Born Again Basics By Andre Lederer
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible (onlinebible.org). All rights reserved.
Introduction What does “born again” mean? If someone were to ask you, could you offer them a clear biblical explanation? Most believers define “born again” in terms of how it happens (by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior) rather than explaining what it actually means. The purpose of this booklet is twofold: 1. To provide a clear understanding of what “born again” means from a biblical context 2. To explore some of its implications My hope is that the information you gain from this booklet will encourage you in your Christian life and make you a more effective witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although this booklet is written with believers in mind, it will still be useful for those who are not Christians but are seeking a biblical understanding of this topic.
Contemporary Secular Usage of the Words “Born Again” To gain a better understanding of what “born again” means, we will first identify the ways in which the words are most commonly misused. Most people, Christians and non-Christians alike, mistakenly treat these words as if they are an expression or a figure of speech. Unfortunately, this usage has opened the doors for many negative and misleading outcomes. Using the words “born again” as an expression is exactly how the music and movie industries have been able to incorporate them into song lyrics and scripts for television programs and movies. In general, these industries use the words to describe feelings of love, revitalization, or newness of purpose in life. The expression is often used after an invigorating experience. Imagine a person standing at the top of a mountain after a challenging climb, and as he looks out at the beautiful horizon, he takes a deep breath and says, “Ah, I feel born again!” Then there is the scenario where two people are involved in a new romantic relationship, and one individual exclaims to the other, “Darling, when I’m with you, I’m born again!” This is typically how the secular world uses these words. But no matter how it is expressed, these modern day uses are a clear departure from how the words are used in the Scriptures.
But as we shift our focus from the world to the church, we find that many believers, from youths to pastors, also do not have a solid biblical understanding of the words “born again.” Many believers will say that “born again” means to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ or that it means to dedicate your life to God. Some believers I have asked begin to expound on the fall of man from the third chapter of Genesis for their take on the words. But these thoughts still do not convey the actual biblical meaning of the words.
To grasp what being “born again” really means, we must understand that the original biblical usage was not intended as a phrase or figure of speech. These words were actually written and understood as two unique words with two unique meanings. Once we get over the mindset of treating these words as an expression, we’ll be able to grab a firm hold of their biblical meaning and then begin to understand their implications.
A Biblical Definition The actual biblical meaning of these words is straightforward and easy to comprehend. In biblical context, “born again” simply and yet profoundly means “to experience birth a second time.” That’s it; there’s really nothing more to the definition than this.
But if the words “born again” simply mean “to experience birth a second time,” how then is this possible? This was the very question Nicodemus, a religious leader, asked Jesus in the third chapter of John (we will look into their discussion in a moment). Indeed, how is it that a man can experience another, very literal and very real, birth? The answer to this question is found primarily in the Gospel of John chapters one and three. Let’s look at portions of these chapters to gain a better understanding of what the words “born again” mean in their original biblical context and then see just how a person can experience this new birth.
The New Birth in John 1 We will begin our study in the very first chapter of the Gospel of John. It is here that the teaching of the new birth is first clearly referenced in the Bible. As you read through the following passage, it is important to keep in mind that this chapter primarily serves as the apostle’s introduction to his manuscript where, as a common literary practice, he summarizes and emphasizes its main theme and central importance. Here we read John’s words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:1-14, emphasis added).
In this introduction we read about that which is closest to the heart of the apostle. Here John speaks of Jesus' divinity and His work with His Father in creation. He tells us that God's Son actually came to this world and even though He made the world, it did not recognize or receive Him. But of most interest to us is the fact that in the midst of this glorious introduction that speaks of the mighty works of God, we also read about the provision of a new birth for His fallen, dying creatures. Verses twelve and thirteen tell us clearly that anyone who receives Jesus Christ as his Savior is born (again) of God Himself and becomes His very own child. What great love God has toward us that He would provide sinful, mortal man with the opportunity for a new life, and that, as a member of His own family.
