“Jesus answered and said to him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
“And she had a sister called Mary, who also, having sat down at the feet of Jesus was listening to his word.” (Luke 10:39)
“Now there was at table one of his disciples in the bosom of Jesus, whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23)
The Lord Jesus said: “For many are called ones, but few chosen ones.” (Matthew 22:14) Indeed, many are called “Christians” — and in the Bible being a Christian means being a disciple of Jesus Christ, — but few are true Christians or true disciples. As soon as you are baptized, you are called a disciple of Jesus Christ, a Christian. But it is not enough to be baptized and to be called a disciple; you need to be born of God, to be a chosen one in Christ, to really be a disciple of Jesus Christ. As belonging to the Lord Jesus, being one of His sheep (cf. John 10:27-28), is the only way to have eternal life by being saved from sin by His blood, then it is a very important thing to know what being a true disciple of Jesus Christ means. It does not mean to be a theologian who knows the whole true Christian doctrine intellectually: Nicodemus was the teacher of Israel (cf. John 3:10), and yet the Lord told him that he needed to be born of God (cf. John 3:7); it does not mean to have good morality that people can see clearly in our lives: the rich young man who needed eternal life had a great visible morality, as he didn’t murder, he didn’t commit adultery, he didn’t steal, he didn’t bear false witness, he honored his father and mother, and he even loved his neighbor as himself (cf. Matthew 19:18-19) — although he did all this only externally, not from his innermost being or from the heart, — and yet the Lord said that it is as difficult for him to enter the Kingdom of God as it is for a camel to enter a needle’s eye (cf. Matthew 19:23-24); it does not mean to have the true Christian doctrine and to be involved religiously: the five foolish virgins had oil in their torches, although not in their vessels, and yet the Lord told them “Verily I say unto you, I do not know you.” (cf. Matthew 25:1-13); it does not mean to call Jesus “Lord” and to be in His service, doing good works and even miracles in His Name: many who did all these things will hear the Lord telling them on that Day “I never knew you. Depart from me, workers of lawlessness.” (cf. Matthew 7:21-23); it does not even mean conviction of sin: as Paul was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was convicted of sin and became frightened, and yet he refused to repent and postponed listening to Paul in order to move away the conviction (cf. Acts 24:25); yes, it does not even mean assurance of Salvation, an assurance based on a false hope: the five foolish virgins and the many who are mentioned in Matthew 7:21-23 sincerely expected the Lord to open the door for them to enter, because they knew Him truly (true intellectual knowledge) and they truly believed in Him as Lord and Savior (with an intellectual faith), but the Lord does not know them and that is what counts (cf. Matthew 25:12 and Matthew 7:23); it does not mean to have a certain date of decision for Christ which we remember: those on the rocky soil and among the thorns would remember well the time when they received the Word with joy, but they didn’t have life in them and they didn’t give the fruit of life (cf. Luke 8:13-14). All these neither prove nor disprove genuine discipleship and Salvation; but
YOU NEED TO BE BORN AGAIN.
The Lord told Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) It is impossible to see the Kingdom of God without being born of God. This Kingdom of God is not just the future visible Kingdom of Christ, but it is also the present Kingdom of Christ in the hearts of the believers from all nations. This Kingdom is a spiritual and moral reality that includes all what the dominion of the Holy God in the hearts of men means as holiness and joy and true peace: “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in [the] Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) God’s Word expresses this righteousness and peace and joy with the term “light” which is spiritual light or truth, thus Salvation means passing from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Son which is the Kingdom of light: “giving thanks to the Father, who has made us fit for sharing the portion of the saints in light, who has delivered us from the authority of darkness, and translated [us] into the kingdom of the Son of his love“ (Colossians 1:12-13). The citizens of this Kingdom are characterized by love for God, repentance from sin, genuine humility, devotion to God’s Glory, continual prayer, selfless love, separation from the world, spiritual growth, obedient living, hunger for God’s Word, transformation of life. So the Lord explained to Nicodemus that no one can see or share in this Kingdom of holiness and peace and joy unless he is born of God, because those who are in the flesh cannot please God by obeying His Law from the heart (cf. Romans 8:7-8) and they cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God or all what is spiritual (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14); they either understand this Kingdom as a legalistic obedience to the commandment to do good works (thus they are legalistic Christians), or they understand it as a freedom to sin (thus they are liberal or antinomian Christians), or they don’t even care to understand it (thus they are non-Christians). Indeed, knowledge and understanding of the things of God do not come before faith; faith comes before understanding, and it is by faith that we understand the things of the Spirit. Without the new birth one cannot even imagine what this Kingdom of God looks like. Although one may study theology and intellectually know what this Kingdom looks like, and he may do good works that look like the righteousness of this Kingdom, but all that is vain: he needs to be born of God in order to really see the Kingdom of God and understand the things of His Spirit.
