On being born again

by Richard on January 6, 2018

Adrian Warnock has started 2018 with a commitment to blogging about the commands of Jesus.

At the beginning of this year, I have resolved to look more closely at the commands of Jesus. And to learn to obey them. Since Christians are meant to be followers of Jesus, it is remarkable that we don’t pay more attention to his actual words. …

I would invite you to join with me on a journey. I am not sure how quickly I will get through this journey since I doubt that I can blog every day. But the journey will take us through all the major commands of Jesus.

I’ll certainly look forward to following this journey and (in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging) offering some thoughts of my own.

Adrian begins his series with John 3:7, “… You must be born again”

Being born again is all about coming to the end of yourself. It is about realising that indeed we cannot please God. It is recognising that our own efforts at righteousness are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6-7, NIV). It is about humbly asking Jesus to cause us to be reborn. We need him to put a new heart inside us. …
So at the very first command of Jesus, we come back to our dependence on him, to CAUSE us to obey the very commands he requires of us. How very humbling it is for us to realise that we are totally helpless, and in need of him. There is an element of all this that requires a DECISION from us. But it is a decision that works miraculously with the hand of a sovereign God who creates this new heart within us!

I’ve got a couple of issues with the way Adrian deals with this. The first is a bit surprising, considering his stated commitment to “the actual words of Jesus”*. The literal translation of Jesus’ words is not ‘born again’, but ‘born from above’ and it seems to me that must be significant. Yes, Nicodemus takes Jesus as meaning ‘again’, but the point here is surely that Nicodemus misunderstands. As the conversation unfolds, Jesus goes on to say that this birth is not a matter of human will but as a result of the movement of the Spirit of God, which cannot be pinned down but which moves as unpredictably as the wind.

Secondly, although Adrian acknowledges that this command can only be obeyed because of the grace of God, ultimately he has to insist that being born again is a matter of the decision of the individual believer. But being born is more than simply a new individual enering the world. Physical birth is about entry into a family, a community — and certainly not simply by one’s own choice. (Remember the old saying: you choose your friends - you’re stuck with your family!) The believer is thus not an isolated individual: the heavenly birth is about entry into a new community which will live according to the light of God. The language of being born again should result in Christians talking about ‘us’ and ‘our’ much more than ‘I’ and ‘me’ and I’m sad to see that this is not reflected in Adrian’s article.

There’s more I might say, but I’ll leave it there for know. However, I do commend Born of the wind by Rev. Dr. Laura Mendenhall and Born again? by our friend Kim Fabricius.

Update: Adrian has kindly updated his post in response to mine. He adds, in a comment

I take your point about born ‘from above’ being a possible translation though a quick look at http://biblehub.com/john/3-7… shows almost all translators have chosen ‘again’

This is true of John 3:7. However, a few verses later anothen is rendered ‘from above’. Of the 13 uses of anothen in the NT, a simple “again” is usually not what is used. That doesn’t mean ‘again’ is wrong, but there’s at least reason to pause to reconsider.

* A slightly tricky phrase, but I won’t quibble

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1

ADrian Warnock 01.07.18 at 12:28 am

Thanks! So happy for a return to the good old days of blogging! Anyway, I have actually tweaked the original post in light of these helpful comments.

2

Richard 01.07.18 at 9:01 am

This kind of conversation was always what brought me the most joy in blogging. Looking forward to following your series.

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