Christian. Physician. Addict.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6
I grew up in an evangelical church where Born Again was a central concept. What that meant though, wasn’t completely clear. In my mind, once a person believed in Christ, he was born again into a new life, which necessarily meant he left the old one behind. I falsely understood that Christians couldn’t be addicts. Addicts were bad people, whose behavior stood as evidence that they weren’t born again.
You can imagine my crisis of identity then, when I realized I had an addiction. As my life fell apart, I had to wonder what it all meant. Those closest to me asked too. Are you even a Christian? Christians don’t act like this. What was I, a Christian or an addict?
I desperately needed to know who I was. Today’s passage was one of those which helped shape my understanding of my identity. In the story, Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, that a man must be born again to find the kingdom of God. He said that a man was born once of flesh, but that he must be born again spiritually to know God.
I’d previously understood that this spiritual rebirth meant that the old life ended. This isn’t the case though. When we’re born again spiritually, we don’t die physically. We gain a new spiritual life, but we carry it in the old flesh life (2 Corinthians 4:7). Call it human nature, sin nature, or the desires of the flesh, we all retain self-destructive appetites. Even the apostle Paul struggled with his evil nature (Romans 7:18). If a man is gluttonous prior to faith, he will continue to struggle with this after coming to know God.
What does Born Again do for us then? In our new spiritual life, we absolutely have the freedom to follow God. This is our continual choice, to pursue Christ, in which case we may daily know freedom from ourselves. Or, we may daily indulge in our self-destructive nature. The consequences of either choice will be predictable.
I’m a Born-Again Christian. In the clinic though, I introduce myself as a physician. In a recovery meeting, I identify as an addict in recovery. I’m all of these things. Frankly, I still struggle with my destructive appetites. If I want to know the freedom of the new life, then daily, I must do what it takes to live in it.