James Merritt - Do I Have a Spiritual Birth Certificate?
Jesus came to earth, and He tells us, for one reason and one purpose, and that is to make disciples. And it was such a big deal to Him that when He left planet earth, He gave the church only one job description. He said, your job is to make disciples. Now, understand that in the first century, the word disciple does not mean what we think the word disciple means today. When you think about a disciple today, you kind of think of a pupil in a classroom, or somebody that kind of sits under a teacher, and they learn different ideas, and they learn different philosophies, and they learn different world views that teacher might have. That is not what the word meant back in the day. Back in the day, it meant an apprentice.
A disciple, 2,000 years ago, was not someone that just learned from the teacher. He wanted to live like the teacher. He didn't just want to know what the teacher knew and learn what the teacher learned, he wanted to live the way the teacher lived. He said to that teacher, I want to be a miniature you. I want to be just like you. I don't want to just follow the way you teach, I want to follow the person that you are, and I say all that for this reason. Everybody on this planet was born for two reasons. Everybody. I don't care where they live, who they are, what nationality they are. We were all born for two reasons. Number one, to become a disciple of Jesus. That's the number one reason why you're here. You're here to become a disciple of Jesus. That's your number one purpose for being born.
Second reason we've been put here is to become a disciple maker for Jesus. So, that's our two reasons. That's the two purposes. You were not put here primarily to make money, to see what kind of a car you could drive, what kind of clothes you could wear, what kind of jewelry you could put on, how high you could climb a corporate ladder. That is not why you were put here. You were put here, A, to become a disciple of Jesus, and B, to become a disciple maker for Jesus. Now, in those two purposes is where we find the mission of our church, because I can tell you very simply why we even bother to open the doors of these buildings. Our mission is to make disciples out of non-disciples, and then make disciple makers out of disciples. I'll say it again. Our mission is to take a non-disciple, make him or her a disciple, and then make him or her a disciple maker out of disciples. Now, that's reflected in our mission statement. We've shared this with you before. Our mission is pointing people to Jesus and inspiring them to live the cross-shaped life. Would you mind just saying that out loud with me? Pointing people to Jesus and inspiring them to live the cross-shaped life.
Now, the first part of that statement is pretty easy to understand. Pretty self-explanatory, right? Pointing people to Jesus. That's what we call evangelism. That's what we call sharing the Gospel. That's what we call trying to bring people to faith in Christ. Not hard to understand. It's the second part that I would understand that would kind of be fuzzy, because that refers to discipleship, because when you read the first part, you say, okay, I get that. We want to point people to Jesus. Not hard to get. But, inspiring them to live the cross-shaped life, that raises a question. So, what is that? What is the cross-shaped life? Well, that's the series that we are beginning today, because we're going to take you through what we believe are five marks, we got all of these, by the way, right out of Scripture. We're going to take you through what we believe are the five marks of a cross-shaped life, which we believe ought to be the marks of all true disciples.
Now, that raises another question. Of all of the things you called it, you called it the cross-shaped life. Why did you choose the term, the cross-shaped life? Well, the simple reason is, is because when you go back and read the New Testament, the shadow of the cross looms over every book in the New Testament. It dominates the New Testament. I'll give you an illustration. If you like to read biographies, and I love to read biographies, and if you ever read biographies, here's what you'll find. Without exception, the death of the person you're reading about doesn't come until the very end of the book, and most of the time, it doesn't take up but just a very small portion of his biography. Yet, when you read the biography of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, 1/3 of the biography deals with His death, 1/3 deals with the cross. One deals with the fact that He died on the cross for our sins. And so, if Jesus had so much passion for us He was willing to die on the cross, maybe we ought to have so much passion for Him that we're willing to live under the cross, as did His disciples.
Now, that raises another question. What does that life look like? How would I know if I'm living the cross-shaped life? What are the marks of a true disciple and a follower of Jesus? Well, here's the good news. We believe the answer to that question is actually answered in a series of five questions we're going to be giving you over the next five weeks. And so, you're going to be able to know, very easily, at any point in your life, am I really living like a disciple of Christ ought to live? Am I really living the cross-shaped life? Am I really fulfilling the purpose as a disciple that God has called me to be? And all you've got to do is just simply answer five questions, and if you answer those five questions in the affirmative, you can know, okay, I'm living the cross-shaped life.
