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Dealing adequately with the ultimate issues cannot be undertaken successfully unless one has taken the inward journey to fully understand and embrace one's own legitimate needs and desires. There IS NO other valid point of perspective! - Michael Armstrong

"Born Again" and Nicodemus
12/24/2018

Born Again

First of all let it be said that I am singularly unimpressed with those that claim to be born again Christians! Maybe that is unfair, and maybe it isn't, BUT you don't have to DO anything to be born! To be born means to come into existence. Simply put, you can't be born again unless you first cease to exist because there can't be two of you. I want to know how, why, and in what way these "born again" Christians ceased to exit! That would be interesting to hear.

You DO have to do something to grow up and mature, namely at first to suckle, then to eat and drink, and eventually to learn a myriad of things. To be born means that you arrive as a helpless, ignorant baby, and need lots of care while it takes between 18 to 40 years to mature, if ever. If you haven't matured within 40 years, chances are that you never will. I have a feeling, close to certainty, that there is no meaningful consensus regarding what "born again" means. I AM certain that it does NOT mean having a license to remain intellectually irresponsible, but that is how some interpret it.

At other times in his ministry Jesus talked about becoming as a little child, but not to be reborn. The admonition of Jesus clearly is not to stay as a babe or child but to "be mature, even as your father in heaven is mature."

I have friends that consider me to have been born again spiritually, and MAYBE they are right. However, I have gone through a small SERIES of profound changes in my belief, each one of which could be considered as comparable to a born-again experience, mainly because the trauma and agony of the precess felt like dying

If there is a demarcation in my life most worthy of the term, it would have been when I had a complete spiritual meltdown in my late 30's. I had been studying the Bible so intently, thinking so intently, that the criticism was directed toward me, "Michael, you study too much. Michael you think too much." What with all the burdens I had, and all the requirements from "God" that had been heaped on me, I was abjectly unhappy, and determined I was going to be free even if it meant I was doomed to hell.

The ultimate result was that I abdicated entirely the religion into which I was born, and put my life in God's hands to raise me and teach me while I became free to live and behave as I felt like doing. Just like a baby! Newborn babies don't know, haven't learned, the whole array of spiritual, intellectual, philosophical issues of ethics, morality, honor, nobility, love, critical thinking and judgment, etc.; they just want and need. I really didn't know right from wrong at that point, and knew one thing above all others: I didn't know anything much! And I didn't know if I would survive the experience of living as a baby, by my feelings, out of legalistic control.

I thought I was free! But what ensued was a long series of disappointments in that regard. I wasn't free from the physical and psychological laws of the universe nor pain and disappointment, I wasn't free from the burdens of life including parenthood, and worst of all I wasn't really as free as I thought from the load of religious programming and baggage that had been dumped on me from childhood. But an early major step was taken when I determined to be totally, personally responsible for my belief system. I internalized authority, and accepted that MY rationality, logic, and reason would be supreme.. Maybe that was like transitioning from a carefree childhood to enrolling in school.

Yet, I WAS free to now begin a lengthy process of challenging actually going back and revisiting every single precept that I had been programmed with along the way. I had not lost my ability to think critically, but was now free to use it more consistently and effectively. I had NOT lost the large knowledge base that I had accumulated along the way, which included a formal degree in the sciences, and a wide array of information gleaned from being a curious and avid reader from early childhood. I was now free to challenge the idolatry that had been built up and buttressed so extensively by traditional religious indoctrination.

The first idol that was destroyed was the foundational legalism with which I had been instilled. I was already familiar with there being two sets of the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament and was now free to consider them more as promises than as demands, but I still accepted them as having been dictated by God. This was the stage of my thinking that there were two covenants, and that accepting the "new covenant was equivalent to accepting Paulian righteousness by faith.

The First Inward Journey

Based upon my long-standing fascination and familiarity with Jesus, I was now free enough to set aside fear. Not completely eliminate it, but to no longer be controlled by it. I made a contract with myself that never again would I be afraid to look at any reality full in the face, whether that reality concerned the aspects of life in the world as we know it, or whether it be concerned with the truth.

So, the first reality to confront was the reality concerning myself. I took what I call the inward journey to look into my own soul to see how bad it really was. That took all the courage that I could muster. I looked to see how small, petty, weak. immature, hypocritical, insecure, ignorant, inconsistent, etc., I was. What I found was not pretty, and I also realized that God could see me as I was yet loved me anyway. I also saw some other good and valuable things concerning myself.

The Second Spiritual Meltdown

The second spiritual meltdown was almost as traumatic as the first. My life was not working, and I kept asking, "Is this all?" God was not delivering in the way that I expected, and I was unfulfilled, confused, frustrated, and suffered a huge financial loss that was not my fault. I was ready to give up on God, or belief in God of any kind, and desperately, I made one last bargain with God. I gave God one last chance. I closed myself off from the world except for buying groceries, receiving mail, and going to the bank. I determined that I would read the words of Jesus, and if there was ANYTHING that I couldn't agree with didn't like I would throw him overboard, he would be in my rearview mirror.

