“Born Again”

By Royce Frederick

In John 3, Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being “born again,” which is often called “the new birth.” What does it mean to be “born again”?

Being “born again” does not mean a person who dies will be given another physical birth and live on earth again in a different body. The Bible teaches that each person lives only one time on earth. “And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Being “born again” is not the same as “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” The New Testament tells of only two occasions of “baptism in the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46). A study of the new birth in the New Testament shows that “baptism in the Holy Spirit” is not the same as being “born again.”

Some people teach that the new birth occurs before baptism. Others teach that the new birth can occur long after baptism. But the Bible shows that each of these ideas about the new birth is not true. The New Testament teaches that a sinner who obeys the gospel from his heart is “born again” when he is baptized in water for the remission (forgiveness) of his sins.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). Jesus told him more about the new birth when He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). So, a person who is “born again” is “born of water and the Spirit.” Other scriptures in the New Testament explain the new birth more fully.

NEW LIFE is located IN CHRIST. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). See also Rom. 8:1; 1 Jn. 5:11-12.

Being “born again” means beginning a new life. NEW LIFE is IN CHRIST. So, a sinner is “born again” when he enters INTO CHRIST.

A sinner enters INTO CHRIST and NEW LIFE at BAPTISM. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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 (Rom. 6:3-4). See also Col. 2:12.

At birth, a newborn infant becomes a son or daughter of its parents. Likewise, by the new birth, sinners become “sons of God.” Paul reminded the Christians in Galatia, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). Being baptized into Christ made all of them “one in Christ Jesus” (verse 28) and “heirs” (verse 29).

The SPIRIT causes the new birth. A sinner is “called” (invited) to God by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14; Matt. 11:28-30; Rev. 22:17). When a sinner obeys the gospel, he is responding to the Spirit. The words of the gospel, written in the Bible, were GIVEN by the Spirit (Jn. 14:26; 16:12-13; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 6:17). And the gospel message was CONFIRMED by miracles which the Spirit performed (Mk. 16:20; Acts 2:43; 5:12; Heb. 2:2-4).

So, a sinner has been “born of water and the Spirit” when he hears the gospel message, believes it, repents (decides to turn from sin), confesses his faith in Christ, and is baptized in water for the remission of his sins (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:12-13, 35-39; 10:47-48; 16:30-34; 17:30; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4, 17-18; 10:9-10, 17; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12).

God gives us new life through the WORDS of the gospel. “He brought us forth [gave us birth] by the word of truth...” (Js. 1:18). The new birth is not an experience which suddenly comes upon us by surprise. When a sinner obeys the gospel, he is “...born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever...Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:23, 25). The words in the Bible, which Jesus has given us through the Spirit, are “the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68). The gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes...” (Rom. 1:16).

When a sinner has been baptized, God sends the Spirit to live within the new Christian (Gal. 4:6; Acts 2:38). That does not mean Christians can work miracles today. Even in the first century, not all Christians could work miracles. The gifts of miracles were given to the apostles and to some of the other Christians in the first century for some very special purposes. But the Holy Spirit lived in every Christian then, and lives in each one now (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Rom. 8:9-11).

The WORDS written in the Bible also SUSTAIN the Christian in his new life — if he continues studying and obeying them (Jn. 8:31-32; Acts 20:32; Phil. 2:16; Heb. 3:12-14). A Christian should be “led by the Spirit” (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18). That does not mean he is led by a mysterious inner feeling or by an inner voice. It means that he takes the word of God into his heart by studying the Bible, then follows what the word of God says. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life (Jn. 6:63).

Even without miracles today, the beautiful effect of the Spirit is visible in the life of a true Christian. When we take God’s word into our heart and let it lead us daily, we produce “the fruit of the Spirit...love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...” (Gal. 5:22-23). A life filled with these virtues is the abundant life which Jesus wants to give each one of us: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10)!