↑What does “being born again” mean?
Sin forgiven, infirmity healed, shame cleansed; a new family and new start ⇔
Sept 2020. Michael Krigline. wp.krigline.com ⇔
This was written to explain an idea brought up in the article about Birthdays.
Discussion 1. When Christians say that they are “born again” or “born from above” (John 3:3), what do you think they mean by this?
Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. …Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You [y’all] must be born again.’” (John 3:5,7 ESV).
When Christians talk about being “born again” (alt translation: “born from above”), they are referring to what happens when someone becomes a Christian. Basically, because of his great love, God gives us a new family, and a new start.
The chance to be “born again” is the core of the “Good News” (or “gospel”*); in short, the “Good News” is that God loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus, whose sacrifice on the cross cancelled the wages/guilt/shame of our sinful rebellion against our Creator God, and opened the door to God’s promised blessing as His beloved/adopted sons and daughters. If you’ve never done anything wrong, or if you’ve never seen the need for a new start, you can stop reading now. But for those whose pride, guilt or shame sometimes makes you desire a “second chance” or “second birthday”…read on!
Our sin* had separated us from God; human infirmity is a result of the race’s sin. Guilt relates to things we’ve done wrong or failed to do when expected; guilt requires punishment. Shame relates to feeling dirty or exposed, or of having dishonored our family/friends/righteous-cause; shame requires cleansing. We’ve all sinned, and we have also shamed or soiled ourselves AND the Name of our heavenly Father — whose image we bear in our very DNA and ability to make moral choices. When we took onto ourselves Jesus’ sacrifice, sin was forgiven, infirmity was healed, and shame was cleansed (Isa 53:5; 61:7; Heb 12:8, 1 John 1:9, Mt 8:17, Ps 103:2-4). But God’s love merely starts there, for to “all who receive him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
Discussion 2. Imagine that you are a teacher; what is the difference between your child and your student? If you were a king, what would be the difference between your son, a citizen of your country, and someone who lives in a different kingdom?
Jesus’ sacrifice brings an invitation to be born again, adopted as family in “the kingdom of God.” As with any adoption, big changes will follow, and someone else (not the baby) has to pay a high price (in this case, it was Jesus!). God tells us to lovingly call him “Abba” (“Daddy”) Father, in a family where everyone has been adopted, making us all equal regardless of race, gender, personal-achievements or other factors. And God’s kingdom is a kingdom of the heart, not a political or geographical kingdom.
No one expects new-born babies to mature by themselves, apart from the connection to a family and a kingdom (or at least, a community). If you are from a culture with a strong sense of extended family, and/or a culture with a powerful king, you should be thankful. Many Americans misunderstand a huge part of “the gospel” because we lack these cultural realities. Many of us have weak family ties, and/or think nothing of changing our definition of “family” every few years as we leave a spouse, ignore parents, and add new components to our inner circle of relationships. We think “love” is a feeling, but to God love is an unchanging commitment. Furthermore, it often doesn’t occur to us that the command to “honor your father and mother” has implications for a 40-year-old just as it does for a 10-year-old. Similarly, many Americans think that since we choose our own leaders, we can also choose or reject God and/or view God as a friendly grandpa instead of an authoritative king. Since the USA has never had a king, we miss the fact that “kingdom” is mentioned a startling 107 times in the gospels. But “family” is supposed to be where we get our identity and stability, and we were designed to submit to a king, putting him “above” every other loyalty or relationship.
The real “family” to which we are supposed to belong is our Christian family. The real King to whom we are supposed to submit is Jesus Christ. The former is called “the church,” and Christian brothers/sisters (regardless of race/nationality) are supposed to be closer to each other than to our biological family (Luke 14:26). These relationships, growing out of God’s eternal love for us, are supposed to give us a new identity, as well as the ability to embrace our King. The latter is King Jesus, who is worthy of obedience because He loved us enough to bear our sin, infirmity and shame upon the cross. The Christian loves Jesus as the Head of our loving family, and learns of Him so that we can please Him, like a grown son would unquestioningly submit to and please his father in an Asian father-and-son business.
