Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1 Peter 1:3 NASB
In Christianity we hear the term born-again a lot. In fact most people (Christian’s and non) believe that the church soley exists to get people “born again.” Unfortunately, that’s not biblical, that is Greco-Roman theology laced with more modern reformational and stoic philosophy creeping into Christianity mainstream thinking unnoticed.
The process of being transformed from being of the world to being of God is called sanctification & is not simply a development. It is a description of an existing relationship with God, not a pathway to God. (The path simply describes the tough journey biblically, especially in the context of 1Peter) This is allegiant language for sure, but obedience doesn’t ensure you have the desired relationship. Allegiance is the first step and obedience is a result of already experiencing the relationship. Furthermore, the actual Greek word for “born again” only appears one time in Scripture (that’s called a hapax legomenon), in 1 Peter 1:3 where the verb, anagennáō, is an aorist, active participle, meaning something like “causing to be re-generated.” (I’m sure you’re wondering about John 3:3 but that’s another conversation!)
Crazy how much emphasis has been put on this one word in scripture.
The preeminent calling of Christianity to the church (deeper discipleship) has gotten greatly deluded. People hope to follow God. They want to follow God. But how is that possible when even the Christian community still follows Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin or even worse; worldly philosophers more than Jesus and Peter?
First Peter is a book about sanctification that connects a lot of dots of the complete lens of scripture and what that process looks like.
The term born again in our modern culture has taken on a little bit different of a meaning than it did when Jesus, John, or Peter might have used the same words.
Today we think of being “Born again” as the regeneration of the human spirit. Jesus said in the book of John that “You must be born again before you can see, or enter, the Kingdom of Heaven.” In some ways the verse implies this modern version of regeneration of the person, but that might be misleading according to the Greek. I’ll get to this.
The emphasis on first Peter 1:3 might be the only time in the Bible that we truly see the simple English phrase “born again” being used. We refer to a lot of passages or translate the Bible to say “born again” in a few different places but John and 1 Peter are literally the only references that translate to English as “born again” and even that is arguable. As we learned yesterday, a better aorist active participle translation implied a much more relational transaction which would be translated as “causing to be regenerated.” But that doesn’t quite have the ring that “born again” might! and just to be clear I really don’t have a problem with the term born again I just want to interpret its meaning more scripturally, not the way that we typically understand it in western culture eyes.
I Peter 1:23 also uses a similar word that we would translate “having been” with “born again” but in Greek it’s one word, and therefore it is a different word than what is used earlier in first Peter 1:3. The word born again itself in the context of first Peter 1:3 displays the idea that you have entered into an existing relationship and the result is obedience that grows deeper by being sanctified. So now in 1:23 we’re reading it as “having started that relational process”… You’re a little further on the road to sanctification… now you’re a few steps further along the way. This is “sacred complete lens of Scripture” language. The author is crafting together the entire lens of the Bible from the very beginning (foreknowledge) laced in Jesus as the enduring word and your relationship to Him signifying the ancient communal covenant that we (all) are united in Jesus.
There’s actually an idea that this is bigger than one singular notion (or person); that together we are all grafted into the same person of Christ. As I have mentioned before, in the Hebraic way of thinking, it would’ve been very selfish to just consider your own person, it was a bigger picture considering the journey of all of Gods people -including Gods original chosen people of Israel but even going back before that to the Abrahamic covenant (reclaiming what was lost) and opening the door for all people. This isn’t Covenant Theology, or replacement theology it’s simply the entire church of God for all of time. The grafting of everybody who claims the one true God into the big picture of His kingdom!
My main point is nothing about first Peter describes this term “ born again” as a simple line of salvific one time transformation, in fact quite the opposite; the language of first Peter describes the term with a much larger spectrum defined by holiness. The complete journey of sanctification for God’s reclaiming of all of His people throughout the complete spectrum of both the old and new covenant. To write this off as a simple “one and done, step over the line in your in” way of thinking doesn’t work in these texts or for that matter, any others.
