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Being Born Again


Most of us have had life-changing experiences in our spiritual development. Many have been influenced by relatives, in particular our parents. We have often been to church and been touched by powerful sermons. We have witnessed faith in the lives of others whom we respect, and we have been moved to imitate them. Emotional events in our lives, such as the death of a loved one or some other significant person, may have caused us to think seriously about our values and the way we are living. And those of us who have been in touch with evangelical Christianity, may have been influenced to say a little prayer, on the understanding that the prayer in itself marked a turning point in our lives, between when we were not a Christian and when we became a Christian. The prayer experience is often referred to as being born again.

In reality, all of these experiences are more or less on an even par. Any experience which draws you closer to God and which deepens your commitment to serving God, should be encouraged. However, if we are going to single one experience out from all the rest, and call it being "born again" in the sense that the Bible implies by that phrase, we should be very careful that we are talking about the same thing that the Bible is talking about.

In the third chapter of John's Gospel, an encounter is recorded between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus tells Jesus that he has been deeply influenced by Jesus, and in particular, by the miracles that Jesus has done. He knows that there is something special about the ministry of Jesus, that he definitely is from God. Then Jesus tells Nicodemus that this is not good enough. Unless Nicodemus is "born again" (as Jesus puts it), he will never be able to even imagine what it is that Jesus represents, and what it is that Jesus is saying.

Not much more is said about this experience in that chapter, and the term is hardly ever used again anywhere else in the gospels. We do, of course, have the record of what happened to the other followers of Jesus. They left their jobs, their properties, and their families to come and learn from Jesus. For several years they rarely left his side. They waited on God for power from heaven after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then they went out into all the world preaching about what they had experienced, and passing this on to others. Most of them ended up dying as martyrs for their faith.

But Nicodemus? Well, we are never told whether or not he ever experienced this "born again" thing that Jesus was on about. He continued to admire Jesus from a distance, but he kept his position as a leader in the Jewish religion, something that Jesus had specificially referred to when talking to him about his need for a much deeper change in his life. We hear of Nicodemus making a feeble attempt to defend Jesus when the other Jewish leaders talked of killing him, but Nicodemus quickly shut up when he was rebuked by his own leaders for doing so. Sadly, Nicodemus does not prove to be any more effectual as a believer than do most of those professing to be born again today. Or perhaps we should say that those who profess to be born again today do not appear to be any more effectual than was Nicodemus. They do not live the kind of lives that the disciples lived--lives which led to their deaths as martyrs for their Lord.

Peter, one of their leaders, said in one of his letters to the church, that we are born again by the "Word of God". We have been told by the modern born againers that this term ("Word of God") means the Bible (preferably the King James Version), the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. Well, maybe not the whole Bible, since they also teach that the teachings of Jesus are not important for salvation (which is what being born again primarily means to them). What Jesus said to Nicodemus about needing to be born again, is important for salvation, they say, but the finer details of what it means to be born again are left up to them personally to explain to their followers, without anyone being allowed to seriously question whether Jesus taught it the same way that they teach it.

We've said that the Bible doesn't say much more about what it means to be born again, but what does it say about the Word of God? After all, if the Bible really is the Word of God, we should take seriously what it says on any topic, and particularly on the question of whether or not it is the Word of God. Well, surprisingly, the Bible says that JESUS is the Word of God. It says that the Word of God was with God in the beginning, when he made the world, and that the Word of God was made flesh, and lived amongst us down here on earth. (John 1) And in the Revelation we are told that Jesus has a name which the rest of the world has forgotten, and that name is "The Word of God". The Bible says that those who accepted the Word of God were given the power to become God's children... born again into a new family.

This phrase, the Word of God, emphasises in particular, the message (or teaching) that comes from God. Just as many of us have been influenced by teachings from our parents, other loved ones, church leaders, and various significant others, so we have been influenced by the writings of many people in the Bible. But there is only one whose teachings can cause you to make the total transformation that is needed to be truly born again, and that is Jesus, the very one who has been shoved aside by the spiritual leaders of the world, so that they can continue to peddle teachings which barely scratch the surface when it comes to really transforming our lives.

And the reason, of course, is that they do not want to go through the spiritual agony that often accompanies the rebirth that the teachings of Jesus bring to a person's life. Physical birth is an agonising experience for both the mother and the baby. It is a life and death experience. It does not leave room for thought about anything other than what the mother and child are going through at that moment.

And until we become totally obsessed with the Word of God and what he is asking for from us, we will never be born again in the sense that Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about. We may have a religious dimension to our lives, but it will be only a token expression of what God is looking for. God is a jealous God, and he wants total control of all that we have and are. He wants everything we own. He wants our reputation, our emotional attachments, our dreams, and even our lives to be sacrificed on the altar for him. Not just some pretend consecration (after which we take them back and continue to use them the way we want to use them), but a thorough breaking of all that we have, a death to our selves, our loves, and our lives.

We do not hear the teachings of Jesus being preached anywhere in the churches today. The builders have left out the cornerstone. And as a consequence, people are not being born again... they are not being saved... they are not discovering what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.

Are they all going to hell? I don't know. That is something that only God can decide. He judges us each on the amount of "light" that we have. Like with Nicodemus, we are not left with a final verdict. Yet, we look at Nicodemus' life, and all the evidence seems to suggest that he never truly responded to the light that Jesus, the Word of God, was trying to give him that one dark night when he sneaked secretly into Jesus' tent, to hear what this man of God had to say.

You've heard what we have to say, and more importantly, you have heard what Jesus has to say. You've heard that he asks you to give it all up for him. He says that when the old you dies, a new you will rise up in its place... a born again you. I know; you want to tell us that you've had a lot of experiences leading up to this point in your life. You may have even had angels talk to you. But remember Nicodemus. He had seen the Son of God himself, and had observed some of the miracles that he did. And yet Jesus shot back at him that unless he was born again, all that had happened previously, that had led him to this one great meeting, would be for naught.

We have met so many who want to tell us of their ministry, of their revelations, of their religious experiences, of their plans and accomplishments for God. But they are not ready to take them all and break them on the rock of the teachings of Jesus, and so the very things that could have led them to salvation become rocks around their necks, drowning them spiritually.

You can only be born again by the Word of God... by humbling yourself and becoming like a little child... by sitting at the feet of Jesus, and learning all over again... from scratch... what life is really all about. To hell with all of your religious accomplishments up to this point! To hell with all of your doctrines and theology! To hell with all of your assumed spirituality! If you want to say a little prayer, say one that vows from this point on, to submit every thought, every plan, every teaching to the teachings of the Saviour of the world, to determine if it is in line with what he asks from his followers. If you do, then you will discover a radical new life emerging, from this point on. You will have been truly born again... by the Word of God.

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