Recently someone reached out asking for a simple explanation of what it means to be “born again.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3 ESV
The idea of being “born again” is something that the Bible speaks about using a variety of terms, such as: Receiving a new heart, becoming a new creation, being made alive in Christ.
The exact phrase, “born again” is something which Jesus used when speaking to a man named Nicodemus: a moral, religious man who was well-respected in his community. Nicodemus came to Jesus asking for the essence of Jesus’ teaching, and Jesus told him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
What this means is that although we are born physically alive, every person’s default condition is that they are spiritually dead and disconnected from God.
God loves us, and yet: we are sinners, both by nature and by choice, and as a result there is a separation between us and God, and our default condition is that we are spiritually dead rather than alive.
There are a lot of people in the world who are like Nicodemus: moral and “good” people. And yet, Jesus told this moral man that he needed to be born again. And this is the message of Jesus to all of us as well: “YOU need to be born again!” Not just everyone else; not just the drunks and the immoral people, but YOU too!
YOU need to be born again by coming into a relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ: faith in the fact that he died in your place to reconcile you to God by imputing his righteousness to you, and imputing your sins to him; faith that he rose from the dead to give you the hope and promise of eternal life!
When you are born again you receive:
a NEW HEART: The very essence of who you are changes! You receive a new heart, with new desires.
a NEW IDENTITY: You change from being an enemy of God to being a child of God.
a NEW MIND: You begin to think differently.
NEW EMOTIONS: You feel differently; God pours out his love, joy, and peace into your heart.
A NEW COMMUNITY: You become part of the people of God, those who are being saved.
A NEW POWER: Power over sin; we are no longer slaves to our flesh, but we gain the power to be free when we are born again by putting our faith in Jesus and God places his Spirit inside of you to strengthen you in your weakness.
In Matthew 27:52-53 it says that when Jesus died, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
Why did this happen? And what happened to these “walking dead”: did they ascend into Heaven with Jesus, or did they die again at a later date? What was the meaning and significance of this?
I address this question in the latest episode of the Theology for the People Podcast – in which I tell a story of regret from my honeymoon and explain why this event can only be understood in light of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine.
In Matthew 27:52-53 it says that when Jesus died, "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."
Why did this happen? And what happened to these "walking dead": did they ascend into Heaven with Jesus, or did they die again at a later date? What was the meaning and significance of this?
You can find more articles and content, as well as a place to submit questions or suggest topics at the Theology for the People blog site.
This episode is sponsored by
· Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app
In the Bible, Satan is referred to as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31, 14:30) and even “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.
How then can Jesus say that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” has been given to him (Matthew 28:18)?
In this week’s Sermon Extra, Pastor Mike and I discuss the authority of Satan, and what the Bible has to say about it: Did Adam and Eve hand over “regency” of the Earth to Satan in the Garden of Eden? And how does this relate to the scroll that only Jesus can open in Revelation 5?
Furthermore, we discuss the claim of Richard Dawkins and others, who say that Jesus’ death on the cross was “divine child abuse,” since the innocent Son of God was sacrificed by the Father – and how the deity of Christ changes everything when it comes to understanding the meaning of the cross.
What is the benefit of attending church? A person is demanded to surrender personal faith in Jesus and personal relationship with Jesus Christ to become a Borg in a socialist swamp. It’s great for becoming robotized, lobotomized, Romanized, and institutionalized.
But its pointless for knowing Jesus Christ personally.
Don’t go. Jesus isn’t welcome there. Conformity is King. Not Jesus.
I was tempted to ignore the comment, but I think this view of church is actually pretty widespread, even amongst professing Christians, that it warranted a response. And since I’ve recently started the Theology for the People Podcast, I figured this would be a good topic to discuss in more detail there.
In this episode Nick and Mike discuss a comment that came in to the Theology for the People blog claiming that church is only good for "becoming robotized, lobotomized, Romanized, and institutionalized," and is "pointless for knowing Jesus Christ personally." This comment represents a not-uncommon attitude to "organized religion" in general and church in particular.
