People have questions about what it means to be born again. In a previous article we talked about the great exchange which Jesus makes available to us where He became sin for us so that we might become the very righteousness of God in Him. What are some of the ways we said that Bible describes that great exchange?
- Being Lost, and then Found
- Being Desperate & Hopeless, and then Saved
- Being Born Again
One of the analogies Jesus in particular used was being born again. Let’s take a closer look at that in the Bible.
There was this guy named Nicodemus who was interested in hearing more teaching from Jesus. The challenge was that Nicodemus was a Pharisee.
You see, the Pharisees were pretty hostile to Jesus. Ultimately they were the major force pushing for the execution of Jesus. Of course, Jesus didn’t have very flattering things to say about them either.
That meant Nicodemus had a problem. He wanted to explore Jesus’ teaching in more depth. But it would have caused problems for him if other Pharisees found out he was talking with Jesus.
Jesus Explains Being Born Again
Let’s pick up the story in John chapter three.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”— John 3:1-8 (NKJV )
Jesus says that the way into the Kingdom of God involves starting over. The only way in is to be “born again” in His words.
Born Again Mind Bender
This was a mind-bender on a couple of levels. For one thing, the Pharisees had a massive emphasis on long time study to become experts in the scriptures and the oral tradition. They were proud of the their hard work.
For example, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee. He includes that fact in his list of credentials in Philippians chapter three before he says, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7).
In fact, from a historical perspective, today’s rabbinical tradition likely has its roots in the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
Being a Pharisee was considered a big deal. So the idea of kicking all the time and effort studying and learning that it took to become a Pharisee to the curb and starting over again like a newborn babe was a hard thing for a Pharisee to hear.
Yet in truth, we all do start over when we are born again. Our slate is wiped clean at that moment we believe in Jesus.
There’s an obvious problem when we look at Jesus’ born again analogy as a literal new birth. Nicodemus could see the problem there and asks Jesus that very question.
I find it interesting that Jesus isn’t overly sympathetic with Nicodemus’ lack of understanding. In verse twelve of John chapter three Jesus basically says, “if you don’t believe these simple things I’m talking about now, then there’s no way you’ll believe the really deep stuff you want to know about.”
You see, Jesus explained what he meant by being born again. He wasn’t talking about second natural birth of flesh and blood. Instead, He was talking about a supernatural birth by water and spirit.
To my perspective, the water and the spirit can represent the two baptisms of a believer.
The first is water baptism. Jesus set the example for us in this when He was baptized by John.
Not only is water baptism a public statement expressing our allegiance with Christ, but it is also a picture of our born again experience with Jesus. Our old man was crucified with Christ. Paul says it this way.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.— Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)
Baptism represents our burial in the tomb with Jesus, as we go under the water. Then as we come out of the water, we are reborn, a new creation — holy, righteous, and pure in the eyes of God.
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.— Romans 6:4 (NKJV)
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.— Galatians 3:27 (NKJV)
Holy Spirit Baptism
The second baptism Jesus alluded to in his conversation with Nicodemus is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We see this multiple times in the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts.
Acts chapter nineteen gives us a good picture of this.
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?”
So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.— Acts 19:1-7 (NKJV )
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is an additional experience on top of being born again. This baptism unlocks and releases much of the supernatural power God makes available to us through Jesus.
Three of the gospels record the baptism of Jesus. Each one also records the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus immediately after John baptized him. They all also record the Father speaking a blessing over Jesus. “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Not only do we see both of these baptisms in the life of Jesus, but His baptism even is also a vivid time when we see all three persons of the Godhead in the same place — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Keep in mind that neither of these baptisms are a salvation issue. It’s not something that will keep believers out of heaven.
At the end of the day, the analogy of being born again is a good picture of what happens to each of us when we believe in Jesus. We’ve already mentioned that our slate was wiped clean because Jesus paid the price for all our sin and gave us His righteousness in its place. That’s one way we get a brand new start.
There is also an entirely new way of doing things in the Kingdom of God for us to learn, too, once we’re born again. The world taught us a whole host of things that don’t line up with the truth we find in the Kingdom of God. In fact, many of the world’s ways of doing things are exactly backwards from the Kingdom of God. Here’s just one example.
The world tells us we must work hard to thrive. That contrasts to the way we thrive in the Kingdom of God by resting in the Lord.
It is vain for you to rise up early,— Psalms 127:2 (NKJV)
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
We can rest in God because He makes a great many promises to prosper. We receive those promises by renewing our mind to them and believing them, like this one, for example.
Part of the starting over process we each go through after being born again involves unlearning the ways of the world that taught us like the idea that we must earn what we get. In the world way of thinking, believing for something without working to deserve it makes no sense.
Our thinking changes in a whole host of ways the more we grow spiritually and discover the ways of the Kingdom of God.
One of the ways the Bible describes this process is putting on the new man. We’ll talk about that in a future article.
All that to say, now you know what it means to be born again!