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Being Born Again - When? #1

Born of the Spirit - How?


                         Researched by Keith Hunt


It is official - no hear say - the Worldwide Church of God has
adopted the "born again" teaching of the Fundamental
Protestants(like the Baptists and Pentecostals).
In the Dec.9th 1991 edition of THE WORLDWIDE NEWS there appeared
a somewhat technical article by one of the professors of
Ambassador College, the article was entitled "You must be born
from above" and was printed under the paper's section called IRON
SHARPENS IRON.

It is indeed time we sharpened some iron. In this article I shall
answer the first section of professor Stavrinides argument for
adopting this every day religious phraseology that is so popular
among the "fundamental Protestants."

Here in Stavrinides' own words is his first "proof text."

QUOTE:

YOU MUST BE BORN FROM ABOVE

The historic confrontation in John's Gospel

By K.J. Stavrinides

The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is the climax of a
rejection that was announced as early as the first chapter of
John. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (verse
11).
Luke adds that Jesus' contemporaries "hated him" (Luke 19:14),
but as representatives of the realm of darkness, the Jews were
notable to quench his light (John 1:5).

Even though John the Baptist witnessed that Jesus was the Son of
God (John 1:15-34), Jesus' identity was evident in his miracles
(as in turning the water to wine, John 2). Some Jewish rulers and
teachers (3:10) knew that he had divine powers, but they rejected
his message.
Samaritans, ironically, believed him and accepted his teaching
(4:39-42).
John's intention, in chapter 3, was to highlight the Jewish
rejection in terms of a national confrontation, between two,
representative individuals (Jesus and Nicodemus). 
That Nicodemus represented Judaism in this account is evident
from John's description of him as a Pharisee, a teacher and a
ruler of the Jews (John 3:1, 10).
A clearer indication that this was a national confrontation is
afforded by the plural personal pronouns used both by Nicodemus
and by Jesus in the claim "we know" (3:2), in which Nicodemus
refers to Judaism, and in Jesus' response "I told you [plural]
but ye..." (3:12). These pronouns present Nicodemus as the
embodiment of Judaism, speaking on its behalf and receiving
replies for the whole nation.
In addition to the hints mentioned above, John has included a
reference to the blindness of the Jews, in the veiled connection
with the night (3:2).
Nicodemus' preference for the night echoes the thought that the
Jews loved darkness because their deeds were evil (3:19-21).
Jesus could have praised Nicodemus for coming to him, but the
issue in this account is Judaism, not Nicodemus' personal
attitude toward the truth.
Nicodemus approached Jesus with a comment that is often misread.
He began with an acknowledgment that Jesus was a man, "come from
God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God
be with him" (John 3:2).
This admission did not grant that Jesus was the Son of God, but
only that he had been commissioned by God. For that matter, so
were the prophets of the Old Testament and John the Baptist. At
very best, the Jews represented by Nicodemus were prepared to
allow no more than a divine mission for Jesus.
In John's terms, however, the status of a divinely commissioned
teacher does not capture the truth concerning Jesus.
Nicodemus indeed could see that miracles were being performed,
but was not able to perceive their full import or purpose.
For this reason, Christ pointed out to him that these were only
signs, a visible manifestation of a higher power, and could not
be experienced through the senses.
Sense experience is what John meant by "see" (John 3:3), as can
be surmised from expressions like  "see life" (3:36) and "taste
death" (Mark 9:1).

The kingdom of God would be in view only if the missing condition
were present, namely an internal change that would bring about an
entirely new outlook. The person who undergoes this internal
change is so drastically changed that he could be described as a
new being. Since the new being would see things from a higher
perspective - God's - he is described as born from above.

END QUOTE

Now, did you catch all the above and what. it teaches?
If you did not, then read it again - s 1 o w. For those who would
like the argument in plain language together with an answer, then
I give below the first number of pages from the booklet by Vance
Stinson "Born From Above or Born Again"? This booklet is free and
can be obtained from The Church of God International, Box 2525,
Tyler, Texas,75710.

"Born From Above" or "Born Again" ?

QUOTE:

.....Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto
thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of
God (verses 1-3).
Jesus' reply seems unrelated to Nicodemus' statement. Why did He
respond this way?
According to some commentators, Jesus' response was to Nicodemus'
inability to "see" beyond a certain point. The Pharisee was
willing to acknowledge that Jesus was "a teacher come from God,"
but was not willing to accept Him as the Messiah, the Savior of
the world, the Son of God. Thus, Nicodemus was unable to "see,"
or experience, the operation of the Kingdom. He had only seen a
visible sign, but was unable to "see," with spiritual perception,
the invisible Kingdom of God.

