“Is ‘Born Again’ Still a Good Term in Today’s World?”
Yesterday, I reflected on the term “born again” – where it came from and what it means. Today, I want to focus on whether “born again” is still an effective and meaningful term in today’s world.
Unfortunately, for many people the term “born again” is simply dismissed as “religious jargon.” That presents two problems. First, the understanding of the term changes as we move from one stream of Christian theology to another. Some use “born again” as a synonym for “genuine” or “real.” In other words, people may call themselves “Christian,” but unless they are “born again” they’re not really Christian. In a similar sense, some use “born again” to express a degree of commitment or sincerity. That brings us to the second problem: without a common understanding of what “born again” means, we’re unable to explain it to others. We use this term within the Church, and just assume that everyone knows what we mean.
This “religious jargon” issue is not limited to the term “born again.” Those who have been in the Church for any length of time will recognize that there are many terms that we use without an agreement on what they mean. We have used those terms as identity markers, or even “loyalty tests.” In other words, if you agree with me on the understanding of these terms, then you’re “in.”
Here’s the problem: if we can’t agree on the definition of basic biblical terms – like “sin,” “sanctification,” or “born again” (just to name a few), how will we ever be able to explain them to someone else? We can’t just ignore these terms and concepts, because they are biblical. The answer is to be more precise about what we mean, and not just assume that “everyone understands.”
A Call for Clarity
In my previous post, I stated: “To be ‘born again’ means that we have knowingly and willingly expressed faith in Jesus Christ.” I’m not suggesting that everyone agree with my definition; I’m simply trying to explain what I mean when I say “born again.” But even that statement prompts other questions:
- What does it mean to “express faith” in Jesus Christ?
- What is the subject of this “faith?” Does it simply mean that I believe that Jesus was a real person? Or that he is the one and only Son of God? Does it necessarily involve belief in the resurrection?
- What is the result of this faith? That brings us back to the phrase “born again,” but what is included in that? How does this experience change us?
I don’t know if we will all ever agree on a definition for the phrase “born again,” but I do believe that we can – and must – learn to be clear about how we understand God’s transformative work.
So what do we believe?
As I’ve stated before, I’m part of the Church of the Nazarene, which is within the Wesleyan-Holiness “stream” of Christianity. I am a Nazarene because I believe that our beliefs accurately express the foundational elements of Christian faith:
- All of us are born with a sinful nature, in rebellion against God.
- The sinful nature leads us to commit actual sins; in other words, the rebellious attitude is manifested in rebellious actions.
- Unless our sinfulness is addressed, it results in our eternal separation from God.
- The only way to address our sinfulness is the forgiveness and redemption that God has provided through Jesus Christ.
- This salvation is a gift from God; we cannot earn it through our own efforts.
- We must acknowledge our sinfulness, and believe that the only way to be delivered from it is through faith in Jesus. That faith specifically leads us to confess that the redemption that Jesus provided through his death and resurrection is the only way to forgiveness.
- This forgiveness results in our regeneration – being “born again” – as well as justification (the “pardon” for our sins) and adoption (being accepted into God’s family).
- God’s work in us through his Holy Spirit also empowers us to live above sin. This is accomplished by the cleansing work of the Spirit, when enables us to choose to live God’s way. In other words, we are set free from sin and are set free to live as God desires.
- This cleansing, empowering work calls for our daily surrender and acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty.
Is “Born Again” Still a Good Term?
This brings me back to the initial question: Is “born again” still an effective and meaningful term in today’s world? The answer, I believe, is “yes” – with some important qualifications. It is helpful if we understand and can clearly communicate what we mean when we say “born again.” However, it is not helpful if we allow it to become a political or cultural term. (We have seen this happen with the term “evangelical,” and this has greatly limited the degree to which that term is helpful in relation to the Church.)
The term “born again” has its roots in Scripture. That means that it will always be a “good” term for us to use! However, whether it is a helpful or effective term will rest on how well we understand it, how clearly we can express it, and whether it assists people in their faith journey. “All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial…” (2 Timothy 3:16); the question is how we use it!