Being born again

Published 10:05 am Monday, April 10, 2017

by Nathan Decker

“To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves.”

Thomas Merton; “A New Birth” (1967)

I have a love/hate relationship with the phrase “born again.” At one point in my life it was a goal to become a born-again Christian. The term was a destination at the end of a journey. Then the term was co-opted into the political seaweed our nation seems to produce better than anyone else. It meant little other than a minority group or a block of voters.

In graduate school a professor helped redeem the phrase by pointing out that Nicodemus isn’t that dumb, Jesus isn’t only speaking spiritual gobbledygook, and we are called to be renewed.

And then, Thomas Merton pushed me to realize that being born again was the sanctifying process of resurrecting the true me.

I’ve hidden my true self. I’ve put on masks through the roles I take on as man, husband, dad, pastor, citizen. I’ve wrapped my time and energy in a constipated schedule.

I’ve buried my essence among material possessions, power and prestige. I look in the mirror and do not recognize who God created. I need God’s grace.

John Wesley taught God’s grace could be understood as three movements: Prevenient, Justifying and Sanctifying. I’ve usually thought of ‘born again’ as meaning that moment when the sinner walks down the aisle to that tearful confession and acceptance of Jesus as Savior. Be justified in the blood of the Lamb! But it’s so much more!

Salvation is a process, not a one and done. Once I’ve turned my life over to the Lord who created me, this gift of love will begin to unwrap the funeral wrappings I used to mask my true self. We die with Christ so that we can rise with Christ. What goes into the tomb must come out — but transformed, renewed, a new creation. 

God is the ultimate recycler. We live lives hiding behind masks. We tie ourselves in knots of material goods from the prophets of consumerism. Like the Invisible Man, we only know that our true self is there because of the way we have hidden it beneath rags. God takes this life — the one the Lord created for a purpose — and recycles it, resurrects it, renews it and gives it new birth. 

Following Jesus down into the grave and rising in the sunrise on Easter is about us finding that we are found.

If we stop.


Slow down.

Contemplate the beauty of Easter.

Dwell in the presence of God’s mystery.

In between the flurry of Easter Egg hunts, spring break trips, and the usual day-to-day drowning noise of our unrealistic lives — die to the pursuit of happiness in bigger and faster, bury the spinning thoughts and blitzing actions, and be raised by the one who first curled your ear and tickled your toes.

Be found. Be raised. Be born again with Christ this Easter. 

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

John 3:3

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.