The “Born Again” Redundancy

John 3

1After dark one evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, 2came to speak with Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you.”

3Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.”

4“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

5Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. 7So don’t be surprised at my statement that you must be born again. 8Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

One year, back in the 1970’s, my parents gave me a necklace for Christmas. It was a stainless steel chain with a large metal, rectangular tag hanging from it with the words “Born Again” stenciled in black. It looked something like the dog tags one might find a soldier wearing to identify themselves in the case of some tragic accident.

I never really wore the necklace too much for reasons I will allow Kevin McCallister to explain in the following short video clip:

The phrase “born again Christian” was quite popular back then as it served as a way to identify a certain segment of the Christian crowd.

If you’ve ever wondered where the term “born again Christian” came from or what it means, this is the passage.

The text says that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and if you know anything about the Pharisees, they didn’t exactly get along with Jesus. But unlike most of his religious brethren, who were hard-hearted and saw Jesus as a threat, Nicodemus was open and spiritually curious. So he found a way to meet with Jesus in private where he acknowledged what most Pharisees were unwilling to even consider – that Jesus was indeed sent from God.

I’m sure Jesus’s reply was not what Nicodemus was expecting as he gives this rather strange response about the need for one to be “born again” to see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus, like many people today, was confused by the phrase “born again”. He gives a bewildered response, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” as well as the equally puzzling, “will being born again give me TWO belly buttons?” Ok, I added that last phrase but both statements show a fundamental lack of understanding in what Jesus was communicating.

Jesus explains to Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be born of water and of spirit. He continues by adding that “humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven.”

So what’s he saying?

Everyone experiences a physical birth. In theological terms, we call that generation. There isn’t a person who’s ever lived who did not experience a physical birth. So, the first condition to making it into the kingdom of heaven is one must have experienced a physical birth.

But there is a second condition that’s required to make it into the kingdom of heaven. In addition to being born physically one must also experience a spiritual birth. This second birth is what Jesus is referring to when he says “you must be born again.”

The Bible tells us that even though people are alive physically, because of sin, we are dead spiritually (separated from God). Therefore, in order to be reconciled to God, we must become alive spiritually by experiencing a spiritual birth. We call this regeneration.

Regeneration is the role of the Holy Spirit and it occurs when a person receives the free gift of forgiveness that Jesus offers through His death on the cross.

Receiving this free gift is simply a matter of:

    1. Recognizing that I am a sinner
    2. Acknowledging that Jesus died on the cross for my sins
    3. Trusting Jesus to come into my life and provide forgiveness

When someone responds in faith to Jesus’s offer of forgiveness, an amazing thing happens. God’s Holy Spirit comes into that person’s life and gives them new spiritual life. This is the spiritual birth that Jesus is referring to and it’s what is meant by the term “born again.”

The thing is, it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven unless you’re born again. In other words, you cannot be a Christian unless you are born again because being a Christian means you’ve accepted Jesus’s free gift and the Holy Spirit has come into your life to make you alive spiritually.

So the phrase “born again Christian” is a redundancy, akin to saying “I’m a Christian Christian.”

So why use the term “born again Christian” if it’s a redundancy?

The term became popular as a way for those who have accepted Jesus into their life to distinguish themselves from those who call themselves Christians but have never responded to Jesus’s offer. Many people identify as Christians simply because they go to church or they believe in the God of the Bible. But none of this means a person is a Christian. A person becomes a Christian the moment they experience this second birth, just as Jesus described to Nicodemus.

Reflection

Do you consider yourself a Christian? What is it that makes you a Christian?

Jesus said that a person must be “born again” to experience the kingdom of heaven. Have you experienced a “second birth”? What were the circumstances that led you to make that decision?

The term “born again Christian” is not as popular today as it was in the 1970’s, partly because many who are not Christians began to associate the term with religious fundamentalism and other caricatures of Christianity that most true Christians would reject. What terms do you currently use to identify your Christian faith and tradition to others?

The danger for many Christians is that we can become religious over time. What steps can you take to ensure your heart remains open and curious, like Nicodemus, instead of hard and callous like the other Pharisees?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

 

An Issue of Control

Romans 8

1So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. 3The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

5Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. 7For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

9But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all.) 10Since Christ lives within you, even though your body will die because of sin, your spirit is alive because you have been made right with God. 11The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:1-11, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Today I got a Facebook message from a person in Africa who connected with me through our website: everyperson.com.

This person wanted to know how he could receive the Holy Spirit.

I asked him if he had accepted Jesus as his savior, to which he replied, “Yes.’

“Great”, I replied. Then you already have the Holy Spirit living inside you.

The Holy Spirit is absolutely critical to our growth as Christians, yet so many believers are completely unaware of who the Holy Spirit is or what role He plays in our daily lives.

In this passage, Paul communicates several important truths about the Holy Spirit, including the following:

    • The freedom we experience as Christ-followers is because of the work of the Holy Spirit, who freed us from the power of sin and death and gave us new spiritual life. The result is that we are no longer living under condemnation.
    • The mark of the Christian is that they have the Holy Spirit living in them. Paul states in Romans 8:9 that if you do not have the Spirit of Christ in you then you are not a believer at all. This means that to be a believer, you must have the Holy Spirit. Paul states in Ephesians 1:13 that the Holy Spirit is gifted by God to the believer at the moment of belief. Therefore, when one places their faith in Jesus and His death on the cross, the Holy Spirit comes into their life.
    • As Christians, we have two natures warring within our bodies. There is the old sinful nature and there is the new spiritual nature. We can be controlled by either of these natures. When we’re controlled by our sinful nature, we think about sinful things and we likely are going to engage in sinful activities. Paul says that this leads to death. When he talks about death he does not mean you will physically die. What he means is that spiritually you will experience death, which means separation. Hence, those Christians who are controlled by their sin nature will experience a disconnectedness from God. However, when we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, we will think about spiritual things and we will experience life and peace.

Understanding the Holy Spirit and His role in our lives as Christians, often, for many believers is the difference between growing as a Christian and staying stagnant.

Peace, life, and ultimately our growth as Christians is dependent on whether we yield control of our lives to God’s Spirit living within us or whether we continue to be controlled by our own selfish desires.

Reflection

What has been your understanding of the Holy Spirit in the past? Who is He? What has been. your understanding concerning the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians?

Based on this passage and your understanding of the Bible, what do you think is required to receive the Holy Spirit? 

What helps you to yield control of your life to the Holy Spirit? 

What are the things that make it easier for you to be controlled by your sinful nature?

 

Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash