Living the Born-Again Life

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Text: John 3:1-17

What does it mean to be ‘Born Again’?

Within the Church, through the ages, a question for the ages has been, “What does it mean to be born again?”  As we consider this question, we’ll also find ourselves wondering, “What does a born-again person look like?”

To understand what it means to be ‘born-again,’ you really need to think about what it means to be born in the first place.  In a word, “birth” means “change.” In a very real sense, you have gone from one way of existence to another – and it’s a one-way ticket.  You can’t go back, even if you try.

In Nicodemus’ case, his questions, though offered as though he was a seeker, were masking an attitude Jesus regularly encountered: an unwillingness to change their way of life. They would rather say that something was impossible than go from their present way of existence to another.

We all know people who would rather deny that the impossible is now possible than to learn new ways of doing things or to risk the possibilities of some new experiences in their lives. Some people would rather cook in the same old scarred and seared saucepan they have been using for years rather than try the convenience of a microwave. Some people would rather hobble around on a painfully arthritic knee or hip rather than allow some strange new artificial joint into their body. Some people refuse to believe that anything other than “snail mail” is a legitimate or trustworthy form of communication.

What “Impossible” Things Have You Done?

Did you use a cell phone to make a call to someone on the way to worship today? Maybe use an ATM to get some cash from your bank account? Are you one of the thousands who are now experiencing mobility and less pain because of an artificial joint that replaced your failing one?

It hasn’t been that many years since all of those things weren’t “possible.” But today, home electronics, microchip technology, medical, surgical and pharmaceutical wizardry, and a culture with 24/7/365 services has made much of what seemed impossible a decade ago part of common everyday experiences.

Nicodemus is one of those folks who are so committed to NOT changing that they live life by the rule that new possibilities are impossible. And so often, these are the folks who Jesus surprises so much that all they can do is mumble, “How is this possible?”

How is this possible? The answer is profound, yet simple: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Jesus Himself is proof that God can and will do the impossible!

What Does a Born-Again Person Look Like?

It could be that you might have seen a born-again person this morning in the mirror, or perhaps across the breakfast table. In fairness – it’s also possible that you saw someone who should be born again!

You can begin thinking about what a born-again person looks like by considering the difference between a tomb and a new-born baby.  A tomb is filled with death; all it contains are unfulfilled possibilities, marked with signs of what once was and can no longer be.  A new-born baby is a life filled with possibilities of what could be for them individually and for the community they are part of. This life needs to be loved and cared for, and begins with the recognition that without Jesus, you cannot make it on your own.

What Jesus told Nicodemus is also true for us.  If we haven’t been born again, we’re a tomb. We’re done, and there is no good news. But, if we are born again, from above, by water and the Spirit, we have a new day and a new life before us.

A born-again person lives life in the same fashion as a newborn: depending on the Creator for everything.  Living the born-again life means you live in dependence upon God, not on your bank account, your status or your job.

Living the Born-Again Life

The first part of understanding what it means to live the born-again life is to understand why Jesus was so tough on the people who were “religious.” Again, our “person of the day,” Nicodemus, illustrates this perfectly: Jesus got after these folks because they were rigidly one-dimensional in their belief and practices.  They only interpreted Jesus’ words on one level (the physical).

What this means in a practical sense is that, if you’re living a one-dimensional religious life, “born-again” refers to your private moment of conversion, and that’s it.  There’s no real change in that person – they just add a religious vocabulary and some piety to their personality.

The second part is to accept that born-again people can’t help but be responsive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, to be as Jesus describes in verse 7: “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.” (3:7)

Being born-again means we speak, act and think differently. It means that we keep ourselves open to surprises from God even when He’s not on our schedule… and not like Nicodemus, full of preconceptions about what God can and can’t accomplish, and how far he was willing to let God push him!

The born-again person is willing to risk the uncertainty of letting the Holy Spirit take him or her to new experiences of God, and willing to resist the temptation to interpret God and the Christian life one-dimensionally!

Jesus moved between heaven and earth and brought the two together so that they who trust and love the Lord can live in the unending presence of God, in an eternal life that never really ages and never finally ends.

Living the born-again life means you have changed. If you want your life to be different, to be born-again, this week, take the decisions you face approach them differently. Get out of your old patterns and start praying to see what God wants you to do. While God wants us to use our wisdom, resources and talents, He also wants to be part of the equation. Live as though your life truly depends on God.

So… are YOU born-again?

Sources Consulted:

“How Possible?” Homiletics, February 1999

“Spiritual RealAge,” Homiletics, June, 2000

Hicks, N. Neelley Fearless: The Courage to Question. Lenten Study Series; UMCOM, 2011