In my last column, we began to explore an issue which came to me via email, titled, "You might not be a Christian." In that column, I pointed out the gulf that exists between being a cultural Christian, that is, a person who wants to believe in the teachings of Jesus without being a converted Christian, that is someone who recognizes that true Christianity is about the Teacher (the person of Jesus Christ) more than about his teachings (in the case of the cultural Christians namely accepting his moral and ethical teachings while rejecting his core teachings).
To answer the question of what a converted Christian looks like, we turn to the Bible itself. "Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again'" (John 3:5 7, NIV84).
Back in the mid-'70s when Jimmy Carter was claiming to be a "born-again Christian" another politician stated, "I'm a Christian, I'm just not a born-again Christian." So here's the question -- if Jesus says no one can enter heaven (that is be a Christian) unless he is "Born again?," how in the world could anyone claim that they are a Christian, if they deny this teaching?
A man who became highly irritated with the message of John Wesley angrily challenged him, "Mr. Wesley. Why do you keep on preaching 'You must be born again?'" Mr. Wesley replied, "Because you must be born again. If you miss that, you miss it all."
As I see it, that is pretty much what Jesus himself is teaching in John 3. He goes on to say, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14 15, NIV84).
Please note that Jesus is very specific here. He doesn't say, "everyone who follows my teaching will have eternal life," but "everyone who believes in me will have eternal life."
It is not about the teaching; it is about the Teacher. Cultural Christianity reduces the Christian message to the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount, and it misses the very essence of the Christian message itself which is, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, NIV84).
"You must be born again" does not sound like Jesus is giving us any other option here. The dictionary defines that little word must as, "an imperative need or duty: requirement; an indispensable item: an essential."
If this is the case, we are forced to the realization that if Jesus is correct in John 3, there is no such creature as one who is a "Christian but not born again."
Just as life begins with the birth experience (the only exception to this being Adam and Eve), so true spiritual life begins with a spiritual birth experience: "You must be born again."
Is such a claim arrogant? It might be if it were not true, but if it is true, it is not.
Let's take this one step further. Some of you are right now very offended that I would have the audacity to write this particular column. You have no problem calling me arrogant for my thoughts, but the reality is these are not my thoughts -- I'm simply reporting what the Bible says Christ Himself claimed.
So if you are going to call anyone arrogant, you have to call Him arrogant. He made the claim, not me.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.