The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, March 15, 2020
Being Born Again
A Jewish man named Nicodemus visited Jesus by night to check him out. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, the Jewish sect that was dedicated to observing every detail of the law as outlined in the Law. They also vowed to obey the numerous regulations of the elders which were designed to help the faithful know what to do in every situation so as to be obeying the Law. Once in front of Jesus, Nicodemus set the ball rolling by commending Jesus for the wonderful things he was doing including demonstrations of power that no human could do. Nicodemus conceded that Jesus must have come from God because of the mighty signs he was performing.
For some reason, Jesus did not engage Nicodemus in a discussion about Nicodemus’ commendation. Jesus straightway told the man that unless a person is born again (or anew) he/she cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus wondered whether Jesus was saying that one would have to enter again into one’s mother’s womb and be born a second time before qualifying for the kingdom of God. Of course, that was ridiculous on its face and Jesus couldn’t be meaning that. What then did Jesus mean? To make matters worse for Nicodemus, Jesus responded that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God. Now Nicodemus was really confused.
What does being born anew mean?
It is worthwhile for us to ask ourselves, “What did Jesus mean by “being born again”? In evangelical circles, the gospel gets proclaimed and people are challenged to repent of their sins and accept Jesus, and they come forward to receive Jesus as their savior and Lord. Is that the being born again that Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus? If a hundred people come forward and are prayed for, or perhaps repeat the sinner’s prayer prompted by an elder, or pastor, or priest, are those one hundred people born again from that moment? What is being born again, really?
The word Jesus used with Nicodemus which we translate “born again” is the Greek word ‘anothen’ which means anew, again, from the first, high up. For sure, Jesus didn’t mean that one has to enter one’s mother’s womb and be born a second time before one can qualify for the kingdom of God. What Jesus meant was that something had to shift in a person’s life to cause such a radical change in the person’s life that it could be described as being born anew. The person who is born anew has a new outlook on life. His psyche has changed. He sees things differently from the way he saw them before. His desire for God has gone high. He has a new relationship with problems. They are not problems anymore to complain about or spend sleepless nights about. They are now occasions for him to practice his newly found trust in God. He believes so deeply in God’s sovereignty over all life that nothing overly unseats him. He does not demand that God answer his prayers. He is content to just love and worship the great potentate of the universe who has saved him through Christ. Obeying God and being found to be in line with him and his ways becomes more important than satisfying an immediate physical or emotional need. This is demonstrated by Jesus in the first temptation by Satan in Matthew 4:2-3. Jesus was excruciatingly hungry, having gone without food for many days in a row. When the Tempter suggested to him to turn stones into food to satisfy his hunger, Jesus refused and lectured the devil in true human living as intended by God. He told him that a human being does not live by food alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I bet the devil had never encountered a human being that was so God minded that he would forgo immediate satisfaction of present need and cling to God instead, and not act on Satan’s mouthwatering suggestions. This is what being born anew means.
It is absolutely legitimate to invite people to repent and accept Jesus as their personal savior and Lord. When a person genuinely does that, he/she is born of the Spirit, but the journey has just started. Retraining a person’s psyche to give up the old way of thinking and to acquire a new godly one, must follow. I attended a meeting of a Christian organization at which a gentleman gave his testimony of how he found Christ. He told the meeting that in his teenage years, Satan told him that the world had to give him three things: money, booze, and women. He testified that he actually got those three, and in plenty, but then his life began going down the drain at full speed. His wife wanted a divorce, and his children, who were still little, were afraid of him. He later found Christ and his life turned around.
Every individual has been stalked by Satan and has been told how he/she should live his/her life and what to aim at getting from life. These will come to different people dressed in different clothes and couched in different words, but the underlying sinister bottom-line is the same: to implant into the person the idea that he/she is master of own life and pilot of own ship. In such an arrangement God has no place, and this is the grand project Satan is all about, to expunge God from all human life and all human affairs. What has Satan told you as an individual that you must have in life? It is a lie. You do not have to have that or those things for life to be happy and satisfying. It is Jesus that you need. But these lies have to be identified and recognized, and be deliberately and intentionally dislodged from the subconscious and instead to plant there new ones, godly ones.
It is curious to note that Jesus never called upon people to practice spiritual disciplines. These were not his emphasis. Instead, he emphasized relationships. To mature as a Christian is to mature in the art of loving, loving God and people. We practice spiritual disciplines a lot which means we give ourselves the opportunity to grow our love for God. But we do little to train ourselves in loving others although we talk about love quite a bit in church circles. The result is that the church becomes full of people who engage a lot in spiritual disciplines but have no growth in human relationships. Because of that, we find much unbecoming relational behavior among church people, namely, gossiping, bad-mouthing others, bad blood, anger, jealousy, envy, highlighting the faults and failings, rather than the gifts and virtues, of those more talented than us, touchy sensitive spirt, retaliation, self-will, a headstrong disposition, impatience, worldliness, resentment, inordinate love of money, a secret fondness to be noticed, love of ease, and so on, quite a long list.
How can we train ourselves to be really loving towards people? If one is serious about developing maturity in love for people, one should look no further than Paul’s admonition to the Colossians. In 3:12, he wrote, “Since God has called you to be the holy people he loves, clothe yourselves with:
- Compassion –This is like having a heart of pity, feeling the pain of others as if it were our own.
- Kindness –This is the goodness that is kind to others, friendly and generous, that is, doing for others what they cannot do for themselves.
- Humility – Not carrying oneself with the attitude that one is better than other people.
- Gentleness – Bearing with the weaknesses or strengths of others calmly and kindly.
- Patience – Taking life as it comes to us and not as we would want it to be; not hurried.
These qualities are great trainers in relating to others. Practicing them consistently and regularly will produce in us the kind of being with others that befits those who name the name of Christ. Then we would be people who are truly born again, and from above, having the mind of heaven and no longer that of earth.