These verses also clearly show that this birth is of supernatural origin. To make sure we understand that this birth is spiritual in nature, John phrases it in four different ways. He says that this birth is: 1. not of blood 2. nor of the will of the flesh 3. nor of the will of man 4. but of God! These points clearly illustrate that the second birth is spiritual in essence and is in contrast to natural birth that we are so familiar with in this world.
Thus we see from the very introduction of John’s Gospel the teaching of the new birth and the provision of a new life and new identity as an actual child of God. I’ve heard many people say that they need “a new life” or “a new beginning”; well, this is a very real opportunity for that to happen. For when we become born again, we become a new creation. 2 Corinthians says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” What a wonderful blessing! But God does not give this new beginning and new Father-child relationship to everyone. It is given only to those who receive His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Savior.
The New Birth Confirmed by Other Disciples The concept of the new birth, as we have just read in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, is reaffirmed by other Apostles in a number of verses throughout the New Testament. The following verses are only three of many that affirm the reality and the necessity of the new birth.
1. The Apostle Paul says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration (new birth), and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). 2. The Apostle Peter clearly states that believers are “…born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God” (1 Peter ). 3. The Apostle John in his epistle says, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (1 John 5:1).
The following points recap the key thoughts that we have discussed so far in this booklet: · The words “born again” are not used as a figure of speech in their original biblical context. · The words “born again” simply, yet profoundly, mean to be born a second time. · The new birth is spiritual in essence, not natural. · Only through faith in Jesus Christ does one experience the second birth. · Those who experience the second birth are born of God. · Those who experience the second birth become literal children of God
The New Birth in John 3 Although the concept of the new birth should be fairly clear by now, we will look at one more main passage of scripture to solidify our understanding. John 3 is perhaps the most commonly referenced portion of scripture that deals with the subject of being born again. In John 3:1-7 we read this:
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 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. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the
A Biblical Definition The following is an expanded, biblical definition of “born again” based on the verses we’ve looked at so far. Note also how the work of the entire Godhead (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) is involved. By the will of God the Father, every person who hears the Word of God and receives Jesus Christ as his Savior is born a second time by the Spirit of God and enters into God’s family as His very own child.
Jesus’ Entrance into Our Human Family But should the concept of a new birth really be any surprise to us? Consider Jesus’ entrance into our human family. As the diagram provided shows, Jesus (God the Son) was actually born through the agency of a human (the virgin, Mary), and thus He entered into our human family. Therefore, it is also fitting that man should be born through the agency of a spiritual being (the Holy Spirit) to enter into God’s spiritual family.
Birth Processes Compared
|Mary||The Holy Spirit|
|Human Family||God’s Family|
Children of God In 1 John 3:1 we read, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God…and such we are!” By using the word “behold,” the apostle wants to direct our attention to something that should provoke a response of awe and wonder. In this case he wants to direct our attention to the fact that those who have received Jesus Christ are God’s actual children. And when the apostle says, “…and such we are,” it is as if he is saying, “Brethren, do you really understand the gravity and awesomeness of this blessing?” Indeed what an incomprehensible wonder that the holy, just and sovereign God of this universe has made it possible for His wayward creatures to become His very own beloved children.
