Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Jesus said, "You must be born again." So many pastors have preached on these famous words so often that we assume we know what they mean. But what if the familiarity of these words has blinded us to their meaning?

It is commonly acknowledged in Christian circles that many preachers have cheapened the meaning of being "born again" in order to win converts. The phrases "easy believism" and "cheap grace" come to mind.

To be "born again" can mean little more than accepting a few doctrines about Jesus and repeating a "sinners prayer." Then presto! - you have won a free ticket to heaven - and you get to sit in a pew for the rest of your life.

Even responsible theologians associate the concept of being "born again" chiefly with the traditional Christian understandings of faith and conversion. Let's hear Jesus' words without the evangelical filter.

He says to Nicodemus: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Jesus is speaking about seeing what he calls "the kingdom of God." He is describing a shift in perception and awareness.

Nicodemus doesn't see. He ridicules the idea. So Jesus repeats it more forcefully, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." It is not just about seeing, it is about entering. Being born again is not a religious waiting room with a view of heaven; it is an entrance into a divine realm.

We are still in this physical world, but we are also in another world. We are in the flesh but we are also in the Spirit. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'"

There is an element of mystery connected to being born again. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." According to Jesus, those born of the Spirit don't know if they are coming or going. Furthermore it "cannot be told."  It can be experienced, but not explained.

Jesus is describing a spiritual transition as significant as the movement from the womb to the world - an awakening from the cramped fetal existence of ordinary human life into the spaciousness of God's life.

Jesus shares this spiritual teaching with the religious teacher. Nicodemus is unwilling or unable to grasp it. He has so much religious knowledge that he is not open to the unknown. His religion is too precious to give up for a new life. He is like the rich man who would not give up his riches to follow Jesus. The only difference is that Nicodemus' riches are religious rather than monetary.

I know how he felt. I have been a religious leader all my adult life. But things are different now. So why not? Besides, I have always like the sound of wind. For some reason, it reminds me of home.

Image is Mayan Mask of Death & Rebirth, Tikal, Mexico. 900 AD,

1 comment:

  1. Traditionally the Catholic Church has believed that at baptism one is born again, becomes a joint heir with Christ, and a member of Christ's Church. John's Gospel is not the only Scripture that supports this view, Titus 3:4-7 states:

    ...but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. (RSV-CE)

    Let's look at this verse for a second. God saves us, not by works, but by mercy, through the Spirit and water of rebirth. And this is all through God's grace!

    Thus, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration doesn't constitute a "work" or human agency, but God's method of dispensing grace. God does the saving, he has just chosen baptism as the means to do it.


    Baptism was not performed lightly in the early Church because of it's unique character. In preparation for baptism one was baptized in the name of the Trinity and would confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and affirm the faith outlined in the Apostle's Creed (or a primitive form of it).