Ye Must Get Born Again…Or Else

December 10, 2010

“You need to get born again!”

 

I cannot tell you how many preachers, evangelists, radio hosts, guest speakers, theologians and televangelists I’ve heard use that phrase.  It’s interchangeable with “You need to get saved!” It’s become almost a battle cry, a line drawn in the sand.  Either you’re “born again” or you’re satan’s minion.

Asking someone if they’re born again is also a great little Jesus grenade to throw at Catholics.  Since most Catholics don’t say “born again” too often, they must not be, so we win.  Because letting everyone in the club doesn’t make it exclusive enough.  You have to have a “platinum” level VIP list.  You’re on the list if you’re born again, and you tell everyone…a lot.

Even though the airwaves are flooded now with preachers who would rather teach positive thinking than being born again, I can still hear the echoes of the call to get saved or born again.  You probably can too.

The thing is, I got saved, and I got born again.  Maybe you did too.  The problem is, it didn’t seem to work as well as I had hoped…

Grammar Police

First, I know that I’m going to sound like a teacher saying this, but if you ever hear a preacher say you need to get born again, or get saved, the only thing you need to “get” is out…immediately.  I know not everyone does this, but I cannot keep quiet.  In my opinion, saying you need to “get” born again is like grammatical fingernails on a chalkboard.  You don’t “get” born again or saved, you “are” or “become” born again or saved.  You wouldn’t say a pregnant woman is going to “get” a baby, would you?  Not unless the baby was being “gotten” from the Wal-Mart bargain bin along with a five dollar “Nutty Professor” DVD.  If you do not want me to rap your knuckles with a ruler like an angry nun, then watch your language.

I’ll get born on my own, thank you, ma’am

It’s more than just bad English, though.  By saying you need to get born again, we’re kind of ignoring the fact that no one chooses to get born in the first place.  It’s not something you do.  Someone does it for you.  Babies can’t do anything, much less birth themselves.  I know my memory of those high school educational birth videos is hazy because I was attempting to blind myself out of horror…the horror…but I know that baby wasn’t exactly sprinting out of the birth canal.  He just kind of sat idly by while Mom did all the work.  What a slacker.

So when we use “get born again” as a rallying cry, we’re doing what humans do best.  In some small way, we’re making it all about us and what we can do for ourselves again.

Getting saved didn’t take

You know the statistics about American Christians are pretty pathetic, so I know it’s not just me.  Even among those of us who are “saved,” or “born again,” we don’t read our Bibles, we know next to nothing about what they say, we don’t have “biblical” worldviews, we get divorced, become addicts, and our kids drop out of the church faster than ever.  Sure, we’re great at getting born again.  It’s just that we kind of suck at being born again.

Say what you will about all great things Christians do.  Seems to me that as important as we make it, “getting” born again didn’t work as well as it should’ve for a lot of us.  Sure, I know who’s on my side, and who’s going to hell, and that’s handy knowledge for a mere mortal to wield carelessly.  But there are plenty of days I don’t feel born again.  I don’t feel like a new creation.  I don’t feel like fighting temptation.  I feel like plain old born-once Matt.

So where does that leave us?

It’s so easy!

I think people have done with “born again” what they try to do with most things.  We’ve tried to make it “easy,” a one time thing.  A simple three step process: pray a prayer, invite Jesus, tell others.  Bam, born again!  Check that off the honey-do list.  Now, take out the trash…

My problem with being born again is the same problem I had when I was born the first time.  I grew up.  I turned into a calloused, cynical adult who likes to draw battle lines, who isn’t impressed by anything, who still doesn’t have it together.  If I got born again ten or twenty or more years ago, that’s a lot of time to turn back into a crusty old spiritual curmudgeon.

Somehow, we’ve taken something as mysterious as being born again, and turned it into a cliche, something to divide “us,” and “them.”  And a lot of us would probably be no worse off if we had never gotten “born again” in the first place.

What do you think has gone wrong?  Are our expectations wrong about what being “born again” will do?  Have we latched onto an idiom that Jesus never meant to be so important?  Or are we not even born again at all because we’re trying to do it ourselves?

23 responses to Ye Must Get Born Again…Or Else

  1. I think this was born out of the great revivals and crusades of earlier centuries in this country and in Europe. The goal was to spread Jesus, and do it quickly. In my opinion, the process actually is easy. God boiled it down really nicely for humanity. However, the church body left it there without actually “Making” the disciple! It would be like a doctor brining a new baby out of the mother’s womb, setting it in a little basket, and walking away with a smile on his face. This is not how it should be. A baby isn’t self-sufficient and neither is a newborn Christian. We need to swaddle that thing, hold it, feed it, grow it. More like farming really, then birthing.

