“Nicodemus, you can’t earn your way to heaven. As a matter of fact, your receiving eternal life isn’t even something that you do.” Jesus had begun by explaining that the new birth was something that God accomplished. Like our physical birth wasn’t predicated by our own efforts, our spiritual birth was also not contingent on our own labors. Jesus went on to explain that the Spirit is the one who does the work, but that He works where He pleases and in whom He wills.
Hearing this must have been a mind blowing experience for Nicodemus. His whole life he had been striving to earn the favor of God. Perhaps, even as a teacher, he had taught his students that a man could be justified by his own righteous, pious works. Now, Jesus was telling Him that the righteousness had to come from the outside, not the inside. It wasn’t in Nicodemus that salvation could be found. God would be the only one who could save Nicodemus.
Startled and perplexed, Nicodemus asked the most humble question he had uttered to this point- “How can these things be?” Now looking to Jesus for the answer to His true dilemma, Nicodemus sought the Truth that Jesus possessed. No longer trusting in his own wisdom, or remaining in his infatuation with the miracles of Jesus, or even offering subtle attacks against the teaching of Jesus, Nicodemus now asked the simple question, “How?”
In one, straight-forward paragraph, Jesus articulated what had stumped the Jewish theologians for centuries. With remarkable concision, He unraveled the path of eternal life in front of Nicodemus. These timeless words contained so much power, that to this day they are echoed and etched in settings religious and non-religious alike. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Faith is the conduit through which God has chosen to flow the current of His grace because of the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus, “the Son of Man,” gave himself as a sacrifice for sins. Those who come to God resting in the accomplishment of Jesus alone receive the grace of God. Nicodemus would have to empty his hands of all the physical, spiritual, and religious things he thought could bring peace with God. In place of his own righteousness he would have to trust in the sinless life of Jesus, the substitutionary death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus as his only hope for eternal life.
This prescription given by Jesus was not for Nicodemus alone. We all must come in faith, believing that we can do nothing to accomplish eternal life. We can only receive salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. And like the wind, the Spirit moves where He pleases, and in the new birth, those born do not work for their own birth. Here we find that the work of God is accomplished in us, and can only turn in worship to glorify the God alone who saves.
Food for Thought: In your own words, explain how the Old Testament illustration that Jesus used to describe the faith that Nicodemus needed for salvation relates to how we need to come for salvation?