Faith. Grace. Confession. Sinner’s prayer. Baptism. There are so many things that we say one has to do in order to be a Christian. I am not knocking any of them (except maybe the Sinner’s prayer!) but they aren’t really the issue. Again, don’t get me wrong here, faith and grace are center pieces in God’s dealings with humanity. But there is one thing that Jesus mentions and Paul goes to great length to describe as the litmus for Christianity . . .
Being Born Again.
The now demonizing moniker finds its way into Scripture when Jesus is talking with Nicodemus in John 3. The thing to get here is that, culturally speaking, Nic is everything ‘right.’ He is Jewish. He is male. He is a Pharisee, meaning he rigorously kept the Law. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, meaning he was in the Congress of his time. He is everything right and Jesus tells him none of it matters and he must be ‘born over.’ Nic is totally confused and rightly so. What is more- and this is where I will lose some of you- is Jesus tells him THERE IS NOTHING HE CAN DO to BE born again. He tells him, in essence, the wind blows where it wishes to and so does the Spirit. And the Spirit is the only way to be born again.
Now, before you freak know this- Jesus immediately goes into a graphic description of the Gospel. Referring to the Bronze Serpent of Moses, Jesus likens His eventual death to this miracle of God that delivered His people in the wilderness. He ends with the phrase made more famous a few verse later ‘that whoever believes may have eternal life.’
And so the two, being born again and believing the Gospel, are intertwined. Basically, those that believe the Gospel are the ones that are born again. Theologians have long debated which comes first. Does believing the Gospel make you born again or does being born again make you believe the Gospel? It seems clear to me that Jesus has said that its the born again part that comes first, but I’m not going to debate that. What is more, in the OT Ezekiel had already put these two ideas together. In Ezek 36:25-27, he writes
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Notice the ’cause you to walk’? Those born again have new calling to walk with God. They are, in essence, compelled by the Spirit inside them. Those without this new nature may go to church, know all the right verses, sing the right songs but it is all out of self-righteousness. They have never truly embraced the Gospel.
If you would like a much more detailed account of this topic, let me recommend John Piper’s new book Finally Alive. You can get it in a store or download it here for free.