Being “Born Again,” in the broad spectrum of Christian lingo, loses power in our catchphrase culture, with “Jesus is my Homeboy,” bumper sticker Christianity. (For the record: yes, Jesus is your “homeboy,” but of course to leave his identity at that does injustice to the man, his life and his Gospel.)
To most people, being born again means getting a fresh start at something. It means experiencing some moment of revelation and clarity that redirects life from old mistakes to new opportunities. Being reborn in a world of cheap grace is a nice way to sound deeply spiritual while stating that, essentially, something didn’t quite work out and now it’s about time to push the all too convenient “reset” button. However, although the idea of being born again does involve the restarting of a plan gone wrong, the process of spiritual rebirth, according to the scripture, is much more complex.
This reflection series will take us through the Bible to discover that being reborn requires five separate things from us in order to reveal the fruits of rebirth. Each Thursday, we’ll examine what, in order to be reborn, we cannot center our lives around:
- Things (1 Kings 18)
- Trouble (Psalm 102)
- People (Isaiah 20)
- Our Success (John 3)
- Blind Faith (1 Corinthians 15)
In the story of 1 Kings 18 we find the showdown of showdowns, worthy of a schoolyard or reality TV show. The prophet Elijah courageously opposes Queen Jezebel, King Ahab and their systematic annihilation of God’s prophets. At this time Israel is completely consumed by Baal worship. 450 Baal prophets on one side and Elijah alone on the other, but with the power of the living God behind him. All throughout the generations of Israel’s walk with God, we see them easily distracted and destroyed by numerous false gods, in a tradition that we continue today. Why?
Why, when for so many years and in so many different ways they clearly experienced the living God come in power to rescue and provide for them, would they ever seek anything aside from Yahweh? For ourselves today, why do we need or depend upon anything more than the power of God in our lives?
In the worship of these lesser gods, we can retain ultimate control over our lives in a way that is impossible when serving the God of Israel. While God said to love him alone, without reservation, these other gods fit nicely into a system of “religion” where works and blessings could be quantified. The more you did for them, whether it be Baal or Molech, the more you could feel like you had freedom to do what you wanted. In Yahweh, it was a free will that chose to do his will without question, because of the understanding that he had already done enough to begin with. Following “Yahweh” was living a life that existed for and because of him.
1 Kings 18 culminates in a showdown where Elijah proposes a contest. Each side, Baal’s prophets and Elijah, would call upon their respective gods. The god who responded to the pleas of the believers would be the true and only God of Israel. After hours worshiping Baal, which involved slashing and cutting themselves to garner a response, the priests of Baal heard nothing but the silence of a god that was simply not there.
Elijah then prepared his petition to God. Two important things preceded his prayer, things that speak to us about being born again. First, he built a new altar, entirely separate from the Baal worshipers. Secondly, he used twelve stones to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel’s forefathers on which to build the altar.
The new altar is significant because rebirth in the Spirit can be founded on nothing except God the Father who, through grace and love, has provided for the rebirth in the first place. Being reborn means starting new, set apart from any old life or way of living, rooted in the God who never changes. In being reborn, everything about our new life is different from the old; however, absolutely nothing is different about the God providing said rebirth. New life means new results and new outcomes, and for the reborn believer, the result of rebirth is demonstrated by the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This new, fruitful life, which fosters continued growth throughout a lifetime, must submit to the regeneration of the spirit of Jesus Christ reborn in us. Trying to produce these fruits while using the strengths and desires of the “old life” is like two people pulling on opposing sides of a wishbone on Thanksgiving Day. At some point, the bone breaks. Trying to offer sacrifice to God on an old altar is starting from a corrupt foundation.
Elijah’s choice to use twelve stones for the altar is striking because Elijah acknowledges the original path from which so many of these prophets and people have strayed so far.
How can we relate this step to our process of being reborn? What we can connect to is the motivation behind Elijah’s decision to use these stones as symbols. He does this to bring the hearts of those around him back to the God who was, is and will always be. Elijah is pointing the assembled people of Israel to their God, who never left them and never forsook them. In our lives, we tend to say things like, “Where are you now God?” However, through the process of being reborn, we discover that God actually never left. God was always there.
We turn our backs. We refuse to acknowledge him. We seek and serve other gods who will give us our own way. In being reborn we might learn new things about God and his presence in our lives, however, it is important to acknowledge that the God we are learning new things about is far from “new.” He has always been.