis"
Oral Torah
No such thingEqual to Written Torah"Inspired Exegesis"
The Pharisees

While the entire table is of interest, we focus on the Pharisees for today.  Some other time, I’d like to get further into the whole thing – but not now.  Anyway, although the Pharisees were “common people”, as opposed to priests or from the ranks of the elite or the privileged social classes, look at some of their characteristics.

They were the “Disciples of the Wise”.  Jewish scholars today have different views of what this means.  Regardless, it’s something specific to the Pharisees.  It’s not something to get into here, but if you’d like to see a bit more, please click here.  (There’s a corresponding link to bring you back when you’re done reading.)  The point of bringing it up here is to show that the Pharisees were not priests.  Nor were they merely teachers.  Their goal was to train other Jews to be like them – wise in the Jewish laws.

Note that part of their discipling process was to have non-priests apply the Jewish laws to their own lives.  In a way, this is somewhat similar to the Great Commission given by Jesus to His disciples – and also to every Christian.

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There’s that one phrase in there that should really have struck at the hearts of the Pharisees, even more so than maybe the Sadducees and the teachers of the law.  Go and make disciples.  That was an important part of what the Pharisees saw as their mission.  In that light, they would be excited about what Jesus had to say.  Unfortunately, they were very much against Jesus instead of being very much for Him.

The resurrection

Also notice that the Pharisees believed in resurrection – in a life after death.  Again, this should have been an exciting concept for them.  But again, they were against Jesus.

Remember this from the time when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

Jn 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

It seems that more than any of the other three groups of Jewish leaders, the Pharisees should have seen the connection between what we now call the Old Testament and the words of Jesus.  Furthermore, given that the Pharisees were given to sophisticated scholarly interpretations of Scripture, it’s all the more amazing that Nicodemus appeared to be so confused about being reborn.

Not understanding

Moving along with the passage where Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus.  The NIV has Jesus asking a question of him.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

That’s from the NIV – both the 1984 and the 2011 versions.  However, as often happens, the NIV waters down this exchange between the two of them.

Young’s Literal Translation has something much more blunt and to the point.

Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Thou art the teacher of Israel—and these things thou dost not know!’  [2]Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Jn 3:10). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

It’s not even a question.  In fact, not even a mere statement.  It is more like an accusation.

In the English Standard Version, we read something in between the first two translations.

Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”  [3]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The Message translation, which is one of the easiest to understand, gets the point across of just how bad things were going for Nicodemus.

Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics?”  [4]Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Jn 3:10). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Truly, this is not a good thing.  Nicodemus, one who is looked at as a Disciple of the Wise, is himself being discipled by Jesus.  Someone who should have seen all those prophesies fulfilled in the One he is speaking with, doesn’t understand even the basics.

I’m not picking on Nicodemus here.  In fact, it appears that he is the only one of the Jewish leaders who even recognized enough of something that he was willing to risk everything to speak with Jesus.  And Nicodemus did learn something.  We know this, because of what’s recorded about him later in John’s Gospel.

The Burial of Jesus

Jn 19:38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Some people’s focus on this passage is on the cost of the myrrh and aloes.  A quick check on Google showed up costs, in today’s prices, ranging from a few thousand dollars to a couple hundred thousand.  A few thousand dollars seems on the low side, considering prices of higher quality items on Amazon.  Hundreds of thousands seems way too high.

But that’s not the real point!  Both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would have been rich men.  Money wasn’t something they would have been short of.  But the risks involved in burying Jesus?  Those were high indeed.  We see that Joseph was afraid of the Jews, so he worked in secret to do this.  For Nicodemus, this was a career-ender.  If he wasn’t already banned by the rest of the Pharisees, he certainly would be after this.

Jesus spoke of things like this.

The Cost of Being a Disciple

Lk 14:25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Lk 14:28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Lk 14:31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Lk 14:34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

We can be sure that both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus counted the cost.  And decided it was worth it.

The narrow and wide gates

Jesus said this about the road that leads to life.

Mt 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

And Jesus wasn’t talking about just life here on earth.  In fact, His application to life on earth wasn’t even what most would think of.  Here’s what was meant by the Greek word that we translate as life.

2222 ζωή [zoe /dzo·ay/] n f. From 2198; TDNT 2:832; TDNTA 290; GK 2437; 134 occurrences; AV translates as “life” 133 times, and “lifetime” once. 1 life. 1A the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate. 1B every living soul. 2 life. 2A of the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God, and through him both to the hypostatic “logos” and to Christ in whom the “logos” put on human nature. 2B life real and genuine, a life active and vigorous, devoted to God, blessed, in the portion even in this world of those who put their trust in Christ, but after the resurrection to be consummated by new accessions (among them a more perfect body), and to last for ever.  [5]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

That sure lost a lot in the translation, didn’t it?  It’s not just life after death, as even some (many?) Christians would think.  It’s both this life and the next.

