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NEW BIRTH

From the August 2006 issue of The Christian Science Journal


Have you been born again? Do I mean are you an evangelical "born-again Christian"? No, I'm thinking of being born again as it applies to all humanity.

In fact, if you are a Christian, being born again is part of your theological heritage. But just what does this Christian expression "to be born again" mean? The Bible relates that it began with the curiosity of Nicodemus, a Jewish leader and member of the Sanhedrin. See John 3:1–15. All Jerusalem was abuzz about a man whose teachings were startling and whose ability to perform amazing healings was attracting crowds.

Nicodemus was determined to talk to this man, Jesus. Under cover of darkness he went to Jesus to ask for an explanation of these healings. Nicodemus was utterly puzzled by Jesus' immediate reply, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Being involved in man-made laws and traditions, Nicodemus couldn't fathom birth as anything but a human, mortal experience. He countered with, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?"

Jesus continued: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." This explanation must have illuminated Nicodemus's thought with the newfound understanding that he could begin then and there to turn from the concept of being born of the flesh to this new view that he was spiritual—literally born of the Spirit.

This radical perspective offered new insight into the meaning of Jesus' teaching, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:20, 21. What Jesus clarified was that heaven is attainable only by gaining a spiritual view of existence and living it. Heaven is found within one's own consciousness, experienced now, not through dying, but through expressing God, who is Life.

Day-by-day rebirth

Just because someone isn't a Christian doesn't mean they're excluded from this life-altering experience. Being born again applies to anyone seeking a spiritual path to discerning answers to life's pressing questions, and no one is excluded from experiencing this fresh new beginning right now.

This new birth isn't necessarily a one-time religious rite or statement of allegiance to a religion or even one's private acknowledgement of one's relationship to God. Rather, being born again means an ongoing, day-by-day rebirth into spirituality that brings release from the shackles of the past and from dread or speculation of the future. It offers a new view of what life really is and enables one to live that life to the fullest.

As Mary Baker Eddy, a devout student of the Bible from childhood, wrote: "The new birth is not the work of a moment. It begins with moments, and goes on with years; moments of surrender to God, of childlike trust and joyful adoption of good; moments of self-abnegation, self-consecration, heaven-born hope, and spiritual love." Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 15.

To bring about this change of heart demands that we turn away from the limitations of matter, the fear of disease, and the allure of the lusts of the flesh. Repentance and redemption are necessary components of this regeneration. To be born again demands that we live in conformity with what Jesus taught were the two greatest commandments—loving God with our whole heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves. See Matt. 22:36–40. Only in this way can we put off the "old" (mortal) man and put on the "new" (spiritual) man, as St. Paul urges. See Eph. 4:22–24.

Mrs. Eddy described the struggle to achieve this spiritualized view this way: "The new-born Christian Scientist must mature, and work out his own salvation. Spirit and flesh antagonize. Temptation, that mist of mortal mind which seems to be matter and the environment of mortals, suggests pleasure and pain in matter; and, so long as this temptation lasts, the warfare is not ended and the mortal is not regenerated." Mis., p. 85.

I know only too well the truth of this observation! I remember vividly a time when I was being "born again" and didn't even realize it for a year. My life had hit the skids, as they say, and left me desolate and devastated. And I was only 18! It was sad to be so young yet feeling I was too old for any hope. Here's how it began.

A journey to rebirth

From 1929 to 1939, the United States experienced a devastating depression. During this period, the Midwest faced the worst drought in its history. Living in Kansas, we saw our lovely gardens turn into a desert of dust. Money dried up too. The Depression brought a radical change to everyone's lifestyle.

As a child, I couldn't comprehend what had happened, why I could no longer have the things I wanted. I wondered why my father deserted us, and why my mother left every day to work for 12 hours.

Frustration and rebellion grew in me. I became self-willing and uncooperative at a time when we all needed to pull together. I was only 16 when I went off to college, thinking that now I could be me. This was, I thought, the beginning of a new life. I guess I assumed everyone was in the same circumstances that we were. Instead, I discovered the first week on campus that most of the students had smart wardrobes, spending money, and many even had their own cars. I wrestled with jealousy and mediocrity. The year was a disaster.

The summer after, I worked in a factory expecting to solve my financial problems. But it was impossible for me to return to college. I was stuck in the factory for the rest of the year. Watching my friends leave for school was the most devastating part. I felt I had no purpose, no outlet, nothing to look forward to except boring boredom!

I was attending the Christian Science Sunday School and did love what I learned about God there. But I was miserable in spite of my trust in Him. I had resisted listening to God's comforting guidance and assurance with what I thought was valid reasoning, a veritable litany of self-righteousness and self-pity: "I'm not worthy," "My prayers are never effective," "Why should I have to struggle—I'm a good person." Clearly, my reluctance to listen to God was a case of stubborn will and a lack of humility, alongside doubt, fear, and just plain defiance.

But that opportunity to be born again was at work. I finally became humble enough to listen to God.

Two guidebooks

Over a century ago, Mrs. Eddy spoke of the church she founded as a "church of the new-born." The People's Idea of God, p. 14. This church is based on the teachings and works of the Master, Christ Jesus, with our pastor being two books, the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. So I "met" with my pastor every day by reading the Lesson-Sermon from the Christian Science Quarterly. The ideas from the Bible and Science and Health in these Lessons, and my general reading of these two books, gave me fresh guidance on what I needed to do for my life to move forward.

Science and Health, for instance, points out: "Willingness to become as a little child and to leave the old for the new, renders thought receptive of the advanced idea. Gladness to leave the false landmarks and joy to see them disappear,—this disposition helps to precipitate the ultimate harmony. The purification of sense and self is a proof of progress." Science and Health, pp. 323–324.

I also relied on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount See Matt., chaps. 5–7. as a practical guide to every facet of my life. With this earnest study, and then living the fresh concepts I was learning, I began to put off the old, mortal, miserable view of myself for a new, joyous, spiritual view.

Despair lifted into moments of hope. I began to turn away from the obsession with me and found opportunities to be unselfish, loving, humble. The envy disappeared. My thoughts and actions were being purified, regenerated. I was maturing as a newborn Christian Scientist.

Now, many decades later, having had the privilege of being a Christian Science practitioner for almost half a century and seeing countless lives reborn, I look back on my new birth at that time as a glorious turning point. From that time on, every day has been a new beginning not only for me, but my joyous witnessing of this new birth being fulfilled in others.

Waken to the present possibilities of your own spiritual new birth and discover the regeneration that is truly an ongoing blessing. This is your legacy as the child of Spirit. Claim it! Be born every morn!

♦


Betty Jenks is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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