Most Asian men understand that to become part of the family business, he must submit completely to his father’s will. Questions and new ideas should be welcome, but disobedience or making their father “lose face” is unthinkable. The same is true with the Kingdom of God. We can’t be “born again” into this family/kingdom until we are ready to submit to God’s will. God intentionally gives us the right to choose our own will over His. Why? I think it has to do with love. God has no desire for rebels, forced to obey, in His Kingdom; but He delights in the loving obedience of sons or daughters.
For 2000 years, most people have known that “to become a Christian” meant losing their “place” in a biological family and/or surrounding culture, and potentially calling upon themselves the wrath of those in authority. Religions like Hinduism and Islam mainly flourish when a strong “state” forces obedience to certain religious practices. But Christians believe that God has lovingly given them a new heart, which helps us to conform to God’s will from the inside out; it works just as well when Christians are a tiny minority (though they are often persecuted) as when Christianity is dominant in their culture. Regardless of location and the surrounding culture, Christian Believers should find great comfort in knowing that they are joining a new family and new kingdom, while also rejoicing that God has lovingly cancelled their sin and shame.
Discussion 3. In what way does this description of “family” and “kingdom” affect your view of what it means to be “born again”?
The Christian family and kingdom are eternal. With every decision, we humans are closer to our eternal choice. “Choice 1” is loving obedience to the Lord Jesus in God’s Holy kingdom, with every Good thing God ever created for us (love, friendship, loyalty, pleasure, grace, peace, joy…). “Choice 2” is eternal separation from all that is Holy and Good, in a ‘kingdom of one person’ where I can be my own lord. Today it sounds very narrow-minded to claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but Jesus did not leave room for “Choice 3” (e.g., other religions or philosophies). At the same time, Christianity is remarkably tolerant, because Jesus welcomes people from every race and socio-economic background (Matt 22:1-14). I can think of no worse fate than eternity alone with my pride, regrets, and misguided decisions. Likewise, I can think of no greater reward than eternity, serving in a Holy community, in joyful cooperation with our loving King. The central choice is not God vs. Satan (good vs evil), but God vs self. Both God and self are good, but our choice as to which is central leads inexorably to a full life or self-centered life; our choice pushes us on an unstoppable journey to heaven or hell. Put another way, if we are born only once, we will die eternally; if we are born twice, we will never die and never stop becoming more alive.
The chance to be “born again” starts with God’s LOVE (John 3:16), which allows shameful sinners to start afresh, with a redeemed purpose in a new family as part of God’s eternal Kingdom.
How does someone get “born again”? That question will have to wait for another post! But it resembles a teen being adopted. Both teen and parents want the adoption, but the burden lies with the parents and once the Judge completes the deal then the teen is just as much the parents’ child as anyone born to them. God calls us to Himself; we recognize our need and His offer of love; but God does all of the work, and the result is “forever family.” What a deal!
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Discussion 4. This article talks about “sin” as something that separates each person from God. Discuss the following definition of “sin,” then discuss how this compares to translations of the word, and/or what you previously thought the word meant.
• sin: human imperfection; according to the Bible, sin is every human act that falls short (“misses the mark”) of the perfection God intended for humans. This includes things that violate our conscience, break society’s righteous laws or religious laws, and even the things that we fail to do that we know we should do. The Bible says that all sin separates people from God, and the only way to “pay” for sin is through blood sacrifice. (See Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23-24; James 4:17)
Discussion 5. This article emphasizes the importance of community (that is, of belonging to a church community). Discuss why this would be especially important to people whose family or friends are not Christians. What does this imply for people who seek to share the “Good News” in close-knit ethnic or social groups, or foreign cultures?
Discussion 6. Some people think the idea of being “born again” is just another term for reincarnation. Read the following scriptures and comment on this idea.
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17)
Discussion 6. Discuss this quote. How does one adequately express his/her thanks for being born again? “If the cross was the solution, then sin must be a horrendous problem. If the passion and suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of cruel tormentors was the only solution—and Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane assures us this is the case—then the problem of sin, my sin, must be far more onerous than I can ever comprehend.” —Michael Krigline 9/26/2013
Discussion 7. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jesus, quoted in John 8:12 ESV). Discuss what you think Jesus means by “darkness” and “light”. What are some examples of “walking in darkness”?
*”The gospel” includes the promise of salvation and its fulfillment by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. See Galatians 3:8, Ephesians 3:6
*”sin” is defined in discussion question 2.
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