“Born Again”: This is one of the most used words in all of Christendom, not just limited to our generation but has been by generations past. Now you do not need to have been in the Christian faith for long to have probably heard this term thrown around. Indeed, it has been used so much that it has lost its meaning and essence. Today, many professing believers use the term, “born-again Christian”. However, a fundamental understanding of what it means to be born again proves this as a wrong description. First of all, one cannot be a Christian unless they are born again. Hence, it is redundant to say, “born-again Christian”. Is there a Christian who is not born-again?
What does it mean to be born again?
When someone says they are born again, what do they really mean? I believe there is no better way to start answering this question than by searching the Scriptures and finding out what our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, had to say about it. Let’s examine a popular interaction Jesus had with a religious leader of his time which teaches us lesson about what it means to be born again.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely, they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c]must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.”
In this text, John describes a visit Nicodemous, a religious leader of the Jewish council paid to Jesus. One thing that pops out at us immediately is the timing of his trip. He goes to Jesus at night. Indeed, a lot of things can be said about this. Could it be that he came at night for fear of being associated with our Lord? Now from his initial statement, we see a sense of belief in Him. He upholds Jesus as a teacher who was sent from God because He (Christ) validated his being sent from God through the signs and miracles he performed (v. 2). We could easily walk away from Nicodemus’ statement and affirm he is one of us—a Christian.
However, our Savior’s response offers a sharp rebuke to us. As John recorded, Jesus replied to Nicodemus by saying, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Without understanding the context, it is easy to walk away confused as to what our Saviour’s response had to do with anything. After all, Nicodemus only made a statement that showed his admiration of Christ. As a Jewish leader, Nicodemus expected the kingdom of God and heaven to come soon with each passing day. With the appearance of Christ and his miracles, which were a verification of Him being sent by God, Nicodemus knew the time was near and as such, wanted to be a part of the kingdom of God and have a share of it. But Christ will have none of that. He tells Nicodemus that he MUST be born again. In his commentary on this, Matthew Henry points this out by stating,
A rebuke of what he saw defective in the address of Nicodemus. It was not enough for him to admire Christ’s miracles, and acknowledge his mission, but he must be born again. It is plain that he expected the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of the Messiah now shortly to appear. He is betimes aware of the dawning of that day; and, according to the common notion of the Jews, he expects it to appear in external pomp and power. He doubts not but this Jesus, who works these miracles, is either the Messiah or his prophet, and therefore makes his court to him, compliments him, and so hopes to secure a share to himself of the advantages of that kingdom. But Christ tells him that he can have no benefit by that change of the state, unless there be a change of the spirit, of the principles and dispositions, equivalent to a new birth. Nicodemus came by night: “But this will not do,’’ saith Christ. His religion must be owned before men”
Surprised by Christ’s statement of being born again before he can see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus asks, ““How can someone be born when they are old?”. “Surely, they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus in response proceeds to tell him two things:
1. Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
2. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
Born of Water and the Spirit
To be ‘born again’ simply means to be born, again. That is a birth to be distinguished from our natural birth. Being born again is the work of the Holy Spirit, where he regenerates the heart of sinners, who are dead in their trespasses and sins from birth, and gives them a new breath and life, so that they can believe in the gospel. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 and Romans 3:10-18, we were born dead in our trespasses and sins and as a result, we do not seek God or do any good. Our hearts are desperately wicked, and all we desire is evil. As spiritually dead people, we cannot see light. In fact, Paul explicitly says we hate God and are enemies of God. Because we are dead in our sins, we cannot seek God or receive the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). It means therefore, that we need God himself, the Author of Life, to breathe new life into us so that we may seek Him. We do not have the ability to come to God on our own (John 6:37). We are slaves to sin and dead! And this is what Christ means when he says one CANNOT see the kingdom of God UNLESS they are born again.
Just like Nicodemus, we cannot come to God till God replaces our hearts of stone with a heart of flesh. As flesh gives birth to flesh, our flesh cannot aid us in coming to Christ. The Spirit, who gives birth to spirit, must breath new life into us. This is the first point Christ makes. We must be born again by water and spirit. Some have argued that Christ speaking of water and spirit means that one is not truly born again till they are baptized. This is false. As Jonathan Edwards said, “We contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary”. Baptism does not contribute to our regeneration. Christ speaking of being born by spirit and water is a reference to Ezekiel, where God says in Ezekiel 36:25-27,
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules”
“Born by water and spirit”, is all a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in our coming to faith. We are washed and cleansed through the preaching of the word, and the Spirit puts a new heart and spirit in us, that we can believe. Paul talks about this when he says in Ephesians 5:26-27, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” The Spirit of God acts upon the preaching of the Word of God to bring one to saving faith (see Romans 10:14).
The Wind Blows Where It Pleases:
In Christ second statement, he relates the work of the Spirit in salvation to the wind blowing. He says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”. This simply means that, just as we have no role in determining where the wind blows, so it is with us being born again: We have no CONTROL over it. The Spirit of God regenerates who he wants. It is a grace of God. One cannot will themselves to be born again; It is the Spirit of God who initiates and brings it to completion (John 1:13). We play no role in the work of the Spirit in regeneration. We are dead in our sins and so we cannot!
Regeneration MUST Precedes Faith
With that being said, it must mean that regeneration or being born again, must precede faith. We cannot believe without being Regenerated, and we cannot be regenerated without believing. Although simultaneous as we see in Lydia(Acts 16), our hearts must be open( or so to speak: born again), before we come to saving faith. It is crucial to make this distinction as Christ also pointed out, “You cannot see the kingdom of God(believe) UNLESS you are born again(regenerated).
The Essence of the New Birth
Simply put, it is the new birth that ushers us into the kingdom of God and the gates of heaven are open to us. Without the new birth, as stated, we will remain dead in our sins and trespasses, we will continue to hate the God of the universe and worst of all, we remain under the wrath of the thrice Holy God. We need to be born again. We need God to act upon us and convert our stony hearts that does not love God to a heart of flesh that loves God and cherishes Him above all. The new birth, is essential to Christianity.
What Must The Sinner Do?
To be born again is a sine-qua-non, a necessity to entering God’s kingdom and no one can bypass the process. So one who is not a Christian may ask; “what must I do? Simply trust in what Christ has done for sinners. He died in the place of sinners that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Sinner, run to Christ for rescue from sin. Christ beckons you to come to Him in faith repenting from your sins, that he may give you rest.