I had a read of Tom Wright’s John for Everyone this morning. I looked at John 3:1-13 which is the passage about being born again. As I read it and Wright’s explanation of it, the truth of what the good news really is dawned on me again. We don’t need to be born again so we will get into heaven when we die. Jesus didn’t come down from heaven to show us how we can get there with him. The good news is that, ultimately, heaven is coming here, and that has already started in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus coming down from heaven was the beginning of heaven coming here, the beginning of the new creation, of the new heavens and the new earth.
This passage has been among the most loved of Christians – particularly evangelical Christians – for years, and rightly so. John 3:3 is one of the verses you learn when you learn the four spiritual laws (something else which gives a twisted understanding of the Gospel).
I firmly believe in the need to be born again. After all, Jesus did say it, so we can’t just dismiss it. But we need to understand what Jesus really meant, and in what context he was saying it when he had his famous conversation with Nicodemus. Like everything when we read Scripture, we need to look at this passage in context. The whole context of Scripture is that it is a story, the story of God’s salvation plan, yes, but more than that, God’s redemption plan for not just humanity, but for the whole of the created order. Jesus said “Behold I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5, emphasis mine). And so it is in that sense that when Jesus talks about the need to be born again, he is talking about our need to be born of the Spirit of God to be able to do the works of God. This is what transformation is all about.
As well as all this, Wright makes the wonderful point about how Jesus is the ladder between us and God, about he bridges the gap for us. When I learnt the four spiritual laws, we were always shown how, because we were sinners (Romans 3:23 – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God) and can therefore not save ourselves (read: get into heaven by our own efforts), Jesus died for our sins in our place so that we can now be saved because of him (read: we can now get to heaven because of what Jesus has done). But listen to what Wright says about this, about the real, biblical reason that Jesus is the ladder between us and God:
“he [Jesus] is now the ladder which joins the two dimensions of God’s world, the heavenly and the earthly. If we want to understand not only the heavenly world, but the way in which God is now joining heaven and earth together, we must listen to him, and walk with him on the road he is now to take.”
This is the reason that Jesus is the ladder between us and God. As Wright says elsewhere in John for Everyone, it’s like Jesus is saying, “if you follow me you will see what is like when heaven and earth are open to each other.” Jesus did indeed die for our sins, but not so we could get a ticket to a heaven in the sky. It was so we could indeed be saved, but saved in the sense of being part of the new creation with him. Our hearts will be transformed, we are no longer condemned, and we are free to live for and with Jesus and his followers to help make the whole created order right again. This includes our hearts, our attitudes, our whole inner being, society, the environment, our finances, our economics, our legal system, everything. As Eden Parris sings, Jesus has come “to banish the night and to make all things right, to colour the earth with his song.”
The Gospel is bigger than we ever thought. Jesus always has something new to show us. It is anything but a dull, boring life. The life of following Jesus is the life of the ages; it is what eternal life really is.