The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus seems straightforward on the surface. Jesus said that, in order to see the kingdom of God, one must be born again. (John 3:3-7). At least, it did when I was a new Christian.
As a newly saved teenager, I latched on to that passage, zealously quoting it to family and friends in my attempts to strongarm them into salvation. At that time, I believed that I could claim credit for “accepting” Jesus, and I consequently thought I’d made the choice to be born again. I understood John 3:7 as an imperative command rather than as a cause and effect principle. In my mind, someone needed to make a decision to believe in Jesus so that he or she could experience the new birth. Much of the teaching I received back then only reinforced my misunderstanding of the passage.
During my college years, Jimmy Carter popularized the phrase “born-again Christian” as he campaigned for the presidency. One evening, as she got me ready to visit a neighbor’s church service, my mom asked me to explain what Jimmy Carter, my neighbor and I meant by this seemingly new terminology. I merely quoted John 3:3-7, secretly relieved that I didn’t have time to really explain it. Yes, relieved — because deep down I knew that, although I had been born again, I didn’t understand how it actually worked. The expanded passage frustrated me by failing to detail what a person needed to do to make the new birth happen.Read More »