What Does Being Born Again Truly Mean—It May Not Be As You Perceive it to be—Episode 71
How many of us entered into Christianity, regardless the denomination for the most part, under the assumption that we have or are “born again?” Or I should probably ask, how many of us have entered into Christianity having been told or instructed that we were at the time “born again?” What was the prescription or the protocol for being born again? Do you recall? Try this on for size: you responded to a call or some form of admonishment related to your eternal destiny; that is, where you will spend eternity. Along with that concern for where you’d spend eternity when you died came self-awareness: the awareness that you existed—that you existed in a state of total depravity—a state of condemnation that would ultimately end in you spending an eternity in hell. And let’s face it, no one wants to burn forever—it’s a “no-brainer” once you come to the realization that your life is missing something very important. That missing element from one’s life is different for each of us: for one, it’s sobriety; for another it’s healthy personal relationships; for another it’s finances; for yet another it’s a moment of emotional weakness that succumbs to a soul-rousing message that awakens feelings and thoughts about your unique situation.
We all have a breaking point—maybe better stated, a soft-spot that when we come to see the futility of our ways, that we naturally seek out a solution to our depraved state. Let’s face it: no emotionally healthy individual wants to go to hell nor do they want to go through the rest of their lives uncertain whether the centuries of talk in religious circles about a heaven and hell are actually true. It would stand to reason that it’s better to just hedge one’s bets and assume that a blissful heaven is a better place to go than a fiery hell for all eternity. What’s there to lose apart from maybe some ribbing from time to time as it relates to one having to act or live like a so-called Christian, right? Needless to say, some of the most well-known members of our society proudly wear the moniker of Christian and it has proved to be a positive experience for them. And then, there are those times when there is some emotional attachment to the religion that tugs at one’s being: be it the music; the messages of hope and positive living; or just being around people that at least pretend to really care about you. It’s not a bad thing is it? It can actually be good, right? In fact, everyone should be born again. No one wants to nor should go to hell to spend eternity.
I hope I did not offend anyone with the above monologue. I come from a place of having actually experienced this very thing in my own life. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church where I gave my life to Jesus Christ and was born again. Or so I once thought.
It’s interesting how life takes the course it can take. I would never have imagined back in 1973 when I “said the sinner’s prayer” and “gave my life to Jesus” that I would some day question the whole Christian concept of being “saved” and being “born again.” And that is exactly what happened to me during the summer of 2004 in the city of Kingston, Jamaica. I actually experienced a crisis of belief or better a crisis of my Faith when I was asked: How did I know that I was saved? How did I know that I was born again? Of course I replied with all the canned answers that have been vetted after years of Christian doctrinal processing. But those “canned” responses were just that: “canned responses.” And it was those questions and my “canned” responses that ignited my crisis of Faith and started my search and journey for the truth about this issue of salvation and being born again. What I ultimately came to find out was that the truth about being “born again” was not as I had ever perceived it to be. For that matter, the phrase, “born again,” is really not what the vast majority of the Christian believing world perceives it to be at all. In fact, the Christian concept of being “born again” is entirely a misnomer. It is that misnomer that has extremely dire ramifications that is leading millions around the glob down a road of certain disappointment and in many cases, destruction.
It was on Saturday, April 12, 27 CE, in Jerusalem, during the Passover celebration, that a prominent Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin came to Jesus by night so as not to be seen by others of his sect. He is identified by the Gospel writer John as Nicodemus. It was this covert night meeting that would forever define and bring to the consciousness of mankind, what the establishment of a true relationship with the Most High looks like and what was necessary to enter into that relationship with the One True God. There was no discussion about a “sinners’ prayer” nor was there a “right-hand of fellowship” offered; not even a signing up for a church roster was proposed to Rabbi Nicodemus by Jesus. The content of this discussion is something that is completely foreign to that which is taught in today’s fundamental Christian Churches. The content of this conversation has and remains today, critically fundamental to the so-called Christian Faith. Sadly, few in all of Christiandom, throughout the last two-millennia have accurately fathomed its true meaning. Contained in this covert conversation is the truth of the ages; the fountain of life; that which separates the hangers-on—the chaff—the tares, from the Creator’s elect.