This episode includes discussions about the Bible, Jesus, American history, and Henry David Thoreau.
The book recommended in this episode is The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History
This episode is sponsored by
· Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app
I was reading in John, and during Jesus’s discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus makes a statement that gave me pause, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13)
Immediately I thought, “Wait, what about Elijah, or potentially Enoch?” They may not have descended in the same way as Jesus, or had a special nature as he did, but they ascended physically and yet seem to be ignored in this exclusive statement.
Great observation! Here are some important things to consider, which can bring clarity to this statement from Jesus:
Which Heaven is Jesus Referring To?
In ancient thinking, the word “heaven” was used in three ways (and it often used in these same three ways in our modern vernacular as well).
The “first” heaven = the sky, or the atmosphere, i.e. the place where birds and planes fly.
The “second” heaven = outer space, or the stratosphere: the place beyond Earth’s atmosphere, where stars and other planets are located.
The “third” heaven = the abstract use of the word, which designates not a geographical location, but the spiritual plane in which God and other invisible spirits dwell.
Paul the Apostle speaks of being caught up to the third heaven, in what was either a vision or perhaps even a near-death experience, in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Paul also speaks of the “heavenly places” in Ephesians as the place where Jesus is seated with the Father.
And yet, we know can surmise from different passages in the Bible, such as Luke 16 and others, that those who died in faith prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus did not go to “heaven” in the sense of the immediate presence of God, rather they went to Sheol, the dwelling place of the dead, where they awaited either the completion of their redemption or the final judgment of God.
In this case, it would seem that when 2 Kings 2:11 says “And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven,” it means that his body was caught up into the sky, not that his soul was taken to the immediate presence of God.
This would make sense in light of the rest of the text in 2 Kings, in which the “sons of the prophets” who witnessed this take place insist that they go and recover the body of Elijah that was picked up in this whirlwind. With Elijah and Enoch, though their souls were taken from this Earth, they would have gone to “Abraham’s bosom” (the part of Sheol reserved for those who died in faith – see article linked above).
Jesus’ point in John 3:13 is that Nicodemus should listen to what he has to say about Heaven since no human person has ever gone to heaven, yet he (Jesus) is the only person who has come from Heaven to Earth, and is therefore uniquely qualified to give accurate insight and explanation into Heavenly realities.
“Ascended” versus “Taken Up”
Another possible explanation is that when Jesus says that he is the first who will “ascend” into Heaven, he is correct in the sense that he will ascend by his own power and volition, whereas Enoch and Elijah were “taken up” by God, not by their own power or will.
Hopefully these explanations helped. If you see anything I missed, please leave a comment – and keep on studying God’s Word and asking questions as you go!
Sometimes you spend hours preparing for Sunday’s sermon, but the one thing you say that gets remembered most was something you said off the cuff, that wasn’t in the notes. That happened to me this past Sunday.
I was teaching a message called “Thriving in Exile” in which I was looking at Daniel and Jeremiah and what it took for the people of God to live faithfully in the Babylonian exile, especially since the Apostle Peter states that the Israelites in exile in Babylon is a perfect picture of what it means for us to be Christians in the world today.
During a section in which I was pointing out that the exiles needed to have convictionin order to live faithfully in exile, I pointed out that Daniel and the others with him were also very courteous towards those in Babylon who didn’t believe what they believed, which is notable since it seems that some people think that to be a person of conviction means to be a “Jerk for Jesus.”
In contrast to that, the example we have throughout the Scriptures and from Jesus, Paul, and Peter specifically is that rather than an adversarial approach, we are to take a missionary approach to those who believe and think differently than we do, so that we might be used by God to help bring his light, love, and truth into their lives.
The fact is, it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to influence people who can tell that you despise them. Those bombastic people who think they are dropping “truth bombs” tend to only embolden those who already agree with them and further alienate those who don’t – rather than wooing them to consider the beauty of the gospel.
Below you can listen to the podcast of this discussion and/or watch the video of it.
