In the technical world, the miracles of modern science are achieved by careful planning and big efforts to turn these plans into reality. Powerful machines or organizations are needed to make everything work. In the organic world, the miracles of nature come about in a different way: All organisms, with their wonderful abilities, grow from tiny seeds into their ultimate form and function, and this happens almost without effort, and in the right environment all by itself. This is the way God organized His miracles, and Jesus repeatedly uses comparisons with natural growth processes to illustrate the way the kingdom of God grows in each of us. In nature, the program containing the plan and the instructions for its realization is contained in the seed; without seed no life.
A child too grows from a tiny seed sown by the father into the mother's womb. There it has the opportunity to grow undisturbed in a protected environment until its functions are developed enough to cope with the external world. For the mother, this is not always easy, the joys of growing life within her must be paid by her with a willingness to change her life patterns so that it suits the child. She must care not only for herself but also for the new life, and conflicts with her old lifestyle must find a creative solution.
Then the child is born, and continues to grow in the care of a family. The growth is accompanied by the joys of learning and of gaining control over one's life, and by the struggles to cope with the hurt brought about by circumstances, accidents, other people and one's own thoughtlessness. Finally, as an adult, organic growth comes to an end, but growth in responsibility and in the quality of one's service to society continues (for those who want to grow) until the end of one's life.
Jesus says: Becoming a Christian is also a growth process, Mark 4:30-32. It is not a technical matter which just depends on a clever plan, a decision to make it real, and the right organization to carry it out. Rather it is like a seed sown by God into the heart of people, and if it finds there acceptance and care, it grows silently and protected until it is strong enough to become visible to others. Becoming a Christian is not a matter of joining a church or following the parents' moral education, but one of opening your heart to the seeds of God's word, and letting His word grow in your heart.
Just like a mother one day notices the new life within her, you may notice that one of the words of God you heard carries life - it suddenly makes a difference and is no longer just a word or sentence or story like any other. You start pondering about it to find out which place it should get in your daily routine. If you care about a future blessed by God you will appreciate God's gift of new life and let it grow.
After a while you'll find that further growth of God's life within you requires that you change some of your habits, just as a mother has to change when the baby within her grows. Some mothers cannot bear this; they want to continue their old ways of being and prefer to kill the child while it is still legal. The same can happen with the new self God planted in you: If you don't want to change you can kill your new self; no one will notice, but you spoilt a priceless opportunity.
But if you are prepared to change, God can continue with the growth of your new self, and some time later, it is ready to be born, a new self which learnt to listen to God and makes the first steps to carry out the program engraved in it by God's word. Then you are born again. As for a newborn baby, there are still dangers and many things to learn, but if your old self is wise it will give room to the new self and move to the background as your new self becomes stronger. And if your old self is not so wise, the new self will find support in God to fight for existence and growth. (Here the mother-child picture ends to be appropriate.)
A born again Christian knows that his old self is doomed to death and
his new self has eternal life; so he shifts his powers from the old to
A born again Christian trusts God that He leads him on a good path even when the path is difficult (Rom. 8:28).
A born again Christian takes pride in being a good servant of God instead of in achieving recognition, wealth and success (1 Tim. 6:6-12).
A born again Christian is not only baptized, but understands the meaning of baptism as being already dead for the world - he has no longer an obligation to please people but is free to please God (Rom. 6).
A born again Christian makes God's interests his own, and knows that - therefore - God is always on his side (Rom. 8:31-39).
Well, reality is not as clear cut; all born again Christians have weaknesses like other people. But it is worth striving for the ideal; who does not fight for it will not be crowned (2 Tim. 2:4-5), and who compromises is not fit for God's kingdom (Rev. 3:15-16).
Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)