Updated: Jul 22
What does it mean to be born again?
I know a lot of people who grew up in the Christian faith as a child. Maybe even prayed something reminiscent of "the sinners prayer".
I did this when I was five years old. I prayed that Jesus would come into my heart and grant me everlasting life. I was so thrilled at the praise I got from family and church members. Although I was still pretty fuzzy on just how Jesus was able to shrink down small enough to fit inside my heart and push on the walls of my atrium. But who was I to question this remarkable physical phenomenon? Of course, as I got older, the misconception of Jesus physically making my heart pump forever gave way. I never truly understood what happened to me when I prayed that prayer and got baptized, but hey, if Jesus isn't physically making my heart pump, at least he's granting me everlasting life so I can see grandma and grandpa one day. I assumed something inside me had changed and that I was set apart from the world because the prayer's words contained some sort of magic regardless of whether or not I understood what it meant.
I was very good at putting on the "good Christian boy" act. I engaged in the bible discussions, performed bible drills, had memory verses memorized and would even get fired up as to ride my bike around shouting "I love GOD!". Who care's if it didn't do anything aside from feed my sense of self righteousness? My desire to “behave“ came from a desire to be accepted by my family and friends.
But like any kid, my desire to be accepted by my parents became very unimportant to me around middle school. I had all kinds of new desires coming to the surface that I had never considered before. And they immediately took precedent. But something deep inside me still wanted to hold onto that "good Christian boy" persona and all the perks that came along with it. I wanted to be a rockstar because I wanted to get girls. So I learned to play guitar and very quickly found myself leading worship at small church events. I didn't see anything wrong with leading worship, I even took it seriously every now and then. But at the end of the day, my aim and focus in life was my own exaltation. It felt good to feel important and admired for my abilities. And it even helped me snag a few girlfriends along the way.
Reading scripture became very difficult for me at this point. On one hand I felt very strongly that I was doing Jesus a favor by playing worship songs, but on the other hand I was seeing a lot of my own faults and evil desires being called out by the gospel. I surmised that scripture just couldn't encapsulate the unique arrangement between God and myself. It was an old book anyway, how could it possibly be accurately applied to my life in the 21st century? Bible studies became a lot easier to crack jokes in. The laughter from my peers only validating my feelings. I remember feeling convicted during altar calls because I knew I had lots of sin I was holding onto, but thinking I didnt need to repent or confess my sins cause I was “already saved” when I was five years old asking Jesus, Noah and Moses to come into my heart. And how embarrassing would it be to admit that I wasn't sure my salvation was secured? If anything I was probably more saved than everyone else because I had been going to church ever since I was born.
When Highschool rolled around, I had stopped going to church because, like scripture, it was an antiquated concept that had no place in the 21st century. But I was still willing to play worship music if there was a crowd to applaud me. Although I had begun preferring my own material much more. Worship music and being a "good Christian boy" had gone from an obligation to a matter of comfortable convenience. If a situation was made easier by me saying I was a Christian, I would say that. But if a situation presented itself were it was better for me to mock the principals of Christianity, I would do that too. But mostly I liked to leave any discussion of Christianity out of my life.
The cognitive dissonance that came from playing these two roles began to weigh extremely heavy on my conscience and by the time I had graduated highschool I had all but decided to stop pretending I was a Christian at all. Making out with girls so that I wouldn't have sex with them was only going so far. I was done trying to be “good” and was ready to just “be me”. Sure I'd still play music in a church, but it would be *my* music and it definitely would not be religious in anyway.
And I didn't want anyone to tell me I was on the wrong path because as far as I was concerned, I had already tried the "right path" and it just "wasn't for me". My desire to behave on any level all but disappeared. How could someone tell me Christ "is the way" when I had already "tried Christ" and didn't experience anything other than a sense of obligatory obedience to something that didn't even make sense in the 21st Century? To me, the best thing Christianity had to offer were those silly "Jesus is my bro" t-shirts they sold at Spencers and a couple verses in Proverbs. Everything else was ultimately brainwashing the youth of America into believing they can pray for success and God will grant it to them like a magical fairy in exchange for their money and political influence.
