This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m going to talk about a term that gets tossed around a lot – often with scorn attached – in the church and in the world. It’s the term “born again”.
In the sense in which Christians use it, the term appears just in one place in the New Testament: the story of Jesus’ encounter at night with Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus confides that everybody who has been eyeing his ministry knows he has come from God. Then Jesus tells him, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3.3, NLT).
Well, that kind of came out of left field, didn’t it, Jesus? After receiving such a high compliment from such a high-ranking Jewish official, one would think he would demurely blush and say, “Aw, shucks” or something. But not Jesus. He jumps right into the challenge of the Kingdom: to see it, you must be born again.
What did he mean by that?
As I noted, the term is fraught with baggage both inside and outside the church, and it’s often negative. But the term that John uses for “again” in John 3.3 – anōthen – has a couple of similar meanings. It can mean ‘again’, ‘from the very beginning’, or ‘for a long time’; or, as John tends to use it most, ‘from above’. Some translations of the Bible have started using ‘from above’, because it is a correct translation, and perhaps also to try to steer away from the negative baggage that ‘again’ has caused over the year.
But they really all point to the same thing: there must be some sort of new, supernatural birth that takes place in our lives before we can see the Kingdom of God.
Many well-meaning followers of Jesus have hammered away at this verse over the years as an antidote to the milquetoast teaching (or lack thereof) that suggests, “All you have to do is be good, and God will have you.”
I’m still not sure, after 30 years in this business, where people came up with that notion, but it sure wasn’t from the Bible, that’s for sure.
No, at some point in our lives – and it’s never too late! – each of us needs to come to terms with the reality that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not just historical events, but that they were accomplished for me. For each of us. And when God pours down his grace on us to enable us to make that confession of faith, something new happens inside us, and we experience new birth. We are born from above. We are born again.
It doesn’t have to have a dramatic testimony attached to it. Instead of a Damascus Road experience, it can be an Emmaus Road experience. Each must lead to the same conclusion, though: at some point, we ceased living under our own strength and gave over the throne of our hearts to Jesus. When you do, some people will label you as “one of those born again Christians.” And when they do, you can give humble praise to the One who died and rose again for you, and who changes you within by the Holy Spirit.
It’s not about pride – far from it. But you don’t need to be ashamed of the Name.
P.S.: If you’re interested in integrating your faith and your work, consider coming to St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton for a simulcast retreat called “Work as Worship” on Friday, February 23 from 8:30 to 3:30. Lunch is provided in the $25 registration cost. Learn more by clicking here.