A lot of modern translations are going to use the word “born again” more than a couple times in the Bible. But we really only see the original Greek making reference to this phrase 3/4 times. We have first Peter 1:3 and 23 which I explained above and John 3:3 and 3:7. Even though they translated the same way, they are actually different words in Greek.
The premise of Yesterdays post was the thought that I am finishing today; that being “born again” is often understood as merely the decision to become a Christian. This is sometimes theologically described as regeneration. The moment that your mind decides to live allegedly and hopefully your actions and mind will continue to follow… in our modern culture we talked about this momentary type of thinking a lot but I would encourage you as you study the Scriptures there’s little if any kind of consideration for this thinking. Even when you look at the theological term regeneration, there’s a much broader implication in a one time commitment that you may or may not stick to.
From Gods’ eyes there’s a little bit of a perspective going back and moving forward that he understands the long range intention of the heart. This is what first Peter starts out with. When humans try to draw the line it actually describes a type of judgment… but God sees differently (but you even have to be careful here this isn’t fortuneteller language – we get into this on the third series of our videos).
I tend to think that John 3:1–21 doesn’t only talk about the entry point of a Christian’s conversion experience, but also a life of transformation in the Spirit. It seems clear that 3:3, 5–8 speak of the fact that a Christian is born from God and of the Spirit. The Christian life, then, is a life of transformation by the Spirit’s empowerment.
The two phrases are slightly different in Greek they mean “born again” and “born of God”. In John 3:3 the Greek expression γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν is used, which (literally) means “born from above,” “born anew” or more modernly translated as “born again.” In 1 Peter 3, 23, the Greek verb ἀναγεννάω is used, emphasises “to be” signifying “causing to be regenerated.” In 1 John 3:9, the Greek verb is γεννάω, which means “to bring forth birth” or “to be father of.” Do you see the difference between them?
This is ancient Hebraic grafting language. This is why I repeatedly say in our video series that even though Peter is teaching to a mixed audience of Hebrews and Gentiles he is speaking in Hebraic language signifying the ancient covenant in connection with Jesus from the beginning.
When the world was created those that were originally created by the hand of God were referred to his holy ones or sons (daughters) of God. In the New Testament when Jesus and Peter both explain the concept of entering into an allegiant relationship, they describe the process of the journey. But make no mistake, these words are very different than our concept of being born again today. In John, Jesus is talking about the work of the father. It was rightfully His, what was stolen by the world is now being reclaimed. (Way maker language) Where Peter is going to take the fact that you were being reclaimed and apply it to a relational journey called sanctification for all of the church.
I try not to get too scholarly in these posts but this is a good way of also understanding it…
On John 3:3 (and 3:5 in context), Keener (who is one of my favorite scholars) says the following (and much more worth exploring if you want to go find it).
Greek thinkers could speak of God or gods as ‘above,” in terms of a vertical dualism; but Jewish texts were no less attracted to the portrait of God as “above” and to a vertical dualism contrasting God’s heavenly realm with the earthly. “Above” or “the one above” in fact became standard Jewish circumlocutions for God, as elsewhere in this Gospel (19:11), so birth from above means birth from God. Birth “from above” conveys the same essential sense as “birth from Spirit” as opposed to fleshly birth: what is merely human is inadequate, and the chasm between divine and human power is infinite. (p. 1.538–1.539)
Granted, born ἄνωθεν can mean “born again” rather than or in addition to “born from above”; but John’s informed audience, familiar with his own usage, will find Nicodemus’s more limited interpretation wanting… In this passage Nicodemus becomes a foil whose misunderstanding allows Jesus to clarify his point for John’s audience (cf. 14:5, … Jesus’ words about a rebirth, a transformation of character (3:6) that is an essential prerequisite to understanding the things of the Spirit (3:8; 1 Cor 2:10–16), are clear enough on their own terms… (p. 1.539)
Let me put this in simple terms, basically, John 3:3 speaks of a new birth (reclaiming) from God that engenders a life of transformation by the Spirit (3:5–8; cf Ezekiel 36–37). For sure, being born from above is the beginning of a new life. But it is a life to be transformed by the Spirit continually. The journey that we are all United through in Christ.
