Pastor's Blog

The evangelical circles in which I travel always presented being born again as a sudden radical change of heart generated by the power of the Holy Spirit – a miracle.  But if the Holy Spirit makes such powerful miraculous changes, why are so many mature Christians such persistent troublemakers?  Why, as a pastor, had I experienced so much anger and even hatred from professing Christians – not only to me personally, but to God’s Word itself?  (And I am not the only pastor to experience this!)

Back in the 90’s, I knew if I was going to remain an evangelical Christian, I had to adjust some of my beliefs.  Regarding rebirth -- either a good many people who professed Christianity were self-deceived or the new birth wasn’t the splashy extravagant event many cracked it up to be.  I went with this second option.

When you’re born again, what happens to you?  What changes when the Spirit gives you a new heart and writes God’s law inside you?  What does the old has passing away and all things becoming new look like and feel like? 

Here are some of the things I am sure of. 
New birth doesn’t mean we stop sinning and it doesn’t mean we stop being tempted. 
It doesn’t mean we automatically recognize all the sin in ourselves.
It doesn’t mean we automatically recognize and fight temptation. 
It doesn’t mean we automatically understand what God wants.

Then what is being born again?  I don’t believe that in most cases being given new life is a flashy, splashy event.  Nor do I believe it is noticeable in its immediate effects.  I liken it to the planting of a tiny seed in the dirt of my soul – a particle of truth, packed with potential energy, power, and life.  That seed germinates slowly and imperceptibly.   It grows in fits and spurts.  Sometimes it languishes, starved or parched, seeming barely alive. 

But it is still there – perhaps temporarily dormant, awaiting the right conditions – but very much alive.  The greatest power of this new life is not radical change but persistence.  It endures.

The change the new birth makes is not so much a radical change of behavior (it may do that) but a change in the ability to perceive God’s truth.  I didn’t say agree, accept, or approve the truth -- often we don’t agree, accept, or approve;  but we do hear the truth.  We may be resistant, but we are no longer deaf.  New birth doesn’t give me an overwhelming willingness to do ;  just the ability to hear.  Once we hear it, even if our hearts resist it, the truth begins to steadily push its way into the recesses of our hearts.  Sometimes it takes root easily and immediately;  sometimes the soil is harder or drier, and it takes longer to take root. It may take additional watering or hoeing or removal of weeds.  But it’s there, slowly taking root, slowly growing, slowly influencing our soul.

The work of the Spirit – the growth of new life within us – takes time.  More time in some than in others.  If that is the truth, then the best way to live as a Christian (and as a pastor) is with lots of patience, and that means fewer expectations of others, more expectation of myself, and lots of waiting.  Spiritual life rarely involves revolution.  Change comes in moments, quiet and unseen, yet incredibly potent. 

And that, apparently, was a change God wanted in me.  It took obstinate people and persecution to work it.  But here I am, humbled and changed.

 I’ll close with an insightful observation made by my favorite Christian writer, C. S. Lewis:  “Isn’t it amazing how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different?”

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