(Continued from last week…)
Practice makes progress; Jesus makes perfect.
“Except a man be born again.…”
Have you ever questioned your understanding of what that really means? There are certainly different ways to look at the term “born again.” A lot of Christians think it refers to the day they felt saved, accepting Jesus as their personal Savior. And they’re right. A lot of Latter-day Saints think it means being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. And they’re right too.
Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3: 7). For those of us who believe that Jesus’ words matter, there of necessity comes a time in our lives when we have to ask ourselves if we have truly been born again. I have found myself wondering for quite a number of years if I had undergone this birth. I knew that I loved and accepted Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, and more importantly, as the Savior of me. I had followed Him down into the waters of baptism, making a visible covenant before the world that I would take upon me His name, keep His gospel in my heart, and do my best to follow His teachings. Because of this outward expression of my faith, I was offered the gift of the Holy Ghost to assist me in keeping these promises. Since then, through the Spirit’s power, I have felt on many occasions that I have received a remission of my sins. But there’s the catch. I have had a continual need for a remission of sins, because, to be frank, I continue to sin. This is where my understanding of being spiritually reborn has been at odds. The very fact that I still possess thriving elements of a fallen nature has made me wonder if I am truly a new creature in Christ. For so long I have associated being born again with phrases like: “no more disposition to do evil,” “doing good continually,” and “the mighty change of heart.” I have thought: ‘If those are the results of rebirth, then I’m not there yet.’
Then, not long ago, something happened. Something clicked in my head. It’s hard to pinpoint how or when. Perhaps I just looked at all of this longer and harder than I had in the past, and I saw something that I had never seen before. Human birth is a process, but, it is also an event. Sure, there is a gestation period of months, and a woman carries the developing fetus in her womb, not wanting to deliver it too early, before the new body is fully formed and ready for life. Nor does she want to carry it any longer than is absolutely necessary. But then, finally, the day arrives and it happens. Someone is born. A human’s birth doesn’t last longer than that. It’s true that some mothers are in labor longer than others, and some births are much more difficult; some happen by natural means while others are performed cesarean. But the day comes when the child is no longer within the mother’s womb. And after one’s birth happens, it’s over. One doesn’t go through it again. No human is born that way twice. Nicodemus and other Jews of his day were familiar with the term of being “born anew,” and yet, when Jesus told him that he had to be reborn, he still asked: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3: 4). Nicodemus knew the answer to that second question before he asked it. It is, perhaps, the first question, which gives us the real insight into Nicodemus’ heart. I wonder if he was just as unsettled about being born again as I have been. Perhaps he was an older, worn out man, simply wishing that he could somehow be reborn, if he could only go back to the innocence of his childhood when he saw things with more faith and through less complicated eyes. (How many of us would like to start all over in some ways? How many times have I heard someone say that they wished they could be baptized over again and start with a fresh clean slate!)
Jesus told Nicodemus that unless someone was born again, they couldn’t see the kingdom of God. The word “see” in such a statement could be thought to mean “get to”—like someone saying to a long distance runner: ‘Unless you pace yourself, you won’t even see the finish line.’ I had read it that way before. It is, after all, the truth. But looking more closely at the original intent of the Greek word used in this chapter of the New Testament, “see” also means “perceive.” So, more accurately, it means, unless one is born again, he can’t even perceive or recognize the kingdom of God. It could be all around you and you might never know it’s there. And this is really the first step to being born again. No man will even begin to search for admittance into the heavenly kingdom unless he recognizes that such a kingdom exists. And no man will diligently pursue after Christ until He sees Christ as Someone who must be pursued at all costs.
If we want to see the kingdom of God and then enter into it, we must be born again. However, I now see that birth is an event, not a life long journey. As I said earlier, when we are born into this world, it happens on a day and then it’s over. But then and only then can we get down to the real business of living our lives. Am I born again? Yes! Am I a new creature in Christ, no longer ignorant that a better kingdom is available to me? Yes. Have the scales of spiritual darkness fallen from my eyes? Have I awoken unto God? Have I felt to sing the song of redeeming love? Yes. Yes. Yes! So, am I done? Nowhere close. Now it’s time to grow up. Now is where I learn to take one step forward and then another, to climb the ladder one rung at a time. Can I do this by myself? Not in a million years. Thankfully I have my Savior’s grace and the power of His magnificent Spirit to transform me, “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 13). It will take all of this life and a great while into the life beyond. But I believe in its realization and yearn for it.
However, just because someone’s been born again, is all this additional transformation and marvelous growth inevitable? No, for “there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God; Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also” (D&C 20: 32-34). So, even if we’ve experienced an inner awakening and change of heart, if we have spiritually been born of God, if we have received His image in our countenances and have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, we must regularly ask ourselves: Can we feel so now, today? (Alma 5: 26). The Lord be praised for His cherished gift of repentance! (It’s a gift I’ve made great use of.)
And one day, when we’ve finished with what we can do here, we’ll move on, preparing to undergo an even greater change. But as Jesus said, it all must start with our being born again.
(to be continued…)