According to this view, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that in order
to perceive the operation of the Kingdom, and in order to take
part in the activities of the Kingdom, one must experience a
"change of perspective" through reception of the Holy Spirit.
Further, it is claimed that John's pointing out that Nicodemus
was a Pharisee (verse 1) and Nicodemus' use of the word "we"
(verse 2) show that Nicodemus represents Judaism. Therefore, this
entire account represents a confrontation between Jesus Christ
and Judaism.

According to the theory, John's purpose in writing this section
was to show that the Jews rejected Christ, but the Gentiles
accepted Him. This thought is strengthened, so it is claimed, by
the fact that the very next chapter shows that the Samaritans
accepted Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
Further "support" can be found in John's use of meaningful terms,
such as the word "night." Nicodemus came to Jesus "by night." The
word "night" supposedly represents "spiritual darkness." Thus,
Nicodemus, representing Judaism and its adherents, was groping in
spiritual darkness, unable to "see" that Jesus was the Messiah,
the Son of God, the Redeemer and Savior of the World.
As one scholar said, "The issue here is "Who is Jesus?"

But was that really the issue? Did Nicodemus reject Jesus as the
Messiah? Was he in total spiritual darkness, unable to see the
operation of the Kingdom through the works of Jesus? Did
Nicodemus represent Judaism? And did John intend that this
account represent the confrontation between Christ and Judaism?
Was Nicodemus Groping in Spiritual Darkness?

It is certainly true that Nicodemus did not at this point
understand that the Messiah would suffer and die, be resurrected,
ascend to heaven, and return to this earth to establish His
Kingdom. Even Jesus' disciples did not understand these things.
But the idea that Nicodemus was completely blind as to Jesus'
Messiahship is simply not true! The truth is, Nicodemus went to
Jesus because he at least suspected that Jesus was the Messiah.
This becomes clear when we examine all that the New Testament
tells us about Nicodemus.

Notice John 19:38-42:
And after this [the death of Jesus] Joseph of Arimathea [a member
of the Sanhedrin], being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for
fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the
body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and
took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at
the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh
and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body
of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the
manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was
crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre,
wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore
because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh
at hand."

Does the above leave the impression that Nicodemus was a
representative of the Christ-rejecting Jews? Of course not!
Consider these points:

1) Nicodemus was willing to risk assisting Joseph in the burial
of Jesus. These men were members of the Sanhedrin ("rulers of the
Jews"), and risked ridicule and persecution from their Sanhedrin
associates, most of whom hated Jesus and had a hand in His
murder.
2) Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus. The fact that Nicodemus
knew about Joseph's plans and assisted him in carrying out those
plans indicates that the two shared their secret thoughts about
Jesus. Nicodemus himself may have been a closet disciple!
Is it not clearly obvious that Nicodemus had at least suspected
that Jesus was the Messiah? Otherwise, why the association with
Joseph of Arimathea? Why the concern over Jesus' body?
It may be true that Jesus' death curbed Nicodemus' suspicion, but
the fact that he took part in the preparation and burial of
Jesus' body shows that the life, teachings, and works of Jesus
certainly impacted Nicodemus' life. No doubt, the question of
Jesus' Messiahship had been more than just a passing thought!
Nicodemus' favorable regard for Jesus is also seen in John the
seventh chapter.
Jesus was preaching in the temple, and the people were divided:
Some believed His message and some did not. Some even believed He
was the Christ. But some were there for no other reason than to
capture Him and take Him to the Sanhedrin, but their mission
failed.
Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and
they said unto them, Why have ye not brought Him? The officers
answered, Never man spake like this man. Then answered them the
Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers of the
Pharisees believed on Him? But this people who knoweth not the
law are cursed. Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus
by night, being one of them) Doth our law judge any man, before
it hear him, and know what he doeth? They answered and said unto
him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of
Galilee ariseth no prophet (John 7:45-52).

Nicodemus' defense of Jesus shows that he did not share the
Pharisees' feelings about Him. Moreover, unless someone - and
there's a good chance it was Nicodemus! - told John what was said
in the meeting between the officers and the Pharisees, how could
John have known what was said? It is not likely that this
discussion took place within hearing distance of Jesus or His
disciples, so it is very possible that Nicodemus, a converted
member of God's church by the time John wrote, and told John of
this occasion.

The reason Nicodemus came to Jesus was that he at least suspected
that Jesus was the Messiah. He came by night either because he
sought an uninterrupted conversation or because of fear of the
Jews - the same reason Joseph kept his discipleship a secret.
Indeed, this account does show that the Pharisees opposed Jesus,
but Nicodemus obviously did not represent the Pharisees. Rather,
he, as Joseph of Arimathea, was an exception. The risks he took
in (1) coming to Jesus, (2) defending Jesus' right before the
Sanhedrin, and (3) assisting Joseph in obtaining, preparing, and
burying the body of Jesus strongly indicate that Nicodemus
thought of Jesus as something more than just another "teacher
sent from God."

