What does it mean to be born again?

This photo is a derivative of “Brick Cross” by  Keoni Cabral, used under CC BY 2.0. This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by AskBible.org

This photo is a derivative of “Brick Cross” by Keoni Cabral, used under CC BY 2.0. This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by AskBible.org

Question: What does it mean to be born again?

We find the phrase ‘born again’ in the Gospel of John chapter 3, where Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Greek phrase translated as ‘born again’ in verse 7 is γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν in the Greek, which literally means ‘to be born from above’.

John 3, King James Version:

1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

What is this passage all about?

This chapter is very important because it tells us all about our state and what we need to do to be saved and enter the kingdom of heaven. Here Jesus is talking to Nicodemus – one of the most religious and God fearing people of that time in Israel. He studied the scriptures all His life, kept all of the law of God and also taught the Israelites the law as well. In spite of his religious knowledge, he was still not right with God. To his surprise, Jesus told him that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven he had to be born again. So no matter how religious or God fearing you are, or how many good works you do, or how well you try to keep the law (not murdering or stealing, etc.) – all these things do not make you right before God. This does not give you any right to go to heaven. You need to be born again. And just like many of us today, Nicodemus could not understand how this could be. How come a good person cannot please God and go to heaven? And how can someone be born again? As we shall see, Jesus explained it to him.

Physical birth vs spiritual birth

Our physical birth is the first birth and that is out of water. However, every person born into this world is spiritually dead. It is because of Adam that sin entered the world.

Rom 5:12, King James Version

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

The first man, Adam, was created by God – a perfect man. And unlike animals, God created humans with a spirit so that we could have fellowship with Him. Adam could walk and talk with God in the garden, be in His presence. But when man sinned, he died spiritually. Sin has separated us from God, because God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. If He would allow sin into heaven, He would no longer be a holy God, and heaven would no longer be heaven. The only place for sin is hell – eternal separation from God, as the wages of sin is death.

Rom 6:23, King James Version

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Therefore all of us are sinners and without excuse before God. We all have sinned and are worthy of hell. And this is where everyone is heading. God saw this and He knew there is nothing that a man can do to save himself. He loved the world so much for He did not want anyone to perish. Therefore He prepared a salvation plan for us – a perfect way to satisfy the demand for the sin to be punished and His great love and desire to save us and reconcile us to Himself. And that way was to send His Son Jesus Christ to this Earth, that He would die for our sins and thus pay the price for every wrong that we have done and will do.

John 3: 16-17, King James Version

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Some wrongly believe that by ‘water’ Jesus is saying that baptism is required for salvation. Taking the various verses in the Bible that speak about salvation, it is very clear that baptism is not a requirement but rather a commandment to be obeyed following salvation and regeneration through the Holy Spirit. Some others have suggested that the ‘water’ refers to the physical birth, the amniotic fluid contained in the amniotic sac which breaks when a woman is ready to give birth, as in the phrase “broke her water”. This is probably not the case. Contrasting the parallelism of Jn 3:3 and Jn 3:5, ‘born of water and of the Spirit’ refers to the same one spiritual birth, not two (the physical and spiritual). Jesus was referring to the spiritual birth, the concept of spiritual regeneration which was part of the Old Testament as well:

Ezekiel 36:24–27,King James Version

24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

So how does this spiritual birth happen?

Jesus explains it. Since we cannot enter heaven because of our sins, He, the sinless one, was lifted up on the cross to die for our sins. However this sacrifice is not imputed to everyone automatically, but only to those who believe in Christ and what He did for them.

John 3:1-21, King James Version

3 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Therefore when we realise our true state before God: that we are sinners and are guilty before Him, as all our life we have been sinning against Him; when we repent for our sins and believe in the work that Jesus did on the cross for us;  when we ask His forgiveness and when we ask Him to save us, He does. He forgives our sins, because He has paid for it already through his death and resurrection. At that moment, we are born again – we are born spiritually. At that point our sins are forgiven and there no longer is any separation from God. God gives His Holy Spirit who lives in every born again believer. And we are made righteous, made right with God. God says that our sins are no more, because Jesus’ blood has washed it away.

Isaiah 1:18, King James Version

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Now read how you can be born again and thus receive salvation through Jesus Christ.

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Acknowledgements: “Brick Cross” by Keoni Cabral, u more...
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