Finding the original meaning and proper application of "born again"
...Unless one is “born again.” This phrase carries great meaning no matter what Christian denomination you come from. The meaning of the phrase certainly changes depending upon your particular belief system, but the power of the phase remains intact. To be “born again” in all cases implies one of the most significant spiritual changes any person can ever experience. So when does being “born again” happen and what does it really mean? Does this spiritual change happen when one is baptized as an infant or when one commits their life to God through Jesus or when one is baptized as an adult or when one dies? Is this spiritual change a prepaid one way ticket to heaven or an opportunity for power and control in your present life, or is it a sober and humbling opportunity to sacrifice all that you have and all that you are?
When we think about how much of Christian belief revolves around this “born again” phrase, and then we think about the fact that Jesus only used it in one conversation with one person, it’s pretty astounding! Now think about the fact that this phrase is not specifically repeated anywhere else in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:3 & 23 come close) - it makes you wonder how much emphasis should really be put on it. Well, as we examine the phrase we do conclude it is important. After all, Jesus said it and meant it as a revealing of something previously unknown to Nicodemus. Now we need to carefully understand its meaning.
As with the search for any biblical meaning we need to start with the context, and in this case, Jesus had just experienced many would-be followers proclaiming their belief in him. Curiously, it is written of Jesus (John 2:23-25) that he didn’t believe in their belief. Jesus knew they were following him because of the wonder of his teaching and miracles and not following him to truly become his disciples. The very next recorded event in the book of John is Nicodemus coming to Jesus under the cover of darkness. In this event, Jesus believes in Nicodemus’ faith proclamation and proceeds to prove it by teaching him about being “born again.” Based on Jesus’ response of wanting to teach Nicodemus we can conclude that this “born again” idea is an important one. So, what does it mean?
As we ask this question, we are circling back to our original questions for which there are no easy answers. According to Scripture, to be born again does carry a very specific and profound meaning, but we believe it is not the meaning most attach to it. Understanding how ancient Greek applied different meanings to the word for “born” helps us to begin deciphering this mystery. While we are at it, we also need to look into the word for “again,” as it also has a meaning that got lost in translation. Check out our August 21st podcast, “What Does it Mean to be Born Again?” and see how simply paying attention to how words were used in ancient times can drive us towards clearer understanding of truth.
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