Becoming What we were Not

Lent 2 Tuesday

John 3:3

“Jesus answered and said to him: “Truly, truly, I say to you: Unless someone is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.””

Now let us hear what this new birth must be like…Christ is saying here to Nicodemus: “Do not think that you are saved because you are an honest, good man.” For it true that one should lead an honest and disciplined life in communion with God. For where you do not live like this, the hangman is here with the sword and rope and forbids you from living as you wish, saying: “If you do not want to do the right thing, you still must do it.” But if you want to interpret leading a good life on earth as the way to see the kingdom of heaven, these good works are worthless. For these works, this goodness only provide temporal life or prevent you from being executed, from being exiled from your house and farm, wife and children, or are hanged…But as far as the kingdom of heaven is concerned, the church and Christ’s kingdom, remember to become a new man…But how does this take place? By the Holy Spirit and the water. Now, once I am born anew, once
I have become good and God-fearing, I go forth, and what I do in the new birth is good. E.g., Adam, if he had remained in the state of innocence in which he had been created, he would have gone forth and would have done whatever he wanted, as catching some fish or robins or planting some trees–these would have been perfectly precious, good works. For the person doing them was created good, honest, pure, and holy; this is why also his works were good, even if it was
just eating and drinking–everything was right. But ever since man got into sin, he does nothing that is good after the fall, but sins in all his works, even when he prays. For he does everything like a sinner. Everything he does is not right, even when he fasts, prays, and leads a strict life as a Carthusian, wears monastic robes, and walks barefoot. For all this is evil because the person is evil and not born anew again; and nothing this person does helps it to become better. This is why
Christ says to Nicodemus: “I have come to preach a different teaching, namely, how you must be born anew in order to become good. Such a sermon was contained and described in Holy Scripture before Christ, but you do not read it–and if you read it, you do not understand it, namely, that, before you do good works, you must be born anew.” For sinners beget nothing but sinners; the whole person is corrupted in this case. The Lord Christ says in Matthew 7: “If the tree is evil it
does not bear good fruit.” Thistles do not bear figs; thorns do not yield grapes. But some say: “Well, the papists do many good works indeed, for the pray, fast, and celebrate the mass.” You should respond to this as follows: “These works are invalid; they are evil works, nothing but thistles and thorns. Why? Because the tree is evil, that is, the person is unfit.” This is why whatever this person does, whether he reads Scripture or prays, it is all evil, for they are an old birth and cursed; and while they are evil, they cannot do anything that is good…Christ says: “I begin to teach the people in this way because I want to make them good from the bottom up, not by outward behavior modification or by sour faces, or by teaching them how to lead an honest life in this world. I do not want to lead them there, but want to direct them to be born again. I want to build them from the bottom up and cleanse the heart. For we are not born anew by doing good works.”…But what is the new birth? That man becomes what he was not before. For birth brings into existence that which did not exist before.

St. Louis ed., 7:1854-1856.

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