Born Again? (please do not miss the last paragraph which has the 'acid' test)
There is a common agreement within the Body of Christ that when a person comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as an initial or beginning point of relationship with God that this constitutes ‘being born again.’ This seems to me to be an oversimplification of the concept and leads many into a state of misunderstanding about themselves, others and spiritual realities.
There seems to be little connection of thoughts and beliefs concerning ‘being born again’ and other prominent Biblical ideas such as sanctification, transformation, spiritual life as a continuum of experiences in relationship with Jesus or the prospect of God being revealed in us. It seems reasonable to put forth the idea that being ‘born again’ is a part of the continuum of relationship with Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit to produce a ‘new creation.’
Therefore, we present the idea that ‘born again’ is a convenient yet misleading term and that we all would benefit from an adjustment in our belief structures so that ‘conceived from above’ gives us a time and place of initiation and is also reflective of the death-resurrection process which constitutes the birthing of the much anticipated sons God. Being conceived by the Spirit of God begins a gestation period that would produce, over a great period of time, a twin of Jesus.
Not a clone, please, but an individual who is as indistinguishable from Jesus as Jesus is from the Father. The aim of the Father is to have many sons of whom Jesus is the first born. Being in Him and Him in us is the object of full term birth.
Further more, we might ask the question, “Are we correctly presenting God’s Word and perspective to persons we try to evangelize by giving them a user friendly gospel and not the gospel of truth?” If this is so then we do a disservice to the multitudes that are told they are okay with God when in fact they may be still born. Many newcomers to the faith are advised that when they pray the sinner’s prayer then they are born again in that moment even though they may have no sense of character change nor discernable desire to be Godly from then on. While no change of mind or heart may not be realized in the exact moment of conception by the Spirit at the initial point of salvation, certainly, change must be evident to the believer and to those around him in a relatively short period of time and then progressively through out his life. If there is no fruit of righteousness, no fruit of character, no fruit that comes from abiding in the Vine, that person is in danger of being cut off of the Vine and cast into the fires of obliteration.
(See John 15 for a more clear understanding.)
Let me make it plain that I have no ‘axe to grind’ or ‘skin in this game’. I do have enough questions to compel me to study and dig a little deeper into the Word so that I might more perfectly present the Word of God to others. Dissenting commentary is welcomed if it is presented in like spirit, the spirit of a truth seeker.
The phrase, ‘born again,’ appears only three times (only) in the Kings James Version which is derived from the collection of ancient fragments known as the Textus Receptus. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textus_Receptus We mention these sources so that the reader will remember that the Bible, while divinely inspired, is scribed by men who have also added to or have taken away from the pure Word. Such is very true when taking a text in one language, Greek for example, and saying the same concept again in another language like German. Then take the German text and translate it to English and the difficulty is multiplied and the possibility for subtle errors of communication greatly increase.
My approach in this brief article is to look at the common tools for understanding the Greek words of the Textus Receptus and examine a few words and that can be correctly rendered in ways that differ from the KJV which is the most prominent version today. Definitions are taken either from Strong’s or Thayer’s dictionaries or both. Of course one can do the same study with the Alexandrian Text. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandrian_text-type
Please, understand that I am not trying to say that anyone is not born again as is hoped, but rather to search out the truth of what the Bible says so that we do not misrepresent God and the work of the Holy Spirit when encouraging new believers. Also, it is important for each of us that the growth and development of the seed of God, His sporah, will continue unto fruit bearing, then some pruning unto more fruit bearing, until we all come to perfection in Christ.
It is very common in today’s convenience based culture to redefine more complex issues in to brief and simple bytes making them more user friendly, but thereby, not telling the whole story. Simple, easy to check off, low level of personal commitment, and low cost are terms that could be attached to today’s gospel.
Redefining an eternal level of relationship to a past moment of ‘understanding’ will satisfy the natural mind. It is much easier to think and live in terms of “I was born again in July of 99 at the age of thirteen.” Than to say, “I have been conceived as a new creation man, and through daily denial of my natural self, I am being transformed to be one with Jesus.” Of course, extending the birthing to a process from a quick event adds other conditions, requirements and measures of maturity than if one could simply say, “It happened once and that is it!”
