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Being Born Again, What Does That Mean?

When we think of evangelism we often think of helping someone come to an understanding that they need to be born again.  And many treat it like some sort of a sales transaction in which we give a particular pitch and then close the deal.  At times being born again Christian carries derogatory connotations largely due to  insensitive evangelism methods in which the targeted end up feeling more like a commodity than a real person loved by God. 

I grew up in an evangelical setting and the question, “are you born again meant, are you saved or have your prayed the prayer of salvation”, which is the ritual that is used to help others connect with God. 

What does it mean?  How are we born again?  What does being born again mean?  

I have even been in faith traditions in which being born again meant that I had to accept certain doctrines or even certain political views and that if I didn’t accept those political positions, well then I wasn’t really born again. 

The term born again has come to have some genuine baggage.  So let’s unpack what being born again means. 

As Methodists we have been shaped by a particular pietist tradition.  Being a pietist means that we believe that God is experienced in a vital-life-giving relationship.  It is a heart-felt faith because we have in some sense encountered God.  We often refer to John Wesley who while quite religious and sincere about his faith envied the Moravians who had more assurance of God’s love.   John Wesley felt something.  He felt that his heart had been strangely warmed. 

So first being born again is an experience within which one’s heart is healed or begins to heal. 

In Ezekiel 36:26, The prophets (they were the truth tellers in the Old Testament) told God’s people that one day they would receive a new heart—a heart that was soft and tender—that their hearts of stone would be removed and replaced with a new one.  They tell of how God’s people would be moved to follow the ways of God by the work of the Spirit.  Sometimes this is referred to as a circumcised heart meaning that nothing stood between their heart and God’s heart. 

A hard heart reminds me of a heart that needs healing.  A hard heart cannot feel or respond to others—it is not moved by either God or human.  A hard heart cannot be moved by the suffering of others nor can a hard heart have empathy toward other human beings. 

 Often a person has been so deeply wounded and filled with shame that they find themselves shut down toward others--unable to empathize or genuinely love.  Hard-hearted people are concerned only about themselves. 

Receiving a new heart or having one’s heart softened is a profoundly healing experience that changes one’s entire way of being.  And one is moved from being self-focused and self centered to being other-centered and God focused.   Often this is a work of the Spirit—it does not always happen in one instance or in one experience.  It is a work in which we grow in maturity with the help of the Holy Spirit.

John Wesley had such an experience at Alders gate.  It was as if he had been born again.  He was reassured by the Holy Spirit that God deeply loved him.  That love brought healing in his heart.  This experienced ignited an entire movement in which Wesley began to notice the concerns of the poor and those on the margins.  He noticed how the poor were not invited to church.  He went to them and preached in fields and homes.  His work caught the attention of the religious leaders who condemned him.  This heart-felt experience profoundly impacted him and those around him. 

As God’s people, being born again can begin with a similar type of experience such as Wesley had at Aldersgate but often we have more than one experience that awakens us to be moved by God's heart more and more.

Second.  Being born again is a birth metaphor to convey the movement from one reality to another. 

What does that mean?

John explains it for us.  We are born of the earth or as John says, below and we must be born from above.  Let’s unpack that.  Each of us as human beings are born into this world.  We are born of human parents into a nation, into a particular culture, into this world.  As those who are born into this world, we are shaped by it.  We share the values of this world and function according to this worlds norms.  To be born from above has to do with being born into a new reality—the kingdom of God.  And just like we come into this world as infants and grow—so we grow and are shaped by this new reality of God’s kingdom in the new community of Jesus followers.

This is illustrated by baptism.  In the waters of baptism, we die to the old world, to it’s way of being and are resurrected into a new life in Christ in which we are shaped and governed by Jesus Christ the King. 

This new reality, the kingdom of God is the loving, healing reign of God in which God’s people are governed by Christ the king.  We are like an embassy of heaven in a foreign land.  In fact the Apostle Peter describes God’s people as an exiled people who are of another kingdom within the kingdoms of this world. 

So what is this new reality like?

Jesus reveals his way in the pages of the gospels.  Jesus delivers the oppressed, he heals the sick, he speaks truth to the powerful and defends the ones our world rejects.  By the Holy Spirit Jesus creates a new community of Jesus followers who live by the way of Jesus—as if they are governed by a different reality. 

Finally, What does it mean when Jesus says that God so loved the world that he gave his only son?  

This is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible.  Let’s again, unpack that Biblically. 

In the beginning of the bible, God created a beautiful world, he created human beings to bear his image and tend the earth.  This was to happen in relationship with God as they communed together in the garden.  The first people were to rely on the wisdom of God as God’s agents in a dark world.  But along comes a snake who draws the first people away seducing them to live according to their own wisdom.  The result is a world that is shaped by death, violence, power struggles, bondage and brokenness. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.

All along God has wanted to bring healing to this world.  The coming of Jesus has been the plan of God all along. 

Jesus is born from above.  And we are invited into that new birth—to be people who are born again into a new reality in which we are governed by Christ the King. 

And just like infants grow up in a home, those who are born again are born into a new community of Jesus followers.  It is here we learn and experience the ways of the KINGDOM.  It is in this new community that we are shaped by the Jesus way of living and being. 

This place—this new community is not a community within which we decide who is in and who is out…often we think there must be some sort of a order within which someone prays the prayer, becomes a Christian and joins the church.  But in reality the process of being born again is often way more organic. This new community is a space not where some of us are IN and some of us are OUT, it’s a place within which we give the Spirit free reign to work within and among us--shaping and forming us into the image of Jesus.



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