Born Again?

baptism windowHave you ever been asked, “Are you born again?” or “Are you saved?” If you say “Yes” to the question, the interrogation may continue with “When?” If you say “No,” the conversation may end because you are judged to be a heathen. It may however continue with efforts to get you to come to a church that has the answers to your “problem.”  If you struggle to know just how to answer these questions, you are not alone.

The notion of being “born again” is rooted in scripture. In the Gospel according to John, we are introduced to a man named Nicodemus (John 3:1 ff). He is a wise teacher of the Jewish people who comes to Jesus under cover of darkness to ask questions. Jesus engages him in a conversation that leaves Nicodemus confused and scratching his head. Jesus tells him that all must be “born from above” (John 3:3). The Greek word used is deliberately ambiguous. It can be also translated born “anew” or, born “from the beginning, or in an interesting turn, born “for a long time.” And yes, some choose to say born “again” – though I’m not a fan of that choice, because to me it lacks the God-driven, long-term sense of John’s usage. If forced, I’d propose maybe, born “again, and again, and again….”

The other scriptural mention of “new birth,” is, for me, much more helpful.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3 NRSV)

Notice how it clarifies who does the “birthing.” It is not us, but God’s action.

For a certain Christian folks, being “born again” means making a decision to follow Jesus. It is often draped with emotional or spiritual experiences of conviction, repentance or spiritual ecstasy. For many (maybe most) Christians, this notion of establishing a relationship with Our Lord is precisely backwards. The “decision” that establishes my relationship with God is not mine. It is God’s. The cross saves; the cross tells me that I am, in fact, born again. The only action I take is in my response, every day, to that fact.

Baptism is, for most Christians across time and space, the event that proclaims God’s action to initiate a rebirth “from above.” We are most certainly called to respond to the grace of God’s action by taking up the way of discipleship. I think it is that second part of the “new birth” that folks who ask this question are really getting at when they ask questions about being “born again.” Does your relationship with God create a new life? A new person? That’s always a good question.

Today, September 25th, is the anniversary of my re-birth. On that date decades ago, I was washed in the water and the Church announced that I was a child of God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God decided to raise me up. For a while, my parents rose each day faced with what that glorious announcement meant for me. When I was confirmed, I took the responsibility from my parents and heard again of God’s decision to claim me. As Luther taught, from that day forward, every day was an occasion to respond to God’s grace and mercy. I’m still doing that every day as I make the sign of the cross and begin the day with a prayer. I do it as I read the scriptures and find myself called and convicted; as I serve my neighbor because the world is not about me; as I repent of the stupidity I commit each day and am honest about my life as (Luther again) sinner and saint all in one package that God has decided to love.

This weekend, we will celebrate with a whole bunch of 9th graders as they affirm their baptisms and take up the task of that daily walk with Jesus. As they are confirmed, they will hear the announcement of God’s decision to raise them up and be given every new day as an opportunity to respond to God’s love and grace and God’s children.

No doubt, they will get asked questions. I thought I’d end by giving them answers I use.

“Are you saved?” Absolutely!

“When?” On a cross, outside Jerusalem, in the early first century.

“Are you born again?” Yes. Every single day.

“How do you know?” God sent and surrounded me with holy messengers (the Church) to tell me, over and over and over again.

 Pax Christi – Pastor Tim

 

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