Here is a link to the book Mike and I discussed, in which I heard the phrase “Jerks for Jesus:” Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne. I recommend this book. In it, Larry Osborne points out how the pharisees never set out to become “pharisees” – they started out as people who cared about truth and following God whole-heartedly, but this devolved into pride, exclusivity, and creating rules which God never ordained, as well as fences which God never put in place. For those of us who truly care about truth and walking with God, this should be a warning to us lest we accidentally become pharisees ourselves. The book of course goes into much more detail and explanation. I especially appreciated what he had to say about Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the “secret disciples” mentioned in the gospels. It’s definitely worth a read.
Also embedded below is the video I mention about Ray Comfort, the Kiwi evangelist. I watched this film with my kids, and it was so inspiring. He speaks with so much compassion and empathy, and is a good example of how to not water down the truth, but still be courteous – and how many doors that opens for effective gospel ministry. The movie is called The Fool
In this week's sermon extra, Pastors Nick Cady and Michael Payne discuss how we can know that we are actually being led by the Holy Spirit or if we are being deluded or just making excuses for our own self-centered decisions.
Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/whitefieldschurch/support
Recently [a friend and I] were talking about the event in Mark where Jesus encounters the Syrophoenician woman and the way he interacts with her – which can seem very cold or harsh. We did also read, but not focus our discussion, on Matthew’s account of it. My student leans toward Jesus’s behavior representing a racist shading to his approach.
I was wondering if you could speak into this, but also it may give an opportunity to speak into how this affects our modern lives.
Great question. I know many people have found this passage puzzling or even disturbing.
The passage in question is found in Mark 7:24-30 and the story is also told in Matthew 15:21-28. It involves a time when Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which is in modern-day Lebanon. During his time there, unsurprisingly, he encounters a woman who is a Gentile (non-Jew), who appeals to him as the “Son of David” (a Messianic title), and asks that he heal her daughter. Jesus initially rebuffs her request, saying that it would not be right for him to give the bread which belongs to the children to dogs. She pushes back, saying that dogs are willing to eat the crumbs which fall from the children’s table. Jesus is impressed by her faith and persistence and heals her daughter.
Dogs and Puppies
If you’ve ever been to developing countries, you may have noticed that there are two kinds of dogs: street dogs and pet dogs. One of the biggest challenges for me when I visit places like Ukraine or Mexico is that I like to run for exercise, but there are sometimes street dogs who instinctively chase after people who are running!
Street dogs are often dangerous and diseased. They present a real threat to anyone walking down the street. Pet dogs, on the other hand, are companions who can become part of a family: “fur babies”!
This same distinction existed in Jesus’ time. In the Middle East at this time, especially because of the way that waste was disposed of in open dumps, there were packs of feral street dogs who roamed the streets and presented a very real danger to the people. On the other hand, people also kept dogs as pets, and part of the family.
The Jewish people were in the habit of referring to Gentiles (pagan, non-Jews) as “dogs” – essentially referring to them as “street dogs” who were diseased and dangerous, and therefore to be avoided. As you can imagine, this kind of thinking would have been entrenched in the minds of Jesus’ disciples, having grown up as Jews in Israel.
So when Jesus refers to this woman as a “dog” – part of what he is doing is playing into the Jewish culture of that day – which would have been held by many of his disciples – which considered the Gentiles to be “street dogs.” However, instead of using the common word for “dogs,” Jesus uses the word for “pet dogs” or “puppies.” By doing so, think about what he is saying: he is essentially saying, “Yes, many people where I’m from (including some of my disciples) might consider you a diseased and dangerous street dog, but I view you as a pet dog, i.e. one who can become a beloved part of the family.”
By saying this, Jesus was challenging the way that his disciples thought about Gentile people. They would have been looking around there in Tyre, wondering, “Why have we come here to these ‘dogs’ – these filthy, disease ridden people? And Jesus is saying, “No, these are people who can become a beloved part of the family.”
Was Jesus Ethnocentric?
In Matthew’s account of this story, Jesus states that he has come to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Does that mean that Jesus was ethnocentric, or perhaps a Jewish nationalist?