Nicodemus starts off this crucial conversation with what I would call, stage-setting, but profound accolades of our Master:
“Rabbi, we know that you were sent from Elohim, for a man teacher is not able to do these miracles that you do except he who Elohim is with.” But if John can be trusted to have not left anything in between, Master wastes no time getting to the crux of the matter and point of Nicodemus’ crucial visit. It is not entirely clear from John’s narrative why Nicodemus came to Jesus—clearly the fact that he came to Jesus by night is indicative of Nicodemus not wanting to be seen by certain others in his community. But curiosity seems to be a safe bet and certainly Jesus had by this point in John’s chronology been the subject of much discussion and debate in and around the Sanhedrin. But we must not marginalize that, based upon what we ultimately know of Nicodemus, he was destined to become a disciple of our Master, and thus this visit was simply a precursor to Nicodemus’ conversion to the true Faith that was once delivered. Of Nicodemus’ opening statement to the Master: “Y’shua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) answered and said to Him, ‘Amen, amen I say to you, that if a man is not born from the beginning, he is not able to see the Kingdom of Elohim.’” (John 3:2&3, Roth’s Aramaic Translation)
Now we find in the ASV, DBY, ERV, and the ETH (Etheridge Translation of the 1849 Peshitta, “born from the beginning” is instead rendered “born anew”; and in the KJV, NET, NJB (the New Jerusalem Bible); RSV, YLT and a host of other translations use instead the phrase “born again,” obviously the most familiar and the most widely used rendering.
At first I had serious problems applying the Roth Aramaic translation of the Greek phrase “gennao anothen” to the English phrase “born from the beginning” for it just didn’t make much sense to me. But when one actually teases apart the Greek terms of “gennao” and “anothen” and then reconnect them to see what the synergistic meaning would or should be, “born from the beginning” makes all the sense in the world.
The phrases “born again,” “born from the beginning,” “born anew,” all stem from the Greek phrase “gennao anothen” which according to Friberg’s Lexicon means: “a place from above; a past time from an earlier period from the beginning, from the first, and of a future time indicating repetition anew, again.” The Louw-Nida Lexicon further defines the Greek term “anothen” as “extension from a source which is above—from above, from the top of.” But the term “gennao” in the Greek generally refers to “men begetting children” according to the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. When the two terms are put together according to the Louw-Nida Lexicon, the phrase takes on a meaning of one “experiencing a complete change in one’s way of life to what it should be, with the implication of return to a former state or relation.”
Fundamental and Charismatic Christianity’s understanding and doctrinal stance on the issue of “being born again” or “born anew,” from my research, fails to adequately describe or support the Louw-Nida Lexicon definition, whereby the would-be born again believer experiences a change in their life to a state that it should rightly be and or a return to an established former state and relationship. Now that’s a lot of words simply to say that one’s entire life would change to a state that it always was meant to be—back to that state that Adam lived prior to the fall. A state that is completely different than any known to man. A state that is determined by the rules and regulations of the Creator of the Universe. A pure and undefiled state, devoid of man-made traditions and Satan’s influences. In my mind, it would sort of be like hitting the default button on our human existence and going back to a time when we were in a proper or right standing with our Creator. The Louw-Nida definition of “born-anew” or “born again” is in no way describing an idealistic or idiomatic concept whereby that change is somehow inputted or accomplished by Christ as our proxy. No, the Louw-Nida definition seems to be talking about a real-to-life change in one’s day-to-day life; a change in one’s perspective; one’s habits; one’s desires; one’s hopes; one’s demeanor; one’s loyalties.
