Joh 3:1 And there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
Joh 3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to Him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles which you do unless God is with him.
Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Joh 3:4 Nicodemus said to Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?
Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Joh 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Joh 3:7 Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.
Joh 3:8 The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice, but you do not know from where He comes, and where He goes; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Joh 3:9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, How can these things be?
Joh 3:10 Jesus answered and said to him, Are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things?
Joh 3:11 Truly, truly, I say to you, We speak what we know and testify what we have seen. And you do not receive our witness.
Joh 3:12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
Php 3:3 For we are the circumcision who worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh;
Php 3:4 though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other thinks that he has reason to trust in the flesh, I more.
Php 3:5 I was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. As regards the Law, I was a Pharisee;
Php 3:6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness in the Law, blameless.
Php 3:7 But whatever things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
So why these two passages? Because I want to be clear on this point- head knowledge is not heart knowledge, and zealously following the wrong thing is still following the wrong thing. So let's go back and unpack a bit.
Nicodemus thought there was something to Christ. He was willing to risk a visit- and it was a risk to his "professional reputation", else why would he have gone in the middle of the night?- and seek more about him. But he was a "professional"- The word "ruler has been variously translated 'teacher' or 'master', and Matthew Henry's Commentary describes him thus:
He was a ruler of the Jews, a member of the great sanhedrin, a senator, a privy-counsellor, a man of authority in Jerusalem. Bad as things were, there were some rulers well inclined, who yet could do little good because the stream was so strong against them; they were over-ruled by the majority, and yoked with those that were corrupt, so that the good which they wished to do they could not do; yet Nicodemus continued in his place, and did what he could, when he could not do what he would.
So it was no mean thing for him to come; and yet, he came with his knowledge based on years of learning and tradition. Not so very unlike myself when a trio of friends tried to get me to commit my life to Christ, and I told them, "That's okay, I'm a Catholic." I had church teachers and church traditions backing me up for miles.
And a couple of weeks later, with daemons of my life surrounding me like a chorus, I made my midnight visit to Christ. And the darkness lifted like a curtain.
One thing I thought of, and rejected, was using a quote from an atheist in an old old debate near the dawn of this blog. The gist is enough for here: That he had "sincerely believed" in "Christianity", but had rejected it because "it flew in the face of logic." Two of those things I just quoted were in error. First, he may have sincerely believed in what his reading and observation had led him to conclude- but that was all head knowledge. Secondly, he saw "Christianity" as a religion, and despite my efforts could never see that there is a difference between religion (man's perception of what whichever god you worship wants) and faith (a one on one personal relationship WITH God). The third, though, I have to grant Him: faith flies in the face of "logic." God explains that over and over, especially in Ecclesiastes.
Jesus's last words in the passage to Nicodemus are key: If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Jesus told him the thing he needed to understand to pass from the earthly perspective to the heavenly one: You MUST be born again. Nothing else afterwards that Jesus could tell him would make any sense, despite his being a "professional", a teacher, until he took that step. And I will add something to that- call it Dr Martin's rule #1. You don't get past that first step without giving something up.
Example: remember the rich young ruler?
Mat 19:16 And behold, one came and said to Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?
Mat 19:17 And He said to him, Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.
Mat 19:18 He said to Him, Which? Jesus said, You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness,
Mat 19:19 honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Mat 19:20 The young man said to Him, I have kept all these things from my youth up; what do I lack yet?
Mat 19:21 Jesus said to him, If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven. And come, follow Me.
Mat 19:22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
This man, like Nicodemus, like the commenter, had sufficient knowledge to know what was expected; but he had a treasure in the way, just like Nicodemus had the treasure of reputation, I had the "treasure" of my sin, and the commenter had the treasure of his logic. And Jesus demands you give up your treasure- the thing that stands in the way of your faith.
Paul was just like this, and even more so, because he was utterly convinced that he was in the right- until he found he was totally wrong. He was counting on his knowledge, his lineage, and the Law to vindicate him. He had the treasure of self-confidence and self-righteousness, and he lost both when Jesus came and struck him blind, and asked him, "Why do you persecute Me? It is hard to kick against the goads." And why did Jesus add the part about the goads? Because, Paul had his life's work planned out to the minutest detail in HIS mind- but God had another plan, and all his grand designs were doing were rubbing up against it.
Now, this brings us to Dr Martin's rule number 2- you don't go forward without a show of obedience.
I would like to think I have at last- maybe for the first time in my life- made steps in the right direction in the last few weeks. Perfection? NOT. EVEN. CLOSE. But God is doing the fighting for me, now. And I think that stems from an incident about six months ago, when I finally "felt the goads" and began tithing. Funny how this newborn progress then, months later, came during a two-week period when David Jeremiah was preaching ON the blessings of the tithe. And it struck me: I had made a show of obedience, and now God was beginning to move me.
But you can't get to rule # 2 without getting past rule #1. You have to get past head knowledge and let Christ into your heart. And thereafter be prepared, because something you have to give up will come along. Is it your knowledge? Logic? Years of tradition and "church teaching?" A secret sin? Or just being comfortable with the way you WANT to see God rather than the way He wants to be seen?