What does it mean to be “born again”?

This is a topic of much debate both among people “inside” the church as well as “outside” of the church. The topic is presented with such slyness, by many, that the essence of being born again is often lost. Many want to manipulate the Scriptures for their own personal benefits and abandon the clear teachings of Jesus Christ on the subject of “the new birth”. I would like to concentrate solely in the Words of the Savior to see what being born again means and who exactly is to experience it. Also I would like to examine what happens to a person who has been “born again”. In order to do this, we must go to the source, the Word of God.

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews ; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher ; for no one can do these signs that You do unless * God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless * one is born again he cannot * see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old ? He cannot * enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless * one is born of water and 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 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going ; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things ? 11 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things ? (John 3)

I. Being born again is not based on your religion.

Verses one and two explain that just because a man is very religious, that does not make him born again. In other words, you can be religious without being born again. Nicodemus had his religion. It was an inherited religion. He was born into a religious nation and family. In fact, his religion and nationality were combined. The problem with his inherited, national religion, as well as his advanced knowledge of this religion and high position in society that it brought him, was that it did not satisfy his soul. Spiritually speaking, he was bankrupt. That is why he comes to Jesus. He has heard of this great spiritual teacher yet he himself is a spiritual leader so in order not to be ashamed, he comes to Jesus at night. His religion is not enough. He needs something more. What about you, do you have a national religion, an inherited religion that you were born in? Is that religion satisfying your heart’s desire for intimacy with God? Nicodemus had much to gain in a physical sense from his religion yet it was not satisfying his heart’s desire for intimacy with God.

II. Being born again is not a physical birth.

That is what Nicodemus understood at first. We know this because of the question that he asked Jesus in verse 4. Jesus is teaching about spiritual things and in order to do this, he uses a word picture, a physical phenomenon that Nicodemus would understand, that being birth. Unfortunately, Nicodemus does not make the transition from physical to spiritual, but Jesus is patient with him and helps him out. In verse 6 Jesus makes the connection for Nicodemus.

III. Jesus explains the process of being born again to Nicodemus.

In verse 5 Jesus explains how a person comes to be born again, through the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The reference to water in verse 5 is a reference to the Word of God. Jesus uses a word picture once again, a word picture that was very well known to students of the Torah. In Psalm 1, the Word of God is compared to water that gives life a believer and produces fruit in that believer. In Ephesians, the apostle Paul also uses water to define the Word.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (Ephesians 5)

The apostle Peter also talks about Christians being “born again” through the Word of God.

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (I Peter 1)

When a person is exposed to the Word of God, studying, reading, hearing then the Holy Spirit begins to work on his mind and heart, convicting of sin and pleading for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, accepting Him as Master and Savior. When a person understands, he takes this step of obedience, to believe, trust, and obey. Are you a student of the Word of God so that the Holy Spirit can lead you to repentance and the new birth? Have you been born again? Do you know what it looks like? Jesus reveals what being born again is like through another physical comparison.

IV. Being born again is like looking at the wind, you cannot see the wind itself but you can see the effects of the wind.

A person who is born again is different. The results of the spiritual new birth are seen through the person’s actions. You cannot see the physical new birth because it is spiritual, but you can see the lifestyle transformation. In verse 8 Jesus makes the comparison of the spiritual new birth to the wind and its effects. What are the effects of being born again? Jesus explains the results of being born again in verses 19-21.

19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”(John 3)

There are 2 categories of people in this text; those who have been born again and those who have not been born again. Those who have not been born again love the darkness (sin) and their deeds are evil. They hate the Light (the Word of God) and run away from It. Those who have been born again come to the Light (the Word of God) and practice the Truth (live according to the Word of God). The good deeds of a born again person are manifested.

Let’s review the steps of being born again;

  1. Hear the Word of God (study)
  2. Understand the Word of God
  3. Accept the Word of God (repentance)
  4. Apply the Word of God

Jesus also presents the benefits of being born again:

  1. Come to the Light
  2. Ability to practice good deeds
  3. Ability to say no to sin
  4. Ability to see the kingdom of heaven while here on earth
  5. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven

Where do you stand my dear friend? Have you been born again? Have you left the darkness (slavery to sin) to walk in the Light (obedience to God)? Has your life been transformed or are you living a religious lifestyle without a real, genuine relationship with God? May God help us be obedient to His Word.

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45 comments on “What does it mean to be “born again”?

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