But such a change is rarely if ever spoken of or alluded to by Christian leaders and teachers of the 21st-century, who push their man-made denominational agendas and doctrines that they claim defines what being “born again” is all about. Certainly I can attest to this from my upbringing in the Baptist Church of my youth. The act of being born again was more of a “going through the motions” of achieving a perceived state of regeneration and acceptance by both Christ and the believer, through an initial “accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior” (whatever that actually looks like); and in some circles, additionally being baptized; receiving the “right hand of fellowship” and one’s name on a church roster; in some Christian sects, speaking in ecstatic languages or tongues; still in others it may include the individual giving up cigarettes, alcohol, sleeping around, attending services each Sunday and Wednesday and the like. But the bottom line to being born again according to Fundamental Christianity, has become an exercise in doing exactly what the specific Christian denomination has required in their “rule books” (that is, their statement of belief in most cases). It’s following the instructions of the denomination’s teachers and leaders.
According to Wikipedia, being “born again” is a phrase used by Protestants to “describe the phenomenon of gaining faith in Jesus Christ.” According to gotquestions.com, being “born again” is more of an “act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the believer.” According to gotquestions.com, there is a “renewal” or change in the believer’s life, but that change is more of a change in title or spiritual status, whereby the believer is then called or seen as a “child of God.” That change in status comes about through a trusting in the name of Jesus Christ (whatever that may look like or however it is manifested), even though Jesus Christ is NOT the Savior’s true name. Certainly, no one person or organization is more trusted and respected in this subject than Billy Graham. According to billygraham.org, “a born-again Christian is someone who has repented of their sins and turned to Christ for their salvation; and as a result has become part of God’s family forever. All this takes place as God’s Spirit works in our lives.” And then there are 100s if not 1000s more sites that declare essentially the same sentiments.
But nowhere in these definitions is there anything mentioned about a verifiable and actionable change in one’s life. Why is that? Oh, I can think of a few reasons: one being the fear of supporting a definition and practice whereby believers have an active role in that process of being renewed or starting over again. Protestants have never liked the idea of believers working out their salvation or being obedient to God’s eternal Laws. Grace—outrageous grace as some have dubbed it, has become the ordained spiritual process whereby a believer’s utter depraved existence or state makes it impossible for him or her to experience a Godly fundamental change in his or her life. There is nothing to do but say the sinner’s prayer and make the conscious effort to believe that Jesus Christ died for one’s sins. In so doing, salvation and the new birth is automatically inputted to the believer. The fundamental change in the believer’s life comes when he or she is raptured from this earth and is whisked away to heaven where he or she will live with Jesus Christ for the rest of eternity. If one’s salvation is guaranteed and the change in one’s life happens at the rapture, there is nothing to do but wait or occupy till Jesus returns. Could this be one of the reasons why there is no discernible difference in the lives of most individuals who do not profess Jesus as their Savior and self-professing Christians? But is this truly what being born again or anew or from the start really means? How does God view the Christian definition of “born again;” or for that matter, how does God view the average fundamental or charismatic Christian?
What if I were to tell you that the bible’s explanation of being born from the beginning or born from above or being born anew does not connect with Christianity’s explanation and practice of the new birth? What if I were to tell you that the phrase “being born again” was likely imposed, intentionally, upon the Christian psyche so as to further prop up the hijacked doctrine of “grace?” Would these revelations prompt you to maybe look into this subject more closely? Are you man or woman enough to put your denomination and her leaders and teachers and preachers and pastors and ministers off to the side so that you may uncover the truth of this matter? Are you capable and willing to take off your denominational glasses and see the truth of this matter through the unbiased lenses of sound biblical exegesis and the leading of the Holy Spirit?
Jesus (who’s true Hebrew Name is Yahoshua meaning God or Yahovah/Yahweh is our salvation)told Nicodemus that if one is not born from above or anew or from the beginning, he or she is not able to see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3) This concept of being born anew or from above or from the beginning is so crucial to every would-be believer—that is it ranks up there to being a salvation issue—that every single person who desires to enter the Kingdom of God better get this thing spot-on right. There is no room for error here.
