WE ARE BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS
Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17
February 28, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
One day, a man asked me in a cafeteria, "Are you saved? Are you born again to Christ?" I said, "Yes." The he said, "When?" I said, "Everyday." It is a pity that some perfectly good expressions like "born again" get used as labels and the original meanings are changed or lost. "Evangelical" and "Born Again" are expressions that have become labels for some particular groups of people. But if we believe the Bible, we are all born again Evangelical Christians. I feel that we must reclaim those names as ours as they are used in the Bible.
The Christians, who live in the so-called non-Christian countries, have a tendency to idealize the countries like Canada which are considered to be "Christian" countries. A Japanese Christian came to Canada to attend an interdenominational meeting. He was shocked to see quarrels between "Evangelicals" and "Liberals", Presbyterians and United, Catholics and Protestants, etc. He was disappointed to find that Christians fought in Canada too like Japanese do at home. Someone asked him, what he was. He said, "I”m a Christian, and I thought you all were."
We are Christians before we are Baptists, Catholics, United, Presbyterians, or whatever the label we put on. Furthermore, we are "Born Again" Christians according to today”s Gospel reading. In the Gospel according to John, you find that the expression "Born Again" was first used by Jesus. He said that no one could be his follower and enter the kingdom of God unless one was born again. By this definition, we all are, or should be, born again Christians. The story has it that one night a prominent Pharisee leader by the name of Nicodemus came to see Jesus. He said, "Teacher, I know you come from God. No one can do what you are doing unless one comes from God." Jesus said to him, "If you really want to follow God”s way, you must first be born again." This really threw Nicodemus off balance, because he was a man of reason. "Born again? I am a grown up man. I can not go back to my mother”s womb." He was a man who used the brain to think. He was a scholar. Reason was the faculty he valued. He was not used to be confronted with things that made no logical sense. But he came face to face with the fundamental fact of faith; faith is the matter of both spirit and mind. He had to integrate reason with passion to start afresh in the life of faith – to be born again in spirit.
It is not easy for a person who has a superior mind to give oneself to emotion or passion. One is afraid to look silly. This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night. He was the leader of the scholarly and righteous lawyers who took it upon themselves to be the watch dogs of the nation”s moral standards. He knew that Jesus was a very special man. He could tell that Jesus had to come from God, because Nicodemus was a God fearing righteous man. But his cool reasoning prevented him to make a leap of faith. He could not be seen as acting in a hasty manner, especially about a matter of national importance; people were calling Jesus the Messiah – the true king. He had to be careful. So he came secretly. But faith must involve a whole person. The whole person includes feelings, emotions, passion, and can be creative and impulsive, in addition to a cool mind that calculates and reasons. Faith requires both attributes, because faith requires a whole person. A whole person is a person who draws on both mind and spirit.
Dr. Helen Caldicot is a paediatrician who became famous in a movement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons during the height of the cold war in the eighties. She was once asked why she was so emotional when she spoke about the danger of nuclear weapons. The insinuation was that "Emotional people are not credible because they are not reasonable. Women are often emotional. Therefore they are not credible. If you want to be heard, stay cool and speak with reason. Be like a man." She answered that ”Yes, I am emotional about this. I am a woman and a mother. If my patient does not get emotional about the future of her child, she is mentally ill. I ”ll send her to a Psychiatrist." Any good parent is both emotional and reasonable about one”s own child.
This also means that faith is not complete if passionate belief does not seek reason. Our minds are God”s creation, as much as our spirits are gifts from God. Faith has to grow in mind and spirit, even when faith comes into our life through emotion and passion. And faith has to be fed with reason as it grows. Faith does not stay alive by passion alone. Sometime those who believe with passionate faith criticize those people who study the Bible scientifically, and examine our beliefs systematically. But those people too must be born again to integrate their passion for God with reason and scientific logic, because faith involves the whole person. And a whole person is a person with both passion and reason.
Abraham was already a rich man when he was still in the land of Haran, the present day Iraq. He had tens of thousands of heads of livestock of all sorts and an army of workers within his household. He was almost like a head of a nation. But one night, he had a vision. God spoke to Abraham and told him to pack up all his household and move. God did not tell him where to. He just said, "Pack up and go." The Bible says that Abraham went without knowing where he was going. Perhaps it was because he didn”t know where he was going, that he went so far. It was a totally irrational thing to do for a successful farmer and businessman who made virtually billions of dollars. It was not a rational decision. It was a decision made from the heart, out of his passionate trust in God. He was ready to start afresh. At that point, Abraham was born again into faith, both in mind and spirit.
We are also called upon to be born again. Made afresh today, tomorrow, and many more times to be born anew. There are some people who can pinpoint the time and the day when he/she was born again. But we are all very different. For many of us, like me, the process of being "born again" is a quiet process that repeats itself many times. I try to live everyday like a new person, refreshed by the belief that God loves me. We have to be born again, again and again. Sometimes, God will help us with an inspirational or emotionally high experience. After those experiences, we must settle down and become stable with reason, like a bowl of hot jelly cools and settles in a fridge. At other times, our cool rational belief system has to be shaken, perked up, and refreshed with stirring hymns or by the love of a friend. In either case, we are born again as a new Christian person.