Now, the first question we're asking today is... actually, you'll understand in a moment why. It is the foundational question of every other question. You cannot live the cross-shaped life if the first question is not true about you. If you cannot say yes to this first question, you're not a disciple of Jesus, therefore you're not a disciple maker of Jesus, therefore you are not fulfilling the purpose for which you were born and placed on this planet, and here is the first question. Do I have a spiritual birth certificate? Why is it so important that we have a spiritual birth certificate? He tells Nick three things. Number one, I am spiritually deficient without a spiritual birth certificate. I am spiritually deficient without a spiritual birth certificate.
Now, to appreciate what Jesus said, you've got to realize who He was talking to, so we pick up in Verse 1. "Now, there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council". In other words, John's letting us know up front, He's not talking to just an ordinary, run of the mill, dime a dozen, average Jewish guy here. He's talking to, first of all, a Pharisee. You say, well, who are the Pharisees? Well, they were a really special class of people. There were only 6,000 Pharisees in all of Judaism, only 6,000. All right?
And, but you had to really go through some hoops to become one of them. They were the spiritual crème de la crème. They were the Phi Beta Kappa of Judaism. They were the PhDs of all of the biblical scholars, and nobody, nobody was more religious than a Pharisee. I mean, nobody. They never missed temple service. I mean snow, rain, sleet, hail, it didn't matter, they were going to go to the temple. They dotted every religious I. The crossed every religious T. They put their money where their mouth was. They made sure they gave a tithe. As a matter of fact, not only did they give a tithe, but to let people know they were tithing, they would ring a bell so people would see them put their money in the plate. I mean, that's how religious they were. In other words, they were the Eagle Scouts of the Jewish religion. But then, John says, he wasn't just a Pharisee. He was a member of what he says is the Jewish ruling council.
Now, if you don't know what that is, there's a word you may have heard sometime a pastor talk about. It's called the Sanhedrin or the Sanhedrin. That was the Jewish Supreme Court. There were only 70 members of the Jewish Supreme Court, and they had the final say over life and death for every Jew that lived anywhere. So, in other words, this was a guy who was really somebody. Only 70 people, he was one of the justices of the Supreme Court. So, He's not just a Pharisee, he's a star student. I mean, this guy really is somebody. This is a guy that you look on the outside, you think, buddy, this guy has it all together. And then, we read this. "He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we'", talking about him and some of his buddy Pharisees, "'we know that you're a teacher who's come from God'".
In other words, here's what he's really saying. Look, I'm not like all of the rest of those guys. I'm not like all of the rest of those nasty Pharisees. I'm a good Pharisee. I'm a good guy, okay? I'm not here to bash you. I'm not here to knock you. I'm not here to slam you. I really like you. I really respect you. I know you're a teacher that come from God. Then, he goes on to say, "For no one could perform the signs that you are doing if God were not with him". He says, look, I want you know right up front, I believe what you say is true. As a matter of fact, I don't only believe it's true, I believe it's coming from God. And number two, you know these miracles that you've been doing? You know how the other guys kind of poo-poo it, and slam it, and say it's from the devil? I don't believe that. I've seen those miracles. I believe they really happened, and I believe they happened because you've got the power of God that is on you.
And then John says, and it's just a little detail. He says he came to Jesus by night. Well, what does that matter? What do you care whether he came at 10:00 in the morning, 10:00 at night? What's the big deal? There were only two people that came to Jesus by night, Judas and Nicodemus. He says, I know you're a great teacher. I know you're a teacher who's come from God, and I've seen you work those miracles. I know these miracles are unbelievable and only God could do those miracles. And he's setting Jesus up. He thinks, look, I just want to have a cup of coffee and a donut, and let's just kind of have a friendly little talk. Well, Jesus interrupts him. He starts talking about birthdays. He says, listen to this. "Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.'"
Now, one thing I love about Jesus is He doesn't beat around the bush! You know, if Nicodemus had come to me and said, I know you're a great teacher, I know you're a great preacher. I would have said, you're a great judge of preachers! Okay, that's what I would have said, right? Jesus, He doesn't even care about that! He doesn't even bother with that! He gets right to the point. He said, "hey, Nick at Night. You think you know me, but you don't know me. But, I know you. You know what I know about you, Nick? You think being right with God is a matter of religion, and righteousness, and rules, and ritual. You think being right with God is all about you. You do good works. You go to church. You keep the law. You dot the I's. You cross the T's. You do your best". And then, Jesus drops the hammer. He said, "Nicodemus, yeah, I'm talking to you, Nicodemus. I'm talking to Judge Nicodemus. I'm talking to Pharisee Nicodemus. I'm talking to Chief Justice Nicodemus. I'm talking to ruler Nicodemus. I'm talking to Pharisee Nicodemus. I'm talking to religious Nicodemus. I'm talking to righteous Nicodemus. I'm talking to well-respected Nicodemus. Nick, you must be born again".
