Posted tagged ‘born again’

Born Again: the Paradigm Shift

March 31, 2018

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I listened recently to a talk given by Tim Keller who has a way of reducing “mysterious” ideas to plain English like few are able to do. In this talk, he tackled the Christian concept of being “born again”. People who walk in some Christian circles may take for granted what it means to be “born again” (or maybe not!), but anyone who grew up outside the evangelical influence may have very little idea what it means.

“Born again” is a buzz word to be sure. It is used ubiquitously to mean a certain “brand” of Christian, sometimes, or even a certain political persuasion, which is really a bastardization of the meaning of the phrase. The phrase has its roots in a particular passage of Scripture and is meant to convey the idea of a paradigm shift of sorts.

It is often assumed to mean a religious experience accompanied by emotions and religious fervor, but that really isn’t quite what the phrase originally meant, or even what it really means at its essence. Being born again might be accompanied by emotions and religious fervor, but not always. I think of CS Lewis, who I would consider a “born again Christian”, when I say that “being born again” isn’t always accompanied by high, religious emotions:

 “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalene, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).

Indeed, CS Lewis is not alone in finding the doorway to Christianity being rather more of a cross than a resurrection. Of course, the cross always precedes the resurrection.

Aside from the idea that being born again is primarily an emotional experience, people often think of it as signing onto a set of morally rigid religious principles. The words from CS Lewis might tend to support that idea, but that would be wrong as well. In fact, it really couldn’t be any further from the truth.

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No One is Born a Christian

January 30, 2018

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I have written a an article titled, God has no Grandchildren. I just watched a talk by Mary Poplin in which she makes the bold statement, “You can not ne born a Christian. You can be born a Hindu. You can be born a Muslim, You can be born a Jew. You cannot be born a Christian.” (Mary Poplin: The Radical Conversion of a Secular Scholar) I realized immediately that these points are intertwined.

Without any adieu, you must be born again!

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
“‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
“’You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.'” (John 3:1-13)

We have to be born into relationship with God. We don’t inherit a relationship with God. We must receive Him directly, on our own.

“[T]o all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

 

 

Spirit and Truth vs. Self-Made Religion

January 28, 2018

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In a previous blog article, I talked about the shadow of things to come. Paul says that following rules and observing religious ritual is just a shadow of things to come. Later in the same chapter in Colossians, Paul explains in more detail what he is getting at. When we are focused only on the do’s and the don’ts and on observing religious rituals, we are focused on the wrong things.

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle,  Do not taste,  Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

Paul isn’t advocating that followers of Christ abandon self-discipline and self-control and do whatever they like. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2) But, following Jesus doesn’t mean stepping up religious observances and following rules and regulations more closely. The focus on rules and rituals entirely misses the point.

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From Fiction to Faith

January 9, 2018

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I recently had a short exchange with an atheist friend over an article I wrote about science and faith. He is from the world of science, his father being a scientist, and he making a living on scientific principles. He found my article and analysis of atheism and science to be colored by my faith. And, of course it is, just as his view of religion and science is colored by his atheism.

He views God as a fiction. I view God as reality, transcending all the reality I think I know. We couldn’t be more opposed in our views of the world, though that doesn’t mean that we cannot be friends and learn from one another.

I suggested to him that both theism and atheism are rational conclusions, but the conclusions depend on the starting places. I remember from my philosophy class in college, and the study of Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard that theism and theism can both by logically “proven”. Syllogisms reaching both conclusions can hold up logically. The only difference is the starting premise.

To put it more simply: if you start with a premise that assumes God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the existence of God. If you start with a premise that assumes no God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the nonexistence of God.

How, then, does a rational person resolve the tension between these diametrically opposite conclusions? Logic cannot suggest an answer to this conundrum because logic can only operate on the basis of a premise, and the premise with which we start makes all the difference.

If we could determine which premise is correct, we would be well on our way, but it turns out that this is easier said than done. What then?

Science doesn’t help us either. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. God is, by definition, “Other” than the natural world.  Science can take us back to nanoseconds after the Big Bang, but we can peer no further into our past. We can’t see the very beginning, and we can’t see beyond it.

We can’t see through the lens of science and our senses beyond this natural world, and this leads many, like my friend, to conclude that nothing exists beyond the natural world. It’s a fair conclusion, to be frank.

But it’s a bit short sighted. Why we do assume that we and our physical senses are the measure of all reality?

How do we know if there is anything beyond the natural world? How do we know if there is a God?

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The Choices God Gives Us

April 28, 2017

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“But to all[1] who did receive[2] Him, to those who believed[3] in His name, He gave the right[4] to become[5] children[6] of God— children born[7] not of blood, nor of the will[8] of the flesh[9], nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”[10]

These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.

I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right to become children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage.  I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!

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The Rose and the Thistle

April 23, 2017

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“Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”[i]

This quotation by Frances Hodgson Burnett is pretty profound when you think about it. A person cannot feed love and feed hate at the same time. One displaces the other, like light displaces the darkness.