    By the way, you have me worried that I’ve messed up my grammar somewhere in here, so please don’t rap my knuckles with a ruler!
    Dan Smith recently posted..Happiness is a home church

  2. What do you think has gone wrong?
    I think we’ve come full circle and turned into the Ancient Hebrews. We’ve become legalistic in the sense that we find loop holes around God’s law. We no longer care if we sin, we will do something to make it right, i.e. go to church, read the bible, and pray. We’ve turned the wonder and atomic saving grace of God and made it into 5 magical words, “Jesus come into my heart.” We pull the ole nail and bail on God, get the good stuff aka salvation and up and leave.

    Are our expectations wrong about what being “born again” will do?
    To be honest, I have read the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in regards to being born again a myriad of times and I always scratch my head. It seems to me that Jesus was challenging Nicodemus and future readers that there is no magic formula with salvation or being a Christian. That’s why Jesus gave the example of the wind, we have no idea where it came from or where’s it’s going.

    Have we latched onto an idiom that Jesus never meant to be so important?
    I think Jesus meant it to be important but we’ve mangled it. When we don’t understand something, we dissect, box and put boundaries on it to fit our understanding.

    Or are we not even born again at all because we’re trying to do it ourselves? Well this is hard because this is where the faith of a child comes into play. I believe that the elementary kids who go forward during the benediction because their parents “strongly encouraged” them to, are saved. They trust their parents and their parents trust God. I believe that those 9 year olds believe who Jesus says he is in a 9 year old way.
    But too many times, it’s, “Okay, got saved, now onto bigger and better things.”

    Why are you racking my brain on a Friday, Matt? This is supposed to be a middle of the week post! (see what I did there? Put a formula on your blog posts)

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com
    Jonathan Chang recently posted..243 Belief and Chalupas

    • Ah, see, just as soon as you think you’ve figured me out, I go a different direction. I’m with you – the more I read John 3, the less and less like a formula it appears to be. Most things in John are pretty mysterious. Not the best place to find a three step plan.

  3. Wow, this could turn out to be a theology thread – but I will hold my self back, 😉

    Where we have gone wrong is the practice of religion that is not connected to hearing God’s voice. We get a good word – like John 3:16-17 for example, then we run with it like it’s the entire Gospel. That’s the whole reason we have denominations. Some one had a revelation that actually was God (it worked) and they decided that is all there is. And when it doesn’t work for someone else, it’s called bad theology. Others take a verse that is suggestive, and make it a rule. IE: Paul said that being single was good, the Catholics mandated it.

    None of it works well.

    Jesus said the sheep know my voice. He also told us to not to be just hearers of the Word, but to be doers.

    So what part of the Bible is there that doesn’t apply to us? Paul wrote endless lists of spiritual and service gifts, loving qualities, and James and Peter added some mandates that should put wheels on them. But how could we ever give praise without ceasing and pray without ceasing at the same time?

    The key is in hearing God’s voice for the moment, and being obedient to that. Any other formula will fail because it becomes disconnected from God.

    Sure there’s a lot more – I wrote a book about it.

    Good discussion, Matt.
    David recently posted..Its Here! – My Mini-Book on How the Church is Really Supposed to Work!

  4. Decisional Theology is something I cannot stand. I agree – you didn’t choose to be born the first time. Most of your average people in church do not understand this and I have found that it really offends people when you talk about it. The whole idea was popularized by Charles Finney. He was the main force behind modern day “alter calls”. The interesting thing is how much of every service is geared toward this…for instance the sappy music at the end of the service is supposed to get you “in the mood” to make a decision for Christ. Every head bowed and every eye closed kind of thing. It really drives me crazy.

  5. I think it is two-fold and you briefly mentioned both: We tried to make this easy thing too complicated (because for some reason we cannot accept the easy things in life, like they are too good to be true), and we focused on the event and our part instead of Who is doing the change in us and why. After “I got saved” ten years, eleven months, and a day ago (yeah, I actually know it to the minute, believe it or not), I noticed that the Bible taught discipleship as a part of our life as a believer in what Christ has done. Instead, with all of our Crusades and revivals and the like, we have made it all about “the choice we make”.