Therefore, to think about the term born again as being a onetime momentary experience was not the biblical mindset of either Peter nor Jesus (Who are the only New Testament authors that seem to use any kind of term similar to that.) It could be described very loosely as the condition you’re entering into after the first cognitive decision. But honestly, I don’t even feel good about that. That doesn’t seem to be the way the biblical authors would have thought, that is more of the way that we think about it today… so you could consider it as the first step of the journey but a better hermeneutic would be to look at the whole journey together, as through the eyes of God.
The problem is born-again carries a lot of modern connotations that really aren’t that great. What I was alluding to yesterday trying to keep it short, is it the idea of being born again (the way that we think about it today) is actually a lot closer tied to worldly philosophy than it is to the Bible.
This morning Tyler Childers song “born again” came on (which I will add is very well written unfortunately according to transcendentalism) and the spirit nudged me, reminding me of the worlds version of what this term means. The song implies all kinds of transcendental ideas, reincarnation, mysticism and much more. Unfortunately, this is the world’s version that Christians have bought into when using the term “born again”. It’s the idea of the Platonic soul being elevated to the place of a God. It’s an escapist idea. This way of thinking also opens the door to a universalist pluralism that all roads lead to one thought.
This is exactly the problem at Babel and what is countercultural to the kingdom language that Jesus and Peter are using. I’ve mentioned this several times before, that this is a fine line- when we are re-born into Christ and enter into the process of sanctification we will eventually become “like gods” (this is the plan from the beginning starting in Genesis three). But this is very different than trying to become equal to or even over God which was the problem at Babel.
This is exactly the opposite of the picture that God wants for us through sanctification. But this is what the world and the evil principalities and powers (better term than simply saying Satan) have done so well. They take a biblical concept and come up with something that looks very similar to it, yet is countercultural or exactly opposite to what God is asking for. It’s the great deception from the beginning of time.
Essentially, when we treat “born again” to mean something like this; we’re actually using terminology that’s more rooted in the world or Satan‘s definition, than we are to the scriptural definition of it. It’s a major problem that I find evangelical Christians slipping into time and time again.
As a couple people have alluded to in these posts, this is exactly what my book to be released this month talks about. That evangelical Christianity unfortunately has wandered far from what the scripture as described by the journey of sanctification biblically. In many ways, we have taken on the powers and principalities version of this term and many others (or anti-versions) then we have the scriptural directive of the term.
My continual point is that Americans (particularly) need to get back to studying what the scripture actually says in the context that it was written, and put aside all of the worldly chatter and entanglement philosophies.
I’ll use one last analogy. The rainbow was originally a sign of Gods beautiful covenant of covering love to humankind. Today Christians generally abhor that image. I’m not going to get into that conversation right now… but from the time of God‘s covenant to now, the image of the rainbow represents something different to a modern culture than it did when it was presented to God‘s people. (Or does it? Squirrel! That’s another series of posts!) Should “Christians” not use the rainbow as a sign of God‘s covenant anymore because it means something different today? Or would it be better to reclaim the rainbow (a sign of cosmic love) in the name of the Lord? I’m always of the mindset that if the term meant something in the biblical language then let’s keep it meaning that and living within the ancient covenant language. (God was a master at reclaiming language in the ancient Old Testament) I’m not ready to give up what is Gods, but I’m also not willing to use the terms in the way that the world has sometimes twisted or defiled them; whether we are talking about the word rainbow or being born again.
In essence thinking about being born again as a one time momentary line in the sand that you cross looks a lot more like the philosophies of the world than it did the relational kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming and Peter signified.
My challenge, is to return to a better scriptural perspective of God‘s word and covenant; living as aliens completely given to the kingdom of God not of this world.
Are you speaking Gods covenant language or the world’s twisted language?