John,The Gospel of Grace – 12

Religion meets Grace

The 3rd chapter of John’s gospel is one of the most well-known passages in the entire Bible, especially John 3:16, and for good reason. It is a beautiful, though brief, snapshot of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The next two verses add so much clarity to vs 16 that they should be quoted too when we quote verse 16 .

16 “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, 16 that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

This passage goes hand-in-glove with chapter 1:11-13

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-1)

Both passages are saying essentially the same thing. Jesus saves those who come to him by grace though faith. Men and women are not saved by heritage, ritual, good deeds, or religion but by the person and work of Jesus. Right away in the opening of John 3 we are introduced to a man, a leader of the Jews and a teacher, one Nicodemus.

By human standards there is little doubt that Nicodemus was a good man. Perhaps one of the best men in Israel. But he was a dead man walking. He needed life, the eternal life Jesus gives as a free gift to those who trust him. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ“. Nicodemus was a Moses man, not a Jesus man. He was all about the law of Moses, he know nothing of the grace of God.

In this meeting was the clash of two worlds, religion was looking grace right in the face! Yet, he didn’t see it. How many are the thousands who think that by faithful church attendance, giving to the poor, not swearing, etc., etc. that somehow God will see their goodness and approve them for eternity with him in the end. Here was a man who was more driven to keep and preserve the law of God than perhaps anyone. Because of his hard work and dedication to the law he had risen in the ranks to the very top of Judaism. He was religious but lost. Jesus was about to give him the news, good and bad.

In John 3:1,2a, we read , “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night….”

Why did he come at night? Scholars have discussed the question since the first century and they don’t know any more than I do. The Bible does not say why. I have even heard sermons on reasons as if the guy actually knew why. Some suggestions are that he came at night because he didn’t want anyone to see him meeting with Jesus. The cover of darkness would be less risky. Jesus was not popular with the Jewish hierarchy. Perhaps he came after dark because it was more comfortable to travel at night because of the heat. I think a good possibility was that he came when he was off work. He was a teacher, a leader of the Jews, a Pharisee and he sat on the Sanhedrin court. He likely had no time to travel even a short distance on foot for a conversation with a stranger during the day. Why he came at night is not important enough for God to tell us so we move on…

This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

On some level Nicodemus knew Jesus was different. He also was convinced that God was with him because of the “signs” (miracles) Jesus was doing. Beyond that, even though his scholarship was unquestioned and he represented God and God’s law to the people of Israel, he knew absolutely nothing more. It seemingly never once occurred to him that this “teacher” might just be Messiah.

Jesus was an in-your-face evangelist. Right out of the box in answer to this respected Jewish leader’s inquiry Jesus dropped a verbal bomb!

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Of course Nicodemus was caught off guard. What was Jesus talking about? “How can these things be ?” How could anyone be born a second time? It didn’t make any sense to him. Jesus continued then, saying,

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 5b-8)


Here I want to address perhaps the most controversial statements in the Gospel of John.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

What is the water of John 3 verse 5? I will only be able to draw upon my learning, what I have been taught, and what I have observed in my long life of study. I am not going to give these in order of importance.

  1. The “water” of John 3:5 means physical birth. Most of the preachers in my early years believed this and preached it. While the next verse fits that meaning, “that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”, it is not logical. Nicodemus had been born, he was standing there in flesh. He did not need to have another flesh birth. It is true that before birth a baby is enveloped in a sac of water and so otherwise sound Bible preachers run off in the ditch here in my view.
  2. The “water” of John 3:5 means ceremonial cleansing water. Earlier in John when Jesus turned the water into wine it was into those water pots regularly used to hold water for ceremonial cleansing. It is no small thing that those particular pots were used and that the wine as we know represents the blood of Christ which cleanses us in a way ceremonial water never could. This is important, every Jew with much training was well aware of the significance of water in the history of Judaism. Jesus said to Nicodemus in verse 10, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”.  That question alone in my view disqualifies option 2. Nicodemus would have known about that “water”.
  3. The “water” of John 3:5 means Christian baptism. Perhaps 2/3rd’s of all professing Christian believers agree that this is the correct meaning for “water” in the passage in question. So far as I know all believers with roots in the Stone-Campbell movement, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox, some Pentecostals and others to numerous to name accept this definition. Perhaps they are all correct. Now among those mentioned here there is wide differences about the significance of water baptism. Some people I believe go to far making baptism the Savior. Preaching water baptism is not the same as preaching the gospel. We must be careful to not go further on any subject than the Bible goes.
  4. The “water” of John 3:5 means the Word of God. Many good scholars hold this view, and I might add, with very good cause. Look at these examples of “water” being used to describe the cleansing effects of the Word of God.

    Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25b-27)

    22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23)

    18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18)

    Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. (John15:3)

It was not uncommon but rather very usual for Jesus to use symbolism and parables to get truth to the people he spoke to. He said “I am the door”, but he had no hinges or a latch. He said “I am the bread of life”,  and he said as he dined with his disciples before his death “take, eat, this is my body”. And so when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus saying be born of “water and the Spirit” he was not necessarily speaking literally. The word translated “spirit” in our Bibles, in the Greek may be translated either “spirit” or “wind”. In fact Jesus compared a Christian, one born again, as being like the wind. The meaning was interchangable depending on the context of what was being said.

Nicodemus questioned Jesus about this “water”, “spirit”, and “wind” talk saying “How can these things be”. From that point on Jesus spoke clearly and concisely, there is no ambiguity about what he said. Nicodemus left that meeting having understood what Jesus was talking about.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[f] do not receive our testimony.12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[g] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:9-21)

 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

This is plain talk, easy to understand. Over and over and over again the Bible teaches that sinners are saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ by grace though faith.

You and I don’t have to know the meaning of every verse in the Bible. But God has put the cookies on the bottom shelf when it comes to the gospel of Christ and salvation. As Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus, people refuse the message of Christ because their deeds are evil and don’t want the light of the world to shine on them.

In closing. We should never allow our differences of opinion to interfere with our unity as brothers and sisters in the faith. No person or group has a monopoly on the truth. What we agree on far outweighs what we disagree about.




John – The Gospel of Grace (11)

Jesus knows the real you!

At the end of the second chapter of John’s gospel is a stark reminder that you can’t fool God. I can fool you and you can fool me but neither of us can fool God. Jesus knows our hearts.

 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25)

Jesus “knew all people…” and “knew what was in man”. This is a truth I think we soon forget. Have you ever done something that you knew was wrong and you tried to make sure the pastor or the deacons or other church folk didn’t know? I believe almost all of us have. The truth is Jesus knows us from the inside out.

How many times have we seen this happen or read about it in the Bible. People “believed” because they saw what Jesus did but He didn’t believe them.

In our churches there are possessors and professors, there are believers and impostors, tares among the wheat. I have seen people who were eager to be baptized, were emphatic about the profession of their faith, they then left the water and never came back. Every evangelist knows that only a percentage of those who “go forward” during a campaign will follow through and actually submit to public baptism and of those some will eventually go away.

This same author said in 1 John 2:19

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

The proof is in the pudding as they say. If they don’t stick around other believers, some where, they are probably like these folks John referenced in his writings. They were superficial believers, they were not surrendered to the Christ. It is one thing to believe historically that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead. It is quite another to believe in such a way that your life changes course (repentance) in radical ways (discipleship).

The Scriptures seem consistent on this topic. Those who are truly disciples of Jesus sick it out through good times and bad. They persevere. The Christ life that we are called to life entails continual submission, dying daily to self, and practicing certain Christian disciplines.

We cannot live for Jesus and endure hardship on our own, using our own resources.

…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

Keep the faith!

Royce Ogle

Thinking on Purpose…

If self-proclaimed “Christians” at large were polled, or questioned, I believe it would be shocking how little people who claim to be followers of  Jesus really know. I don’t mean they are unfamiliar with the Bible, or that they don’t have a good preacher on Sunday, or that the Christian books and articles they read are untrue. I’m inclined to believe that most regular church members, if challenged, would be unable to defend what they believe about God or Jesus. Many people who have very strong opinions, and loudly proclaim their pet doctrines, don’t know “why” they believe what they believe.

