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Ask An Evangelical: Born Again

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What do you want to know about Evangelicalism? Pastor Rob Bryceson, of The Gathering House Church, and Elizabeth Backstrom, a member of The Gathering House, co-author this column. Submit your question here.

By Elizabeth Backstrom

What does it mean to have a born-again experience?

evangelicalHi, thanks for writing in. A side note on stuff Christians say: I grew up Evangelical, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized how sometimes it sounds like we’re speaking an entirely different language. I remember one of the first times I realized we say things in the church that people not in it might find odd. I was editing an article with quotes in it from a pastor, and a friend pointed out one of the quotes and asked, “Is that a typo?” The pastor had said “We do life together,” which is something I heard people in the church say all the time. I told her it wasn’t.

To your question, being ‘born again’ is another of those things Christians say, but it’s from a specific place in the Bible, namely the Gospel of John, chapter 3. Jesus is talking with a Pharisee (a religious ruler of the day) named Nicodemus. That itself is kind of a thing, because the religious rulers of the day mostly wanted to kill Jesus. Nicodemus was different – he wanted knowledge. He came to visit Jesus at night, which I’m assuming was kind of a secret, and said “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  Jesus says back to him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asks. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

OK, let’s step out of the narrative for a second. Just let me say that this is one of those stories, growing up, that I just didn’t question. Being ‘born again’ was just one of those things you knew about and did. Not that it wasn’t important, but I didn’t understand why anyone would question it.

Now, looking back with the eye of someone who has spent a little time outside the church and come back, and a lot of time in the interfaith movement, I understand questions like these. Some of the things Jesus says are a definite ‘say what?’ moment. This is one of them.

Back to the story. Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. You should not be surprised at me saying ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. I’m right there with you, Nic. I need more also. Luckily for both of us, he continues. Skipping a few verses here, because I don’t think you wanted me to transcribe the whole chapter, but basically he goes into one of the most famous verses in the Bible, the one kids learn in Sunday school. For me, it’s one of the foundations of Christianity.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “And you do not understand these things? For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but shall have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
So that’s being born again. Believing in God and Jesus and starting a new faith life as an adult, or a kid, or whatever, when you decide to do it.

About Elizabeth Backstrom

Elizabeth Backstrom majored in journalism at Western Washington University and currently works as a content analyst and grant writer in Spokane. Her background is in newswriting and features, but if an overabundance of caffeine is consumed, she has been known to write a humor piece or two. Backstrom attended various Christian churches growing up in Spokane and currently attends First Covenant Church, an inner-city ministry in downtown Spokane.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you so much for your clear explanations, and for your sense of humor. Your writing is immensely readable but still substantive. As a non-Christian, that’s much appreciated.

  2. And thank you for not just plopping entire chapters of the Bible into your articles. I find that difficult to contend with sometimes unless there’s a lot of explanation.

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