So much of life in our culture has been reduced to role-playing, where people see themselves as detached from their own lives, mere actors rehearsing their lines and trying to hit their marks. At the same time, people crave identity. We often fall into the trap of thinking identity is something we create on our own, or else we take identity as something that is given to us and over which we have no influence. But identity in Christ is both a gift of his grace and a calling for us to live into. It encompasses all of who we are, all of our past, all of our relationships, all of our gifts, hopes, dreams, talents – everything about us – and points all of that into a holistic personhood where we find that our destiny is both union with God and becoming our truest self. In the end, these are inseparable.
Growing up in church, I am so used to the phrase “born again” that it’s often hard to think about it with any clarity. It’s one of those things where I “know” what it means so thoroughly that I don’t stop to think about what it means. But then I read John 3 last night:
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “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!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”
And it occurred to me that the way I think about being born again is pretty close to what Nicodemus alludes to in v.4 – something I need to do. We say it all the time, “you must be born again,” and it sounds so much like, “you must put gas in the car,” something we better go do.
But being born isn’t something anyone can do in much of an active way at all. Babies have to be born but they are not the ones doing the work, the mothers do all the work. This is the correction Jesus gives Nicodemus starting in v.5 and that we still need to hear. Being born again means being birthed by the Holy Spirit, an act that is the work of the Spirit in which we are the beneficiary not the cause.
Which means all our evangelistic crusades and pressure to make a decision for Christ make about as much sense as trying to coax a full-term fetus into birthing itself.
Which means a lot of rethinking of things I “know.”