Sunday, November 8, 2009

Am I Born Again?

Quite frequently Orthodox Christians are asked by other Christians, “Are You Born Again?” It is asked as a test to see if you are a “true” Christian. I will frequently get this question half-way through a Cathedral tour. And then at the end someone will ask, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” I don’t know why some people think they have to test Orthodox Christians, but many view us as something quite strange. This is especially true in the south and particularly here in Greenville, SC where we are a mile from Bob Jones University. So, how does an Orthodox Christian respond to this challenge?


It is proper to say that you were born again when you are baptized and chrismated. Christ taught that we must be born again. He said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you,‘You must be born anew.’” (John 3:6-7) He also explains how this takes place. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven” (John 3:5). This has always been understood and practiced by the Church as baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation.

It is important to recognize what happens at baptism and chrismation. This is not some kind of symbolic ritual. In this sacrament you are forever changed. Here is how Saint Theophan the Recluse puts it.
Baptism gives us what nothing else on earth can give us: 
It unites and combines with our natural being Divine grace...
Some new element, a supernatural one is added to our composition, and will remain inside us hidden and secretly acting…
When you are baptized, the water is made holy through the Holy Spirit. It is no longer just water, but becomes Holy Water. Water is transformed by the Holy Spirit. This is a excerpt from the prayers that the Priest recites when calling on the Holy spirit to sanctify the water.
“ Through the descent of Your Holy Spirit sanctify this water....
Give to it the grace of redemption, the blessing of the Jordan. Make it a fountain of immortality, a gift of sanctification, for the remission of sins, protection against infirmities, destructive to evil forces, inaccessible to opposing powers, filled with angelic might.”
In Baptism, first we confess all our sins, renounce Satan and proclaim our faith in the Holy Trinity. Then our body is covered with oil that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit into a Holy Oil. Then we are immersed in the Holy Water, cleansing us of all our sins and combing the Holy Spirit with our very being, where it, as Saint Theophan says, “will remain inside us hidden and secretly acting.” Finally we receive the special Chrism, the very special Oil passed on since the time of the Apostles, which seals within the Holy Spirit. We then put on new clothes, a white gown, and are at this moment reborn in the Holy Trinity. At this instant we stand clean and free of all sin, and our being mystically changed to include divine grace. As Saint Theophan says, “some new element , a supernatural one is added to our composition.” This is the meaning of ”born again” for Orthodox Christians.

No other Church can offer anymore than this. You have received everything you need to be united with God. But this is only the beginning. You still have within you the tendency to sin and you will face a continual struggle to fight off all kinds of temptations that can separate you from the will of God. Born in God’s image you have been given a free will. You can choose at any time to ignore God in the same way as did Adam and Eve. So, it is now important to participate in the Orthodox way of life so you can steadily grow in God’s image, becoming step by step closer to His likeness. The aim is complete union with God, which we call Theosis. This Orthodox way of life is one of ongoing repentance. It is a way of love and mercy. God’s loving arms are always there to forgive and embrace us. He knows our limitations and weaknesses and wants to help us through His Church. It is not proper to think of any part of this process after baptism as being “born again.” Baptism only occurs once and you must participate from his point forward with the Holy Spirit that has become part of your being.

To properly nurture your spiritual development, as a new being after baptism, you must always be aware of your tendency to ignore the will of God. This why Christ established the Church, to help us face all the challenges of earthly life. It’s teachings may seem at odds with many of the norms of current culture, but this is precisely why it is necessary for us. It is important to regularly attend worship services, partake of Holy Communion and Confession, pray daily until it becomes unceasing prayer, follow the fasting guidelines to control the passions, read the Scriptures and the Church Fathers broaden your world view, live a purposeful and simple lifestyle to minimize temptations, and be ever watchful.

Many non Orthodox Christians think that through baptism they have been saved. This is a dangerously misleading way of thinking. We can only say that at the time of our baptism we have begun the process of our salvation. Now that we have the Holy Spirit working within us, it can lead us to a life like Christ and union with Him. This will assure, having a ongoing and personal relationship with God, we are properly prepared for the final Judgment Day when the Lord accepts us into His kingdom. This final decision is one only He can give. So, when we are asked if we have been saved, we can say, “I have been saved by Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, I am being saved by my Orthodox way of life in the Church, and I will be saved at the time of the Final Judgement.”

See Ten Step Program for Orthodox Life

7 comments:

  1. Isn’t it odd that if Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, the term “born again” is only mentioned three times in the King James Bible? If “making a decision for Christ” is the only means of salvation, why doesn’t God mention it more often in his Word? Why only THREE times? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?

    Why is it that the Apostle Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, NEVER uses this term? Why is this term never used in the Book of Acts to describe the many mentioned Christian conversions? Why is this term only used by Jesus in a late night conversation with Nicodemus, and by Peter once in just one letter to Christians in Asia Minor?

