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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jesus and Being Born Again

(Note: In the post A New Door Opens I began the story of how I happened to be at the birthday party that proved a powerful catalyst to change my life. The next post, A new Door Opens, Conclusion I shared the rest of that life-changing moment, which occurred in the seclusion of my own living room. If you missed those, especially the last one, you might want to read that before this post.)

In the last post, A New Door Opens, Reflections, I began the process I went through in sorting out what had happened to me at the foot of the crucifix in my living room. Since I already believed and confessed all that my Fundamental Christian friends thought I should to be saved, I was totally confused as to what had occurred. Something had changed my life, flooded me with peace, joy, and hope, but I hadn’t a clue how to nail down just what it really was. So, I decided to check out what Jesus had to say about being born again.

Jesus had a clandestine encounter in which he was questioned by one of the main religious leaders of His time, in order to better understand Jesus’ teaching. I thought this really interesting since Jesus was only supposed to be a carpenter. Okay, the man came under cover of darkness, but someone could have seen him. Why would this heavy-hitter risk his own reputation to submit his questions about theology to a carpenter? A carpenter who was scorned by the other leaders, who would eventually see Him crucified? I came to recognize that the answer was the very same as for me and why I was at that Bible Study so long ago. Let’s take a quick look at the story as recorded in John Chapter Three:

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (Verses 1-9)

It became clear to me that, while I believed what I had been taught about Jesus, I had never experienced what I would have thought of as being re-born. My fleshly body proved I had been born through the natural means, but I had not experienced anything to account for another kind of birth… one that was of the spirit. I look back on that night forty-three years ago and remember it so clearly, as opposed to the same time one night sixty-three years ago, when all I remember is the details my mother has told me over and over for my entire life, every April 30! Truly, she can recall the event of my physical birth, while I just went through it, oblivious to her pain. Twenty years and thirteen days from that first birth, I had my second, spiritual birth and it is I who can tell her all of the details! Both are real events. Both were God’s plan for me. Both saw major transformation as the years passed.

Peter’s First Epistle reads like he wrote it just to help me explain my feelings. Peter is declaring praises to God for His great mercy in making such a lasting re-connect possible in verses three and four of Chapter One:

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

Wow, that’s lasting! I continued reading and was soon abruptly arrested by a phrase that jumped out at me like my old Jack-in-the-Box: and [you] are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. Indeed, oh yeah; that’s exactly how I felt at the foot of the crucifix that evening! Peter’s epistle confirmed for me that I had been born again and was, therefore, saved. Here is the whole paragraph:

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your soul.” (Verses 8-9, amended to reflect the singular for soul)

Okay, I was glad to be saved and loved being born again; but I wanted to know why. I had always had a place for God in my heart… didn’t I put Him to the test at age seven (recorded in the post How Old Is Old Enough?)… Why did I react like I did at the Bible Study and, in fact, why was it that I even went to such a group in the first place? How is it that I just happen to go to that particular training program and met that particular hospital orderly who just happened to insist on my going to the Bible Study which included his birthday party?

I accepted what had happened to me was that I was born again that very evening. Now, I wanted to know how it was set up. Was there any place in the Bible that would answer why it was different this time from all of the other occasions when people tried to get me to go to their fellowship groups or told me the story of Nicodemus? The answer is a resounding, Yes!

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