The “Born Again” article was published in the Abilene Reporter News as an opinion article.  A few days later two different people responded to the article with letters to the editor.  They each quoted scriptures liberally informing me what it really meant to be born again.  They took me behind the woodshed and scolded me for proposing that the term “born again” was a term Jesus specifically chose for Nicodemus.  Each insisted that the term referred to anyone and everyone who was “saved” according to their own particular denominational flavor.

By using the term synonymously with “saved”, an even more generic term used by Christians, the two letters provided perfect examples of the point I was making.  Jesus used the work “saved” sparingly.  He used “born again” only once.  That is worth taking seriously.  Today we use both words easily and interchangeably as if they were self-explanatory.

It’s important to remember that Jesus was a devout Jew, as was Nicodemus.  But Jesus recognized that religion and its laws were merely doorways to the experience of transformation.  Nicodemus, an elite by virtue of his birth, saw religion and the law as the ends, not the means.  This was what Jesus was addressing with his statement “You must be born again”.  Jesus was not inviting Nicodemus to engage in some generic salvation experience.  It was a statement that hit Nicodemus in his own personal soft spot.  Jesus was holding a mirror up to Nicodemus and saying, “You think you got it right?  No, you must relinquish your grasp on what you consider your winning ticket, your birth.  You must start over.”

That which was most valuable and comforting to Nicodemus was standing in the way of his transformation.  Jesus didn’t offer feel-good, one-size-fits-all salvation plans.  In his face-to-face encounters, Jesus made an individualized plea to surrender the comfortable for the transformative.

I don’t take issue with using the term “Born again.”  I take issue with the way we Christians have turned it into a generic term to affiliate with a politically and religiously like-minded group rather than to an individual, transformative, life-upending experience.  The more generic the term, the less meaning it has.

But an even more important issue is:  what would Jesus say in an encounter with you or me today? What metaphor would he use  to confront us with our own personal idolotry?  How would he address our individual brand of self-righteousness?

The crucial question is not “Have you been saved according to someone’s generic salvation plan?”  The question is “Have you experienced the transformation that comes with surrendering your coziest, most comfortable beliefs and allegiances, including your most comfortable beliefs about salvation?”