    If you attend a Baptist/evangelical worship service what will you hear? You will hear this: “You must be born again: you must make a decision for Christ. You must ask Jesus into your heart. You must pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). You must be an older child or adult who has the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to make a decision to repent, and to make a decision to ask Jesus into your heart.”

    It is very strange, however, that other than “you must be born again” none of this terminology is anywhere to be found in the Bible! Why do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

    Maybe "accepting Christ into your heart" is NOT what being born again really means. Maybe…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT how God saves sinners!

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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    1. 1) Those three times are important, and cannot be discounted 2) The born again experience is not mentioned only three times. Paul constructs a whole theology on it (eg. see Romans 6 which talks about being dead to sin but alive in Christ), Ephesias 2:5, Galatians 2:20, Ephesias 4:22, and 2 Corinthians 5:17 are examples. So yes, in agreement with what Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Yes it does involves a decision, it does involve your heart, and does involve making him Lord- authority for all that is Romans 10:9 amongst other places.

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  2. Five questions that Baptists and Evangelicals should ask themselves

    1. Does the Bible state that a sinner is capable of choosing righteousness/choosing God?

    The Bible states that the sinner must believe and repent, but are these actions initiated and performed by man of his own intellectual abilities, or are faith, belief, and repentance a part of the entire "package" of salvation? Are faith, belief, and repentance part of the "free gift"? Does God give you faith, belief and repentance at the moment he "quickens" you, or does he require you to make a decision that you want them first, and only then does he give them to you?

    2. Is there any passage of Scripture that describes salvation in the Baptist/evangelical terms of: "Accept Christ into your heart", "Make a decision for Christ", "Pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner's Prayer)". Is it possible that being "born again" is something that God does at a time of his choosing, and not something that man decides to do at a time of his choosing? Is man an active participant in his salvation in that he cooperates with God in a decision to believe, or is man a passive participant in his salvation; God does ALL the work?

    3. Is the Bible a static collection of words or do the Words of God have real power, real supernatural power? How does the Bible describe the Word? Is it the meaning of the Word that has power or do the words themselves have supernatural power to "quicken" the souls of sinners, creating faith, belief and repentance?

    4. Does preaching the Word save everyone who hears it or only the "predestined", the "elect", the "called", the "appointed" will believe when they hear the Word?

    5. WHEN does the Bible, if read in its simple, plain, literal rendering, say that sins are forgiven and washed away?

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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    1. 1) I would say it is all based on a relationship, but ultimately God is the source and provider, even of repentance itself, and 2 Timothy 2:25. Ephesians 2:8 also shows that faith and grace are gifts from God. But the sense is that they are never forced upon us. The decision we make is a response to that gift, it is an acceptance of it.

      2) Romans 10:9 again, "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved". You may be right that the "born again" issue occurs when God choses a person. But Ephesians 1:4 tells us that happened even before the beginning of the world. But from OUR perspective, that happens when we make a decision to make Him Lord of our lives. In effect, we go one way in our lives ("I am Lord of my Life"), then cross, and make Him Lord of our lives. In effect, dying to self, but coming alive to Christ. Man is an active particpant in his salvation by the dynamic I describe in the last question. God does provide everything.

      3) I am not sure what you mean by static, but consider this. Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away". But the Word of God is not static in the sense that it applies itself to our lives. SO when it is mixed with faith, Hebrews 4:12 tells us "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." The Bible describes the Word as the Word of God, which is Jesus, and also as Scriptures. one use of Scriputre is per 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work". The Word has power when it is mixed with faith- see for example Hebrews 4:2 "For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed." This is consistent with Gospel always being based on a response, a decision to follow, and never forced on someone against their will.

      4) Only the predestined, the elect will believe and then continue in that faith. However, apart from the individual, that is only something God knows for sure.

      5) Psalm 51:2,7, John 13:8, Acts 22:16 (" Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' (notice how baptism always requires a choice), Hebrews 9:14, 1 John 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Revelation 1:5, Leviticus 16:30, Isaiah 1:16, Jeremiah 4:14, Ezekiel 36:33, Zechariah 13:1

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  5. Jn 1:13,6:37,6:44,6:65 all show that it is God alone who does the work of irresistible (Jn 6:37a) effectual calling (Jn 6:44).God causes one to first be born again of the Spirit which enables one to believe & repent. Why is this necessary? Because sin has corrupted all our faculties, known as total depravity. (Jer 17:9, Rom 3:9-18). We have no desire, nor willingness to come to the true God. The sinful flesh is hostile to God & is unable to come to God according to Rom 8:7. Also the natural, nonspiritual man will not & does not receive nor accept the things of God because they are meaningless nonsense to him. He is incapable of understanding them according to 1 Cor 2:14.

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