Now, had you been there when He said that, you would have seen the blood drain out of his face. You would have seen the sweat pop out on his forehead. You would have seen his hands begin to shake, because there was one thing that Nicodemus was 100% sure of when he walked into that meeting with Jesus. He was absolutely sure he was right with God. He was absolutely sure that he and God were good to go. He was absolutely sure that he was where with God right where he wanted to be, and now, Jesus just gets to the point and says, Nicodemus, you're not only not right with God, you're wrong about God. You are totally clueless about God. Because for the first time in this man's life, he heard words he never thought he would hear out of anybody's mouth. He heard, your goodness will never be good enough for God. That's what he'd been taught all of his life, from the time he was a little boy, what his parents taught him.
Now, Nick, you go the temple. Nick, you pay your tithes. Nick, you read your Old Testament. Nick, you pray. Nick, you keep yourself physically pure. Nick, don't you drink, don't you smoke, don't you chew, don't you go with girls who do, and Nick, you'll be good to go. You'll be right where you need to be. And all of a sudden, for the first time in his life, a man named Jesus looks him right in the eye and says, hey, bud, your best won't get it. Your religion won't cut it. Your good's not good enough. You will never be good enough for God. And He said, Nicodemus, you want to see the Kingdom of God? Well, yes, I do. Do you want to enter the Kingdom of God? Well, yes, I do. Do you want to live in the Kingdom of God? Yes, I do. Then you'd better get a spiritual birth certificate. You must be born again.
And I want you to listen carefully. You may be very religious. And compared to a lot of people, you may be very righteous. Maybe you don't drink. Maybe you don't smoke. Maybe you don't use bad language. Maybe you don't go see dirty movies. Maybe you don't look at pornography. Maybe you do pay your taxes. Maybe you don't cheat on your income taxes. Maybe you do treat your wife and your dog the same. I don't know. You may be very well respected. People may look up to you, and people may look at you and say, "Man, I'm telling you, I know that guy, I know that lady, they have their life together". As a matter of fact, you may be even doing the very best you know how to keep all of the rules of what you think constitutes a good life, and yet, Jesus says if you don't have a spiritual birth certificate, if you don't have this experience of having been born again, you don't have a relationship with God, you're not a part of the family of God, you will never see, much less enter, the Kingdom of God.
So, in other words, I'm sitting over here telling you, it doesn't matter if I do have a PhD from a seminary. It doesn't matter if I have pastored five churches. It doesn't matter how many people's lives have been changed because of my ministry. It doesn't matter how many people watch me on television. It doesn't matter how many books I've written. It doesn't matter how good I try to be. It doesn't matter how faithful I am to my wife. If I have not been born again, I will never see the Kingdom of God. I am spiritually deficient without a spiritual birth certificate, and so are you. But then, Jesus says, Nick, there's something else you need to know about this spiritual birth certificate, and that is, I'm spiritually dependent on a spiritual birth certificate. It's not just that I'm deficient without one, I'm dependent on one.
Because, look what Nick does. I mean, Nick's sharp! Nick's in the ball game. He asks this very logical question. Listen to what he says. He says, "'Now, how can someone be born when they're old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely,'" this is kind of a funny way of putting it, "'Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born.'" In other words, what he was saying was, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. You get it. You can't go back in and come back out again. You can't do that. Now, Nicodemus is sharp enough to know Jesus is talking symbolically. He's not really talking literally. But, the reason why Nicodemus asked that question is this. I really believe this. The light's starting to come on, and all of a sudden, it dawns on Nicodemus for the first time.
You know what? I am religious, and I am righteous, and I am very well respected, but I'm not perfect. I've got skeletons in my closet. I've got flaws that nobody knows about. I've got issues that nobody else will ever see or ever hear. And when Nicodemus made this statement to Jesus, what he was saying was something that I promise you, everybody in this room has either said it at one time or another, or you will, and I would say it to you today. I wish I had a do over. I wish I could rewind the tape. I wish I could live my life over again, knowing what I know now. I wish I could put my life in reverse. I wish I could erase some of my past. Let me tell you something. Unless you're just so unbelievably arrogant, I just can't help you, or so ignorant I really can't help you. You live long enough, if somebody came to you and said, hey, would you like to live your life over again, you'd better say yes, because I tell you, I would. I would love to live my life over.
