Is your understanding of God true or false? Several years ago, I got to hear a missionary speak on Radio, he was a well-known church planter. He spoke many things, but one thing stood out from all the others, he said, “if your conception of God is radically false then the more religious you are the worse it is.” Think about that for a minute; the word radical comes from an old Latin word meaning ‘root’, and you could picture it this way- if the way you think about God is false at the root then the trunk will be twisted, the limbs will be lopsided, the branches will be bent, and the fruit you find on that tree will not be the kind of fruit that will do anyone any good. In fact, it could be poison, bringing death rather than life. All of which makes me want to ask- Is your conception of God radically true? Is the trunk straight, the limbs strong, the branches full of good fruit? It’s a question every Christian should consider because many of us spent our lives going to church; we been to Sunday School and Bible school, we sat through more sermons than we can count, we spent hours in Bible studies and small group discussions, we been on retreat and on mission trips, we should have learned something about God by now but what have we learned? Is our conception of God radically true or radically false? Because if it is radically false (as the missionary on Radio warns) then the more religious we are the worse it is.
How would we know? How could we be sure? How can we be positively, one hundred percent sure that our conception of God is true and not false? I think that’s the question that got Nicodemus out of the bed at the middle of the night. The question that had him up, wandering around his house on his pajamas, until he finally got dressed and went to see Jesus. John tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and the Pharisees were some of the most religious people who’ve ever lived. They had as their motto, the words of Leviticus 19:2, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” But they had interpreted holiness first of all as righteousness, which they did by keeping all 613 of those old Testament rules and secondly as purity, which they did by separating themselves from anything which is impure or unclean. Jesus on the other hand ate with sinners and tax collectors, didn’t always wash His hands before meals and sometimes He broke the law by working on the Sabbath. And yet Nicodemus couldn’t deny that the Spirit of God rested on this young prophet from Galilee and that the things He did and said seemed uncannily true.
Nicodemus needed to know more. He said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the signs which you are doing, if God were not with him.” It was his way of starting the conversation, of acknowledging that Jesus was onto something. He didn’t come right out and asked, do you think my conception of God is radically false? But that’s the question Jesus answered, Jesus said, “Yes, your conception of God is radically false, it needs to be ripped up by the roots and replaced with something new. You need to start from scratch Nicodemus, you need to be born again.” And Nicodemus said, “How can a man enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” But maybe what he meant was, “Are you asking me to give up my conception of God, the one I’ve worked so hard to acquire, the one I’ve spent years perfecting. I have been to seminary, I got all the answers when I was there, I sealed them up in logic tight compartments. Now you are asking me to open those compartments and conceive of God in a whole new way, I can’t do it Jesus.”
One of the real problem people were having with Jesus in those days and it wasn’t just the Pharisees, is that He wasn’t at all what they were expecting. They were expecting a Messiah, a political and military leader, who would run the Romans out of Israel and restore it to its former glory. When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, Peter said, “You are Him, you are the Messiah.” But when Jesus began to explain what kind of Messiah He was, that He didn’t come to conquer and rule, but He came to suffer and die. Peter said, “God forbid Lord, it should never happen to you.” He said it because he hadn’t been born again, not yet, he hadn’t given up his old conception of God or of Messiah. But at the day of Pentecost after Peter had taken up a few deep breaths of Holy Spirit, he began to say that the same Jesus who had suffered and died had been raised from the dead. lifted up to stand at the right hand of God, received the Holy Spirit and poured it out upon His church. Peter said to the crowd “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36). That’s a radically different conception of Messiah than the one Peter had started with and He couldn’t take hold of new one without letting go of the old one. I think that’s what Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus that his old conception of God won’t allow him to be part of the new thing God is doing and that he can not just tweak the old conception, he is got to give it up.
In another place Jesus says it like this, “you cannot put new wine in the old wineskins, when the new wine begins to ferment and bubble, it will blow those old wineskins to pieces. You got to put new wine into new wineskins. You got to open up those logic type compartments and get a fresh conception of God.” Jesus says to Nicodemus, “you got to be born again, born of Spirit, born of water, born from above, you got to let God’s Spirit blow where it will, instead of trying it so hard to control it, you got to learn to follow, not lead.” I think that’s where the Peter came in at the end, the Spirit led him to a true understanding of who Jesus was even as Jesus had led him into a true understanding of who God was.
It is through the power of the Spirit that we can receive Jesus as God’s surprising and unexpected Messiah, and this Messiah reveals to us the gracious and loving nature of The Father. “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.” (John 3:16). What we learn about Father from the Son through the Spirit is that God is above all else a God of love. Let me ask you, what kind of tree is going to grow from the root of love, what kind of branches, limbs and trunk will it have, what kind of fruit will it bear? If your conception of God is radically true, then the more religious you are better it is for you and for the world. But if your conception of God is radically false then being religious will only make things worse.
There are some radically false conception of God in the world. One of the theories suggests that our sinfulness so offended God’s holiness that He was on the verge of destroying us and none of us were perfect enough or pure enough to appease His anger but then along came Jesus the sinless Son of God who offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and that did the trick- God was no longer angry. That may sound familiar to you, it may sound like something you learned in Sunday school. But think about what it does to your conception of God, it teaches you that God is angry with you and wants to destroy you and the only thing that will appease His anger is the sacrifice of His sinless son. Can you see how twisted that logic is? And can you see that if your conception of God is anything like that then the tree that grows from that root will be similarly twisted, its branches broken, it’s fruit rotten.
We need to understand that Father, Son and Spirit work together. They share a common purpose. God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit work tirelessly for our redemption. As it says in John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The Father says to The Son, “Go and show the world that how much I love them.” And Jesus does, He comes and He loves us and loves us and loves us and some of us can’t accept it, we reject it and we reject Him. We put Him to death on a Cross and He goes willingly not so God will finally stop hating us but because He wants us to know that God had never stopped loving us and that there is nothing that He wouldn’t do to show His love. This is how Trinity work on our behalf. If our faith is based on this theory of a Loving Trinity working tirelessly on our behalf then you tell me what kind of tree will grow from that root, what kind of trunk will it have, what kind of limbs will it lift up, what kind of fruit will it bear? Is it the kind of fruit that will nourish the world that God so loved or kind of fruit that will make it sick to its stomach? Is your understanding of God true or false? This is a true false test, and this may be the most important one that you will ever take.