Image for post
Image for post

What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?

One of my favorite analogies for faith comes from Franciscan friar Richard Rohr. It’s told through the story of Japanese intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda. Onoda fought alongside his fellow Japanese people during the time of World War II, and when the Japanese surrendered the war in 1945, Onoda was a skeptical holdout. He and his band of other holdouts refused to accept the news of surrender and kept fighting as if the war never ended. People would attempt to communicate the news of the surrender through things like leaflets, but Onoda continued to refuse, believing the leaflets were tricks to get Onoda to lower his guard.

Mind you, the Japanese surrender took place in 1945. Over the next few decades (yes, decades), Onoda’s men lost their lives one by one until only Onoda remained. It was until 1974 that a wandering man looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a great panda, and the Abominable Snowman (in that order)” finally found and befriended Onoda. Onoda still didn’t believe the man about the Japanese surrender, so the man returned to Japan to locate Onoda’s commanding officer, who had since become a bookseller.

On March 9, 1974, the commanding officer officially discharged Onoda of his duties, and Onoda returned to civilization.

I begin with that story because there are a lot of verses in the Bible about “dying unto yourself” and being “born again.” Let’s rattle off a few of those:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. — Galatians 2:20

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. — John 12:25

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. — Romans 8:13

We could go on all day like this. I mean, check out this link here. The Bible is chocked full of these verses.

I don’t know about you, but the whole concept of being “born again” seems cheap. Cheap in the sense of like eye-rolling, sigh-inducing, “Okay, God, Whatever” mumbo jumbo. It’s a package that we sell to youth groups and other unsuspecting adults to get them to “drink the Kool Aid” and avoid the fires of Hell. (I’ve published a whole other post about why the Hell argument is a poor motivator; you can find it here.)

But just because history has bastardized and neutered that message doesn’t mean it’s not true. Where I used to scoff at a message like that, I now see it for what it really is. And spoiler alert: it’s not some big mysterious thing that I’ve come to. Rather, when you shake off your preconceptions based on our modern church understanding, it is about letting go and embracing the Christ consciousness.

(Sorry if you were expecting something more… grandiose?)

Now, it’s sort of hard to wrap your mind around that, which is why I began this post with the story of Lieutenant Onoda. Here’s a guy who lived almost 30 years in the wilderness, killing people and fending for his life, because he refused to accept news that ultimately would have been better for his well being. You don’t get much more deterministic than that. I’m not quite 30 years old myself, so this lifestyle that Onoda held onto was literally a lifetime.

Richard Rohr regularly uses this story in his work to describe this idea of discharging your loyal soldier. It wasn’t until somebody tracked down Onoda’s commanding officer to formally discharge Onoda that he finally would return to regular life. The guy was just that loyal.

And whether we want to believe it or not, we all cling onto things where we refuse to let go. Sometimes they’re really easy to understand; sometimes they’re very subtle. Some of those more easy things to understand are drug addictions, alcoholism, and a proclivity toward criminal activity.

I’m not hear to talk about those.

What interests me more are those subtle things that are quietly guiding and eating away at our lives. The biggest thing for many in the church, including my former self, is an inclination to hold onto our own preconceptions about God, the church, and the Bible. Yes, ironically, the thing most often interrupting the path to truly adopting that Christ consciousness is “God.” I intentionally put God in quotes there because, frankly, many conceptions we hold about God are either so convoluted that they almost assuredly can’t be correct or get in the way of the bigger picture of what it means to be human.

Taking a more extreme example, I knew a guy while I was in college who was one of the nicest, most genuine people you’ll ever meet, but he had some pretty wacky ideas about the Bible. The one that sticks out in my mind was his view on communion. He genuinely believed that regular partaking in communion was mandatory toward maintaining his salvation. So when he missed a week of communion once, he about had a panic attack thinking that he’d go to Hell if he got hit by a bus later that day.

Of course, that’s a more extreme example, but here are a handful of others that people in the church regularly cling to:

  • Literal biblical inerrancy: The idea that the Bible is infallible and non-contradictory from the purest literal perspective possible. Except if you’ve ever truly read the Bible, you find out quickly that that is most certainly not the case.

In my mind, all these have associations to pride. People don’t let go of these things because it serves a personal agenda. Take the women in leadership example. I’m convinced that there are male pastors who still tout that because they know they’d be out of a job if they said women can do just as good a job, if not better. (And in the cases I’m thinking about specifically, I know pretty much ANY woman would do better in that pastoral position.)

For me, being born again means dying to yourself (and your personal agendas) to have an inclination toward promoting Everybody around you. I mean capital “E” EVERYBODY. The church is pretty bad about supporting only those who drink the Jesus Kool Aid. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard of somebody being turned away from the church until they can get their life together. Come on, folks. Why are we ignoring verses like this one?

Jesus answered, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” — Luke 5:31

Friends, if there is something in you today that’s nagging at you and you can’t quite put a finger on what that is, my challenge for you is to pray for wisdom. Trust me, if your heart is truly inclined toward this real, true, amazing new life, God will reveal what you need to die to. Period. Transparently, it probably won’t be a pretty journey, but you’ll come out of it feeling like your eyes have been opened for the first time in your life. Not this surface level “pray Jesus into your heart” business but truly being born anew.

(The kids these days call it being “woke”.)

Okay, I’ve rambled on enough for this post! I’ve got lots of other stuff, but we’ll save that for future posts. Hope you found this to be helpful! Catch you in the next post.

Written by

Machine learning engineer by day, spiritual explorer by night.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store