Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
He prayed long, hard and sincerely. He gave faithfully to the work of God. He fasted regularly and was at church every time the doors were open (probably even had a key to get in when it wasn’t open). He had a profound, unshakable belief in God that drove him onward and impacted his daily living. He studied and memorized Scripture and even believed Jesus was sent from God. Sounds like a guy you would want to welcome into your church.
But without pleasantries or pats on the back for all his religious zeal, the first thing Jesus told Nicodemus is that he couldn’t even see the kingdom of God if there was not a radical change in his life. He had to be “born again”.
All these things are good disciplines to weave into the fabric of our daily lives but we must never let them be the basis for our relationship with God. Nor can we make mere outward change a primary goal in the lives of our children or those we are ministering to. We can abandon an immoral lifestyle, begin to live a “good life” and still be lost. We can begin to pray, give, even live at the church and still be lost.
Our relationship with God starts with an inward change that then manifests outward fruit. To try to change the outside without first changing the inside is like putting a beautiful coat of paint on a mausoleum. It may look nicer but it is still full of death and decay.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.