John 3:1-21 and James 1:1-4, 12-15, 19-21; 2:14-26
Summarization of John 3:1-21
The Christian re-birth is explained in detail in this passage. It is made clear by Jesus that it is not a physical experience, but that it is something that is spiritual. This rebirth is singled out as the absolute requirement for eternal life, and for entrance into the kingdom of God. The rebirth is further explained that it is only by believing in the Son of man being lifted up on the cross that men are saved.
Nicodemus, a religious leader and ruler of the Jews came to talk to Jesus one night. Nicodemus began by addressing Jesus with a title of respect. He recognized that, based on the evidence of the miracles He had done, that Jesus must be a teacher sent from God. Jesus answers this greeting as though a question had been asked. He told Nicodemus that in order for a man to see the kingdom of God, that man must be born again. Nicodemus asks how a man can be born again if he is old. He then begins to reason and asks if a man can enter the womb of his mother a second time and be re-born. Jesus explains that he is not talking about a second physical birth, but a birth that is spiritual. He likens the event to the wind blowing; the effects of the wind can be seen, but the wind itself cannot be seen.
Nicodemus appears to be amazed and asks again how these things can happen. Jesus chides him, reminding him that he ought to know these things since he is a master in Israel. Jesus explains that the Son of man came down from heaven. He explains that the Son of man must be lifted up on a cross, just as the brazen serpent was lifted up by Moses to stay one of the plagues during the Hebrews’ sojourn in the wilderness. Jesus explains that just like those that looked on the brass serpent on the pole back in the wilderness lived, so those that believed on the Son of man would live, and live forever. Jesus then explains why God would do this for mankind. He explains that it is because of God’s love for the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will possess life eternal (Jn 3:16).
Jesus says that the Son of God did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world. He explains also that some will be condemned due to their own unbelief, and their own hatred for the light and love of darkness.
Summarization of James 1:1-4, 12-15, 19-21; 2:14-26
James discusses the inevitability and profit of trials and tribulations. He talks about temptation, lust and sin. He also discusses the fact that real faith has real action to go along with it; otherwise, it is a dead faith.
James writes to instruct his Jewish brethren that are scattered abroad. He tells them to be joyful when they have various trials and temptations because the result will be that they will gain patience. James says that patience is necessary for them to be complete and lacking nothing (Jas 1:1-4). James says that those who endure temptation will be blessed with the crown of life that is promised for all those who love the Lord. It is made clear that when any man is tempted it is not God’s fault. Every man is drawn away by his own lust towards sin. Sin has the sure consequence of death (Jas 1:12-15).
James then gives instruction on concrete ways to avoid sin. Readers are told to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas 1:19). The reason the reader is admonished to be slow to wrath is because man’s wrath does not accomplish God’s righteousness. James then says to avoid sinful practices by receiving the word of God with an attitude of meekness (Jas 1:19-21).
The importance of living out the Christian faith is discussed in detail by James in the second chapter of his epistle. James makes it clear that a faith that bears no fruit is dead, and is a false faith. He even gives the sobering fact that the devils believe in God, and tremble because of that belief. So the kind of faith that Christians are to have is depicted as the kind that results in good works. The practical example of being faced with a real physical need for food and clothing is given. James makes it clear the absurdity of simply telling the hungry and cold person “words” that have no action behind them. James concludes this portion by going back to two Old Testament examples of faithful saints: Abraham offering Isaac and Rahab helping the messengers that had been sent to Jericho to spy out the city.
James makes it clear that true faith is one that is alive and active. He states plainly that “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas 2:26).
Analysis The passages in John and James set forth the hope of eternal life, and the proof of the possession of eternal life. Those who are truly “born again” have a living faith, and do good works because of the change that has happened to them. Those that are in Christ do not do good works in order to be saved; they do good works because they are saved. This doctrine sets true Christian faith apart from every false religion. This does not mean that Christians never experience trials and temptations. The passage in James clarifies the fact that Christians do experience those things, but that the attitude should be one of joyfulness, since we know that there is a positive benefit and blessing that comes out of all that we endure here in this life.
In the third chapter of the gospel of John, we meet Nicodemus, a man with high credentials. He comes to talk with Jesus of Nazareth after he had witnessed some of the miracles that Jesus performed. Jesus explains to Nicodemus that what he needs is to be born again. Nicodemus, not understanding the spiritual nature of what Jesus is talking about, makes some statements about the impossible nature of what Jesus is saying. Jesus explains that it is regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and not a second physical birth. Jesus then preaches the gospel to Nicodemus and says, “whosoever believeth in him [the only begotten Son] should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). The response of Nicodemus to the gospel is not recorded in the same passage in John. Later, the Bible indicates that Nicodemus did indeed become a Christian, as he stands up to the Pharisee’s in John 7:20, and assists with the burial of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (Jn 7:50). The sum of the teaching in John 3:1-21 is the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ as summarized in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.
