Monday, August 16, 2010

John 3 (part 1): Racism, Salvation, and being Born Again

The world is full of anti-Semitism. The flip side is that long ago many Jews were racists themselves, believing that God would save only Israel and damn everyone else (see extra biblical literature such as the Wisdom of Solomon for examples of this). For this reason, becoming Jewish was considered essential to being in God's covenant family. This was so true that even as late as the 3rd century or our era, Judaism called its baptized converts "newborns".
This designation for gentile converts was probably true in Jesus' day too. It's not weird for a Jew to think of conversion as a 'born again' experience. Gentiles who came to faith in God and embraced his covenant, his people, and his expectations could easily be called "born from above" or "born of spirit" by Jews. But it's weird to tell a Jew, a child of the covenant, a teacher of righteousness, who prays and worships the one true God, that he's missing something and needs the same experience as a gentile. It's kind of like telling a natural born American to go get their green card and then become a citizen. This kind of logic was highly offensive at least, and high treason at worst. But if even Israelites could not depend on their nationality for salvation, but each had to trust and walk with God for themselves, then what does that mean for... me? You?

Americans are sometimes like this. In many circles religious fervor and American patriotism blur together in a soup of blind nationalism. In such a soup, many assume God is always on America's side, that he supports all of our wars, and that he is obligated to help and save our nation. Nothing could be further than the truth. The fact that the country was founded upon Christian principles (which frequently is hyper-exaggerated beyond reality, though not completely false) will not save this nation when it turns away from the living God. 

Christians are sometimes like this too. It is easy after years of faithfully going to church, studying the Bible, praying, and giving money, to feel like we are "in". The more we sacrifice, the safer we tend to feel, even if our salvation is still hanging by the same scarlet thread of grace it was years before. Soon, everyone outside the church seems to be not just lost, but helplessly lost. We begin to associate their clothes, their entertainment, and their language with their spiritual potential. Meanwhile, God's intervention in our lives becomes more and more distant, to the point where we might not even recognize him if he showed up at our door. Finally, our superiority manifests in our belief that we are not vulnerable to being cut off from God the way many Jews were. But Paul warns gentiles against unbelief, "...for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you." (Rom 11:21) 

No one is in more danger of feeling falsely safe before God than teenagers who have grown up in the church. Many of them come from godly, upstanding families where it is all too easy to assume belief and practice that simply have never materialized. While many church kids struggle to find a testimony of conversion, these same church kids, who are not always so angelic in their behavior (and even if they are), desperately need to be "born again" in the same sense that covenant born Jews needed to become covenant reborn Jews.

You might think the Jews got their nationalistic pride from the Hebrew scriptures, but they did not. Tune in tomorrow to find out where their spiritual pride came from and where in the Old Testament God criticized their prejudice.

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