All those who are born of God by faith in Christ, and only them, can spiritually understand the things of God, as they have passed from the kingdom of darkness (from the world) to the Kingdom of God; they are the spiritual children of God, the true disciples of Jesus Christ who obey the Lord by the Spirit. Their understanding of the things of God is born little like a baby, but it is born really alive, and then it grows as they grow in grace by faith. The more they long for the pure milk of God’s Word, the more they grow in respect to Salvation (see 1 Peter 2:2). The more they get closer to the Lord, the more deeply they understand the mind of God. This truth is very beautifully expressed in the Bible with the examples of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and of the Apostle John:
– Mary is always mentioned at the feet of the Lord Jesus, whether to listen to His Word and obey it (see Luke 10:39), or to pray to Him and ask Him something according to God’s Will (see John 11:32), or to worship Him in love (see John 12:3). Whenever Jesus came to the house of Martha and Mary, Mary used to sit at His feet to listen to Him and to learn His heart closely (cf. Luke 10:39), and the Lord said that she has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her (cf. Luke 10:42). When her brother Lazarus died, the Spirit says that when Jesus arrived and was very close to the place where Lazarus was, Martha went to find Him, however she’s not mentioned at the feet of the Lord Jesus, but Mary her sister is: “Mary therefore, when she came where Jesus was, seeing him, fell at his feet, saying to him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” (John 11:32) Six days before the last Passover in the life of Jesus on earth, Mary is mentioned at the feet of the Lord again: “Mary therefore, having taken a pound of ointment of pure nard of great price, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.” (John 12:3)“While the king is at his table, My spikenard sendeth forth its fragrance.” (Song 1:12) Mary knew and understood by faith, and maybe not intellectually, that Jesus is the Messiah King who would die for our sins, therefore she anointed Him for His death before His resurrection: “Jesus therefore said, Suffer her to have kept this for the day of my preparation for burial” (John 12:7). Mary’s anointment came on the proper time, because that’s when the living should be anointed, while the anointment of the other Marys (cf. Mark 16:1) came late, when the living was not among the dead… Mary’s act was so closely linked to the true meaning of the Gospel (especially the death and the resurrection of the Lord, as we have seen) that the Lord said that it would be spoken of what Mary did wherever the Gospel is preached (cf. Matthew 26:13 and Mark 14:9). When all the disciples were in confusion concerning the death of Jesus, and they were even thinking about who should be great among them, Mary understood His death and resurrection by faith, as she was close to Him and she used to sit at His feet to learn His heart. Although at that time Peter’s mind was not on the things of God but on the things of men (cf. Matthew 16:23), Mary understood the heart of Jesus that the way of redemption passes through the cross and that the only way to the victory of resurrection is through death to sin, and that’s the heart of the Gospel! Immediately after rebuking Peter for not having his mind on the things of God, the Lord said: “If any one desires to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever shall desire to save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what does a man profit, if he should gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26) Indeed, the cross and self-denial are the heart of the Gospel, as it is not by our merits that we are saved, but by the Grace of Christ. Thus Mary is described before the coming of the Holy Spirit as an example of the true disciple of Jesus Christ. Now that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church, this is how every disciple of Jesus Christ should be naturally, getting always closer and closer to the mind and heart of the Lord Jesus, worshiping Him as the Lord Messiah.
– The Apostle John writes about himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. This is not arrogance; by this, John didn’t mean that Jesus didn’t love the other disciples; but John wrote this to express what he had learned when he saw Jesus on the cross for him — that Jesus loved each one of them with that great love which He Himself described: “No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Unlike many so-called Christians today who disrespect Jesus, John understood that although Jesus called His disciples His friends, and yet He is God incarnate whose friendship should be seen from the side of the disciples as the love of a father who befriends His children without losing His respect and honor as Lord and Father; His children should honor Him as their divine Father. Today, with the general disrespect to parents that is so common in our societies, people do not understand what is the respect of a loving father who befriends his children, but Abraham for example understood: Abraham was called the friend of God (cf. James 2:23) because he learned by faith the mind of God closely (cf. John 15:15), and yet Abraham worshiped and honored God as God and Lord, with the respect of a free slave of God who understood by faith that the purpose of his existence is to glorify God in all things. This is also what John understood by faith: John is mentioned on the bosom of Jesus: “Now there was at table one of his disciples in the bosom of Jesus, whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23) The bosom of a loving father: that’s where children love to be. John was close to Jesus as a child is close to his father, and in that close place of filial intimacy John, unlike all the other disciples, was the only one who knew who was about to betray Jesus (cf. John 13:25-26). Once again, before the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have here in John an example of a true disciple of Jesus Christ who was close to Jesus in this passage of Scripture as a child is close to his father. Indeed, John understood by faith that Jesus is One with the Father in Nature, and that He is by Nature the Father of Eternity (cf. Isaiah 9:6). And John was careful to mention a detail where Jesus also talked to His disciples as His beloved children whom He will never leave as orphans: a few verses after he said that he was on the bosom of Jesus, John wrote that Jesus said: “Children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me; and, as I said to the Jews, Where I go ye cannot come, I say to you also now.” (John 13:33) Jesus called the disciples who were almost of His age “children”, and this means something, and we now know what it means. John later quotes Jesus saying that He would not leave them orphans: “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you.” (John 14:18) This is how a father talks to his children. John loved and honored Jesus as a child honors and loves his divine Father. Now that the Holy Spirit dwells in each disciple of Jesus Christ, this is how each one of us should be naturally, getting always closer and closer to the mind and heart of the Lord, so that we may understand Him and know Him deeply by faith in order to obey Him by His Spirit.
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ
This doesn’t mean that I am the only disciple of Jesus Christ, just as John calling himself the disciple whom Jesus loved doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t love the others as well.
This article is written on the occasion of the second anniversary of this weblog on the 13th of March 2011. I thank the Lord for keeping and leading this mission on the internet for His Glory. May all people know our Beloved, Jesus Christ. Amen.