A Born-Again Born-Againer
Communication is always difficult, even when using extremely familiar terms. Maybe especially when using extremely familiar terms. Maybe no Bible term is more familiar to us than is “born again." This term is so familiar that our culture applies it to just anything that has been made new. A quick look at Google reveals several different blogs that use "Born Again" in their title...
- Bird watchers (http://www.bornagainbirdwatcher.com)
- Musicians (http://www.bornagainfloozies.com)
- Mormons (http://www.bornagainmormon.com)
- Surfboards (http://www.bornagainboards.com)
OK, I'm not comfortable with the song's linkage of "my Bible and the Bill of Rights" as if the U.S. Constitution were the 67th book of the Bible. Christians did just fine for centuries before there was a Bill of Rights, thank you very much. Maybe we did better when we weren't so focused on our rights!
Of course, the metaphor of new birth is straight from scripture. The new birth is the basis of our hope in Jesus Christ, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Pet 1:3). Later, Peter assures us that this new birth is based on the living word of God, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). And the best known verse on new birth is our reading for today-- "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). Jesus goes on to say, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:5-6).
I'm going to preach Sunday on this text... so if you want the last word on John 3, you'll have to show up early and sit on the front row (like wither of those ever happens). This verse has been something of a battlefield text for many through the years. For some, this suggests that unless you have some sort of born-again conversion experience, then you aren't really a Christian. So this divides "Born Again Christians" from other so-called Christians. In my religious tribe, this text divides so-called Christians (including the Born-Againers) from true Christians who are really born again "of water and the Spirit." True Christians are those who have been baptized in the right way (immersion) for the right reason (remission of sins) in the right church (ours).
Evidently, we want to think that Jesus us somehow discussing entrance requirements into the kingdom of God and how we can tell the contenders from the pretenders. And in doing so, we seem to ignore or at least downplay what comes next in Jesus' teaching--
“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.” ” (John 3:7–8)
The new birth is a movement of God's Spirit that we can't define or contain; it is like the wind that blows where it will. I'm not suggesting that baptismal theology isn't important. Let me give you a hint-- our worship songs on Sunday all revolve around the theme of water ("Jesus Flow Like a River," "The River is Here," "Down in the River to Pray," etc). I have written before why I believe that baptism is important, and I certainly haven't changed my mind.
But when we limit the moving of the Spirit of God to someone's formulation of baptismal theology, we do err not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God. Surely if imprecision in theological understandings keeps people from the new birth, then none of us will ever be born again. Surely we can't think that the Spirit is stiffled when we don't get wet enough in baptism. And surely we don't think that the Spirit is done with us once we get wet.
May God birth us anew and afresh daily as we seek to live in His Spirit! May we be ever open to the Spirit's leading as we keep step with Him! And may we never quench His influence and His moving in our lives!