Struggling along with Nicodemus

Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel, but he still didn’t understand the basics of salvation. Timidly, secretly he came to Jesus at night, because he wanted to know.  For all the Scripture readings he’d heard, the sacrifices he’d watched – even the lessons he himself had taught others – he wasn’t confident that he knew what he needed to know.  So Jesus gave him a lesson on salvation that seems so basic to us: For God so loved the world…

I’d be tempted to look down on Nicodemus, if I didn’t sometimes feel the same way.  I can’t remember not being able to remember John 3:16.  I can confess and know that God’s love for me is sure and certain because God gave his one and only Son.  I’ve never had to sneak out to meet with Jesus in the middle of the night, but sometimes I wish I could.

·         I know what it’s like to fall into a sin that’s so base and shameful that I wonder: How could God love me, when there seems to be so little of a Christian in me?

·         I know what it’s like to feel so separate from God’s love because bits of my life were falling apart.  It doesn’t feel like the way life should be for God’s beloved child.

·         I know what it’s like – after an argument, a temptation or a chance to serve – to find myself feeling justified and “right” because of the way I handled myself.

I know what Nicodemus was struggling with.  It’s just he’s a little more honest about it than I tend to be.  So in his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul gives us a lesson on salvation. It’s thorough.  It’s clear.  And it’s worth hearing again.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:4-10).

By examining Paul’s words in the light of Nicodemus, we might better understand that even the most “churched” people can struggle with the most basic concepts – even if we “know” them very well.  There are reminders that help us whenever we backslide.  God powerfully teaches us:

·         He loves us, even when it seems we’ve mortally wounded our faith with sin. In fact, he loved us when we were dead in sin.

·         God’s love is with us even when our lives don’t seem glorious.  Our true glory is waiting in the heavenly realms.

·         We have something greater than a flimsy self-justification that will only last until our next sin.  We have a justification that (as God states in so many ways) is his full, free gift, not my doing in the least.


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