About 20 years ago I was stunned by the question, “Are you a 'born again’ Christian?” (I had made, for me, a rare semi-public affirmation, at a meeting of colleagues, of my faith in Jesus and spoke out strongly for what I considered to be Christian morality. Not long afterward, I was asked the question by one of those colleagues - “Are you a ‘born again’ Christian?” I had expressed my ignorance, not only reflecting my uncertainty about an answer, but also because of the popular distaste of “born again" Christians. I put the question, which was difficult to dismiss, in the back of my mind.)
For about 15 years, I thought about that question, especially when reading or hearing the gospel of John, chapter 3, recording Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus. He was a Jewish leader who approached Jesus, under cover of darkness, asking about Jesus’ religious status. Jesus answered Nicodemus’ underlying question--how could people see the Kingdom of God. Jesus answered, only if a person is “born again.”
After five more years of trying to decide what “born again” means, I am ready to give my answer. I am also ready to answer the question (mentioned earlier), am I a born-again Christian?
First, what does “born again” mean? I believe that:
a. Being “born again” means that that our nature is not only human, as were the Old Testament people, such as Jacob (cheated his brother Esau) and David (adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah). But, as in the New Testament, that our nature is also divine, as adopted children and heirs of God and as brothers of Christ.
b. Being “born again” also means that we live under a different law. The Old Testament law included over 600 specific laws (many about rituals and diets). Some laws were made by God (the Ten Commandments), but many were made by man (see Leviticus and other books of the Torah, the first 5 books). All were strictly applied according to the "letter of the law.” The New Testament law for Christians is restated in the two Great Commandments of Jesus (set forth in all three “synoptic” gospels)—love God and love your neighbor. Both those commandments have been broadly applied according to the “spirit of the law.”
c. Too, being “born again” means a difference in what love requires. In both Old and New Testaments, we must love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and and with all our mind. In the New Testament, however, it is clear that love is self-sacrificing, even to martyrdom. Too, love of neighbors in the New Testament is not just our geographical neighbors (family, tribe, or nation), as in the Old Testament. But love is even of our enemies (“turn the other cheek,” in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25, both in the New Testament). So, that is LOVE RE-EXAMINED!
d. Being “born again” also means a different kind of life. God is the creator of life in both the Old and New Testaments. But the New Testament sees a more abundant life on earth with Christ--“to see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly,” the Prayer of Richard of Chichester, set to music “Day by Day” in our hymnal #654 and in the film “Godspell", too, while the Old Testament generally sees death as the end of life, the New Testament sees death as the beginning of eternal life.
All this suggests that, not only love must be re-examined, but so must human nature be re-examined. So must law. And so must life.
So, now I must answer the question, am I a “born again” Christian? I hope so. I want to be. May God forgive my failings.