How could anyone think that God exists simply because He "granted them a parking space” while billions of people are suffering with no respite? How could God let me get molested when I had spent so much of my life being a "good Christian boy"? Why didnt God stop my friend from killing himself? And why hadn't I ever felt the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that people always talked about? Was anyone really ever striving for holiness or just pretending? If it's as great as people say it is, why couldnt I remember any point in my life where I felt like a new creation and not just someone trying to be good on the surface but making a sport out of finding new ways to sin? Where was my deliverance that people always sang about?
These questions became impossible to reconcile and so, like a lot of people in that situation, I decided to simply move on and stop asking them altogether. Assuming Christianity must work for some people, but those people aren't me. Eventually, I "cleaned up" my act and my desire to behave for general acceptance was restored in the name of the almighty dollar. I transitioned from making music to making movies, got very invested in the craft and worked hard to become skilled enough to get work. This was an enjoyable experience. But I quickly I prided myself on never going to filmschool. I became obsessed with comparing my work to others. My own sense of status and self righteousness had always been my god, but for the first time in my life, I was living comfortably in that reality. I would even be willing to put back on the "good Christian boy" act again if their was some sort of economic or social gain to be had.
My goal was to be successful and be a decent enough person to be liked by others (i.e The American Dream) which at the time felt like a massive improvement from where I had been in my angsty years. Or so I thought.
Sure I had to lie to keep up my appearances, but they were harmless lies simply to protect my image, I would never lie to intentionally hurt someone else. And yes I stole here and there, but never anything big or anything people would miss and only very seldom. Sure I had anger issues, but that was all justified because I was the victim of a disillusioned youth. And of course I lusted after other women, but I'm a guy and only ever did anything physical with someone behind my wife's back twice and it wasn't even full blown sex. And yes I had lots of sex before marriage, but everyone does so no big deal, it's not like I ever forced a girl to have sex with me, those are the real bad people. If my life was a movie, I was the flawed, but ultimately redeemable, anti-hero that always "meant well”.
So what changed? Why would I stop living this way? I had the nice job, the wife & kid, flirtatious side women and no one holding me accountable for anything because I had it all under control. And better yet no one was getting hurt. God forbid someone be hurt by my actions. No harm, no foul. I was living the dream I had been dreaming since I was 10 years old.
The chain of events that ultimately led to me *finally* being re-born started in me when someone had unwittingly brought to my attention that my sexual promiscuities could be the result of sexual trauma I had experienced when I was younger. It made all the sense in the world at the time and even served as a good excuse for continuing my behavior. If my wife ever caught me cheating, I could just blame it on the trauma. A bitter win-win. But it got me thinking about the person who had molested me, what trauma had they experienced in their life that led to them justifying their actions against me? Where do bad things begin and where do they end? By what measure are we to be held accountable? I couldn't shut off this simple question, as much as I wanted to accept the reality I had created for myself and keep living how I had my entire life, for my own gratification. The idea that I had a good grasp on moral judgment was quickly slipping through my fingers. What is truth?
Seeking answers I went to the only book that I knew of to claim truth. That old outdated book that I had discounted so long ago. The book that represented so much of what I despised, that nasty word, religion. But my desperation led me there regardless. I initially wanted to find answers as to why the government and corporations were so corrupt and where I landed in relation to them on the goodness scale. 1 being a Saint and 10 being a warlord who profits off the death of innocent people. I was then hit square in the face with the truth. The truth that the scale of 1-10 I had invented in my head was just that, an invention of my own imagination. The problem is that I was really good at convincing myself that my standards must be on par with God's standards. I clung to my slogans “No harm no foul”, “what they dont know wont hurt them”, “all is fair in love and war” (the rationalizing for sin goes on and on). And if God has an issue with me, it must either be a misunderstanding or God is not as loving as everyone says he is. But then I came across passages like this.
All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. their
throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of
cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery mark their ways. And the way of peace,
they do not know.
