I saw as many feature films in December and January (four, to be exact) as I had seen in the previous year.  The successive events of heading to Oklahoma last March in advance of my family, getting them moved to Tulsa in June, Hannah starting college and Coleman a new high school in August, and Kim and I continuing to get settled into our new ministry with the Broken Arrow church pretty much spoke for any free time that we had in 2009.  But, the cinematic wait was well worth it.  I don’t know when I have enjoyed four movies in a row like I did The Blind Side, Sherlock Holmes, Invictus, and Avatar.

I found the visual effects in Avatar to be astounding; and I only saw the film in 2-D.  By the second half of the movie, I think my brain had been thoroughly (if only temporarily) convinced that the lush, exotic environment on Pandora was real, along with the seamless interaction between the Na’vi, humans, and avatars.  I don’t have the time, space, or interest to dissect the movie or address its many environmental, sociological, geo-political, and spiritual themes.  For that, I would refer you to the multitude of online articles and blog posts that tackle those thematic elements from all sides.  I just wanted to comment on two brief lines that stood out to me as I watched the film.

As Neytiri explained the initiation rites of the Na’vi to Jake Sully’s avatar, she said, “Every person is born twice.  The second time is when you earn your place among the people forever.”

As many of you undoubtedly did, I immediately thought of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:3-8, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…  I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit… You must be born again.”  Titus 3:4-5 states that we have not received salvation in Jesus Christ through righteous deeds that we have done, but God has mercifully saved us “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  Water, Spirit, washing, and rebirth.  There is nothing else in Scripture other than baptism that approximates the union of all of these concepts (I Cor. 12:13; Acts 22:16; I Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38).

Although I acknowledge and respect the sincerity of their belief, I have always had a difficult time understanding the viewpoint of those who hold that baptism somehow constitutes a meritorious work of righteousness and, therefore, cannot have any role or place in our reception of God’s grace through faith in Christ.  As I see baptism in Scripture, it has grace and faith written all over it.  Far from a demonstration of human effort or righteousness, baptism is entirely passive, beautifully submissive, and trustingly receptive.  Just as Titus 3:4-5 explicitly excludes the “washing of rebirth” from man’s righteous deeds, so Colossians 2:12 defines our burial with Christ in baptism as “faith in the power of God.”  God is the One who is working in baptism, not man.

Through the second birth on Pandora, the Na’vi “earned” their place among the people.  By contrast, when we are born again through baptism into Christ (Romans 6:1-7), we humbly accept God’s grace in total dependence and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice, and we receive a “new life” that is wholly undeserved.