It is interesting that when believers are told in the Bible how they should love God, one of the ways is with their “minds” (Luke 10:27). What we think about and meditate upon shapes who we are and exposes who we are, ” for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” Luke 6:45b. Another way of saying this is, only what we have put into our minds, and embraced as true, is what we are going to speak. Bible writers give various warnings about how we use our words. In the end, our wonderful ability to communicate thoughts, ideas, precepts, warnings, blessings, etc. are an open window to our inner most being.

The reason we are like we are is because many of us, (I’m referencing believers…) are not operating at full capacity mentally. Here’s what I mean. In Romans 1 Paul explained that God is self revealed in His creation to the degree that the person who observes the world about him, those created things, is not neutral. Once revelation has been received a choice must be made. Either a person will embrace the One who made those magnificent things, based on his or her admittedly limited knowledge, or reject that same revelation and the Creator.

 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19-21)

Those who reject what they know about God are “without excuse” and “they became futile in their thinking”…..”and their foolish hearts were darkened”. That’s quite an indictment!

Those of us who truly belong to Christ are called to “think” differently than before. How can we do that?

  1. Different thinking.  Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We must with purpose learn to think differently. There is another passage that encourages us to us care in our thinking. “and take every thought captive to obey Christ” 2 Corinthians 2:5. So we are in control of what we think about and are responsible to think they way we should.
  2. A Renewed mind. Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We are not left alone to our futile thinking but as we take charge of our thinking our minds are being changed. Our minds, and our hearts, the seat of our emotions and where we make decisions is very complex and the best minds do not fully appreciate the beauty of God’s work seen in our ability to think and reason. But, in our store-house of thoughts there are only two broad categories of  information stored there. Truth and Lies. The more we put in God’s truth, and embrace it by faith, the more our minds will be renewed and our thinking will mature so that we can distinguished what “is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.

Popular Christian preacher and apologist Ravi Zacharias has this tag-line for his syndicated radio program, “Let My People Think”. I love that! I fear that critical thinking is fast becoming a lost art. Christians must be thinkers to be what God wants them to be. Right thinkers become right people who know the will of God.

Finally, Peter admonished his readers in 1 Peter 3:15, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”.

It is good to know what you believe about God. It is even better to know Why you believe it. Let’s do some thinking and love God with our minds.


Royce Ogle




John – The Gospel of Grace (10)

Jesus Predicts His Death and Resurrection

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.  (John 2:18-22)

The Jews response to Jesus driving the greedy money changers and merchants out of the temple was “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”. Jesus, as he often did, answered  with words they did not understand. Apparently, even the disciples didn’t get his message. But, Jesus was speaking about the temple which was his physical body.

It would come as no surprise for a religious leader to die for his cause. There have been scores of such people, some even in my lifetime. Dying for some cause is not that uncommon. What is exclusive to Jesus was his claim, “Kill me and I’ll be standing on the earth again in three days”. In other words, “I am greater than physical death.”

The Christian faith is a beautiful thing. And, it’s central figure, Jesus of Nazareth said some amazing things. The words he spoke in what is referred to as “the Sermon on the Mount” are some of the most beautiful ever said or written. The way of life Jesus laid out was staggering. “Love your enemies, Pray for them…?” “If you want to be great in the Kingdom be the most humble”.  Many people never get beyond the things Jesus and his followers said about daily living, how to worship, when to worship, and many invented rules that in many cases have become more important than the work of Jesus for sinners.

Make no mistake about it, don’t miss the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The whole of Christianity and even the credibility of Jesus himself rest on this central fact, Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and after three days was physically raised from the dead. If there is no validity to the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is a fraud. The great apostle Paul said it this way.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

“Your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” And, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Any presentation of the gospel that does not include the central fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not the gospel, but a lie.

I had discussions online with a preacher a few years ago who in no uncertain terms flatly denied that Jesus was raised from the dead in a physical body. Never mind that he walked along the road with his followers, ate shore lunches with them, and was seen by over 500 people at one time. That preacher was not a Christian, he was an impostor.

The disciples remembered Jesus seemingly odd prediction on this day in the Temple after he had been resurrected. It was not until Jesus’ closest friends and associates saw him alive after being killed and buried that they finally really believed. Never again did they ever show a hint of fear. And, you don’t need to either. Jesus will raise from the dead every person who believes on him.