The fact that those who receive Jesus Christ as their Savior bear the title “children of God” is an amazing and profound reality that many believers think of far too lightly. Perhaps we have become jaded to the profoundness of our new identity because of the popular sentiment in the world that cries out that we are all God's children. Although the world makes this claim again and again, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Scripture is abundantly clear that the only people who can be rightfully called “children of God” and conversely, the only people who have the right to call God “Father,” are those who have become His children through the new birth. No one else in this world can claim the title “child of God,” and anyone who does, does so illegitimately. In this world it is no surprise that to be a biological child of someone, you need to be born of that someone. So it is also true in the spiritual realm. To be a child of God, you must be born of Him; there is no other way. Our Father The personal Father-child relationship that Christians have with God is manifest partly by how God wants them to address Him in prayer. In Luke 11:2 Jesus says, “When ye pray, say, our Father which art in heaven…” Jesus did not say that believers should address God as “Sovereign God” or “Great Creator,” etc., but personally, as “Father.” This personal relationship is similar to that of the president of a country asking a beggar on the street to address him by his first name while all other dignitaries and influential people must address him as Mr. President. Of course, the privilege of addressing God as Father is infinitely more profound. Indeed this intimate relationship with God is so profound and special that Jesus made it clear that we should not address anyone else, in a spiritual sense, as Father. In Matthew 23:9 we read, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”
The “Religious” Person’s use of the Name Father God’s desire for His re-born creatures to address Him as Father is indeed a precious pearl of the Church that should be thought of dearly, used reverently and guarded closely. For in much the same way the world manipulates the words “born again” for its own purposes, so it also misuses the name Father simply by using it when they do not have the right. Today, many non believers that align themselves under the broad umbrella of Christianity refer to God as Father solely because it was a part of their religious upbringing and not because of a decision they’ve made to receive Jesus Christ as their savior. As a result, the name Father is used in classrooms, at religious ceremonies, and even on political platforms by individuals that do not know God nor really care that He exists. But in the same way that it’s not appropriate for a person to call someone father who is not his parent, it is also inappropriate for people to refer to God as Father if they have not been born of Him. The name “Father” should not be treated so flippantly and thoughtlessly, especially when we consider that the payment for the privilege to use it cost God the life of His only begotten Son.
The Jewish Nation’s use of the Name Father A virtually unknown fact that we should consider is that even the Jews in Old Testament days did not commonly refer to God as Father, in fact, there are only a few such references like Isaiah 63:16 or 64:8 where the title is used. The Old Testament believers instead referred to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their “fathers”. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Jews were not regularly referred to as the “children of God” in the Old Testament, but were generally referred to as the “children of
You Can’t Stop Being God’s Child Having a proper understanding of what it means to be “born again” helps answer some common questions asked by many believers. One question that is often on the minds of Christians is “Can a believer lose his salvation?” We can partially answer this question with a question. Consider this: Is there anything a person can do, anything at all, to change the fact that he is a child of his natural, biological parents? The answer of course is a resounding no! No matter how much a person may love or hate his parents or even if he changes his name and moves to the remotest parts of the earth, nothing can change the fact that he is the child of his parents. Now if this is true with respect to our earthly parents, how much more true is this when, through a greater spiritual birth, we are children of our heavenly Father? The fact is that once you become a child of God, you remain His child forever. This perhaps is one of the reasons why God gives us stories like the prodigal son (Luke -32). No matter how selfish the son was, no matter how far he drifted away in sin, he still remained his father's son. The Scriptures also tell us that when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, God sends the Holy Spirit to live within us, sealing us as His own. In Galatians 4:4-6 we see that the Holy Spirit within us cries out “Abba, Father,” thus confirming our new identity as God’s children. Indeed we are safe and secure in the Father. Once we are “born again,” we are God’s children for all eternity, and He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b).
Conclusion and Invitation I hope this booklet has helped you understand that the words “born again” are not a figure of speech but refer to an actual spiritual event that makes you God’s child. In Galatians the Apostle Paul writes this, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” What a great God we have! If you are not a believer and would like to become a true child of God, then go to God in prayer right now, and confess to Him that you are a sinner and that you are willing to change your ways and be obedient to Him. Ask God to forgive you of your sins. Tell Him that you are placing your trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, for salvation from the penalty of your sins. Ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart and take His rightful seat on the throne of your life.
If you have sincerely prayed a prayer along these lines, then you have been “born again” and are now a true child of God. It is now very important for you to find a church that believes in the new birth and teaches from God’s Word.
Thank you for reading, and may God bless you.