    In school a couple months ago I used this analogy:

    Imagine in World War II the Allies took Normandy Beach, stopped the Germans who were there, and then turned around, went home, and said “We did it! We saved Europe!” The Nazis then would have moved back in and probably taken over the world.

    This is what the Church has been doing in the West. We win someone over for Christ, declare victory, then say “Okay, you, go home and love Jesus.” This is what Jesus was talking about when He said “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43-45, NIV).

  6. Had a pastor once who insisted during alter call, “every head raised, every eye open, everybody looking around at everybody else.” He insisted that being born again and conforming ourselves to the likeness of Christ was a public endeavor, and we have no reason to be shy about it or to consider it a “once & done” deal. I kinda liked that.

  7. Well, I’m probably going to be flogged with copies of “Velvet Elvis” for this but I think there’s a place for the being born again position. Accepting Christ and following him really is as easy as the people pushing the altar calls make it. There’s no class you have to take, no three step program before you can on Jesus to save you. I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater just because some pastors take it entirely too far.

    There’s not enough discipleship in churches today. There’s not enough working out our faith with fear and trembling. The awe of God is gone in a lot of cases. Still, I don’t think we should dismiss the fact Jesus didn’t make it difficult to come to him…the yoke is light.

    Now, we could debate people “accepting” Christ in an emotional moment versus really understanding what it means to follow Him. I’ll definitely fall on the site of people who say a lot of Christians made an emotional decision and didn’t really understand what following Christ truly means. I just don’t want to dismiss the whole thing because in a lot of cases churches and some Christians didn’t truly understand what it means to “get saved.”
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  8. I do not like the term either. “I am born again!”….well isn’t that special…now tell me how you are LIVING for Jesus. Life is more than a birth…and a death…it is all that in between stuff too.
    Jason recently posted..Christians-Should We Vote

  9. If our present reality does not match up with the past event, then the chances are good that the past event meant nothing. I can say that I love broccoli over and over, but the truth is that I hate broccoli and never eat it. Saying something (like “I’m born again) does not make it true no matter how often it is said. True salvation is a lived salvation.
    seekingpastor recently posted..Words to Leave By

  10. I think the problem with the whole “you need to be born again” thing is the same issue I have with “gospel” tracks. They’re all about starting.

    It’d be like you said, “If you want to drive a car, you need to start it!”

    The idea sounds good and straightforward, and it’s definitely correct. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that statement. The problem is that it’s not complete. Being born again isn’t incorrect. Jesus told a man that he needed to be born again. I don’t think it’s right to ignore it.

    We have to die to our old selves, but then there’s so much more to do! But lots of churches lack the discipleship it takes to shepherd past that point.

    Maybe it’s because you can’t count discipleships. It’s too long a process, but “conversions” can be tracked and measured and graphed.

    You know, just like Jesus liked. 😛
    bman recently posted..Racking Focus

    • Great point bman. I think conversions are easier to keep track of and count. This post brought home how many times I’ve heeded the alter call. Sometimes I wonder why I feel like I’ve been hitting my head against a wall for years and years. Sort of like hearing a broken record over and over. Yes, I know I’m a sinner, Yes I’ve repented and asked Jesus into my heart..and of course then there’s sharing about Jesus with others, but then it feels sort of like the whole thing stops cold right there. Maybe I’m just stagnant. Maybe sermons feel like they have the same formula: you’re a sinner, repent, be saved, baptized, share your faith and then it starts all over again the next week. Sometimes I wonder if there is ever going to be a sermon that address that after part not just the getting to the saved part. Great comments everyone and wonderful post Matt.
      RainbowsofFaith recently posted..Fresh Starts

  11. I think you were most profound when you pointed out the difference between “getting” born again and “being” born again. One is past tense and the other is present tense. That makes all the difference. Excellent post.
    Phil recently posted..Real men dont iron womens clothes!

  12. I think that being born again is an important thing, but you are right – too many people take it as being a “once and done” event, not a process of being. So I’m born again – I’ve accepted that Christ died for me, rose again, and now I’m alive in Christ. But what does that mean to the new believer, really? Not a heck of a lot, and for the most part, too many churches give the impression that Jesus’ goal was to get us into Heaven with him when we die. So we accept His sacrifice for us, and BAM!, we’re good to go.

    But the reality is that the purpose of being born again, the purpose of having a new spirit within us is so we can have a relationship with God. It’s all about the relationship, and learning to be in relationship with our Creator takes time – and it takes more mature believers to guide the process. The born again experience is just the beginning – the introduction to God, to who He is, to how good He is. It’s important, but it’s not the only thing we as the Church should be concerned about.