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law; Nor can it do so.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he gives more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the LORD, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
I realized the ineffectiveness of that prayer I had prayed when I was 5 years old, the problem with trying to be a "good Christian boy", the problem with leading worship for my own ambition and why it all ultimately fell apart. I failed to recognize *my* sin for what it truly is. I knew God hated sin, because my Sunday school teacher's said so, but I never thought it was something people were expected to actually turn away from. In my mind, the best you could do was make sure your sin didn't effect other people too much. “No harm, no foul” ”what they dont know wont hurt them” “all is fair in love and war”. To me, sin was a horizontal problem from person to person and God's hatred for it was more of an abstraction. It never felt like a vertical issue. As long as I could behave well enough to be accepted by my peers and claim to believe in Jesus before I die, I should be good. I could never imagine how wrong I was because I was never willing to give up my sin because I never even realized I needed to.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?
Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock...But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
I enjoyed my desire for praise and adulation. I enjoyed my pornography and sex outside of marriage. I enjoyed getting ahead of others and putting others down in the process. I enjoyed getting recognition for my talents. I enjoyed my anger and pride. These things are where I drew my sense of control over my own life for as long as I could remember. I had never been born again because I had never been willing to actually surrender my life to Christ. I enjoyed the way I had arranged my own life way too much to give it up.
The idea of repenting from my sins always seemed like an abstract concept to me, but there was nothing abstract about the tears that were shed as I came to the realization that I was under God's wrath and I had dishonored the one who created me. The disturbing realization of the ripple effect that even the smallest sin has on the world. The realization of pain and perversion I had brought onto God's creation at my own volition. And the price of Hell that was awaiting me.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but the fool despises wisdom and instruction”
I got on my knees and begged God to give me a chance to turn away from my sinful ways. To forgive me for all the time I spent in church and pretending like I belonged when, in reality, I was always an outsider. I accepted that I wasn't strong enough to do anything right on my own. and I chose to trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. it always sounded a little outlandish to me, but it became the most real thing in my life starting that day.
”For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:18
I had no other choice. Even if it meant coming clean to people I had wronged in my life, namely my wife. Even if it meant she left me and took my money and kid with her and being single for the rest of my life. When I could've very easily swept it under the rug and never make any mention of it. I needed Christ more than anything. More than my marriage, more than my job, more than my child, more than my friends. The only other option was to die in my sins that had only ever brought me surface level and fleeting joy and face the wrath of God's perfect judgment.
It was that moment when I felt a renewing of my soul for the first time. I was deeply sorrowful, but there was a hope placed within me that smoldered underneath the sadness. A hope that I never had before. A true sense of new beginning. My wavering desires were replaced by His desires for true righteousness. I felt like I could see for the first time in my life. The nature of the creator of the universe was making himself known to me in a profound and intimate way. What 17 years of being in church was meant to do all came breaking through in a single moment. I was on my knees in the back of a church sobbing like a little boy who just wanted to be with his father.
What followed were very difficult and humiliating conversations with my wife. Joining a church when I had been so adamantly against church for so long. Seeing my passion for art be transformed into a passion for learning the word of God and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ (it’s all I think about now). Watching my phone go from a den of fruitless desires to an actual phone with no secrets. Having my ever-present suicidal thoughts be replaced by an ever-present sense of foundational joy. And my desires for wickedness being replaced by the fruits of the spirit. Im not perfect by ANY stretch of the imagination, but my desire is to live for the will of the almighty God and I despise my own wicked desires as soon as I feel them creeping in instead of feeling ashamed for choosing to live in them willfully.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
If you are reading this and have any doubts or questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. And if my childhood sounds similar to yours, try to remain open to the fact that the gospel does have the power to transform you. Even if the transformation you thought you had was fleeting at the time. And even if all your family and friends told you how godly you were all the while living in sin. And regardless of how you appear in the eyes of the Holy God, Jesus died on the cross for you just as you are. You are not beyond hope. Repent and trust in Christ, and you will be saved.
“If we claim to be without sin,we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
1 John 1:8-10