Born Again Identity

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Today’s readings (click to open in a new window):
Psalms 135; 145, Genesis 8:6-22, Hebrews 4:14-5:6, John 2:23-3:15


“Born again Christian.” It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, but it can mean many different things depending on our religious background (or lack thereof). It has its origins in Today’s reading from John, when Jesus tells the sympathetic Pharisee Nicodemus: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3). The Greek wording could also mean “born from above.” The idea of a second birth is confusing to Nicodemus, and Jesus doesn’t really clarify it. For many Christians, this one ambiguous phrase found in only one gospel has become an extremely subjective litmus test for “authentic” Christianity.

The gospels use several images to describe the new life that comes from a relationship with Jesus. Why is this one definitive for so many people? Maybe because it implies the reality of a a complete do-over. Human beings are helpless at birth and depend on their parents for everything. When we surrender ourselves to Jesus, we re-learn how to live and depend totally on God’s grace to carry us through that process. Throughout our lives we find new reasons and new ways to surrender. Our rebirth is not a one-time event occurring at the moment of conversion or baptism, but a constant spiritual renewal.

There is beauty in the image of rebirth, but also a danger of exclusion. Lifelong Christians may never have had a distinct moment of  rebirth, so insisting someone must be “born again” can quickly turn to judgment. It is God’s job – not ours – to judge whether someone is sufficiently Christian.

Whether or not being “born again” is part of our theological vocabulary, renewal is part of life in Christ. Just as the birth of an infant can be simultaneously joyous and scary, so can the changes in our new lives. At times we will need to celebrate, at other times we will need support, and sometimes we will need both. Fellow believers may need the same from us. Our new lives are meant to be shared, so let us be present for each other in all the ways we can.

Comfort: In Christ our life is made new every day.

Challenge: If you don’t have a “born again” story listen to someone who does. If you do have such a story, listen to how someone born into the church experiences their faith.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for giving me a fresh start every day. Amen.

Discussion: What do you mean when you say “born again?” If it’s not part of your faith vocabulary, what do you think when you hear it?

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