Well, guess what? I found things that I didn't like. But I determined to do due diligence and to study and dig deeper and possibly reinterpret these issues to something that I did like if it could be intellectually justified within the bounds of logic and reason. About this time I was exposed to a Greek-English interlinear New Testament, and upon reading the words of Jesus in that, I was appalled at some of the translation that has become endemic in the common Bibles. I was already familiar with understanding that the world's greatest and most elite scholars of ancient Greek laugh with derision and scorn at the way the New Testament is translated, but I didn't actually know why. Now I do. See: Evolution of the Modern Bible and Paradigm Translation

I saw that I was going to have to go deeper and investigate the translational issues with new translation insights. I felt once more that I was overwhelmed with discouragement, because to learn the truth I was going to have to learn ancient Koine Greek at least to some extent in order to re-translate the Gospels for myself.

I acquired three different Koine Greek reference works: 1) Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2) The Analytical Greek Lexicon published by Zondervan, 3) Youngs Analytical Concordance of the Bible, and 4) the latest Greek-English interlinear New Testament. I already had Strongs Exhaustive Concordance. Using these as reference material I started with the text of the Revised  Standard Version New Testament Gospels, and went through them with a fine tooth comb, rephrasing them, doing in-depth research on key Greek words and phrases, and re-translating when appropriate in my judgment. During this project I discovered about two dozen verses, primarily in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is clearly talking about delivering immortality to us imminently.

My heart fell to its lowest level. How was I going to believe THIS? Something that is not only outside the domain of the corpus of traditional Christian theology, but something outside of our experience! Something that I was unaware had ever been achieved. We KNOW everyone dies, don't we? It was something that others had believed; they claimed immortality, yet they died anyway!

The Second Inward Journey

Believe it or not, the second inward journey took even more courage then the first. I determined that I would again look into my own soul and see what I really wanted and needed to be completely satisfied and happy, regardless of whether these things were approved by God, family or society; regardless of whether these aspects were realistically available or not. I got in touch with the real me! For me to change myself on this level would be for me to lose myself. Having done this gave me a new basis for evaluating the message and offering of the J person. If he was not offering this non-negotiable set of fulfillments, then I could never be satisfied, and I could rop any further concern regarding Jesus as valid.. What I discovered by going over the message of Jesus once again was that it actually promised to match and deliver these internal requirements!

The Gospel of Thomas

I was still faced with the daunting challenge of believing something so extreme, something that others before had believed and failed to reap the benefits thereof. I asked myself if it was reasonable to believe something so astounding on the testimony of just one man,  in this case the eyewitness testimony of the disciple John, and saw that even Jesus agreed that it was not valid to do so upon the testimony of just one person,

Shortly thereafter, I discovered the Gospel of Thomas, and bought 3 different expositions of it. These convinced me that this Gospel is actually the most authenticated of them all as an eyewitness account. Now I had my second witness in the dock. It was STILL hard to believe, because all of our experience and programming tell us differently, and do NOT SUPPORT IT. To accept the IFISEEKUS package as being actually offered by God, I was going to have to believe in my own intellectual integrity and what the J-person said against the face of all known history and experience!

The Visit of Nicodemus

Having said all of the above about the "born again" experience. let's take a closer look at the visit of Nicodemus and what was actually said.

After a short introduction and writing up to that point about only 4 subjects--John the Baptist, the collection of the disciples, the first miracle, and the cleansing of the temple--John tells us about the visit of Nicodemus, an account that comes very early in his Gospel because it made such an impression upon him. It is most probably not in chronological sequence but rather that of importance. It follows right after two chapter out of all 21 chapters.

Nicodemus surreptitiously visited Jesus at night under cover of darkness, but let's give the man some credit. He was a leader in Israel, an influential man, and these seldom if ever crept around at night visiting itinerant teachers. If he did not have a very strong interest, he wouldn't have come.

Of prime importance to Jesus was to not get in an argument with this learned man because. of course, he wanted to give this man the very best chance of seeing the truth. Nicodemus began the discourse by acknowledging that Jesus was a teacher sent be God, but this only set them on an equal but improper footing. Jesus needed to make this issue of his spiritual supremacy crystal clear, and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one receives birth again from beyond, he cannot understand the kingship of God." In other words, Nicodemus, you weren't born from beyond and can't be expected to understand at this point.

Nicodemus answered with an obvious question, "How is a man able to be born when he is old? Can he enter into his mother's womb a second time and be born?" This shows that he was taking Jesus literally. This is likely correct. because Jesus was establishing his credentials as the ONLY one that knew the truth on the basis of having been in BOTH realms.

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one receives birth of both water AND the spirit [eeal meaning], he cannot enter the kingship of God. That receiving birth from the flesh is flesh, and that receiving birth from the Real meaning is spirit  Do not wonder because I said to you, 'You{pl} must receive birth from beyond. The wind blows where it wills, and you recognize its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with every one who receives birth from the Real meaning." 

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things come about?" Jesus answered him, "You are the teacher of Israel, and you do not understand this?   Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we understand, and testify about what we have seen; but you{pl} do not receive our testimony.  If earthly things I tell you{pl} and you{pl} don't believe, how will you{pl} believe if I tell you{pl} heavenly (glorious?) things? No human has entered into the finer realm of empowerment but he who came out from the kingship of God (finer state of empowerment?) the one who is now in heaven (realm of empowerment?).  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that everyone choosing what to believe within Him may not die, and instead have everlasting life."

It should be clear enough that Jesus was emphatically making the claim and point that he was the one that knew what he was talking about. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that there was only ONE way he could enter the Kingship of the Heavens, and that was by listening to HIM and believing what HE said!

That is the point of all that is above. A secondary point is that it doesn't matter how many or how dramatic our experiences are on the spiritual path that we can call a rebirth (It should better be called re-growth!). What matters is that we go all the way by believing what Jesus said.

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