“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” — John 3:3 (NIV)
The term “born again” has probably been overused since it was popularized in the seventies. This verse is where the saying originates. Nicodemus, one of the religious leaders, came to Jesus at night with questions about faith. These were sincere questions, and because of his position, he came at night so that he could ask them without being severely chastised by his fellow religious leaders. Jesus rarely gave simple answers. Rather, He gave answers that caused people to think, to be drawn out, and ultimately, to change. This conversation must have brought about the desired effect, because after Jesus was crucified, Nicodemus boldly helped bury his body, risking further approbation, and perhaps even death for siding with Jesus.
Jesus is saying that if we are alive, then we obviously had a physical birth. But you should not assume that you are spiritually alive just because you are physically alive. Spiritual birth happens as a result of another process, which Jesus describes in what is probably the most famous verse of the Bible, and which we shall look at in one of the next reflections. Until one is born spiritually, some say that you are spiritually dead. I’m not sure this is the most accurate term, because generally if something is dead it was once alive, while if you have not been born spiritually you might be considered “pre-born” or “unborn” or “not yet alive”.
Furthermore, you aren’t necessarily alive spiritually if you come from a Christian family or hang with spiritually alive people. It is something that has to happen to you, and unlike physical birth, you have a much more active role in becoming spiritually alive. I did not choose to be physically born, but I did get to choose to be spiritually born — yet this was also a result of God’s drawing me, and not just something that I was solely responsible for.
Once you are born spiritually, your eyes are open to see things spiritually — to see the Kingdom of God. Your understanding of the Bible will likely improve, and your way of seeing the world will likely be different, as you become attuned to God’s plans and purposes. And probably most importantly, you will have the ability to hear God and be led by Him.
I no longer like using the term “born again” to describe my status. The term originally came into vogue because people recognized that there were a lot of people who called themselves Christians who seemed to be spiritually unborn — that is, they were Christian by name but not by any kind of real spiritual life. However, just as we would never advocate telling a newborn baby, “Okay, now you’re born, that’s all you need to know or do to have life”, the term “born again” seems to focus on a decision, as if that’s the main thing you need to live a spiritual life. Physical life is a life-long process of growing and learning and relating. Real spiritual life is also a life-long process of growing and learning and relating. I prefer to describe myself as a follower of Jesus rather than as a Christian or as a believer or as a “born again Christian”. The term “follower of Jesus” emphasizes not only a process but a day to day choice. Some of us could use some spiritual CPR to put our once-alive spiritual lives back on the right track. But the good news is that the prognosis is good, as long as you follow a daily walking regimen with Jesus!
First posted on March 8, 2010