Even Among Well-Meaning Christians, ‘Born Again’ Is Often Misunderstood

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Recapturing the meaning of a much-stereotyped phrase.

Being called a “born-again Christian” can mean many things to many people. For some, it means you are a Bible-thumping fundamentalist or a political conservative. For others, it means you were converted at a Billy Graham crusade. Countless stereotypes have created endless confusion.

In New Life in Christ: What Really Happens When You’re Born Again and Why It Matters, Steven J. Lawson moves beyond today’s (mis)use of the phrase to recapture its biblical meaning and extraordinary significance for the Christian life. With pastoral care, he takes us back to that eerie late-night encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus, like many today, was as religious as they come. By today’s standards, he would be the popular pastor or professor everyone knows and respects. That makes Jesus’ words of warning so surprising: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (v. 3). Nicodemus admits he has no idea what Jesus is talking about: “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter into their mother’s womb a second time to be born!” (v. 4).

As the teacher of Israel, Nicodemus should have remembered Moses and the prophets, who used several metaphors to describe this second birth. Moses told the people of Israel they needed God to circumcise their hearts (Deut. 30:6), and Ezekiel promised Israel that one day God himself would act as a surgeon, removing the dead heart of stone and implanting a heart that beats (Ezek. 36:26). Jesus may move the metaphor to the delivery room, but the message is the same: Unless the Spirit of God does something supernatural, we remain spiritually lifeless.

Unfortunately, even the most well-meaning …

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