John 3:7

7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

This is the fourth article on the discussion on the difference between Judaism and Christianity. The fourth difference is extracted from an article published in a Judaism website as follows. This article addresses the comments on Christian teachings about sin, responsibility, and salvation. A deeper answer to these comments can actually be found in the conversation between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and Jesus who said that spiritual rebirth was required to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:7).

Judaism teaches that man has to take personal responsibility for the choices he makes, and that those choices carry with them consequences. Some of these consequences are meted out on earth, and some after death. Christianity teaches that it is not man’s fault that he is a sinner – he was born that way. There is no personal responsibility related to salvation – it is taught in most churches that one can do nothing at all to merit this relationship with God, it is entirely a “gift” given only to those who believe in Jesus. The rest of the world goes to Hell.

Human Accountability to the Creator

Actually, Christianity does teach that we all have to take personal responsibility for the choices we make. It is a man’s fault to be a sinner when he or she chooses to do evil. On the other hand, he or she will be rewarded by God when he or she does good. In fact, sin is so ubiquitous and carries its serious consequences that the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament emphasizes that no one may escape judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Judgment implies the appraisal of things that have been done of both good resulting in rewards and evil resulting in punishment according to the responsibilities and opportunities God has given. To teach this important point, Jesus made it clear with the parable of a master and three servants. The master gave bags of gold to the servants for management according to their abilities. The first servant was given ten bags of gold, the second five bags and the third one bag. The master went away in a journey for a long time and returned and asked the servants to give an account of the gold that they were responsible for. The first servant used the ten bags of gold and earned ten more bags. Similarly, the second servants earned five more bags with the five bags he was given. These two servants were appraised as good and faithful servants and received their rewards. But, the third servant did nothing but dug a hole in the ground and hid the gold he was given. He then reported to the master saying that he was afraid of losing it as a justification of his lack of act of responsibility. The master told him that he should have simply used the gold as money and deposited it in the bank and earned its interest. (To digress a little bit, in modern financial terms, one possible way this servant might do is to sell the gold and used the proceeds to buy a Call Option of the same amount of gold and deposited the balance to a bank. Given a long period of time, interest income will offset the premium of the Call Option. In fact, there are bankers accepting gold instead of cash as deposit and pay interest on the gold deposit. ) This servant was rebuked as wicked and lazy and was thrown into darkness where there were weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30). This parable illustrates that we are endowed with time, talents and opportunities in various degrees by God. We will be held accountable to God on how we make good use of these endowments. Jesus plainly stated that the people in their graves would rise to face judgment according to the works they had done in their lifetime. Those who has done good will resurrect to live but those who has done evil will be condemned (John 5:28-29). Therefore, Christianity does teach that humans are responsible for their choices and their sins in life. Moreover, Christianity uses the Scriptures, the revelation of God, as the ultimate authority in determining what is right or wrong. Since humans are accountable to God, it is perfectly reasonable to use His words and not our thoughts as the frame of reference to evaluate what is right or wrong. According to the Scriptures, humans are expected to live a life glorying God and will be judged accordingly.

Hebrews 9:27

27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Matthew 25:30

30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

John 5:28-29

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

Falling Short of the Glory of God

Having said that all humans are responsible for living a life glorying God, the Scriptures declare that all have failed and fall short of the glory of God (Isaiah 53:6a; Romans 3:23). The ease and disposition for humans to sin and the prevalence of sinners in the world make some people think that it is not a man’s fault to sin because he is born that way. Some suggest the term “human nature” to embrace and accept such common phenomena. The Scriptures do not teach that humans are not responsible for sinning because they are born that way. After all, Adam and Eve were not born but were made by God directly. They lived in the garden of Eden without the prevalence of sinners living among them and the exposure to corrupted, violent practices and media to influence their minds and behaviours. They failed because they simply did not obey God’s word but listened to the temptation of the devil. If Adam and Eve could failed even in such ideal conditions, it should not be too surprising that we who are born in this imperfect world could fall into sin even more easily. Some may complain that we sin because of the circumstances that we are born into. Well, this is a common human nature of pointing fingers and making excuses when we do wrongs. Did not Adam point the finger to Eve when he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Did not Eve point the finger to the devil? Although their finger pointing excuses were not unfounded, the fact was they all failed to obey the word of God and were held accountable to it.

Isaiah 53:6a

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;

Romans 3:23

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

The Dire Future Versus the Bright Future of Mankind

According to God’s justice, the consequence of sin is death. The situation is like humans are born only to fall into sin and die as a consequence. Moreover, death according to the Scriptures does not mean the death of the body only but also the second death after resurrection and judgment of God. This seems to suggest that a dire future for life is a sure thing. This is true only if we view life without a good relation with God. I view life as a glass half empty and half filled. Life without God is in the empty half of the glass and the glass will be draining to emptiness completely. The dire future will surely set in eventually. But, life never means to be lived without God from its inception when God created humans in the garden of Eden. Humans are created in the image of God. Life in essence needs God in order to flourish, be satisfied and to last forever. Human life is designed this way by God and never means to live without a good relationship with Him. It is like fish living in water which provides the proper environmental conditions and nutrients for the fish to grow and live. It is true that we are born in an environment full of difficulties, temptations and we are too weak to overcome all these challenges. If we have a good relationship with God, we can overcome them. These challenges become training exercises that help us to grow in characters and faith in God. We may then know God and His words are trustworthy and are more precious than gold as we walk closely with Him in the world journey of life, rely on His guidance, strength and provision in all of our works and needs. It is a sure thing that we can live an abundant life and claim victory for the glory of God. A life having a good relationship with God is like in the half filled portion of the glass and it will be filled more and more with the grace and blessings of God until overflowing. As King David said that even in the threat and challenge of the enemies, he could still enjoy peace and security because God was with him and was under His protection and provision. And God’s goodness and love in his life would be with him now on earth and forever in His Kingdom (Psalm 23:5-6).

