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Asking the clergy about being born again

Being "born again," a concept that many identify with Bible Belt Christians, can be interpreted in different ways.

Some would refer to Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin (a ruler of the Jews), goes to Jesus secretly to learn how he may enter the kingdom of heaven. In the course of the conversation, Jesus explains that to see the kingdom of heaven, one must be "born again," or "born of water and the Spirit."

Our clergy discuss the concept of "being born again.''

Pastor Curtis Terry, Shinnecock Revival Center, Southampton:

Being "born again" is an experience. It is relinquishing your will to God's will. Willpower is good, but willpower is not enough. The first step is to recognize and accept Jesus Christ as your savior. When we talk about being born again, God's spirit flows and operates through us. We experience a new birth into the family of God. We're all created by God, but not all chosen by God. You're not a child of God until you accept him. We cannot accomplish on our own all that God wants for us. Being born again is a process that starts on the day that we give our hearts to God.

Those who are unfamiliar with the term may think of immersive baptism as being born again. In fact, there are three different baptisms. You are baptized into the body of Christ by believing and confessing that you accept Jesus into your life. The second baptism is the water baptism, which is an outward symbol of what has already taken place inside you. When you go down into the water and come back up, that old creature is dead. You're a new creature in Christ. It is one thing to accept, another to follow. The third is baptism with the Holy Spirit, [a feeling] that fills us with the power of God. He doesn't rule our lives, but guides our lives.

The Rev. Thomas Goodhue, executive director, Long Island Council of Churches, Hempstead and Riverhead:

Being "born again" is about transformation, turning your life around and heading in a new direction. I'd like to explain it in a very personal way. To be born again means to start over. People often experience a turning point where they can say, "On this date and time, God turned my life around," but sometimes the process is gradual, just as pregnancy takes many months.

For some of us, being born again involves both a gradual process and a dramatic decision. I was raised in a Christian home and joined the church at a young age. My commitment to Christ was sincere but immature. Later, when I was the leader of our church youth group in the early 1960s, our city council outlawed our annual collection of money for UNICEF: The politicians said it was better for a child to die than grow up in Communist Poland, so we were prohibited from soliciting donations to save them. Our licensing permit that allowed us to go out and collect money was revoked.

It was only at that point that I had to confront the possibility that following Jesus might get us into trouble, perhaps even arrested. We decided to defy the "powers that be" (which St. Paul called "the powers and principalities, the rulers of this present darkness" Ephesians 6:12), and do what we knew Jesus wanted us to do, rather than what the leaders of my hometown wanted us to do. That decision changed my journey with God and transformed me in ways it took years to understand. In choosing compassion over conformity and Christ over our surrounding culture, I was born again.

Pastor Robert Walderman, Lynbrook Baptist Church, Lynbrook:

In John, 3:1-10, Jesus said, "You must be born again." It is not a suggestion but a necessity because he also said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Born again does not mean turning over a new leaf, moral development or getting religion. It is nothing we do. John states in 1:13 we become "children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."

It is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, birthing faith, transforming, regenerating a new nature, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The individual sees his sin in light of God's righteousness and repents, and is forgiven. He now loves Christ as his savior and lord and most willingly embraces him. His life and interests change. His proclivity to sin is replaced by a proclivity to serve Christ in accordance with the Scriptures.

His is the promise, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ . . ." in his kingdom (Romans 8:17). Peter said,

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21). Calling is our response and proof one is born again.

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