  13. Matt…this is my first visit to your site…I’ll certainly be back.

    The whole of life for Christians should be summed up in one word…repentance. We “get born-again” by admitting to God that our first birth left us flawed, and our new life is lived in the process of sanctification to “fix” the flaws. If we ever down look at those still enduring their first birth without the benefit of the second, we should be hit in the face with our own need for further sanctification. I appreciate the post and the discussion.

    I really enjoy the sarcasm…

    –Paul
    truthandfriction.com

  14. What a theological post! I do think the idiom is intended by Jesus to be super important, although we have taken it way out of context. Often, we try to sell it like a concert ticket.

    The reality is that ‘being born again’ starts at a specific time and place, but it continues as a life-long process. Theologically, this is where we get the concept of “regeneration,” where the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, changes our desires and motives, and makes us into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

    Even though we are new and have a new passion in the center of our lives, we are undoubtedly going to mess up because of sin. When Jesus justified us (cleaned our “sin slate”) on the cross, we were legally declared righteous by God’s grace. Are we really righteous? No. Read Romans 3. However, out of God’s great love for us we are declared righteous. While Jesus solves the sin problem eternally, our present life in the flesh still lingers.

    That is why God sent us the Holy Spirit — to be our guide. Paul tells us that we are “baptized in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Well, because of sin, we need to be baptized, born again, regenerated, every day. If in [our] sin Jesus gave us life, then it is in sin Jesus shows us how to live that life each and every day. We definitely can’t do it ourselves.

    The question then is not, “How much good or bad are you doing or not doing?” as an evaluation. A better question is, “How important is Jesus to you? Have you asked the Holy Spirit to be with you today?” Afterall, Jesus did say to ask to receive.

    If you don’t think about God or loving people or how old the Bible is, chances are you were never saved to begin with. Again, when we are changed by Jesus our view of sinning changes and we aim to be more like Him, but specific sin management is never a good indicator of how we are doing spiritually. Even nonbelievers understand the concept of right and wrong. Dallas Willard put it well when he said that the worst way to plan to go to New York is to focus on not going to London or Los Angeles.

    In short, being “born-again” shouldn’t be “sold” like a pithy tagline that describes how you’ll feel after drinking Starbucks coffee. Being “born-again” should be an adjective that simply describes what happens when you meet Jesus. And for the pastor, that’s only where the discussion starts.

    Wayne Grudem wrote a fantastic article on this stuff. Check it out: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/regeneration_grudem.html
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  15. You are quite correct in the statement that Catholics don’t really use terms like “born again” or “saved”. Being a Catholic (who now goes to a non-Catholic church, but that didn’t really change much in my personal belief system), my answer when asked “when did you get saved,” or “are you saved,” has always been the same: “Jesus saved me 2000 years ago, actually.”

    I have a sincere dislike of the wording of such questions. I know it’s just semantics…but to me this makes all the difference. The moment I or anyone else made a decision to live a life for Christ, Jesus didn’t at that single moment die for us. He died for the sins of the whole world 2000 years ago. At that moment, I simply chose to accept this truth.

  16. I’m not so sure it is easy to be born again. Remember, in the new testament Paul talked about working with the people ( I forgot which church) until the new birth came precisely because after they heard the gospel they went back to other things (worldliness, legalism, etc.) . Some people can intellectually accept Christianity, but not have a relationship with Jesus. That is also why Jesus says to strive (because the gate to the kingdom is so small). Also Jesus says many people will merely believe in some un-biblical fashion and not end up making it in. That is (I think) because although the intellectually in their mind accepted him, they never accepted him in their heart and had a relationship with him. The people who are saying “lord lord” obviously are people who believed at some level. If it was easy to be born again, Jesus would have said that the test to be born again is just to ask yourself “do I believe?” But he says those who love me keep my commandments. Jesus’s commandments were actually more strict than the old testament because he new that if we were born of the God we could keep them through that power. That being said, I can’t wait for the day that I’m born again and living in a relationship with Christ. If you want to know more about this all, look up Charles Surgeon. It took him 5 years to receive the new birth, and when it happened, it was the simplest thing he could have imagined. If you are not “seeing”Jesus clearly Oswald Chambers says this is evidence that you have not received the new birth. He thought that (and I agree) a person who has not received the new birth cannot love Jesus on their own. It makes sense if you look at the new testament too. No-one loved him but rejected him. Although many accepted him in some sort off way, but did not love him.

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