Except, we know from our own experience that we can love and hate at the same time. It’s just that we cannot love and hate the same thing at the same time. This is what the quotation is saying: a rose and a thistle cannot occupy the same space, though roses and thistles can certainly stand side-by-side. We can love one person and hate another.

Jesus puts a twist on these thoughts when he says that a person cannot serve two masters. When two priorities are vying for position in our hearts, they cannot both occupy the top position: “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  And Jesus provides us a ready example: “You cannot serve both God and money.”[1]

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Christianease: Born Again part 2

January 16, 2017

This is second of a two part series on what is mans to be born again. Jesus said that we must be born again to enter into the kingdom of God, and that new life and the experience of the kingdom of God begins now! In this life. That was the message Jesus gave us.

We can have confidence in His message not only because His message was attested by the miraculous signs and wonders He performed when He spoke[1], but by the fact that He rose from the dead[2], demonstrating for us the power of this new life that is not of the flesh, but of the Spirit.

Being born again requires repentance (turning from our own ways) and embracing, committing to, Jesus and the message he spoke. In that process of repentance and embrace, God causes us to be born again, born from above, born of the spirit.[3]

This isn’t just a theoretical, philosophical paradigm shift; it is an actual change that we experience. Something happens within us that is not the result of anything we have done (or can do). The change may be subtle or it may be dramatic, but the change is noticeable and certain.[4] For a quick description of what this change is like, see the video below before reading on:



The change comes from being born again, which occurs when we believe in Jesus and the message He delivered.[5] Accessing this new life is a matter of faith (commitment) to Christ which is the import of these famous words:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[6]

Similarly, the writer of Hebrews said,

“without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”[7]

Being born again comes from a genuine, heartfelt response to God’s message that Jesus spoke and initiates a new life that carries forward from that point. Being born again begins our spiritual lives, as being born in the flesh begins our lives as natural human beings. The Spirit is the hallmark of this new life.

In fact, God’s Spirit is the sign that we have, indeed, been born again[8].

Jesus promised us, if we keep his commandments, he would give us the Spirit to help us, to dwell with us and to be in us[9]. The greatest commandments are to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”.[10]

We become born again by believing and submitting to God in Christ and to His message. We have access to the Spirit of God to the extent that we keep His commandments, which are not a list of rules, but is a loving relationship with God and people. The Spirit will help us with these things as we submit to live as God intends for us to live.

Our “work” is to believe and submit.[11] The new life comes from God who causes us to be born again. The change happens from the inside out as God initiates that new life within us. It isn’t a change that we summon up, but a change that God makes in us, a fresh view of the world, filtered now through the Spirit that dwells in us and with us, providing that we embrace it and don’t grieve or quench the Spirit we have been given.[12]

The idea of being born again, born from above, born of the Spirit, is central to the message that Jesus spoke, and it is carried through the rest of the New Testament. Paul taught that we are dead in our transgressions and flesh (natural selves) until God makes us “alive together with Him”.[13] Paul says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature…..”[14] Peter likewise taught that people who have given themselves to Jesus, God’s Son, are “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable….”[15]

Being born again is essential. Flesh and blood can’t inherit the kingdom of God; the perishable can’t inherit the imperishable.[16] Our perishable bodies must put on the imperishable[17] – the Spirit that God has promised and offers us if we will believe and submit ourselves to Him.

Being born again is only the beginning of our spiritual lives, just as being born as an infant begins our natural lives. There are perils along the way. Our spiritual lives must be nurtured. We must grow in our knowledge of God and continue to water and feed the new life God gives us.But, that life comes from God.

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[1] Hebrews 2:3-4 (“[Salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”)

[2] The resurrection of Jesus in bodily form is so important and so central to the message of the Gospel that Paul says, “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

[3] John 3:1-8

[4] To get some idea of how being born again happens to a person, one might read accounts of it in peoples’ own words, C. S. Lewis having provided a famous account. For him, he became aware that he was holding something at bay, shutting something out. One day, after a long intellectual journey from atheism to theism, he simply found himself believing in God, but it would be nearly two years later before he submitted himself to the God he now believed in. From my own experience, I can say that a clarity and insight and new desires followed my submission to Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and they have never left me, though I at times have grieved the Spirit and spent times wandering in a sort of spiritual desert – yet that pilot light that was lit has never gone out, and that new life has been growing and renewing in me ever since.

[5] John 6:47-51 (“[W]hoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”) Paul likewise taught, “[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

[6] John 3:16

[7] Hebrews 11:6

[8] Romans 8:16 (“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”)

[9] John 14:15-17 (“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”)

[10] Matthew 22:36-40

[11] John 6:27-29 (“[T]hey said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”)

[12] 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (“Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

[13] Colossians 2:13 and Ephesians 2:5-6

[14] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[15] 1st Peter 1:22-23

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:50

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:53


Malcolm Guite

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