Created Dec. 10, 1999 - Updated
There is a lot of emphasis in many religions on being born again. But what exactly does it mean to be born again? I think the subject deserves another look. Jesus brings up the subject in John 3:1 from the King James Version:
John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
The King James Version is the version that uses that term, 'born again.' But other versions word it differently. Here are some samples of other wordings from other versions:
RSV and ASV: born anew, Jerusalem Bible, Moffat's, Young's, and Rotherham's: born from above, New English Bible: born over again, American Translation: born over again from above, Green's Literal: receive birth from above, New American Bible: begotten from above, Bible in Basic English: new birth.
It is important to understand how others have translated this in order to better understand what Jesus is trying to say to Nicodemus (and to us).
Part of the answer to what it means to be born again or born anew or born from above is given to us in the further words of Jesus in John 3. Nicodemus, himself was not sure so he asked Jesus what he meant.
John 3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Unless we are born of both water and the spirit, we can not enter the kingdom of God. Is Jesus talking about the literal kingdom of God in heaven or is he simply referring to being saved? Good Question? Let's see if we can get a good answer.
John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
It almost sounds like he is referring to becoming a spirit, for being born of spirit is spirit. He contrasts it with being born in the flesh. Let's read on from the Revised Standard Version.
John 3:8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit."
John 3:9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can this be?"
Can you sense the bewilderment and shock in Nicodemus? Why? Because Jesus is telling him something brand new. Remember what Jesus said about the law and the prophets being up till John but now the Kingdom of the Heavens was to be preached by Jesus? Could this be what was astonishing Nicodemus? He was used to what the law and the prophets promised God's people. Surprise!
(KJV) Luke 16:16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
Now back to John 3. Jesus said that the wind blows wherever but you can't see it. You don't know where it comes from or where it is going. That is the way it is for people born of the spirit. You can see and hear the effects but you can't see them. This is the way it is with all spirits unless they choose to appear to you. To Nicodemus this was astonishing. And why not! It had never really been given much attention in the law and prophets. It was to most, brand new, and a rather radical departure from the old hope.
John 3:12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.
Jesus plainly states here that he is referring to heavenly things. Things that seem a little hard to swallow for Nicodemus. Jesus goes on to reveal that he had descended from heaven and will be the one to ascend back to heaven as the Son of man. Jesus also goes on to explain why people must believe in him as the Son of God and savior of men and that all must obey him. He pulled no punches with Nicodemus. He made it quite clear what his role was as the Son of God. He was not this forthright with all men but Nicodemus must have been at least a little bit righteous or Jesus would not have revealed such truths so plainly.
The Sadducees were obviously not aware of Jesus teachings about being spirits in heaven for they came to him in Matthew 22:23-28 with a hypothetical question about a woman who married a man who then died. She married his brother and he died, too. So she did this 7 times to 7 brothers and then she died too. The Sadducees wanted to know who would get her in the resurrection since all the brothers had once had her before.
They were asking according to their understanding of the resurrection as put forth in the law and the prophets, of course. So their question was a reasonable one in some ways. The only problem was that they did not believe in any resurrection at all. This was their way of trying to make the idea of the resurrection look silly. But they were in for a surprise. Lets look at Jesus reply in Matthew 22:29.
Matthew 22:29 But Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Jesus was stating so clearly and plainly that those resurrected would be like the angels in heaven. They would be spirits, right? Spirits do not marry for they are not flesh. Spirits reside in heaven with God and His Son. So what the Sadducees proposed was totally irrelevant. The hope that Jesus was offering had nothing to do with the flesh or the Earth. We would have a new home and a new body so to speak. A spirit body, not a fleshly one. We would be born anew, from above. Born again!
Paul talked about this in 1 Corinthians 15:35: "But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?"" Paul goes on to try to explain.
1 Corinthians 15::36 You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
Yes, the plant dies and gives off a seed. The seed takes on a body with growth. God gives it the body via genetics that determine what it will be. Paul goes on to point out that there are different types of bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:39 For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
Each body has its own glory, its own advantages or purpose. Each has a reason for existing in God's plan of things.
