It is especially difficult to explain to a five-year-old that they must be a certain height in order to ride one they have chosen. Of course, we try to explain it by saying, "You're not tall enough."
"But, I'm big, mommy."
"Yes, you're big all right, and very brave, but the sign says you must be THIS tall in order to ride. And you're not that tall yet. Maybe next year."
Most of us have been there at one time or another, and we know the frustration of trying to smooth over the disappointment of not getting what the child wanted.
The sign reads, "You must be at least this tall to ride."
What can you do to make that happen?
C'mon. Think outside the box with me here.
What can you do to force this child to reach the necessary height so that they will be safe enough to ride the big roller coaster?
There is simply nothing that you can do to make this happen. It will happen, but only on its own schedule in its own time.
However, for the typical no-problem-too-big, I-can-fix-anything, challenges-are-just-opportunities, independent, nobody-tells-me-I-can't, self-sufficient American, the word "must" obviously means "there is something I can or should do."
Then why do we take that approach to Jesus' statement that we must be born again?
I'll rephrase the question.
Was Jesus requiring a moral mandate or stating a necessary experience?
Was He telling us something that we must DO, or something that must happen to us?
Nicodemus, for all his education, assumed that it was something that he must do, and came up with the only logical thing possible without a spiritual understanding of being born again. "Do I have to enter into my mother's womb to born again?"
Ridiculous, is it not?
Now that we are on this side of the cross, we feel we have more understanding than poor ol' Nicodemus. Jesus explained the second birth from a spiritual perspective. It is something that must happen on the inside of a person.
Now that we understand, we take out our ingenuity and figure out HOW to make this happen.
Why is it so easy for us to go from the spiritual back to the natural without even a blink of the eye, thinking we are getting it right?
We have plucked a few verses from Romans, and 1 John, and added them to John 3 and go around essentially telling people, "You must get yourself born again."
I'm sorry. I don't care how you cut it, that is NOT good news (the meaning of 'gospel').
In Christian language, we have equated the term "born again" with "saved."
Therefore, we are basically telling people to save themselves.
"Yes. I see that you are drowning. All you have to do is swim to the life ring. Go for it."
"Yes. I see that you are falling to your death. All you have to do is fly. Now, flap those arms."
"Yes. I see that you are caught in the maelstrom of addiction. All you have to do is change your mind."
Sound ridiculous? Of course it is.
But that is our gospel. "Change your mind" is New Age speak for "repent."
I am not denying the necessity of what Jesus called for--we must be born again. That is a given.
I am, however, denying the necessity of your having any part in its occurrence. What did you do to help your mother bring you into this world?
It happened according to due process in due time.
So is it with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
It is the word "must" that throws us. Somehow, we have taken it to be a moral imperative, something that is on our shoulders to get accomplished.
Yet, that is not how we always use the word in common events.
Your Aunt Susie shows up and says, "Why, you must be at least five feet tall now!" She is not putting a requirement on you.
The sign for the roller coaster reads that you must be four feet tall to ride. It is not stating something that you must DO; rather it is something that you must BE.
It is the same with BEing born again. There is nothing that you can do. It happens.
Jesus explained it this way: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8 ESV)
He essentially said, "It happens in a way that you do not know."
Some will challenge this and say, "This will stop evangelism."
My response is, "Goody!" (I love the C.L. Moore would say that.)
If it means that it will stop this perpetual proclamation of a perverted gospel, then, goody.
Hopefully, we will begin to see the true form of evangelism where people simply talk about their experience with God. Then, those who are made ready by the Spirit of God will ask questions about how they can have the same experience.
The answer is still the same as it has been for 2,000 years: "Do you believe?"
Questions, comments, and/or criticisms are welcomed and appreciated. Thank you.