Here’s the thing about this narrow road / narrow path and narrow gate.  In the New Testament, what appears to be the worst case scenario for finding the narrow path is maybe 1 out of 10.  That comes from this passage about 10 men who Jesus healed.

Ten Healed of Leprosy

Lk 17:11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

Lk 17:14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

Lk 17:15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Lk 17:17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Yes, 1 out of 10.  But even the 10 isn’t the right number to use.  We need to look at all the people who saw / heard / heard about Jesus – and then compare than to the number of people Jesus healed.  But that’s still not right.  We then need to look at the number of people who were told something like the Samaritan was in this passage – your faith has made you well.  That phrase is important.  It’s the difference between being physically healed – and being saved / attaining “life” as Jesus used it.

For a look at some estimates from the time of the Exodus, and equivalent numbers today, please see this article.

But what does all this mean?

It appears to mean that even for those who should have known, the chances of even being interested in Jesus are extremely slim.  And if you checked out the article on Exodus, the chances of being interested in God for even His chosen people were incredibly slim.  We’re talking about 1 Pharisee who should have recognized the prophecies and showed enough interest / courage to speak with Jesus.  Out of all the Jewish leaders who actually saw or heard about Him – that’s not a lot.  And out of all the people who were being delivered from the Egyptians, two people is depressingly small.

So what chance do we have, who don’t have God literally with us as they did during the Exodus – or have Jesus preaching in their neighborhood as Nicodemus did?

Being  born-again in the Old Testament

We saw with Nicodemus that Jesus talked about being born again.  It’s not like that was a new concept – even though Christians seem to claim it for ourselves as if it was.

And yet, is it not similar, in essence, from Abram having his name changed to Abraham?

Ge 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

OK – God is confirming a covenant – something He had promised Abram earlier.  It’s being reaffirmed.  However, something has to happen first.  Abraham is, essentially, about to be born again.

Ge 17:3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Changing Abram’s name to Abraham wasn’t some arbitrary act.  God had a reason for it, as He has a reason for everything He does.  Or doesn’t do.  Here’s how the Hebrew people, Abraham’s descendants, viewed names.

In the Hebrew language, the term for “name” most probably meant “sign” or “distinctive mark.” In the Greek language, “name” (onoma) is derived from a verb which means “to know”; a name then indicates that by which a person or object is to be known. But the idea of name is not to be taken in the sense of a label or an arbitrary means of identifying or specifying a person, place, or object. “Name” in biblical usage correctly describes the person, place, or object and indicates the essential character of that to which the name is given. Adam names the animals according to their nature (Gn 2:19, 20); “Noah” means “one who brings relief and comfort” (5:29); “Jesus” means “savior” (Mt 1:21). When a person was given a new position or a radical change took place in his life a new name was given to indicate that new aspect, for example, Abraham (“father of many,” Gn 17:5); and Israel (“one who strives with God” or “God strives,” 32:28). The name of a person or people expressed what the person or people thought the proper description or statement of character was.  [6]Van Groningen, G. (1988). God, Names Of. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 880). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

So the name is a description of the person.  Given that God is changing Abram’s name, this means a significant change is the person is about to take place.  Let’s look at both Abram and Abraham, to see what they represented.

Abram

Very little is available on the meaning of Abram.

The etymology of the name Abram (Heb. ’āḇrām used Gn. 11:26–17:4 and rarely elsewhere, cf. 1 Ch. 1:27; Ne. 9:7) is uncertain. It probably means ‘the father is exalted’ and is a typical specific early W Semitic personal name form of Ab (i)ram. After the covenant of Gn. 17:5 his name is changed to Abraham (’aḇrāhām) and explained as ‘father of a multitude’ of nations. Both these name forms occur in cuneiform and Egyptian texts from the 19th century BC onwards, but not as identical persons. The latter form, possibly as popular etymology, is generally considered a dialectical variant of Abram, though a distinct new name is implied (which may incorporate an early form of Arabic rhm = ‘multitude’).  [7]Wiseman, D. J. (1996). Abraham. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, & J. I. Packer (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 5). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity … Continue reading

Outside of Genesis, there are only two references to the name Abram.  The one in Nehemiah seems the most significant.  It takes place when the Israelites who were exiled by Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem.

