GospelBlog has previously marvelled at the corruption of fundamental words of the Christian faith. Indeed we recently commented on how the word ‘Christian’ itself has been adopted as a descriptor for all sorts of stuff that couldn’t be further from the teaching of the New Testament. In the first century if someone said they were a Christian there was no need for further explanation – it might take an afternoon today to resolve exactly what kind of Christian one is!
Another phrase that has been hijacked is ‘born again Christian’. In the UK at least, the phrase is normally pronounced with the intonation of a pentecostal revivalist preacher from the deep south of the USA. It is often linked with the word ‘fundamentalist’, which as we all know is a ‘bad thing’ according to our open-minded, relativist, western thinking. Yet fundamental things are things that are really, really important. The sort of things that differentiate between categories of things. It is fundamental, for example, that a mammal is warm blooded and that it feeds its young on milk. If it doesn’t it isn’t a mammal. It is fundamental that a medical doctor has a recognised qualification in medicine otherwise he or she is not a medical doctor. We don’t seem to have an issue recognising that fundamentalism is pretty important in these cases. It would appear that the Lord Jesus was also a fundamentalist, He said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And again, “You must be born again.” Now it doesn’t get any more fundamental than this, that the One who Christians profess to follow said that it was imperative to be ‘born again.’ So while ‘born again Christians’ are generally seen as a particular category of especially extreme Christians, the reality is that unless you are ‘born again’ you cannot count yourself in the category of ‘Christian’, one who is a follower of Christ.
Given such a major misunderstanding of the terminology, it is not surprising that most people would not be able to define what is meant by being ‘born again’. You would find yourself in exalted company. The Lord Jesus spoke these words to a man called Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin – a seventy-strong council of the leading religious authorities of His day. Nicodemus did not understand what was meant by being ‘born again’. After stumbling over a physical explanation, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”, the Lord explained to him that second birth is not physical but spiritual. Just as each one of us was born into a human family, so the Christian needs to be born spiritually into the family of God. Being born physically was not an optional element of my becoming a member of my genetic family (you will appreciate that I’m not dealing with adoption and the like here) so being born again is not an optional element in my becoming part of the family of God.
Having explained what being born again is does not explain how it is possible. The Lord Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus that new birth could only be brought about through the provision of a Saviour – “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” This was ground that Nicodemus would have immediately understood, although you may not. The Lord was referring to an incident in the Old Testament when the Lord judged the Nation of Israel by sending poisonous snakes into their encampment. Moses was instructed to make a brass replica snake and to set it upon a pole. All who looked to the brass snake would be healed. The parallel was clear. The Lord Jesus must be ‘lifted up’, just like the brass serpent – a reference to His crucifixion – so that all who ‘believed in Him’ could be given the eternal life that is the feature of the new birth. Just in case there was any doubt as to who the ‘Son of Man’ was, He adds “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Being born again is fundamental to being a Christian and the only means by which one can be born again is through faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. How about you? What sort of Christian are you? If you have never been born again then can I gently say, on the authority of the founder of Christianity, that you are no sort of Christian at all.