If you think about your life as a Christian, would you describe yourself as more like a snake, or more like a butterfly?
Most people like the butterfly comparison. You start out as something small, then Christ turns you into something beautiful. It's a one-time process. It's neat. It's tidy. It's flattering.
But if you look closer at scripture, the butterfly metaphor starts to seem less fitting. When you look at how Jesus describes the Christian life, it looks a lot less like a butterfly and a lot more like a snake shedding its skin.
Snake Vs. Butterfly - Being Born Again
In the third book of John, Jesus is speaking with a religious leader named Nicodemus. Jesus explains how to enter heaven this way:
"Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." (John 3:3)
Born again. If there's a phrase that captures American Christianity, it's that one. Even if all you do is go to a football game, you're going to see someone with a sign that says "you must be born again."
The most common attitude towards being born again treats it as a one time event. You're a sinner, you're born again, and God welcomes you into His kingdom. It happens once. But when Jesus says it, He uses it in the present tense. He doesn't use the singular - He implies it's something you have to do again and again. Like a shedding snake, we're called to continually let go of the skin that doesn't fit us anymore and move closer to God.
Think about the disciples. Let's say Peter. If you were to ask him "when were you born again," what would he say? Maybe he says it was during the transfiguration. Maybe he says it's when he was fishing and Jesus called him to follow. Perhaps it was the time Jesus died and rose three days later. Maybe it was the time Peter watched Jesus ascend to heaven. Or the time he saw fire come down from heaven. Which one was it?
Salvation and Medicine
If you've ever had to give your child a dose of medicine, you know it's not always an experience that goes smoothly. You go through a routine of convincing them to try it. You try to make it fun. If all else fails, the only thing you can do is hold him down and give it to him. It's not a pleasant choice, but it's the only compassionate thing you can do.
Some of us treat salvation like medicine.
When we see someone who needs God, our instinct is to hold them down and give them the salvation we need. We want them to live! But what God offers is bigger than that. It's stronger than a one time conversion, bigger than a single transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
What God offers can only be fully realized when we commit to shedding our old skin again and again and again. Salvation isn't a medicine, isn't a singular transformation. It's only through being born again continually that we can begin to allow God to work in our lives and in the world around us.