By calling this woman a “pet dog” he was insinuating that she could live in “the house” and be part of “the family.” These latter two metaphors are used throughout the Bible to describe the people of God. Following the metaphor, Jesus is describing that she, as a Gentile (not part of God’s covenant nation of Israel) could be brought into the house and become a member of the family. This is similar to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 11, where he talks about how Gentiles have been “grafted in” to the “olive tree” of God’s people, which began with Israel.
God’s plan for salvation, throughout the Bible was for the whole world. In John 3:16, Jesus makes it clear that his mission is a global mission, for God so loved the world.
However, God’s plan for global evangelization was to work through Israel to the world. Israel was to be God’s missionary people, a light to the nations. In fact, in Deuteronomy, God tells them that the purpose of the Law of Moses, was so other nations would see who their God was by observing the goodness of those Laws. Israel was to be a lighthouse to the nations. This is why the Psalms and the Prophets talk about how the nations will rejoice, and the nations will come to the Lord. The word “nations” is synonymous with Gentiles.
However, many times Israel fell short of this, becoming ethnocentric and nationalistic, and taking their “chosen status” as a mark of superiority over others instead of what it was meant to be: the mark of them being chosen to carry out God’s work of bringing light to the Gentiles.
Jesus’ focus was to Israel, because it was through Israel that God wanted to reach the world. He had come as the Jewish Messiah and in fulfillment of the Jewish ceremonial system: as the ultimate prophet, priest and sacrifice, to fulfill all that was written in the Hebrew Scriptures. After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature, all the nations, and to take the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria(!), and to the ends of the Earth.
In the ancient world, it was common for each nation, and sometimes for each town or tribe, to have their own God. However, the God of the Bible claimed to be the God of all the world, and Jesus claimed to be the Savior of all the world. He was not just one of many ways to come to God, he was the way, the truth, and the life – and no one can come to the Father besides through Him. (John 14:6)
This was considered scandalous in the Roman Empire, where their governing mentality was that anyone can believe anything they want as long as they don’t claim that their god or religion is right and somebody else’s is wrong. That is very much like today’s modern Western culture, actually! But the Christians could not comply with this: the God of the Bible is not just a local deity, but the creator of the entire universe, and Jesus was the savior of the entire world.
Jesus’ focus on Israel was a missional strategy and calling, not a qualitative judgment on either Israel or other nations. In fact, multiple times in the Gospels, Jesus points out how a Gentile showed more faith that those in Israel.
What Does this Mean for Us Today?
There is no place for racism or ethnocentrism with God. This is not to say that you cannot or should not be a patriot, or someone who loves your country. What it means is that we recognize that other nations are made up of people created in God’s image, who have the same intrinsic value and worth. Since they are loved by God, they should be loved by God’s people. There is no place for any sense of superiority or disdain, when we recognize that we were also “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind, but God…made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:3-4)
In Christ, we are now part of a new humanity, the “family of God,” in which there is no longer Jew nor Greek, and we will be part of that great multitude in Heaven made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation, which will worship before the Throne. To be chosen by God is to be chosen to be part of His mission to bring the truth of His love and grace to the world.
A while back a friend shared a TikTok video with me in which a young guy was teaching something from the Bible which he portrayed as something people had overlooked, or about which they had been unaware, which could be potentially paradigm-shifting.
What this young man claimed is that the gospels tell us that Jesus healed a centurion’s servant, but that the word used there for “servant” actually means a same-sex lover. Thus, his conclusion was that by doing this, Jesus essentially affirmed and condoned, rather than condemned, homosexual sexual relationships.
The story of this healing is found in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, and is about a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus and begs that Jesus heal his servant. Jesus agrees and says he will come to the centurion’s home, but the centurion says that he does not deserve to have Jesus under his roof, and that he has faith that all Jesus has to do is say the word, and his servant will be healed.
Did Jesus Heal a Centurion’s Same Sex Lover?
The word in question is the Greek word “Pais.” Interestingly, the word Pais literally means boy. There is another Greek word for servant, the word doulos, but the word pais was used to designate a young, male servant boy.