As with many passages of the bible, context-context-context is an absolute requirement to understanding this historical conversation between the Master and Nicodemus. The practice of taking single bible verse “soundbites” and making doctrines and teachings from them has been common in much of the Church’s history. So we’ve grown up hearing only that one must be “born again” in order to get into heaven. The entire Christian doctrine of salvation pretty much is based upon this single verse—verse 3 of the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John. However, without a sense of context—that is taking into account the whole conversation between the Master and Nicodemus, the concept of being born again is easily misconstrued and can certainly be twisted to mean and say anything the imaginations of church leaders and organizations want it say. And indeed, that has been the case here.
If we continue to read along in this chapter of John and follow the conversation between these two men, we find some key concepts take shape: “water;” “spirit;” “flesh;” “heaven;” and “Moses.” All these elements must be placed into their proper perspective before we can even begin to understand what our Master meant when he said to Nicodemus that one must be born of water and spirit. The Father’s Spirit in us is the most important element of this whole equation, for without the Father’s Spirit taking up residence in a believer, all bets are off. For Father’s Spirit, once it takes up residence in our being, a process begins whereby a default switch is pushed in our lives—a switch that moves us to a place where we should have always been—thus the being “born from the beginning” rendering of this passage as found in the Aramaic translation of this passage. We then begin a steady transformation where we begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness; we have an unquenchable desire to please our Father; we see life in an entirely different perspective; all of which is evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Instead of blindly following directions from church leaders and organizations, we faithfully seek out opportunities to obey Father because of our love for Him. We don’t obey the Father and His Laws because we fear death or punishment as the nation of Israel once did upon coming out of Egypt and wandering in the desert for some 40-years. No, we obey because we seek to please our Father. We no longer seek to please men, but please Father. Before you know it, we start to conform to the image of our Master Jesus Christ (more accurately known as Yahoshua HaMashiach). We establish and maintain a true and meaningful relationship with the Creator of the Universe. We begin to despise sin and purge it from our lives. We search God’s Word frequently because we realize that our sustenance is really contained in its pages. Our minds and attention are more in-tune to spiritual matters than the carnal. We begin to realize that our bodies are true Temples of the Most High and we treat them accordingly. We abstain from forbidden foods despite what our counterparts in Church may say to the contrary. We structure our lives, no longer to suit ourselves and our individual conveniences and personal pleasures, but structure them around spiritual matters and the Feasts of our God. Our Faith in God is undeniable. We are heaven minded. We pray without ceasing. We’re willing to leave friends, communities, jobs and even families if given an ultimatum between serving man or serving the Most High.
No friends, the change begins here on earth, right after we commit to becoming disciples of our Master. In fact, Master paid our debt and His sacrifice set the default button back to the beginning of time where we are deemed righteous before the Almighty God (better known by His Hebrew Name as Yahovah). But that’s when we come in. We then strive to maintain and live holy and righteous lives. How do we do this: by becoming Torah observant, Jesus/Yeshua-style. To help us navigate this turbulent ocean, Father implants His precious Holy Spirit (better known as the Rauch Kodesh) within us and it is through this gracious act that we can live a holy and righteous life in the midst of a sick and corrupt world. Contrary to popular Christianity, being born again is not a sit back and enjoy the ride experience. It is a tough journey that takes everything you have in you, along with some help from the Holy Spirit, order to make it to the end.
