What would it be like if you had the chance to start over again? If somehow all the filth and pain of this world could be washed away and somehow deep within your conscience everything felt…clean. This is what Christians mean when they use the term “born again”. Although it did not fall into common usage until the late 18th and 19th centuries, the phrase “born again” is derived from the Bible and a theological concept called regeneration. There is a passage in John 3 where one of the religious leaders of Jesus’s day asks him a question about being a part of God’s plan for humanity. Jesus replies that the only way to do that is to be born again.
To use a million dollar theological word, this process of being born again is called regeneration. The natural world is full of animals that regenerate. Most lower life forms are able to grow back limbs or a tail through the process of natural regeneration. It sounds weird and gross when you think about it like that, but spiritually this is what Jesus is talking about. Part of us has died. Our hearts have been cut off and disconnected from God and the remedy is for us, our hearts, to be born again. This means to be free from guilt and shame over the many wrong things we have done—whether it’s cheating on a girlfriend or stealing cable. Being born again means that, just like a lizard gets a new tail, we get a new start in life, free from the past. Not only that but we are new in our very being in a way that is indescribable. Like Neo in the Matrix we realize that it is the same “us” and yet we are not the same. We are different and are able to see the world and be in the world differently. This is what it means to be alive to God; to be born again.
Now being born again doesn’t mean that afterwards you grow a halo and fly off to the heavens. You still have to live in the real world and things in the real world aren’t so born again. There is still racism, terrorism, sexism, materialism, and any other kind of -ism you want to throw in. Those things will be erased in due time although that’s another subject. The point is we have all been cold towards God and after being born again we can say with John Wesley, the Founder of Methodism, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”