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What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?

Jesus was talking to a religious guy about truth and made this statement, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” It’s a statement I’ve read so many times in the Bible, it no longer has any shock value. But it had to be shocking to hear. Read the whole exchange in John 3 – t…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Jesus was talking to a religious guy about truth and made this statement, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” It’s a statement I’ve read so many times in the Bible, it no longer has any shock value.

But it had to be shocking to hear. Read the whole exchange in John 3 – the poor guy Jesus is talking to is befuddled. He states the obvious: “You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again.”

Jesus was perplexing that way. And I’m afraid we’ve lost the ability to wrestle with the challenge of his words in our modern day, in our well-insulated comfort zones. Consider when he sent his disciples on a kingdom journey and said, “Do impossible stuff like healing the sick and raising the dead and don’t take anything with you.” In other words, they were like trapeze artists swinging out into thin air with no net.

They had seen Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead. But who were they to attempt the same things? It must have seemed terrifying. And how else were they to learn to depend on God to do impossible things?

So it is for all of us who would move from a life pattern of meeting personal, lower-order physical needs to a life patterned after a different set of spirit-based principles.

It is never easy or fast. After all, our brains are hard-wired according to the pattern of physical need-meeting. Neural pathways reinforced by years of habitual hand-to-mouth living must be rewired. Awareness of the possibility alone does not change behavior. 

“Discipleship”
In Christian circles, we know this process of changing mindsets and habits as “discipleship.” We see the possibility of another way of living through the modeling of a disciple. We try it out, debrief it, and then try it again. And we repeat the process over again until it seems normal enough that we begin living that way on our own.

It is a hard and often painful process and it feels like being born again. In the end, the disciple no longer has the self-centered and self-sufficient habits he grew up with, but is prompted by the Spirit to “consider the needs of others as greater than his own.”

Most Christians wake up to the possibility of this kind of living, but don’t get to practice it enough to actually begin the process of allowing the spirit to rewire their neural pathways.

Even the disciples, having watched Jesus for three years and having practiced this new way of living for all that time, were slow to make the switch. When the pressure was on, Peter defaulted not to dependence on God, but to the habit of self-protective behavior. And if the disciples closest to Jesus failed the final exam, the others were worse, having abandoned Jesus in his hour of need.

Only after he had risen and they had prayed and waited for the Holy Spirit, did they make the real breakthroughs in their mindset.

We need to be able to practice

So, if it was difficult for the disciples, the rest of us will need grace and practice too. We will only begin to make the transition as we experiment over and over again, depending on God.

But, here’s the problem: It’s hard to depend on God in familiar surroundings with your needs being met in predictable ways. As long as there are leftovers in the fridge, you don’t have to pray for your daily bread. As long as people you know surround you, you don’t have to risk developing new relationships.

So Jesus’s classroom is the road. He uses the discomfort of a journey to teach his disciples to find their comfort in new places. He sent them looking for the needs of others so that they would stop prioritizing their own physical needs. He sent them with nothing so they would look to God first.

He uses the same methods and classroom today. The tool of journey chips away at our mindset and begins the process of rewiring our neural pathways.

Let me ask that classic question we modern Christians as nonChristians, “Have you been born again?” And by that, I don’t mean, “Did you pray a prayer?” Jesus didn’t come to get you to say a prayer, but to remake you in his image. And that remaking process feels in some ways like being born again.

Here’s another way to pose the question. Have you gone through a process of waking up to spiritual reality that felt so wrenching it was like a birthing process? Have you experienced the pain of being made new? Have you allowed Jesus to challenge you down to your very core? 

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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