The Israelites Confess Their Sins

Ne 9:1 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God. 4 Standing on the stairs were the Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani—who called with loud voices to the LORD their God. 5 And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.’”

“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

Ne 9:7 “You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.

After this, it goes on to tell of what happened in Egypt with the Exodus, how their forefathers had continued to disobey God, in spite of repeated warnings.  It talks of the exile.  And finally, it has the people pledging, again, to do God’s will.

What’s really significant in this is – You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.  Abram was to be the father of God’s chosen people.  And yet, for years, he maintains the name meaning exalted father – all the while being childless.  It must have seem rather cruel to have that name for so long – and not live up to it.  So we have a name, given by a pagan father,  that God will change at the appropriate time.

Abraham

Abraham. One of the Bible’s most significant personalities, the “wandering Aramean” (Dt 26:5) whom God called from the city of Ur to become patriarch of God’s own people. Referred to as the “friend of God” (2 Chr 20:7; Jas 2:23), Abraham played an important role in Hebrew history and in the “drama of salvation.” Through Abraham’s life, God revealed a program of “election” and “covenant” which culminated in the work of the Messiah Jesus Christ. God said to Abraham, “in you all the families of earth shall be blessed” (Gn 12:3; another rendering of the last two words of this quote is “bless themselves”). Centuries later, the apostle Paul explained that the full import of God’s promise was seen in the preaching of the gospel to all nations and the response of faith in Christ, which signifies believers from all families of the earth as sons of Abraham (Gal 3:6–9).  [8]Allen, R. B. (1988). Abraham. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 11). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Now, with his new name, Abraham does in fact become a father.  From the Hebrew point of view – the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  From the Christian point of view, we see something more.

Faith or Observance of the Law

Gal 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Gal 3:6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Gal 3:10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Paul has taken Abraham to being the father of anyone who believes / has faith in Jesus is a child of Abraham.

Faith, but faith in what?

Notice that in the previous passage, Paul used words like foolish and understanding.  He also asked if the people had received the Holy Spirit by believing what they heard.  And then Paul talks about faith.  He’s talking about faith in Jesus.  But if we’re going to have faith in Jesus, should we not know the truth about Him?

Paul also write this, in his first letter to Titus.

Warning Against False Teachers of the Law

1Ti 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

1Ti 1:8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

It’s not possible to tell the difference between false teachers – and those who teach the right things – unless we know something of the truth.  The “church” word for that is to be discerning.  If we know nothing of a topic – we cannot be discerning about that topic.  If we know nothing of the Bible, how can we hope to be discerning about Jesus?  If we had first been exposed to the Qur’an, we would believe, initially at least, that Jesus was a fraud – or that the Bible was wrong?

Jesus spoke of Abraham, knowing the truth, and teaching in this passage from John.

The Children of Abraham

Jn 8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jn 8:33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jn 8:34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.’”

Jn 8:39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus,then you would do the things Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the things your own father does.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Even though these people were Jewish, descendants of Abraham in the biological sense, they did not understand what their own scripture said.  And so, Jesus is telling them that in the full sense of the word, they are not “descendants” of Abraham.  Because they do not know the truth, and therefore are not free.

Grown-again Christian

Enter the concept of the grown-again Christian.  As I said, being born-again is essential.  It’s a requirement.  But honestly, being born-again is the beginning of a journey – it’s not the destination.

Well, actually, it can be the destination.  For instance, consider this passage:

1Co 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

This makes sense, given something Jesus said in response to a question:

Jesus the Bread of Life

Jn 6:25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jn 6:26 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Jn 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jn 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

So Jesus is saying the only thing we have to do is to believe in Him.  No amount of “good works”, sacrifices, or other deeds is required in order to be saved.  However, we also have to consider something James said:

Faith and Deeds

Jas 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Jas 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Jas 2:20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

Jas 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

What’s going on here?  If believing in Jesus is the only requirement, then what’s this about deeds and doing things?

There are a couple things that come to mind right away.  Both involve growth.  Growth from before we became believers.  And also growth after we become believers.

For instance –

No Confidence in the Flesh

Phil 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

Phil 3:2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Phil 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul wrote about the things he did when he was a Pharisee.  After becoming a believer – after what we would today call becoming a Christian, Paul considered everything he had dome before as “loss”.  The Greek word we read as loss in the NIV is more properly, although not so politely, as excrement.  Here’s the ultimate Pharisee – and he now considers even the best of what he’d done as a Pharisee as being less than worthless.

For us – it doesn’t matter whether we used to be an atheist, a “none”, a Buddhist, or a whatever.  This is a huge element of growth that can only come after becoming a believer.