Psalm 23:5-6

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The Gift of Salvation

However, Jesus was not teaching to obtain salvation by good works. Rather, in His conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus taught that we sinners need to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:7). Notice that born is in passive voice meaning that no one can give birth to oneself. Just as physical birth is given to a child by the mother and father, spiritual birth is given by God. Therefore, being born again is perfectly consistently with the fact that salvation which results in spiritual rebirth is a gift for no one can give birth to himself or herself. Consider human life is a gift of the parents in the sense that they not only give birth to their children but usually love and nurture them from infants to adolescents and even beyond their adulthood. The children start in a stage of helplessness but through the sacrificial gifts of time, energy and money of the parents, the infants may grow up to maturity. Similarly, sinners are in a stage of spiritual helplessness ready to be condemned and die. It is purely out of the mercy and the sacrificial love of God (John 3:16) that we may escape judgment and even receive a new life of bright and eternal future. Jesus says that human parents who are not perfect know how to give good gifts of their children, how much more the holy and loving heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who simply ask (Luke 11:3). He also warns that anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it (Mark 10:15). Therefore do not think that we may enter the Kingdom of God by our good deeds. Rather we should ask for the gift of salvation from God with humility. Let us recall the time of Israelites when they were under the oppression and bondage of slavery in Egypt. They lived under the oppressive power of Pharaoh and were powerless to save themselves. They cried out to God for mercy and God answered them and sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt to freedom. This event also illustrates that salvation is indeed a gift to the helpless out of God’s faithfulness, mercy and love (Isaiah 63:9). Now, let us repent of our own way and turn to the Lord who is full of mercy and love and He will forgive and redeem us freely (Isaiah 55:7).

John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Luke 11:13

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Mark 10:15

15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Isaiah 55:7

Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 63:9

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

The Truthfulness of Salvation

God is faithful and just. When He says He saves sinners from sins, He means it. His salvation means redemption and forgiveness of committed sins by paying for the penalty of sins by the Messiah, His Son. His salvation means the blessings of the Holy Spirit indwelling in believers and renewing them such that they abhor sins while restoring to His image which has been lost before salvation. Salvation, according to the Scriptures, never means to be established by God such that sinners may stay in sins continually while enjoying the redemption and protection of God. Otherwise, salvation becomes a license of unrighteousness issued by God which is completely contradictory to the characters of God who is just and upright in whatever He does (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). In fact, the teaching of salvation has been misunderstood by some people who do not study the Scriptures and call salvation “cheap grace” especially because it is given as a free gift. In reality, salvation entails a spiritual revolution happening inside a believer’s life: the struggling and conquering of the old sinful nature who is still present. Sinful nature is universally present in all mankind. But, those who have received salvation have the power to overcome the sinful nature by obeying the law of the Holy Spirit rather than the law of the sinful nature. Those who have not received salvation might not even be aware of the presence of the sinful nature which is so ingrained they simply accept it as part of the human nature and live accordingly (Romans 8:5). This spiritual revolution inside will turn a believer into a different person, so different as if he or she is born a different person (2 Corinthians 5:17). Before receiving salvation, the mind and body of the unsaved person offers himself or herself to the control of sin as a slave to impurity and wickedness. After receiving salvation, with the renewal of the Holy Spirit, the believer comes to understand and appreciate the truth and beauty of the teachings of God in contrast to the corruption and ugliness of sin. The believer will obey with a truthful heart the words of God which has claimed his or her allegiance (Romans 6:17-19). Therefore, salvation is not the consequence of performing works the sinner deems good, but rather the consequence of salvation is the redemption of the sinner by the Son of God, the renewal of heart and mind of the sinner by the Holy Spirit resulting in performance of good works (Ephesians 2:10).

Deuteronomy 32:3-4

3 I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

Romans 8:5

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

2 Corinthians 5:17

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Romans 6:17-19

17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The Tragedy of Rejecting the Gift of Salvation

It is quite difficult for me to understand the deep and inner thoughts of human beings for many seem to have made up the mind to reject the truth of salvation and go on their own ways. It is not the lack of grace or generosity of God that He does not extend the blessings of salvation to all people. In fact, He reveals to us in the Scriptures that God loves the whole world. In the Book of Genesis, He said that Abraham would be the father of all nations and all nations receive blessings through Him. It is quite obvious that blessings of God should be predicated on salvation for without salvation, no blessing can be meaningful. Try to think of all the blessings you can imagine even including the capacity to live forever, but they also come with the condemnation of God. All the thinkable blessings will become impossible or even negative. In the New Testament, God expressly says that He loves the whole world (John 3:16) and He desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God loves people so much that He came to the world as a human being, endured insults, betrayal and sufferings for mankind and even died a painful death on the cross in the hands of sinful men. The prophets, His deeds, death and resurrection have testified that Jesus is indeed the Messiah (Please see the article Jesus the faithful and true witness). Therefore, we are not being judgemental but have to accept the statement in Thessalonians 2:10 that people refused to love the truth and so be saved.

1 Timothy 2:3-4

3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Thessalonians 2:10

10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.