Saturday, July 26, 2008

Not Done Being Born Again

This week I've been getting some things ready for this fall's Youth Discipleship Training. As I've been preparing, a couple of comments from last year's YDT Guides or parents keep coming to mind. One is that some would prefer more learning direct from the catechism. The other is that at least one of our guides wants me to be clearer as to whether we need to be "born again."

I tend to focus more on the Bible than on the catechism in my teaching. That's true. And I don't try to push every adult and child to a decision for the Lord. I'm more into the process, more into what God does in our lives over the long haul.

This week's gospel lesson contains five parables from Matthew 13. Jesus tells us of his kingdom. He says it's like a mustard seed or yeast, tiny yet full of transformative power. Like a hidden treasure or a most valuable pearl, the kingdom of heaven worth giving everything else up to get it. And, strangely, it's like a net full of... well... full of whatever. Just think of what a net might find after having been dragged along. It still needs to be sorted out.

If I "fudge" on the need to be "born again" it's because, when we push it, it can make it seem everyone is ready to be sorted now. But how can we know for sure now whether the mustard seed or yeast of faith is at work? Can we be sure the kingdom of heaven isn't hidden in this person or that? I think we need to always rely on the amazing grace of God, whether it's at the hour we first believe or during the long life of faith.

I prefer to think of being born again as a lifelong process. It's like Martin Luther said in his catechism: the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Sure, there are critical moments along the way, but to push someone to "accept Jesus" now seems like unnecessary violence. When people continue to have the word planted, they will discover its value and they will be transformed to be a blessing -- even if they still look pretty rough to us.

In February I preached on this topic. You can find it in my miscellaneous resources.

Beginning tomorrow evening Toni and I, our boys and a couple of teens from church will be at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp. The topic of study will be Biblical Faith. In the adult sessions we'll be contrasting (a) the passionate devotion of hymnwriters like Frances Ridley Havergal, whose hymns such as “Take My Life that I May Be” long for deep intimacy with God and (b) the “antidote” for spiritual perfectionism that Mike Yaconelli advocates in Messy Spirituality.

I hope to share more during the week. But, in any case, it seems that I'm still not done being born again.


  1. What is your interpretation of this?

    John 3:3-7

    3In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.[a]"

    4"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

    5Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You[c] must be born again.'


  2. Hey Preston! Great to hear from you! It's absolutely true that we need to be born again! Did you happen to read my sermons on this topic - the ones from February that I referenced in this post? I'm at Bible camp now and not "working" as much so won't look now, but that's the text I was preaching on in that February sermon.

  3. I did look and re-read those two sermons, and I think they're pretty good -- that's why I bothered to post them. There are two sermons in the same file available for download, both preached the same day. The "point" of being "born again" is that we are ALWAYS at the "being born again point" with God. We never get past it. Yes, there is a first time, and then there will be other times... Have you read "Messy Spirituality" by Michael Yaconelli? On page 99 he says "During my adolesence, I made hundreds of decisions to become a Christian, to re-become a Christian, to rededicate my life to God, to rededicate my rededication, to go into full-time Christian service, to treat my parents better, to give God my hormones. I meant every one of those decisions, yet I successfully acted on most of them for only about two or three days. Still, those two or three days laid the groundwork for the next decision. I couldn't have made the next decision if I had not made the previous one. I was growing one decision at a time." So it is.

  4. Yes, I browsed through the sermons (sorry, didn't have time to read them word for word!).

    Yes, there are definitely many times that we need to be born again in many different ways, but there's always a first time we made a conscious decision to live for his will and not ours. Without the first commitment, there wouldn't be each "re-dedication" as Yaconelli writes.

  5. The trouble with "evangelical" as opposed to "lutheran" theology is that there is some confusion, I think, between discipleship (which involves a decision to follow our Lord) and salvation, which is the receiving of a free gift. I could say more but I've got a lot to do today! S