Master taught that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and sages before we’d be permitted to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). Yet Christianity contends that righteousness is inputted unto every believer upon he or she asking Jesus Christ to enter into their hearts and accept Him as their Lord and Savior. Indeed, righteousness is inputted unto all of us who become disciples of Jesus—or better, Yeshua. But that inputted righteousness sets things right between us and the Father—Yeshua’s work on the cross permanently paid our sin-debt and instead of being the wretched beings that sin has made us before Father’s eyes, we are deemed, instead, righteous. But that inputted righteousness then demands that we take up our crosses and follow the Master. Following the Master is not simply possessing a cognitive understanding of who He is and what He’s done on our behalf. Christianity defines that cognitive understanding of Yeshua’s work as faith. But having a cognitive understanding of who the Master is and what He did for us is not true faith. That is knowledge. Even the demons know who the Master is and what He’s done. James, the half-brother of our Master, wrote:
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the scripture was accomplished which said that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness—and he was called a friend of God.” (James 2:19-23, ESV)
So with belief or cognitive understanding of Jesus Christ and what He did for us, must come some form of action. When we believe something in our day to day lives, we act upon those beliefs. It’s simply human nature to act according to one’s belief. If you believe a chair will sustain your weight, you’ll sit on it. If you believe your car will successfully operate and get you where you need to go, you’ll drive it. If you believe you have a job, you’ll go to work each day you’re suppose to in order to feed you and your family. Then why have we bought, lock-stock-and barrel, the belief that all we need to do is have a cognitive understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ and then we’re good to go. It defies reason and it defies what the bible says about faith and the born again experience.
The born again experience is exactly what the name implies, but the Church fails miserably to fully grasp and teach the truth about the “born again” message/concept that was delivered to us by our Master. The true meaning and understanding of this message/concept has undeniable existential ramifications attached to it—that is, it is a salvation issue, no questions asked.
Bottom line friends: Being born again according to our Savior refers to a new beginning in a believer’s life, whereby he or she receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; is baptized; and begins to walk in strict obedience to the teachings and commandments of our Master. But make no mistake: our Master’s commandments are the very same commandments contained in Torah, or as popularly referred to today as the Law.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more. But you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day, you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-23, ESV)
In the next chapter of John, Master taught:
“If you keep my commandments and will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:10-12, ESV)
You may think that Jesus no where in these two passages mentions anything about our obeying or keeping the Law or Torah. Oh, but the above passage is not entirely as you may perceive it to be, for our Master did not give us a separate set of commandments. He did add some commandments to our plate, so to speak, such as the commandment to go into all the world and make disciples for Him; to wash one another’s feet; love one another, and to rehearse the last supper. But regarding the overall commandments that He gave us, most Christians believe that He gave only two: to love God and love our neighbor—Matthew 22:35. Simple, right? But how does one love Father and neighbor? Certainly there are at least 30,000 ideas or ways to love the Father and our neighbor, depending on one’s denomination. But Master never advocated nor intended there to be 30,000 denominations associated with the Faith that He delivered. For there is only ONE true Faith that He delivered—Jude 1:3. Additionally, there is only one way to love Father and neighbor. And where precisely do we find the instructions related to how we are to love Father and neighbor? Well, it’s actually found in your bible. In fact, it is found in Torah—the Law—contained in the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Surprise!
Now, Christianity would strongly contend that it is impossible to keep the Law of Moses or Torah. However, if one is given the spirit of the Living God, how in the world is it impossible to keep Father’s commandments. The bible shows that many of our Hebrew forefathers kept Torah. Luke 1:5,6—refers to Zachariah and Elizabeth—the parents of John the Immerser—who are described as being blameless in their keeping of the Law.
Speaking of his commandments and instructions and requirements of us, our Master told us that His yoke was easy and His burden light. How can this be? Especially given that the world believes it is impossible to keep the Law, which is a total lie from the pit of hell. To the contrary: our Master supplies us with the Holy Spirit and it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes our obedience and loyalty to the commandments of Yahovah joyful and effortless. If we simply give ourselves over to Father and His way of life—the born again/born anew/born from above/born from the beginning experience will radically and profoundly change one’s life such that he or she will be in the place that Father has always wanted him or her to be.