When he said, "we know that thou art a teacher come from God," he
was definitely not speaking for all the Pharisees. The "we" must
have included himself, Joseph of Arimathea, and perhaps a few
other Pharisees who wondered if Jesus was in fact the One whose
appearance they had for so many years awaited.
It seems that Nicodemus could see the "operation of the Kingdom"
through the works of Jesus;, but he didn't know what to make of
it because he, like Jesus' disciples, had some erroneous ideas
about the Kingdom.

What was on Nicodemus' mind? Nicodemus, suspecting Jesus was the
Messiah, must had many questions in mind when He came to Him by
night; questions such as these: "If you are the Messiah, when
will you restore the Kingdom to Israel?"  "How do you plan to
overthrow the Romans?"  "How can a man secure for himself a place
in the Kingdom?"

We are told that Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus' close associate,
was a man who "waited for the Kingdom of God" (Luke 23:51). Both
men knew that before the Kingdom could be established, the
Messiah had to come. Their interest in Jesus shows that they
believed He was (or could be) the Messiah who would restore the
Kingdom.
Like Jesus' disciples, Nicodemus assumed that the Messiah would
lead a bloody revolt against the Romans and restore the Kingdom
of Israel to full statehood as a sovereign nation. But Jesus,
knowing Nicodemus' mind, explained to him that the Kingdom would
not be like that at all.

"Except a man be born again," He said, "he cannot see the Kingdom
of God." In other words, the Kingdom is not made up of mortal,
flesh-and-blood human beings (see I Corinthians 15:42-50).
Therefore, to see the Kingdom - to ENTER into it and become a
part of it - a person must become something other than a mortal,
flesh-and-blood human being. He must be changed from mortal to
immortal, from corruptible flesh to incorruptible spirit.
He must be born again!

END QUOTES

So this new idea would have us believe that Nicodemus was
representing the blinded and darkened mind of Judaism - an
account of a confrontation between Jesus and Judaism.

I now turn to the comments of some very well respected clergy of
yesterday. These men all believed and taught the popular "born
again" teaching that the WCG has embraced. But as you will read,
they certainly did not teach this argument that Stavrinides puts
forth.

(This original study was published in my "The Truth of the
Matter" magazine, which ran from 1987 to 1994. In that
publication I gave photo copies from 4 famous Bible Commentators
of yesterday, which included Albert Barnes, Adam Clarke and
Matthew Henry. I give only ONE below - Keith Hunt).

ALL THE MEN OF THE BIBLE by Herbert Lockyer D.D.

QUOTE:

NICODEMUS [Nicodemus]-INNOCENT BLOOD or VICTOR OVER THE PEOPLE.
An elderly and somewhat wealthy Pharisee and a member of the
Sanhedrin (John 3:1-9; 7:50; 19:39).
The Man Who Came to Jesus by Night
Whenever Nicodemus is mentioned it is always with the label, "the
same that came to Jesus by night." Why is this master in Israel
always spoken of in this way? Was he a coward, afraid of what the
fellow-members of the Sanhedrin would say if they saw him seeking
out Jesus? We feel that he came by night because it was the best
time for both Jesus and himself to have a quiet, uninterrupted
conversation about spiritual matters. Nicodemus had been occupied
all day with his teaching duties, and Jesus had been active in
His out-of-door ministry. Now both could relax and talk through
the night. It may be that Nicodemus had such a heart hunger that
he could not wait until morning, and so came running to Jesus as
soon as he could.
There had been no direct voice from God in Israel for a long
time, and here was One whose message carried the stamp of divine
authority. So Nicodemus, the cautious enquirer, but a man of
spiritual perception (John 3:2), sought out Christ, and listened
to one of His remarkable conversational sermons. Nicodemus
figures three times in John's gospel.

He came to Christ (John 3:2). This master in Israel confessed
Christ to be a Teacher sent from God and heard that in spite of
his culture, position and religion, he needed to be born anew by
the Spirit of God. His name, meaning "innocent blood," is
suggestive. Nicodemus came to realize that his salvation was
dependent upon the shedding of innocent blood (John 3:14, 16).
He spoke for Christ (John 7:45-52). As a fair-minded man,
Nicodemus, although a disciple at heart and afraid to avow his
faith, raised his voice on behalf of Christ as the Sanhedrin
devised measures against Him. The rulers were His avowed enemies,
and Nicodemus raised a point of order in favor of the One he had
learned so much from. Perhaps he should have been more courageous
and outspoken on Christ's behalf. When the Sanhedrin condemned
Jesus to death, there was no protest from Nicodemus. It is likely
that he absented himself from that fateful meeting.

He honored Christ (John 19:39, 40). After the death of Christ,
ashamed of his cowardice, Nicodemus rendered loving though
belated service to Christ. Openly he joined Joseph of Arimathea,
another secret disciple, in preparing Christ's body for a kingly
burial. But the dead cannot appreciate our loving attention. Mary
gave her spices to Jesus while He was alive. It is better to give
flowers to the living than reserve them for their burial.

