Read part 1 Is Salvational Transactional?
I’ve been scrutinizing my epistemology through the lens of Nicodemus and his question of, “what does it mean to be born again?”
This is one of the best definitions of born again:
When translator Des Oatridge, working in Papua New Guinea, came to the words “born again” in John’s Gospel, he asked his native co-translator to think of a good way to express it. The man explained this custom: Sometimes a person goes wrong and will not listen to anybody. We all get together in the village and place that person in the midst of us. The elders talk to him for a long time. “You have gone wrong!” they say. “All your thoughts, intentions, and values are wrong. Now you have to become a baby again and start to relearn everything right.”
So to be born again means your theory and meaning of life is transformed—which is a lot to expect to happen in a “repeat after me” prayer.
I love how Jesus unpacks our evangelical manifesto in John 3 and lays out what I think are the 5 stages of transitioning from hearing the Gospel to being fully born again.
Nicodemus hears of Jesus (engage) and has some level of belief in him.
He seeks Jesus out to find out more (encounter).
At some point, he has to wrestle with his belief. And wrestle he must, because if he chooses to follow Jesus as the Messiah, he’ll have to give up all he’s ever known as an elite member of the Sanhedrin—his wealth, power, standing, and the laws he’s spent his life memorizing and preaching to others.
His peers, the Pharisees, question Nicodemus, wondering if somehow he’s been led astray.
And Nicodemus has to make a choice at that moment. Does he believe? Is he ready to go all the way? Is his life changing?
Nicodemus defends Jesus, and suddenly he’s moved to the champion stage.
The last thing we see before John stops the story is Nicodemus buying a hundred pounds worth of exorbitantly expensive burial powders to prepare Jesus’ body for the tomb—clearly associating himself with Jesus at his death. Some experts say this amount of powders even surpassed what was used for burying royalty—what a statement!
Do you think Nicodemus has come to the point of identifying with Jesus yet in this story? Do the signs point to his transformation being complete? It seems the Nicodemus’ life has taken quite a turn, one that could only happen by the Holy Spirit.
I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them. And I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes, and keep My ordinances, and do them. And they shall be My people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts walk after the hearts of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 11:19-21
When you are born again, born of the Spirit, the law is suddenly no longer onerous. It becomes freeing and replaces the need to earn atonement with a hunger for righteousness. The Pharisees had the law, but they didn’t have the Spirit of God. And the Good News doesn’t work without the Spirit.
The bottom line is that Nicodemus needed the story unpacked a little bit more. Don’t you think we need to do a little research to understand how a Hindu kid in Bali needs this story unpacked a little bit more? Won’t it look different from how you would present to a tribe in Papua New Guinea? How about striking up a conversation with a postmodern, pre-Christian millennial in New York City? With all these terms like born again and new spirit … people are going to need it unpacked. It’s your job and mine to present born again in their context. Otherwise we have no hope of an encounter moving to engagement, much less helping them understand the transformation that takes places as they begin to understand the actualization of the fullness of grace.
Truly, truly I say to you, We speak of what We know and bear witness of what We have seen, but you do not receive Our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? John 3:11-12