Genesis 12: 1-4 (page 8 in our pew Bibles) Abram is the Father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, a man from Mesopotamia (current day Iraq) who obeys God's instruction without question to set off for the land of Canaan. Abram means "Exalted Father" but after God confirms the covenant with Abram by way of circumcision he renames him "Abraham" which means "Father of a multitude."
Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17 (page 941 in our pew Bibles) Paul uses the example of Abraham to explain why Grace (the free gift of God) is superior and came long before the law of Moses. Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6 "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness" to explain that Grace made effective by Faith is superior to following the law.
John 3: 1-17 (page 887 in our pew Bibles) We must be born again by the Holy Spirit says Jesus to see the Kingdom of God. Otherwise we display the dead hand of legalism and intellectualism alone. The Spirit is part of the three fold being of God so without the Spirit our faith is dead (detached from the living reality of God) comes alive in God.(A spring of living water welling up to eternal life - John 4:14)
Grace is a word we all know if only through the cliché “There but for the Grace of God go I” or through the words of the Hymn “Amazing Grace”, and it is central to understanding Christianity so I feel it needs a working definition.
Grace is the completely free and unmerited favour and love of God.
“Free and unmerited” are very important words for they mean that it costs you nothing at the point of need – just like the NHS in fact, but just like the NHS it doesn’t cost nothing to provide it free at the point of need, it costs the country billions and Grace cost the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ to provide Grace free to you at the point of need.
It is God’s Grace that saves us but that Grace is only made effective in someone’s life if we can appropriate God’s grace and we do that through faith.
When we believe in God’s unmerited love for us – it is then that we reap the benefits in our lives.
This is the big idea behind Paul’s writings, the very foundation of Christianity and was the fuel that fed the protestant reformation of which we, the Church of England are an integral part.
Following the Spirit of the law is a great thing, a necessary response to Grace, but it doesn’t save you in and of itself.
This is the central idea preached by Paul and retrieved by the reformers and is the motor of true Christianity. Paul uses the example of Abraham and Moses to emphasise the point. Abraham came well before the law was given to Moses so Paul says, being made right with God through faith was always the first and original idea that preceded following the law which the Jewish religion had come to rely on as the prime way of pleasing God.
Believing in what God has done for you in Jesus is the only way to please God, to be made righteous in God’s eyes and to be given eternal life.
In the beginning of John’s gospel John has already said that believing in Jesus is what gives us the right become God’s children (John 1:12) and it is this and the resulting gift of the Holy Spirit that we all need.
Nicodemus needed it; Nicodemus was a very religious man, a religious leader who knew the scriptures backwards, yet Nicodemus had missed, despite his great learning the very heart of the faith.
Jesus said those immortal words “You will never enter the kingdom of God unless you are born again” says Jesus.
You might be able to quote the entire Bible from memory and attend every service but until the Spirit of God comes a living reality in your heart, your religion will remain dull, lifeless, and unexciting and devoid of the only thing really worth having – which is God himself – living in our hearts and minds by his Spirit.
That was true for Nicodemus and I’m sure true for a lot of Christians ever since as well.
It is a situation that we can fall into time and again which is why Paul says we should pray to keep being filled with the Holy Spirit
Is our religion dull and lifeless and operates along rusty rail tracks or living and active and as fluid and surprising and refreshing as the wind? That is not me asking you the question, that is Jesus asking us (as his church) the question.
Is Jesus for us a living connection with God or just a man who died about 2,000 years ago who we follow as a great moral teacher, at a distance.
A solution to us becoming personally and corporately closer to God is prayer – both privately and corporately.
And instead of just leaving it there hanging in the air, I want to invite everyone to close their eyes, find as much inner peace as you can muster and pray with me;
Come Holy Spirit, come blow into my life like the wind.
Prompt and move me to move closer to our Father. Set me in the stream of your Spirit to cleanse and refresh me.
Help me to grow into the person you want me to be and an instrument of your love.