END QUOTE

My personal Bible is a KJV but it is the special edition called
THE TEACHER'S HERITAGE, published by WORLD PUBLISHING. It
contains many "helps" especially formulated for ministers and
teachers of the word. At the beginning of each book of the Bible
is an introduction and out-line about that book. Here is the
first number of sentences to the Gospel of John:

"The key to the purpose and method of the fourth Gospel is given
in 20:30-31: the author is selecting events from the life of
Jesus to demonstrate His messiahship and deity, in the hope that
commitment and life for the reader might result. John is the
Gospel of the divinity of the Son, presenting in its very first
sentence two concepts whose explicit expression is unique among
the Gospels: the preexistence of Christ, and the Logos
doctrine....."

Yes, over and over again John wrote about the DIVINITY and
PREEXISTENCE of Jesus Christ. He immediately starts out with it
and keeps coming back to it time and time again.
It is then more than just a happenstance that John records the
words of Nicodemus "we know that thou art a teacher COME FROM
GOD" when John recorded that the Baptist was "sent from God"
(ch.1:6). In any other NT book it could be just a play on words,
but within John's Gospel it must be viewed as having a deliberate
message to convey to the reader.

The truth of the matter is: John was inspired to record that
Nicodemus said Jesus was come from God, not just merely sent from
God as was the Baptist.
It can be seen from the forgoing comments of some of the most
respected Bible Commentaries that these Protestant ministers who
taught the popular "born again" idea, did not try to invent some
strange "historic confrontation" theory to give weight to their
teaching that one is born again when a person receives the Holy
Spirit.

When we look at all that we can discover about the man Nicodemus
as given to us in the Bible, it should be clear that he was a
sincere and educated leader in the Jewish Sanhedrin, who together
with many other of his peers privately would admit that Jesus
was......COME from God.

Nicodemus was not representing Judaism per se sent out on some
dark task of confronting Jesus by night. But he did represent
some of the Jewish leaders who well knew that Jesus was the Son
of God - the Messiah - the one who was to come from God and
restore Israel to glory and rule the world from Jerusalem.
Nicodemus was admitting this to Jesus and probably hoping that
privately Jesus would tell him WHEN all this would come to pass -
at what hour and day.

Now before we close this first instalment on this born again
doctrine, I want you to notice carefully Mr. Stavrinides comment
and explanation about the words "come from God." He says, "This
admission did not grant that Jesus was the Son of God, but only
that he had been commissioned by God. For that matter, so were
the prophets of the Old Testament and John the Baptist. At very
best, the Jews represented by Nicodemus were prepared to allow no
more than a divine mission for Jesus."
Professor Stavrinides wants you to believe the words "come from
God" only mean "sent from God" as was written about the Baptist
in chapter 1:6. He wants you to believe that "come from God" does
not mean "come from God" but sent or commissioned by God, just
like all the other prophets. But John's Gospel is trying over and
over again to DISMISS that idea - that Jesus was merely a man
sent by God like all the other men sent by God down through the
centuries. John is proving time and again that Jesus was DIVINE -
that He did pre-exist - that He CAME from God because He was WITH
God from the beginning and He would return to God for a time
appointed.

The reasoning and logic of Stravrinides reminds me of the
fundamental (funny mental I call them) ministers who when they
read you Rom. 6:23 tell you "well that verse does not mean it is
death on the one hand and eternal life on the other hand, it
means the wages of sin is eternal life but separated from God."
They do not want you to believe what the verse really says, death
for sin while eternal life is God's gift through Jesus. They do
not want you to let simple words mean what they say, they must
according to them, mean something else.

Now, the WCG is playing the same games. You are told "come from
God" does not mean "come from God" but something like "sent from
God" or just commissioned by God to act on His behalf like the OT
prophets did.


Sure many leaders of Judaism only thought of Jesus as "another
prophet" but many leaders like Nicodemus with many of the common
people KNEW that Jesus came directly from God and that He was the
Messiah that the old prophets predicted was to come to earth as
the very Son of God.

Even if you want to argue Nicodemus did NOT yet quite fully
believe Jesus was the promised Messiah, he certainly is shown by
the Gospels as being of a much more receptive mind-set than most
of the Pharisees. The idea that Nicodemus represented the hostile
Jews or Pharisees in confrontation with Jesus is an argument that
deserved little attention. The old Bible Commentators never came
close to suggesting anything like K. J. Stravrinides has put
forth, then again certain sects of Fundamental Protestantism have
come up with some pretty wild ideas over the last 100 years or
so, such as the "Secret Rapture" (which I answer fully in a study
by that name on my Website).

                             ................

TO BE CONTINUED

Written in 1992

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