Being Born Again
‘Being Born Again’ – (John 3:3)
The phrase, ‘a born again Christian’ is one that is frequently applied to people who have had an ‘experience’ in their lives which convinces them that they need to devote themselves to Christ. It could come about as the result of going to a Christian gathering, such as those promoted by a prominent minister such as Billy Graham, or it might be a personal experience that might convince them that they must devote themselves to Jesus. Whatever, the person so influenced feels driven to commit their lives to Christ.
What is the Biblical perspective? Well, the phrase, ‘Being born again’, is one that crops up in the narrative between Jesus and Nicodemus recorded in John 3. Now, what was Jesus’ teaching in these verses? Well, Nicodemus had come to Jesus in the first place saying that he knew he was ‘a teacher come from God.’
What were his exact words? Look at v.2:
‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’.
In these words, he is in effect saying that Jesus must be the Messiah – come from God – because of the miracles he had performed. And so Jesus responds by saying – if you want to be in my kingdom you must be ‘born again’:
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (v.3).
We see from that verse that being ‘born again’ is linked with being in ‘the Kingdom of God.’ We cannot be a part of that Kingdom, unless we are born again and this is why it is vital that we understand exactly what ‘being born again’ actually is.
Nicodemus, of course, mistakes what Jesus is saying, for in v.4 he talks about the impossibility of being born again in a literal sense. And so Jesus repeats the point that he has already made by saying (v.5):
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’
What exactly is Jesus saying here? Well first of all, we know that being ‘born of water’ is a reference to baptism. When we are baptized we go into the water with all our sins clinging to us, but when we come out of the water, our sins are all forgiven – we are spotless in the eyes of the Lord because our sins have been symbolically washed away. It is, of course, a reference to the death and rising to life of the Lord Jesus (Romans 6:3-4).
So the first point we make is that being ‘born again’ infers that at that point, we shall pass through the waters of baptism. Baptism – a burial or dipping in water – is a simple ritual that is often discussed in these pages, but it is vitally important because through that act we are associating ourselves with the Lord Jesus.
But what about being born of the spirit – what exactly does that mean? Well, it cannot mean that we receive the Holy Spirit at our baptisms, because the Holy Spirit was only manifested at Pentecost over three years later. Furthermore, in v.10 Jesus tells Nicodemus that being the master of Israel he should have known these things already! The key to what Jesus is saying is to be seen in v.7, where he says that one is ‘born again’ – or ‘from above’ as the margin puts it. Being born of the spirit is coming to believe in Divine teaching as a result of hearing the words of Jesus, and of his Father in Heaven.
These Divine things are from above and Nicodemus could hear the words of God through Jesus, because, as he said in v.2, ‘we know that you are a teacher come from God’. Today, the words of God and His son, the Lord Jesus, are recorded in His word, the Bible and from nowhere else.
So how are we ‘born of the spirit’ in this 21st Century? It is when we respond to the words of God and his son, Jesus by reading the Bible – the word of God – and being convinced by them. This means that our whole life will be changed – we shall show the fruit of the spirit instead of the things of the flesh.
Indeed, the apostle Paul describes it as putting off the old works of the flesh – the old man – and putting on the new man of the spirit – as we can see in Ephesians 4:22-24:
‘…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.’
So when people claim that they are ‘born again’ Christians today, unless they have been baptized by full immersion in water and understand and manifest in their lives the full truths of God as presented in the Bible, then there is no way that their claims can be justified.
David Willey (Seaton)