Nicodemus was a religious leader, well-respected by his peers. I grew up in a Baptist preacher’s home, was actively involved in my church as a teen and on into adulthood. I attended Bible college and became a teacher in a Christian school and even served for a time as youth pastor. Being on the church staff gave me a measure of respect by others.
Nicodemus was of the strictest sect of the Jews, and was undoubtedly very sincere in his belief in God’s written Word. Likewise, I was always convinced that the Bible was God’s inspired Word, His revealed will for mankind. I read and studied it faithfully. I enjoyed hearing it preached and taught and adhered to the strictest interpretations of the Bible’s doctrines.
But, Nicodemus observed something in the ministry of Jesus that unsettled him. Jesus spoke with a power and authority that was unusual. He performed miracles, healed the sick, and changed lives in a dramatic and undeniable way. Nicodemus must have wondered what he was missing in his own life that Jesus had in His. His curiosity caused him to seek after Jesus. He probably heard Jesus preach and teach on a number of occasions. But he wanted to talk to Him personally.
In my experience in various Baptist churches, I had seen the power of God at work in the lives of many people. “Lives were transformed in truly miraculous ways.” Lives were transformed in truly miraculous ways. I observed answers to prayer in ways that testified to God’s glory. Close friends talked often of their sweet personal relationship with the Lord, of answers to private prayer, and of lessons He was teaching them. I felt like an outsider, an observer. I began to wonder, “What was I missing that they had?” I reasoned that since I had prayed a “salvation” prayer as a young teen, then I must be “saved,” so I must just be missing some special link to the deeper Christian life. (Note: salvation, saved and born again are Biblical terms referring to the forgiveness of sins by God and the rescue of a person from the power and penalty of that sin. This is God’s requirement for everlasting life.)
But as I approached my 35th birthday, and my supposed 22nd “spiritual” birthday, I honestly admitted that if I had not found that missing ingredient in all these years, why would I find it now. But, it was so real to others. I began to earnestly seek for God with all my heart. “I thirsted for a relationship with Him that I had not enjoyed all these years, but that I knew others were experiencing.” I thirsted for a relationship with Him that I had not enjoyed all these years, but that I knew others were experiencing.
Nicodemus came to Jesus under cover of darkness at night. Undoubtedly, he was fearful of what others would think. Pride is a big hurdle to the religious. I began thinking, reading, writing, and evaluating. But I did it secretly, not even telling my wife. I pulled back from my other pursuits and activities, and spent time in the Bible, pleading with Him to reveal Himself to me.
When Nicodemus came to Jesus and began talking to Him, Jesus quickly got to the point of telling him that he was in darkness and spiritually dead. He needed to be born again, spiritually.
I admitted to God that my heart was deceitful, and I was unable to rightly discern my true spiritual condition. But, He knew me inside out, and could reveal it to me.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins…” the Bible tells us in Jeremiah, chapter 17, verses 9-10. The Bible also says, in Psalms chapter 139, verses 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.“
When I came to Him honestly seeking a relationship with Him, He quickly revealed to me that I was a lost sinner. I was listening to a sermon about Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Today, we view him as a thief and traitor, but in his day he was highly respected as part of the inner circle of Jesus. He was a participant in the ministry of Christ, an observer of many miracles, and the recipient of the teaching of the Truth. But he was lost and damned to hell for his sin.
I identified myself with Judas. My heart was smitten and broken. I was stunned at the revelation. How could it be, that after all these years, I was lost? I thought I had done what was required for salvation. I had memorized the verses in the plan of salvation. I had followed the plan as best as I knew how.
“But God had answered my prayer – He had shown me that I did not have a relationship with Him, because I needed to be born again.” But God had answered my prayer – He had shown me that I did not have a relationship with Him, because I needed to be born again.
Like Nicodemus, I was confused. “How can these things be?” And Jesus seemed to answer, “Are thou a religious teacher and knowest not these things?”
I longed for a life-changing work of God in my life. I wanted to know Him. I clung to the promise in Jeremiah, chapter 29, verses 13-14, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you…” I knew that God would be found in His Word, so I began earnestly reading. He began by showing me His holiness and majesty, then my sinfulness, hypocrisy, and emptiness in comparison. Over the course of a week, I read many, many passages of scripture. God’s Holy Spirit was teaching me, and pointing me to see Jesus. I sensed that He was working in my heart, convicting and calling me to Himself. The Bible verse that came to my mind was Matthew, chapter 11, verse 28, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.“
Something seemed to be hindering me, however. I read in Isaiah, chapter 59, verses 1-2, that “the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.“
The next morning was a holiday. I didn’t have to go to work. I got up early and finally told my wife of the struggle in my heart. Then I went to my office to spend more time alone with God. Through His word, I sensed Him working in my heart and showing me what I needed to hear. He showed me the need to humble myself of my pride. I recognized my sin of unbelief as I read Hebrews, chapter 3, verses 7-8, and verse 12: “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts…take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.“
I pulled out a sermon tape that explained the need for both repentance and faith, and clearly laid out the requirements for Biblical salvation. After an intense week of the Holy Spirit teaching me through the Scriptures, it was all coming together. As the sermon came to an end I had to turn the tape off and fall on my knees. He was calling me … me… I wept. Through tears I cried, “I surrender all!”
At that moment a new birth took place!
I sensed a change immediately. I was aware of a desire to immerse myself in God’s Word. Jesus was my Savior, and I yearned to know more about Him in a friendship, fellowship, relationship sort of way, not just a “head-knowledge” way.
I am still doing many of the things in the church and my personal life that I did before. They were good things. But now there is new motive, and a growing relationship with my precious Lord.
How about you? “Is your religion or spiritual experience dry, empty, and lifeless?” Is your religion or spiritual experience dry, empty, and lifeless? More of a ritual than a relationship? Jesus lovingly invites us to turn from our self-righteousness and pride, and to humbly acknowledge our great need of Him and His righteousness. When we are willing to make Him Lord of our life, and turn our life over to Him completely, then He, in mercy and grace, saves us.
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 6-7).