1 Corinthians 15:42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 15:44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
Can you see what he is saying? We are sown with a physical fleshly body which is perishable, dishonored, weak, mortal. But it is raised as a spritual body which is imperishable, powerful, glorious, immortal.
1 Corinthians 15:45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
First we are sown as the man of dust but after we are to bear the image of the man of heaven as spirits and brothers of Christ. But Paul makes it even more clear in the next verse (50).
1 Corinthians 15:50 I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Flesh and Blood can not inherit God's kingdom? That's what Paul said. Maybe this is the Kingdom of God that Jesus was speaking of to Nicodemus. Indeed, flesh and blood were meant to live in a physical world, that of the Earth. But for those who are to live in God's kingdom in heaven, they must become spirits just as God is a spirit and Jesus is a spirit. Only spirits can live in heaven. That is the new message held out to men since Jesus arrived with his ministry.
1 Corinthians 15:51 Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 55 "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"
We definitely will be changed. We will say goodbye to our old selves and our old bodies, our first bodies, and put on our new bodies, imperishable and immortal. We will be spirit sons of God residing in the spirit realm referred to as heaven. We will be born anew, born from above, born of spirit, born a 2nd time. But this birth, unlike the last, shall have no end, shall experience no death. Born, never to die.
Luke 24:37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have."
See what Jesus said? "A spirit has not flesh and bones." And those going to heaven will be spirits! They will be born of spirit, born anew, born again.
However, this is not the end of the matter. There are other scriptures that speak of being born again or born from above, adopted as sons here while still on Earth as fleshly beings. What's that all about? Glad you asked. Let's look at one of those scriptures.
(Green's Literal Translation) Romans 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption by which we cry, Abba! Father! 16 The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God. 17 And if children, also heirs; truly heirs of God, and joint-heirs of Christ, if indeed we suffer together, that we may also be glorified together.
Paul said here that if we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God, also worded as God's Spirit in many translations, then we are sons of God. Sons of God? Isn't that a term applied to the angels. Yes, it is. But if we are sons of God and yet still on Earth, isn't that a contradiction. Paul further explains when he tells us that we receive a Spirit of adoption. Although still in the flesh, in bodily form, we have the promise, the guarantee that we will, eventually, be fully sons of God, existing only as Spirits dwelling with God. Paul speaks of us as heirs. Heirs are those who have not yet received an inheritance. But we wait until the time when we will inherit. And we will inherit the same thing that Christ has already inherited, so we become joint-heirs with him.
So though we may not yet be Spirits in Heaven, we have the hope, the promise, the guarantee that we will be Spirits in Heaven with Christ, so we are considered sons of God already. We have been adopted, we have been guaranteed. And why can this be so? Because Jesus fully paid the price prior to Paul's writing. We all were bought at the time of Jesus death. So from that time on, the deal has been done and we have been paid for in blood. This is not the only time that Paul referred to this topic. There are many scattered through many of his letters. But this is a good and typical example that shows us what he was trying to explain to us.
Alright you say, then why didn't God just bring everyone up to heaven, right then and there and end all this misery and suffering. Well, though we have all been bought, there are still issues to settle and things to prove. So that is why God has given us the promise that although He delays and we still die, He will bring us back to life; life as spirits in heaven. But until that time, we wait; having been fully assured of the promise made to us. Fully assured because Jesus, himself, was resurrected to show us that God could do such a thing and would do such a thing.
And what is it that God needs to settle that He has to put us off. It is the idea that when man sins, he brings upon himself and his descendants such a bad state of mind that eventually his descendants bring about the total destruction of their race and the world in which they live. And Adam did this, not by a big sin against God, but a little one. Just eating a piece of fruit forbidden to him by God. And that little sin has led us to a point where we will soon bring ourselves to a complete annihilation. But God will cut short those days and spare those who submit to Him and His will. This also gives Satan a chance to prove otherwise which he will not be able to do. It removes all doubt by letting it go to the end. So we wait just a little longer until it finally does. Then we will inherit the promise. Fair enough?
