Forming Faith Blog

New Life (January 28, 2018)

 

Bible Readings: John 3:1-21

Free Resources: Nicodemus Sensory Story (PK-2nd Activity)

Unit Theme (January 28—February 11): Invitation to Abundant Life

Knocking for a new life

Jesus is making quite the name for himself in the Gospel of John. Turning a water into wine and making a scene in the temple do tend to get attention. So, one of the higher ranking religious officials comes to find out what this rabble-rouser is all about. But, it’s not an official investigation, it’s personal, and so Nicodemus sneaks around under the cover of darkness. I’m not sure what Nicodemus expected, but what he got was a cryptic conversation about new life.

Absolute Thinking

One of the struggles I have in reading and interpreting Scripture is the common use of absolute language, of what appears to be a black-and-white view of the world. People and their actions are either righteous or sinful; they walk in darkness or in the light. People either believe or don’t believe. This division of the world into good and evil, with nothing in between leads to despair or violence. If I am either good or bad, what does it mean when I make a wrong choice? If belief leads to salvation and unbelief leads to condemnation, what does it mean when I have doubts? If we are right, then anyone who disagrees with us is wrong (either out of ignorance or out of wickedness). Dismissal of entire groups of people as wrong or bad inevitably leads to some sort of injustice and violence.

I cannot accept that the God who created the universe with a rainbow of color and diversity uses black-and-white thinking. We can argue whether there are exceptions or not, but even Paul acknowledges the complexity of sin and righteousness in our lives (Romans 7). What I can accept, what provides me hope for the present and the future is the promise of new life.

New Life to Come

The discussion of new life fills this passage. New life from a new birth. New life from faith in the Son of Man. Scholars have long translated the Greek hē aiōnios zōē as “eternal life,” which is often interpreted as “never-ending life after death.” An alternative translation, used by N.T. Wright is “life in the age to come.” I think this alternative can be stated in the language of the Synoptic Gospels as “life in the kingdom of God.”

“Life in the age to come” surely includes some form of life after death. But it focuses on the life connected to the reality of absolute love that God is bringing into this world. The kingdom of God is one of my favorite topics in Scripture, and like the other Gospels, John’s “eternal life” (or new life) is not only about a future hope, but also the present reality of God breaking into this broken world.

New Life Now

The Christian life, as described in Scripture, is a dichotomy of present and future, “already, but not yet.” The kingdom of God is here now, but it is also something that will come in the future. Eternal life is as much about a new life now as it is about a new life in the resurrection. The life that God promises is a life lived in the present, an abundant life in the presence of our Creator.

Abundant life is not the product of black-and-white thinking, but of joy in the amazing diversity and contradictions of our lives. New, abundant life is the life of a new birth, of the Spirit, infused with the amazing love of God. It is a life founded on God’s promises, empowered by the Spirit, and inspired by our future hope. It is a life that comes from God, journeys with God, and returns to God.

Thanks be to God!

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

 

John’s Gospel spends a lot of time soaring through the clouds, but for all of us, it’s important to keep one foot on the group, in the concrete reality we live in. Make the story of Nicodemus’ visit concrete by engaging multiple senses using our free resource for this week. The “Nicodemus Sensory Story” is from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum. Use this is worship, in a class, or in a small group!

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary Planning Tool and Scope & Sequence to help in your preparation!

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