This requirement of a new birth to gain entry into the kingdom of God is the single qualifying characteristic of the Christian faith. Jesus said without it, no man could enter the kingdom, and there are no exceptions. “God the Holy Spirit, in a supernatural manner…works upon the hearts of men, and they by the operations of the divine Spirit become regenerate men; but without the Spirit they never can be regenerated” (Spurgeon, 1857).
Jesus also explains that it is simply by believing on the only begotten Son of God that this transformation occurs (Jn 3:16). “The change is radical; it gives us new natures, makes us love what we hated and hate what we loved, sets us in a new road; makes our habits different, our thoughts different, makes us different in private, and different in public”(Spurgeon, 1857). This very change of heart enables Christians to live the Christian life. Without the regeneration, the faith is false, dead and without any hope for eternal life in heaven (Barker et al., 2002).
Those who are born again do good works. This is the main point of the teaching in James; those who have faith also have good works. Martin Luther was quoted as saying that men are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone (Barker et al., 2002). Christians are always to examine themselves to be sure that they are in the faith (2 Co 13:5). Those who have been reborn as described in John chapter three truly desire to serve Christ at once. They are filled with the love of Jesus and it spills out into every area of life. No one has to suggest to a newborn Christian that they should help others, that they should give to the poor, that they should visit the sick; they know it because they are taught by the Holy Spirit to love the brethren (I Th 4:9). However, the evidence of many who wear the label of “Christian” appears to be lacking the fruit of the Spirit (Ga 5:22-23). God alone is the judge of men’s hearts. Therefore, each Christian must make sure of our personal relationship with Christ, and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all we can reach.
God tells us why He chose to send His only Son to die for sinners. He did it because of His love (Jn 3:16). This is important for many reasons, but because it is God’s Holy Spirit that indwells born again Christians, it is important to remember that fact. As James describes the sure trials and tribulations that Christians encounter, we can understand that the power and love of God enables us to overcome trials and temptations. We endure all things because we love God. We resist sin and Satan because we love God. We fight the fight of faith because we love God. We love Him because He first loved us (I Jn 4:19). This is a distinguishing mark of Christians, that we willingly come to and love the light, and shun the darkness (Jn 3:21).
James gives instructions for those who practice true religion. He also makes clear distinctions between trials of faith and yielding to temptations as a result of evil desires (Varaughese, et al, 2006). Those sins that result from man’s weakness and faultiness cannot be chargeable to God as He is not the author of sin (Henry, 1996). Trials or tests from God, such as the experience of Abraham and Job, are different from temptations to sin. James gives the advice to be joyful in trials because there is a crown of life waiting for those who endure such trials. In addition, there is the virtue of patience that will be the result of enduring trials. Charles Spurgeon gave an analogy of a weathered man of the sea: “You look at the weather-beaten sailor, the man who is at home on the sea: he has a bronzed face and mahogany-coloured flesh, he looks as tough as heart of oak, and as hardy as if he were made of iron” (Spurgeon, 1883). He explains that the sailor did not get that way in a moment, but through the continual, daily, ongoing battles with the sea and life at sea. The necessity of patience in the Christian life is clear. Contrary to modern day “health and prosperity” teaching, the real Christian life is full of trials but is also full of joy. Christians gain patience with each trial they endure, which makes them better equipped for the next test, as well as better equipped to help other Christians along the way. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
Each person must face the fact that they are a sinner and are responsible for believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. For those who do, life is wonderful and eternal. Those who do not are under the condemnation of God (Jn 3:18). There are trials and temptations along the way. Christians have the assurance and help of the Holy Spirit of God to help them through every aspect of life that they face here on earth. Christians must examine themselves to be sure that they are not pretending to be Christians. True Christians live the Christian life, and do good works because of their new life in Christ. They are not perfect, but by the power and grace of God Almighty, they endure. Only true believers in Christ have the guarantee of eternal life given in John 3:16.
True believers in Christ are the only light and salt of this dark world. Because true Christians do works that are “good”, and do them expecting nothing in return, they are the group of people that really help others. Most importantly, true believers also have a strong desire and commitment to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others, so that they too can have eternal life.
Barker, K. et al. (Ed.). (2002). Zondervan NIV study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.
Henry, Matthew. (n.d.) Commentary on James 1. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible. Blue Letter Bible. March 1, 1996. Retrieved June 21, 2008, from .
Spurgeon, Charles H. (1883). All joys in all trials. Metropolitan tabernacle pulpit, 1704, Retrieved June 21, 2008, from http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1704.htm
Spurgeon, Charles H. (1857). Regeneration. The New Park Street Pulpit, 130, Retrieved June 21, 2008, from http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0130.htm
Varaughese, A. et al. (Ed.). (2006). Discovering the Bible. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press.