So we are even now spoken of as sons of God. This is something new, something different from the law and prophets; that fleshly creatures could be spoken of as sons of God. Formerly, it was only angels that were referred to as such. But this type of being born again is not the full sense of the word. In the full sense, we will actually be angels in heaven. But we are sons; we are born again, in a relative sense in that we were promised that it would some day be because the ransom had been paid by Jesus death. When we say we are born again, we mean that we will be. It is a relative term. But the term Jesus spoke of in John was referring to the term born again in an absolute sense, the sense of actually being a spirit in heaven. Something completely different from what the law and prophets generally referred to.
Now some might ask more about the operations of the Spirit on us. That is another subject and article altogether (there is a link at the end of this article). But we can see how and in what sense we are born again. We are led by the Spirit of God. This as opposed to being led by the flesh. So lets look at that a little more.
Now in the quote from Romans 8:14 where we are adopted as sons of God, if we look just a little back from that to Romans 8:4, we can see a bit about what Paul means when he talks about us being led by God's spirit.
(RSV) Romans 8:4 in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
Paul says more about this in Galatians 5:16:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not
gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are
against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the
flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing
what you would. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under
the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication,
impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife,
jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy,
drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you
before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.
So we can see from these passages that those who claim to follow the Spirit or who claim to be led by the Spirit should show the fruits of the Spirit which is described above by Paul. Certainly a healthy dose of love should be evident in those led by the Spirit.
Now some imagine that when they accept God's terms, when they let Jesus into their heart, they are born-again. They may be. But if they are, they had better be walking by the spirit. Because only those who walk by the spirit can be said to have God's spirit and be born-again. If they are walking according to the flesh and doing the desires of the flesh, then they do not have God's spirit no matter what they say.
Jesus put it another way in Matthew 7:15:
15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
James also comments on this in a way in James 3:11:
10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
The point of Jesus and James was that good things come from good things and bad from bad. Bad does not come from good or good from bad. Or put another way, the fruit don't fall far from the tree; where there is smoke there is fire. If someone bears bad fruits, if they display the fruits of the flesh, then they are not led by God's Spirit; they have not let Jesus in their heart. They must have the fruits of the Spirit in order to claim they are led by the Spirit. It's fairly clear, isn't it? By their fruits you will know them!
So being born again should make an impact on a person. They should have strong evidence that they have the fruits of the spirit. Words aren't enough. Actions speak louder than words. If the fruits aren't there, neither is the spirit.
Now some say that evidence of the spirit should include the gifts of the spirit. But Paul didn't say that. Paul said you need to have the fruits of the spirit as evidence of being led by the spirit. This makes it easy, doesn't it? Or does it? Which is easier, to have the spirit poured out on you like it was in the book of Acts, or to try to mold yourself according to God's laws and commandments?
Does it take effort to receive? Not really! But how hard is it to mold one's self by the rules of God, the rule of love? Really, isn't this much tougher? Is it easy to always be thoughtful, kind, respectful, considerate, caring, patient and long suffering? I don't know about you, but I find this to be a constant challenge. I don't know about you but I was born of Adam. So in my flesh are the sins of Adam. So I find it rather challenging to always apply God's principles in my life. This is much tougher than if the spirit allowed me to speak in tongues, for I wouldn't be doing anything. The Spirit would be doing it all.
Can one have the gifts of the spirit and yet not have the fruits of the spirit? How could this be? Would the spirit manifest itself in one who was not interested in walking in the spirit by applying the principles of God in their lives? I can't imagine it! Make no mistake about it, you must have love in your hearts and it must show in your actions if you claim to be led by the spirit and born again. Love is the single greatest requirement of Christians in the Bible. See what Jesus said in Matthew 7:12 and 22:37:
7:12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.
22:37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."
Love of God and love of neighbor are the 2 most important things, so says Jesus. On these the entire law and prophets are based.
See the article "Love, the Most Important Christian Pursuit" for more on this.
For more on the gifts of the Spirit, see the article "Acts and the Christian Congregation."
For more on those who go to heaven, see the article "The
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