And it’s not like it happens all at once that we understand the deepness of what Paul said – or that we see it in our own lives from past to present.

Perseverance

It’s not like it happens when we want it to either.  I started this piece more than a month ago.  I had to put it aside.  There was something missing.  I didn’t know what it was – but I knew there was more that needed to be included.

File this under “what to do in the mean time”.  That’s the name of a sermon series we just finished in church.  It was based on Andy Stanley’s sermon series of the same name.  This was one of my “in the mean time” moments.  Waiting to find out what was missing.  I could have gone on with what I had, even knowing was it incomplete.  But that wouldn’t be right.  So I waited.  Wrote almost nothing during that time.

I did some reading.  Nothing was there.  It’s hockey playoff season, so I took a break.  Just relaxed.

And then the answer came – as part of that “in the mean time” series.  It’s perfect.  And here it is:

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Let’s look at where that comes from.

Trials and Temptations

Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Jas 1:9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Jas 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Jas 1:16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

We all need growth in all of these areas.

Who doesn’t need more wisdom?  And maybe the ones who need it most are those of us who think / thought we knew everything – or were even capable of learning everything.

Who doesn’t need more humility?  I couldn’t begin to remember all the times when I was conscious of the fact that God was “popping my bubble”.  And that’s just the ones I was aware of.

Perseverance under trials is something we can only even hope to learn as more and more trials take place.  And make no mistake – in my experience the trials don’t get any easier.  What changes is our ability to trust God to get us through them.  That didn’t happen with just a few of them.  It’s a lifetime’s worth.

Given all that, the ability to not only accept, but to embrace that first verse we looked at absolutely requires growth:

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Jesus said –

Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus promises His followers trouble – not an easy life.  And yet, He also tells us to rejoice and be glad because of those troubles.

That’s something completely beyond the comprehension of a non-believer.  It’s something the new believer often thinks they’re ready for.  But becoming a believer is, as I said, just the starting point.  It’s the impetus for Satan to start the attacks.  Being able to rejoice, be glad, be at peace – that takes growth.

Being born again starts the process.  But being grown-again is the journey that takes us to the ability to do things like feel at peace.  To believe what we read in a Psalm that’s often used at funerals – but very much applies to everyday life.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

Ps 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Ps 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

Ps 23:3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Ps 23:4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Having been through this – including a night in the hospital where I literally felt the Holy Spirit was telling me to lie down in green pastures and to let Him lead me beside still waters.  I’ve also been comforted by the Shepherd’s rod and staff – implements to do real physical harm to someone / something attacking the sheep.  It sounds crazy to the non-believer.  It sounds comforting to the new believer.  But what we sometimes have to go through to get to the point where we really truly experience and totally believe it – that’s something else.

Consider this from Paul:

Warnings From Israel’s History

1Co 10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

1Co 10:6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

1Co 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I used to think that part about he will also provide a way out was about God actually providing a way out of the problems.  Actually, a better way to put it is that I used to hope God would also provide a way out .  I no longer believe that.  It’s not about a way out of the problem.  It’s about a way of getting through the problem.  And sometimes that means just hanging out with God and resting in His peace – until we’re strong enough to allow Him to walk through the problem with us.

When I was working in the IT field, I always felt like I learned a lot more when things went wrong than I ever did when everything was OK.  After all, when things go wrong, we have to deal with them.  When things go well, it’s like being on auto-pilot.  We learn little to nothing.  It’s the troubles and the trials that bring us to asking God for help.  And that’s where we learn and grow.

However – that’s still not the end of the journey.

We look to something Jesus told Peter to see what comes next.

Lk 22:31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Lk 22:33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Lk 22:34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

The first thing to notice is that Jesus starts off by saying that Satan asked to sift Peter like he was wheat.  For more on this passage, please see Lead us not into temptation … , which is part of a series on The Lord’s Prayer.

The next thing is that Jesus lets Peter know this request has been granted.  It is going to happen.

The final thing – the next step in being a grown-again Christian – is where Jesus says when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.  Helping someone else with their problems and trials is a logical step in the progression of a Christian.  It’s part of fulfilling the Great Commission.  But even more, it’s being there when someone else is struggling to stay on the path.  It’s when we have our own experiences and as we begin to grow that we can really understand guidance that we receive from the Holy Spirit on how to do this.

We see an example of this from Job – where his friends tried to help him with their own experiences and misguided beliefs about God.

Job 42:7 After the LORD had said these things to Job , he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.

Conclusion – The end of the journey

Let’s take a look at what Jesus said about Himself and about us.

