How much does God love you? He loves you so much that he sent his one and only Son into the world to pay your sin penalty. He loves you! Look at what Jesus says in John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
We Enter God’s Eternal Kingdom By Believing
You are the object of God’s unconditional love! In this verse, Jesus tells us that God loved the people of the world so much that he gave his one and only Son to save people from their sins. The world is filled with people who have sinned greatly, myself included. Yet, in love, God sent Jesus to save us from our sins, not to condemn us for our sins. How do we receive God’s love revealed through Jesus? How do we receive salvation? How do we receive eternal life? According to Jesus, by believing.
To Believe Means to Receive
So what does it mean to believe? John 1:12 says, “Yet to all to who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” To believe means to receive Jesus into your life. So how do we receive Jesus? By faith. By faith we are saved. We are saved by trusting Jesus, not by trying earnestly. We are saved by believing, not by behaving morally. We are saved by faith, not by following religious rules and rituals.
Maybe you have been seeking to save yourself by trying earnestly, behaving morally, and following rules and rituals religiously. But now, the story of God’s grace is intersecting the story of your life, and you are realizing salvation is not earned by your good works, but is received by grace through faith.
Nicodemus: From Achieving to Believing
One who came to this realization was a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who thought salvation, or entering into God’s eternal kingdom was achieved through trying earnestly to follow the Law of Moses, behaving morally, and following rules and rituals religiously. He heard about Jesus and wanted to talk with him further about entering God’s kingdom. He knew he could not have a sincere conversation with Jesus during the day, because during the day the other Pharisees were always trying to trap and trick Jesus. So to have a genuine conversation with Jesus, he approached Jesus at night (John 3:1-2).
On the heart of Nicodemus was the same question everyone else had, “What does it take to enter God’s kingdom and have everlasting life?” Even though he did not directly ask Jesus this question, Jesus knew what was on his heart. So Jesus brought up the subject. He told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth. No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3).
The term born again was confusing to Nicodemus. So Jesus told him no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). By this, Jesus was saying not only does one need to be born physically, born of the water, but must also be born spiritually, born of the Spirit. Nicodemus was curious about how a person could be born of the Spirit. Jesus told him he must be born again by believing (John 3:14-16). He told Nicodemus it is by believing one is born spiritually, thus enabling him to live eternally in the kingdom of God.
In their conversation, Jesus emphasized the necessity of believing, Jesus told him, “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
Believing was contrary to Nicodemus’ entire belief system as a Pharisee. As we have learned, Pharisees thought for one to enter God’s kingdom, he needed to behave righteously. By behaving righteously, one would qualify to enter the kingdom. Now Jesus is telling him it is not by behaving, but through believing that one enters God’s kingdom. Jesus is turning his whole belief system upside down by telling him entrance into God’s kingdom is not through behaving righteously, but by believing.
Nicodemus’ Concept of God
Not only was Nicodemus’ concept of entering God’s kingdom wrong, according to Jesus, his view of God was wrong, too! Jesus told Nicodemus that God loved the people of the world. “How could that be?” Nicodemus wondered. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was convinced God hated “sinners”, tax collectors, prostitutes, and all those like them in the world. “Surely”, he thought, “God doesn’t love them. He doesn’t love “sinners”. He loves people like me. He loves people who obey the Law of Moses. He loves people who behave morally. He loves people who follow religious rules and rituals. And now Jesus is telling me God loves everybody! He is telling me that God’s heart is not to condemn the people of the world, but to save them so they will not perish but have eternal life. And whoever believes, even the “sinner”, prostitute, and tax collector is saved from perishing and will be a part of God’s eternal kingdom.”
The belief that God did not desire to condemn anyone but loved everyone, offering eternal life to all who believed, totally shattered Nicodemus’ entire belief system. The very foundation by which Nicodemus lived as a Pharisee was now being dismantled by Jesus in one conversation. The story of God’s grace was intersecting with the story of his life. What would he do with this grace? He was at a crisis of faith. Would he accept the words of Jesus and believe, or would he reject the words of Jesus, continuing to try to behave his way into the kingdom of God?
We find later in the Bible Nicodemus defending Jesus among the Pharisees (John 7:50-52), and following Jesus’ death, he joins Joseph of Arimathea in preparing his body for burial (John 19:38-42). Through these actions, I believe Nicodemus received the grace Jesus was offering him in their conversation. He believed! He went from trying to enter God’s kingdom to trusting in Jesus.
What About You?
Maybe this is you. Maybe you have been trying earnestly to achieve salvation, to enter God’s eternal kingdom. Maybe you thought by behaving righteously you would receive eternal life, gaining entrance into God’s kingdom. Maybe you were taught it is by following religious rules and rituals you are saved. Maybe you were taught it is through commitment and faithfulness to a certain religious organization you are saved? But now, God’s story of grace is intersecting with the story of your life, and you are beginning to question your beliefs. I understand. I have been where you are. I know the crisis of faith you are facing. Do you place your faith in God’s word, or will you continue to place your faith in the words of men? To place your faith in God’s word, trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, feels wrong to you emotionally. But in your heart, you know it is right spiritually. For me, when faced with this crisis of faith, I made a decision to place my faith in God’s word. I want to encourage you to do the same. It is by grace you are saved through faith.
This Blog is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of my book, The Story of Grace. The title of Chapter 10 is called The Story of God's Love and Forgiveness. If you would like to purchase my book, click below.