Now, I'd still marry the same woman I married. I'm not talking about that. But, I'm going to tell you something. Are there things I've done in my life I wish I'd never done? You better believe it. Are there things in my life I wish I had done that I didn't do? You better believe it. Are there things I didn't do I really wish I had done? Absolutely! Are there people I witnessed to that I didn't witness to? Yes. Is there money I could have given, I didn't? Yes. Are there things I should have gone to that I shouldn't have gone to that I shouldn't have gone to? Yes. or are there things I didn't go to I should have? Absolutely. And that's what Nicodemus is saying. He was saying, you know what? It really would be great if what you're telling me is true. And then, Jesus said something to him he never dreamed was possible. He said, Nick, you don't need just a new start, you need a new heart, and God can give it to you. But, only God can. Go back to when you were born, physically.
How hard did you have to work to be born? You didn't do anything! I didn't do anything! I think we all have this in common. My mom did all of the work! I just came along for the ride. I just kind of came out, and there I was. I didn't buy a ticket. I didn't earn, I just came out, I just came along. And Jesus said, Nicodemus, this birth certificate doesn't come from below. This birth certificate comes from above. You can't buy it, you can't borrow it, you can't steal it, you can't earn it. Only God can give it to you. That physical birth certificate is a you birth certificate. The spiritual birth certificate is a God birth certificate, and the only way, just like the only way you get into this physical world is by a physical birth, Jesus said, the only way you get into the spiritual world is by a spiritual birth. You have a relationship with the physical world by being physically born. You can only have a relationship with the one who created this physical world by being spiritually born.
And so, Jesus said, look, you are spiritually dependent on your spiritual birth certificate. If you want to enlist in God's family, and enter God's Kingdom, and enjoy God's presence, you've got to have a spiritual birth certificate. And then, He says this last thing. He says, I am spiritually different because of a spiritual birth certificate. Now, once again, Nick asked the right question. Listen to what he says. He says, "How can this be", Nicodemus said. What he's saying is, hey, if I can be born again, how can I be born again? If I can be born from above, how can I be born from above? If I can be born a second time, tell me how to do it.
Now, listen to what Jesus said. At first you won't make sense of it, but then when you think about it, He says, okay, that's exactly the right answer. Listen to what Jesus said. "He said, 'Very truly, I'll tell you. We speak of what we know, we testify to what we have seen, and still you people do not accept our testimony.'" In other words, what Jesus said, Nicodemus, I know the struggle you're having. You still think you've got to do something to earn this gift. You still think you've got to go to church, you've got to be religious, you've got to cross the I's, you've got to dot the T's, it's all up to you to earn this relationship with God, and I'm telling you, it's not true. "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not," and here's the key word, "believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things"?
Here's what He said to Nicodemus. This is so simple. He said, Nick, there's only one thing keeping you from being born again, and it's the same thing that will keep anybody from being born again, and it's one word, unbelief. He said, Nick, if you don't really believe you need to be born again, you won't be born again. If you don't believe what I just told you about being born again, Nick, you will never be born again. He said, Nicodemus, you've just got to take my word for it that you can be born again, and if you believe me and believe in me, you will be born again. Now, two key words, believe and receive. If you're sitting there right now and you're saying, boy, I've never heard this before, this is all new to me, or, man, I've heard this, but I didn't really understand it until now, so what does it take to be born again? Just two things. Believe and receive, because what Jesus said to Nicodemus is what the entire New Testament says, over and over and over.
If you believe what Jesus said, and you believe in the Jesus that said it, you will receive the gift of eternal life by being born again. So, the way you get a spiritual birth certificate is real easy, by believing and receiving. Everybody on planet earth is in one of two groups. Everybody in this room, everybody at Mill Creek, everybody at Lanier, you're in one of two groups. It's real easy. Are you ready? Group one has been born once, and group two has been born twice. You're in one of those groups. Now, here's the good news. I know you're in group one, because you're here. Okay? So, I get that. You've been born once. We get that. The question is, have you been born twice? In other words, you either have one birth certificate, or you've got two. You're in one of those two groups, and let me make it plain. Jesus said, whether you even see the Kingdom of God, forget getting into it. Whether you even see the Kingdom of God or not will depend on one simple answer to one simple question.
How many times have you been born? That's it. How many times have you been born? Now, listen, we're going to wrap this up. You can't even understand why Jesus Christ came to this earth if you don't understand why you need to be born again. Jesus was born physically so that we could be born again spiritually. Jesus entered into an earthly family by a physical birth so we could enter into His eternal family by a spiritual birth. So, let me just kind of wrap this up to what we're talking about. You can try rules. You can try rituals. You can try all of that stuff. I've got news for you. It's a soft reset that won't get you anywhere. What you need is a hard reset, a new start, a new heart, a new life, and a new birth. You need a spiritual birth certificate, and we happen to have one for you today, free of charge.