The Shepherd and His Flock

Jn 10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jn 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Jesus is the shepherd.  We know His voice.  But we need to learn about what He says.  For believers, we will have life.  But as we saw from what Paul wrote about escaping through the flames – and what James wrote about faith producing deeds, because we will desire to do them as our faith grows – there’s a difference between life – and life to the full.

To the extent that we are not satisfied with being born-again – not satisfied with a minimal faith and few, if any, meaningful deeds – we will want to grow.  We’ll be on the path of the grown-again Christian.  Becoming better at hearing His voice.  Having more faith and more trust in God.  Being able to have life to the full – and also life at peace in the middle of a life that has trials.

True enough, if we are born-again and then don’t grow – Jesus tells us we’ll have eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  The question we must ask though – if we’re happy with a no-growth scenario – if we have faith that produces no fruit in our lives – do we really believe?

And if we really do believe – do we not also want to grab onto Jesus and go for that full life?  Do we not also want to become grown-again Christians?


As a final closing, I’d like to include the lyrics from a song that came on while I was writing the conclusion.  It’s “The Greatest Gift”, written by Matt Redman, performed by Hillsong London.

Condemnation falls away
Never more to call on me and I am clean, yes I am clean
The powerful work of you in me
Breaks the chains of guilt and shame and I go free, yes I go free

I take them to your cross and leave them there
Captured by this grace I’m free at last

It is the great gift of Your salvation
Working in me, working in me
It is the life giving taste of heaven
Your kindness revealed, Your kindness revealed to me

It’s the greatest gift of all
It’s the greatest gift of all
It’s the greatest gift of all

Your mercy’s pouring down on me, Your mercy’s pouring down on me
And I am clean, I am clean
Your mercy’s pouring down on me, Your mercy’s pouring down on me
And I go free, I go free

It is the great gift of Your salvation 
Working in me, working in me

Is it working in you?



Disciples of the Wise

KALLAH (Heb. כַּלָּה; “bride”), one of the minor tractates appended to the end of the fourth order, Nezikin, in the printed texts of the Babylonian Talmud. There are two separate versions of the tractate. The shorter one consists of a single chapter while the larger version contains ten chapters and is known as Kallah Rabbati. Originally only the shorter tractate was known and it was published in the printed edition of the Talmud and the Maḥzor Vitry. The manuscript of the longer version was first published by Naḥman Coronel (Vienna, 1864), and subsequently printed in the *Romm (Vilna) edition of the Talmud. In three places the Babylonian Talmud cites the same passage, which mentions a tractate Kallah (Shab. 114a; Ta’an. 10b; Kid. 49b). It is related that a person is considered a disciple of the wise when he can answer any question of halakhah connected with his studies “even though it is on a subject dealt with in the Kallah tractate.” Scholars are uncertain as to the exact meaning of this phrase. Some hold that the allusion is to this tractate, while others explain that the reference is to the semiannual assemblies of the Babylonian scholars which were termed kallah and at which a designated tractate was studied.

The smaller tractate of Kallah discusses the subject of betrothal, marriage, chastity, and moral purity both in thought and action. The subject matter of this treatise is culled from *beraitot contained in the Babylonian Talmud. Its authorship was generally attributed to Yehudai Gaon (eighth century), but M. Higger concludes that the original Kallah was compiled by a disciple of *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and that a later compiler added to it (intro. to M. Higger’s edition of Kallah, 13).

The larger tractate of Kallah Rabbati resembles the format of the Talmud, consisting of beraitot and Gemara. According to N. Friedmann (SederEliyahu Zuta, introd. p. 15), it emanated from the school of *Rava in Mahoza (Babylonia, third century). A. Aptowitzer, however, held that the author was Rava, a disciple of Yehudai Gaon (REJ 57 (1909), 239–48). Of the ten chapters comprising Kallah Rabbati only the first two discuss betrothal and marriage and they form a commentary to the shorter version of Kallah. Except for chapter 8, the remaining chapters form an amplification of Derekh Ereẓ Rabbah and Derekh Ereẓ Zuta. Chapter 8 is closely related to “the chapter on the acquisition of the Torah” or “the baraita of R. Meir” appended to Pirkei Avot. Much aggadic material is contained in this tractate, including the interesting stories of Akiva and the spirit of a deceased man (ch. 2); the four sages and the philosopher (ch. 7); Simeon b. Antipatros and his guests (ch. 9); and Akiva and the Athenian (ch. 10). A critical edition of the texts of Kallah and Kallah Rabbati was published by M. Higger in 1936. An English translation of these tractates was issued by Soncino Press in 1965.

From the Jewish Virtual Library at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/kallah

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