What Does It Mean to Be ‘Born Again’?
It was utterly dumfounding! This teacher was telling him that one must be born a second time! But how could that be? he wondered.
Ever since Nicodemus’ mind-boggling conversation with Jesus Christ, many have been just as confused as he was concerning the truth about what it means to be born again.
Why couldn’t he understand this concept? Why don’t many understand it today? It actually stems from most people’s misunderstanding of Christ’s gospel. If you don’t understand that, you can’t comprehend what it means to be truly born again.
The word gospel means “good news.” What was that good news? Mark 1:14 defines it:”Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” It was not a gospel about Him, but about a coming Kingdom—a coming government to rule this earth.
Christ’s message raised curiosities among the religious of His day. Nicodemus was one of them. “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 3:2).
Christ, being a teacher from God, taught Nicodemus the message behind the miracles. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). Christ told Nicodemus, the only way he could be a part of this Kingdom—part of the fulfillment of Christ’s message—was to be born again! Years later, many professing Christians read this and frantically run to get themselves “born again” so they can be a part of this kingdom.
But Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews” (John 18:36).
Not understanding the timing of the Kingdom, Nicodemus obviously did not understand this “born again” concept: “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 3:4). Physically, this is impossible.
Christ answered, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 5). Being born of water is baptism. Here, Christ meant that we cannot be born of the Spirit, or “born again,” unless we are first baptized.
And being born of the Spirit was the main focus of Christ’s teaching. He defines it in verse 6: “That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” Christ’s words are so plain. That which is born of the flesh is flesh: in a physical birth, we are physical beings. But that which is born of the Spirit is spirit: in a spiritual birth, we are spiritual beings!
So unless born again, born of the Spirit, one cannot enter the Kingdom of God (v. 5). He or she cannot even see the Kingdom (v. 3). “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (v. 8). And yet so many professing Christians will argue that they are born again, when the Son of God clearly states that if you are born again (born of the Spirit), you are like the wind—no one can see you!
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (I Cor. 15:50). Flesh and blood are visible. So if you are still flesh and blood, you have not inherited the Kingdom and therefore are not born again.
Now, we must define the word kingdom. A kingdom has four parts: 1) a king or ruler, in this case Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:16); 2) an area of land which the king will rule, in this case the Kingdom of God will rule the earth for 1000 years (Rev. 20:4); 3) subjects to rule, in this case submissive human beings striving to live according to God’s way; and 4) a law by which to rule these subjects, in this case the perfect law of God—the Ten Commandments (Rev. 22:14).
So where do those born again (born of the Spirit) fit into the Kingdom? “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them:and Isaw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God…and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4). They are the ones ruling with Christ. These saints have died and now live! They are Spirit (invisible) and will reign with Christ. In other words, they have entered the Kingdom of God. They are born again!
Notice! Being born again means being part of God’s Kingdom—which is, in other biblical passages, referred to as the family of God. In this world, kingdoms and nations are merely families grown large. So those “born again” are actually born into God’s spiritual family. Why would Christ use the word “born” if it didn’t compare to physical birth?
So many have misunderstood this fabulous truth. Why the confusion?
The New Testament Greek does not have two words to differentiate between being merely begotten and actually being born. The Greek word in all cases, gennao, actually includes the entire process from begettal to the birth. Strong’s Concordance defines it as follows: “to procreate (properly of the father, but by extension of the mother); figurative to regenerate:—bear, beget, be born, bring forth, conceive, be delivered of, gender, make, spring.” English has two separate, distinct words for this process. The King James Version of the Bible bears this out, at times translating gennao as “begotten” and other times “birth.”
It is the context that must determine what the Greek word actually denotes. (Translators were not always right.) If it refers to us receiving God’s Spirit now, while in the flesh, we know this refers to begettal, since the Kingdom is not yet here and no fleshly human is spirit and sinless! But if it refers to us being like God, not able to sin or living forever, we know that is the true, spiritual birth!
Now, understand this. Before a human being can be physically born, the baby must be begotten. Romans 8:16 shows how this relates spiritually as well. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Notice, humans have a spirit. Job 32:8 states, “But there is a spirit in man….” Spiritual begettal, which makes us God’s children, is when the Spirit of God combines with this human spirit—just like the male sperm combines with the female ovum to create a child.
So how and when is one spiritually begotten? When does this Spirit of God enter the mind? Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38).
This is why Christ, in John 3, mentioned being born of water first. This is the spiritual begettal, when man is forgiven of his past sins and receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. Upon receipt of this Spirit, man becomes a member of God’s spiritual family in embryo!
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26). Man looks like God in physical form—he has His likeness. This is proven in the sense that the Word became flesh and looked like the Father (John 14:9). But in order to be a member of God’s family, man had to gain the image of God! He needed the character of God, the mind of God. He needed to think like God.
Physically, the purpose of conception is to make another human being similar to the parents—with two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, two arms, two legs, etc. But at the moment of conception, the begotten does not look like a human being. It looks like a cell! It actually takes over nine months to come to the complete “image” of a human being. Over the months, little by little, the embryo takes on the features of a human. Soon, an independent heart, a toe here, a finger there, and so on. The same applies spiritually. When man is begotten of God, he actually seems to have none of God’s image—he may not act like or think like God. But over time, he begins to take on the features, the character of God. The equivalent of an arm might develop, or a leg, until he is fully ready to be born as a spirit being into the family of God.
“But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit of God in a human being is what quickens his or her body to be changed into spirit composition. It happened first to Christ. That is why He is called the “firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). To this point, He is the only one born again, because He is the only one who was flesh and is now a Spirit member in the God family. And how did it happen to Him? By the resurrection. “For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raisedincorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Cor. 15:52). Those dead at the return of Jesus Christ, when He comes to establish His Kingdom on earth, will be resurrected incorruptible, spirit children in the image of God.
This is the most fundamental truth to God’s plan for humanity—the very reason life exists on this planet! God is making a family. He intends that every single willing human being be born again into His family. It starts at the birth of water (being baptized and forgiven of our past sins) and the receipt of God’s Spirit, and then growing as a baby would in gestation until the embryo has formed the image of God—when the human, by the guidance of God’s Spirit, learns to think and act like God. Finally, he or she will be changed to a spirit member of God’s family—unable to sin and able to live that way forever. He or she will be, as Christ said, like the invisible wind and a part of an invisible Kingdom, or family. The parallels are astonishing!
And what is more astonishing is that the Kingdom of God will be set up on this earth imminently! Christ will soon return to rule this earth with those born-again members in His family, to teach the rest of the world how to live God’s way, how to be more like God and, in the end, how to be born spiritually into the eternal, glorious family of God.