What does it mean to be born again? When Jimmy Carter ran for president in 1976 he called himself a “Born Again” Christian. But Jesus first used the term in his conversation with Nicodemus recorded in John 3:1-21. Here are some thoughts on what it means for us today.
What does it mean to be born again? It means you recognize there’s an entrance requirement to heaven a lot of people are missing
V. 3 …unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
The term “born again” was a new idea when Jimmy Carter used it and it was new for Nicodemus too. His confused reaction proves it. Probably because he assumed he already met those qualifications. After all, he was a faithful Jew. Even better, a faithful Pharisee. But Jesus throws him a curve ball by saying that something else is involved.
The whole “born again” idea confuses people today as well. They assume if you believe in God and Jesus, maybe attend church and do good things it makes you a Christian. But here, Jesus says that is not enough. It actually involves a second birth.
What does it mean to be born again? It means you understand there are two different kinds of birth
V. 5 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus presents a spiritual idea that Nicodemus doesn’t even recognize as a spiritual idea. A bit ironic don’t you think? Here he is, an expert teacher in the Jewish religion, completely baffled by what Jesus says. He asks Jesus if he is talking about a physical birth.
He had to know that was not what Jesus meant. But Nicodemus was so blind to his own spiritual need, and so unaware of that blindness, he could not even consider the possibility that his spiritual life was missing something. What was Jesus talking about?
Jesus clarifies it in John 3:6-8 by talking about two births: a physical one and a spiritual one. And what Nicodemus lacks is spiritual.
There’s a similar spiritual blindness affecting people today. Rather than concede their good and virtuous acts are not what Jesus is looking for, they simply ignore this passage.
Jesus must be talking about the jerk who lives down the road. But look closer. He’s talking about all of us.
It means you believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord
V. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Jesus chastises Nicodemus as a teacher for his lack of understanding, but then patiently reminds him that he came to sacrifice himself on a cross. And it makes you wonder. Why did Nicodemus not know this? Because Isaiah prophesized extensively about what the Messiah would suffer.
And the answer for Nicodemus is probably similar to many people today. It’s because we form our religious beliefs around our own opinions and lifestyles rather than the truth of scripture. The Bible consistently teaches about the existence of sin. And the result of sin is spiritual death. And that is an unpleasant thought we’d rather not face.
But Jesus suddenly switches to the positive. And rather talk about death he promises life with probably the best known and quoted scripture in the entire Bible.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
And that is what it means to be BORN AGAIN.
Chip Tudor is an author, blogger and professional writer. He publishes books, humorous Christian drama, and thought provoking blogs from a Christian worldview.
Chip, this post is so timely. what would you say to those who teach that we are not born again until the resurrection? I do not believe that and have several [what I believe to be] scriptural responses to refute it (and I will be blogging about it at some point).
I was confronted with the idea recently (via a book I was reading). It took me aback. I had never heard that view before. The book is an Amazon bestseller (under 7000 in print books–wouldn’t we love to see those numbers for our books?).
A search query on the subject yielded over 1,000,000 results. So, this is not necessarily a fringe belief, as I would have thought had I simply heard it on the street from someone.
As I said, I have my thoughts on responses to it, but I would be interested to hear yours as well.
I don’t look at this passage as a unique or special teaching by Jesus like a specific, theological or doctrinal point. That appears to be what the proponents you’re talking about are doing. Instead, I see this passage as a different way of saying the same thing. In other words, I see Jesus describing what it means to express faith in him, but he’s doing so with words specific to this conversation. And specific to Nicodemus because it’s the only time we see the term “born again” used.
Jesus expressed it in other ways as well. In other New Testament passages, Jesus told people to “repent.” But in Luke he says to “take up your cross and follow me.” Then in John, Jesus says, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” The Apostle Paul says to “believe in your heart and confess with your mouth.”
To me they all lead us to believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, asking and receiving forgiveness for sin, and following him as a disciple.
Jesus explains to Nicodemus his upcoming sacrificial death V.14 and what it means to express faith and believe in him in V.16. And the spiritual birth he describes is consistent with what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. And the spiritual transformation that takes place in believers in Romans 12:1. The word “transformed” is the Greek morphe from which we get metamorphosis.
There is not one, clear formula for expressing faith in Jesus and accepting him as Lord and Savior that everyone uses. If so, it would be repeated over and over throughout Scripture. Instead, it’s described in different parables and in different terms by different writers. And yet, we see the same truth.
Why is the Christian faith expressed in so many different ways in scripture? I think maybe because when a person reaches that point of decision of accepting Jesus and following him as Lord, God is not listening to our words but looking into our hearts.
At least, that’s my take on it. I’m sure there are many other valid interpretations.