If we lump all humanity into a ‘saved’ or ‘unsaved’ category with personal escape from hell as the single most important issue, we set aside the more comprehensive work of transformation discipleship. It follows that to make spiritual birth a past tense event then we might never get to the work of transformation and becoming a ‘perfect man’ complete in Him unto every good work.
If we work from the historical event definition and not the continuing process definition, we can greatly simplify church life and eliminate the worrisome tasks of discipling leaders who then disciple others, determining the boundaries of personal accountability, the administration of righteousness for members, or accomplishing the unity of the spirit that actually support the doing of the will of God. It is just easier and less troublesome to put down a memorial marker when Jimmy was born again and leave Jimmy free to do whatever comes naturally from then on.
The thesis is: A better translation of all three New Testament references to being ‘born again’ in the King James Version of the Bible would read, “conceived from above” as by a seed, the word of God. This conception or begetting from above does have an initial point, but that point does not represent the full term gestation and birth that is implied by the KJV word, born, a completed event.
In our current understanding, birth is something that happens when the baby comes out of the womb rather than when the baby is conceived. It makes a huge difference in the expectations that are put upon both new believers and those whose ministry has brought the conception by the preaching of the Word.
A new responsibility would need to be recognized by ministers to
not be satisfied with planting the seed but also for its continued care and the
personal discipleship that will ensure the seed germinates and grows to fruit
bearing. A higher level of responsibility can now be embraced by the
evangelist to not only preach and pray, but also to nurture and cultivate the
new saint to full term and delivery. That ministry could be called
Certainly, others can share in the nursery duties as it is said, “1 Cor 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” So we ask, is this scripture a reference to reaping a mature harvest or to impregnating and nurturing the seed of the Word? We conclude the latter is the major idea. Problems arise when there is no consistent discipleship and the seed withers and dies for lack of care.
If someone made a commitment to Christ some years ago, but there is not the present fruit of righteousness, or even interest in the things of God, then anyone might conclude that a seed of the Word was planted, but ceased to grow to full term that would be known by the fruit that is present in the person’s life.
John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.”
John 15:2 “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”
Three little words are all I ask that the reader consider. Does ‘born again’ or ‘conceived from above’ best express the intent of the Lord? Is this birth the result of a process or an instant imputed gift of God? May the new birth be known by it’s present fruit or by an alleged historical event? These ideas may not matter at all, but I ask the reader to consider that they are of utmost importance for those who desire to see and to enter the Kingdom of God.
Partial quotes from Strong’s Dictionary and the KJV follow to aid in your deliberation.
”G1080, γεννάω, gennaō, ghen-nah'-o
From a variation of G1085; to procreate (properly of the father, but by extension of the mother); figuratively to regenerate: - bear, beget, be born, bring forth, conceive, be delivered of, gender, make, spring.
G1537 ἐκ, ἐξ, ek ex, ek, ex
A primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence motion or action proceeds), from, out (of place, time or cause; literally or figuratively; direct or remote):
G509 ἄνωθεν, anōthen, an'-o-then
From G507; from above; by analogy from the first; by implication anew: - from above, again, from the beginning (very first), the top.”
John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
John 3:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be bornG1080 again,G509 he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?G1080
John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be bornG1080 ofG1537 water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
John 3:6 That which is bornG1080 ofG1537 the flesh is flesh; and that which is bornG1080 ofG1537 the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be bornG1080 again.G509
John 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is bornG1080 ofG1537 theSpirit.
1Pe 1:22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:
1Pe 1:23 Being born again,G313 not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
G313, ἀναγεννάω, anagennaō, an-ag-en-nah'-o
From G303 and G1080; to beget or (by extension) bear (again): - beget, (bear).
Ana, an-ah', A primary preposition and adverb; properly up;
A final proof is available to any person who calls themselves ‘born again’ and who is willing to closely judge themselves with regard to sin. Ask yourself, “Am I free from sin and have I not sinned since I was born again?” If any person is compelled for the sake of truth to see that they have sinned and perhaps struggle against active sin now, then the case is proven that spiritual birth is a process, and they have not yet reached full gestation. 1 John 3:9 Whosoever is bornG1080 of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is bornG1080 of God.
Can you still sin? If the answer is yes, then maybe the growing in the womb of the Spirit is not completed.