Pederasty and Sexual Abuse
As Preston Sprinkle explains in his excellent book, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, it was common in the Greco-Roman culture of Jesus’ day for homosexual sex to be part of the power differential in a relationship, but only as long as the dominant partner was older, of higher social standing, and in the penetrating role. This is often referred to as pederasty, in which older men would have dominant sexual relationships with teenage boys. Both modern psychology and laws would deem these relationships to be unethical and illegal for multiple reasons, as they are abusive and harmful; not only are they an abuse of power, but these relationships were physically, sexually, and psychologically abusive to the younger victim.
Furthermore, Sprinkle goes on to explain that such relationships in the ancient world were not at all like our modern conception of a gay couple in a loving, consensual, co-equal relationship. For example, the penetrating partner in such relationships was not necessarily considered “gay” or “same-sex attracted,” rather this was an act of subjugating the passive partner and was about asserting power.
Pais Alone Doesn’t Imply a Homosexual Relationship
However, there is actually no indication that this centurion had such a relationship with his servant boy just by use of the word “pais.” While these relationships did exist, to assume that this centurion was sexually abusing his servant boy based on the simple fact that he had a servant boy, would be like reading that a man had a wife and then assuming that he must have abused his wife, because some people do that. It’s a major assumption, in other words, that requires a giant leap that is not indicated by anything in the text.
In fact, Luke uses the word doulos (the general word for servant) to describe this boy (Luke 7:2). Furthermore, of the 24 uses of pais in the Greek New Testament, it is never used of a homosexual relationship. So, the idea that this specific servant boy was being sexually abused by his master is definitely not something that ancient readers would have automatically assumed based on the use of the word pais. Furthermore, since any such relationship would have been abusive in nature, to say that this is an example of Jesus condoning or affirming a homosexual relationship is far-fetched and misguided; certainly no one would argue that Jesus, by healing this servant, was affirming or condoning of the sexual abuse of a minor by an older man in position of power.
Would Jesus have healed a gay person?
Although it is very unlikely that this passage is speaking about the healing of a centurion’s same-sex partner, the question remains: Would Jesus have healed a gay person? I think the answer to this question is also very simple: Yes.
Here’s why I say this: because Jesus’ healing of people never hinged on, or depended on, their level of personal righteousness. When Jesus healed the man born blind, he never brought up that man’s struggle with bitterness, greed, or envy. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, he never brought up that man’s struggle with lust. Healing is an act of grace, and grace – by definition – is not something that is earned or merited, it is a gift from a God who gives to undeserving recipients.
The message of the gospel is that God shows grace to sinners, and that’s good news for a sinner like me, and for you as well. As Paul tells us in Romans 2, the kindness of God often leads us to repentance.
This is a devotional I wrote for It is Well, a great Instagram account that posts encouraging devotional messages. They’re worth following!
Hope for the Disfavored
The true measure of character is not how we treat the privileged, but how we treat the disfavored. There was no one more disfavored in the minds of the Jewish people than the Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews. After all, the Jewish people were God’s chosen people. What then of the Gentiles?
And yet, Romans 15:10-13 tells us something incredible: quoting from Deuteronomy, we read: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him,” because “the root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles, and in him will the Gentiles hope.”
The good news of Christmas, is that God has come to the disfavored, to save them and welcome them into his family! That is good news for us, who have fallen out of favor with God because of our sins.
Great rulers and conquerors, from Alexander to Augustus, had established empires which provided people with stability and peace. But as the Roman philosopher Epictetus explained: “While the emperor can give peace from war on land or sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, which men long for more than outward peace.” And yet the promise of the gospel is Jesus has come to give us the peace which our hearts long for by making peace between us and God through the sacrifice of himself on our behalf.
The good news of Christmas is that God has treated disfavored people like us with kindness and grace. He came to us, in the person of Jesus, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The way to receive this great gift, Romans 15:13 tells us, is by “believing,” which means “to trust in, to rely upon, and to cling to” Jesus. That is the way to be filled with joy and peace, and to abound in hope this Christmas season.