Two calls ring out loud and clear from nearly every corner of apostolic scripture: “You must be born again” (John 3:7, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 1:3) and “be baptized” (Acts 2:38, Matthew 3:15, Mark 16:16). On the one hand, these are two distinct commands—two very different words and images. On the other hand, they speak of one and the same underlying reality: the beginning of a new and Christian life made possible for every believer by the Holy Spirit. Together, they echo the one call of Jesus—can you hear it?
Neither baptism nor regeneration is the be-all-end-all of the Christian life. After all, there is more to being a Christian than being born again or baptized. Nevertheless, it is instructive to return to these signs again and again in order to help us remember the source of our spiritual life and of our faith’s constant renewal. The word of “new birth” reminds us that this faith we have is not of ourselves—it is the Gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). We were not saved by our own decision; we did not start this journey on our own initiative. Like infants, we all started our spiritual life at the beginning, being nurtured by the God we came to recognize in others. And, in a similar yet also different way, the word and sign of “baptism” reminds us that the Christian life is all about Jesus. Faith is found in imitating and participating in Christ. After all, it is the faith of Jesus in us that we proclaim (Romans 3:22), which is also the beginning and end of the Christian life.
Are you born again? Have you been baptized? These biblical questions are not just about religious experience or formal ritual. Both are pointing beyond such words and signs to the Spirit and the deeper meaning of our shared existence: Are we truly being the Church, truly living the Christian life together? Are we bearing and sharing that life for the next generation of believers, young and old? This Lent, let’s check our vital signs to see that we are truly living, and be as sure of this as we can be of anything—so that our life together may be a word and sign that echoes the call of Christ to discipleship for everyone to hear.