You have more than likely heard the term 'born again', but what does it mean?
There was a Pharisee whose name was Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Ruling Council and was a teacher of the law for the Jewish people. He came to Jesus one night to speak with Him. Maybe he just had a desire to speak with Jesus about a particular topic, or wanted to know more about Him before making any kind of commitment to follow Him. Let's look first at this entire conversation from John 3.
John 3 (NIV)
In verse 5 of John 3, Jesus replied here in the NIV with the words 'Very truly I tell you...' In the King James version He uses the words 'verily, verily, I say unto thee...' Whenever Jesus used these words in the Bible, what He was saying to us is that what I am about to say is VERY IMPORTANT, so listen up. Keep in mind that Nicodemus fasted two days each week, spent two full hours a day in prayer and gave a tenth of all he earned to the church. So why did Jesus tell Nicodemus that he has to be born again? It was because Jesus could read Nicodemus' heart like a book. Jesus knew that Nicodemus had spent his time covering himself and clothing himself with religious matters, but had not yet really found true fellowship and relationship with the Father.
What is this new birth? In verse 4 Nicodemus asked Jesus 'How can someone be born when they are old?'. Nicodemus knew that Jesus was special and in verse 3 admits that he believed that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God and Nicodemus wanted to understand this concept. Nicodemus could understand natural birth, the physical birth of a newborn baby in the material world, but Jesus was speaking about a spiritual birth and not a physical birth at all.
We cannot inherit or acquire this new birth from our parents or grandparents. One is not a born-again Christian because one was born into a Christian home and have Christian parents and grandparents. Neither can we work our way into a real relationship with God through a religion or by practicing in a religion, or by doing religious things. Let's look quickly at a few verses from Titus 3, verses 5-7.
Titus 3:5-7 (NIV)
5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Personal change, improvement or reformation isn't enough either. This new birth is not like sticking to a New Year's resolution or turning a page in your life, changing your ways or turning over a new leaf. Isaiah 64:6 says "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." All of our own righteousness is like filthy rags Isaiah says. Some of us have changed ourselves and changed the way we behave on the outside, but deep down inside, we have never been spiritually changed. This is exactly what Jesus was trying to get across to Nicodemus in John 3 quoted above. Only the Holy Spirit can perform the kind of change and new birth that Jesus was speaking of. Being born from above is a supernatural act of God, not simply a change of personal behavior.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins; He disquiets us because we have sinned against God, we sense our uncleanness and what separates us from God. And then the Holy Spirit regenerates us, gives us this new birth. That is the moment when we are born again. The Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts to help us and guide us in our daily lives. The Spirit of God gives us assurance, gives us joy and peace, produces fruit in our lives and opens our spiritual eyes and teaches us the Scriptures.
Let's look at a series of other verses in the Bible that may be helpful.
John 1:13 (NIV)
1 Peter 1:23 (NIV)
Ephesians 4:20-24 (NIV)
Colossians 3:5-10 (NIV)
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
In these verses John and Peter talk about being born of God and being born of imperishable seed and Paul speaks about putting on the 'new self' and being transformed by the renewing of your mind. There are also an enlightening series of verses in 1 John chapters 2 through 5 and that we should now look at.
1 John 2:29 (NIV)
1 John 3:9 (NIV)
1 John 4:7 (NIV)
1 John 5:1 (NIV)
1 John 5:4 (NIV)
1 John 5:18 (NIV)
In these series of verses in First John, we clearly see this concept of being 'born of God'. This new birth, or being 'born again', is a transformation performed by the Holy Spirit of God, born into the family of God, through Christ Jesus' death on the cross, so that we can be called the adopted children of God. Let's look at some verses that talk about this idea of being adopted.
Ephesians 1:5 (NIV)
Romans 8:23 (NIV)
Romans 9:4 (NIV)
Let's now begin to finish up this idea of what it means to be born again. Some people have thought that people who claim to be a 'born again Christian' are in some kind of cult, or some kind of weird theology way out on the fringe of the larger church body, but that just isn't the truth. These are the very words of Jesus Christ Himself who tell us that in order to be with Him, in paradise, in Heaven, after our earthly deaths, we must be born again of the Spirit of God. The author/webmaster here at Grace Family Church experienced this new birth back in April 1985. Speaking from personal experience, outside of biblical text, when I personally surrendered to Jesus Christ, when I felt as if I poured myself out into a puddle of submission at the foot of the cross, I felt the very Spirit of God, I felt clean, refreshed, whole, satisfied, content, filled to overflowing and with an inexpressible joy that words cannot express. You too can feel this way and if you have not yet experienced this new birth, this conversion, this repentance or what most Christians call being 'saved'. Then I urge you to pursue this experience and hunger for it.
There is still a pervasive mystery to this idea of being born again. Above in the exchange with Nicodemus in John 3 verse 8, Jesus 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." Jesus did not attempt to fully explain this concept to Nicodemus. Our little and very limited minds cannot fully understand the things of God, we come to Jesus with the faith of a child and just believe in Him and put our faith in Him and what He says.
How does being born again happen?