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Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 1)
by Jody L. AppleThe words "born again" have always signified something of great importance to those who believe in the Bible. They are expressive of the new birth which follows the believer's death to, or separation from, sin, and delivers us into the kingdom of God.
The expression is heard frequently today. Many people claim to have experienced this unusual phenomenon. But what is it? What does it mean to say someone is born again?And, how does it happen? What is our involvement, if any, that causes this birth to occur?
These questions are important, and worthy of careful investigation. By examining what the Bible has to say about this matter, we should be able to find the answers.
In John 3:1 and following, the Bible depicts a meeting that occurred between Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, and Jesus. During their conversation, Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus must not have understood what Jesus meant, for he asked: "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.' "
By answering this way, Jesus taught that physical birth is not the same as the new birth. The new birth was something quite different. Man had to be "born of water and of the Spirit."
Some have taken this to mean that in order to be born again you must first be born as a child is born (a physical birth), and then, later in life, be born in a "spiritual" sense, when the Holy Spirit miraculously comes upon you. According to this understanding, John 3 applies to two births which are separated by an expanded period of time. But Jesus answered Nicodemus' question (verses 4-6) in order to show that no aspect of a physical birth was intended. In addition, other Bible pas-sages refer to the new birth as a single, not a dual, event. Thus, two births could not have been the object of Jesus' teaching.
What then is this birth of water and spirit? Though much could be said, we note only these three important truths about the new birth:
(1) The new birth allows us to see (verse 3), or enter (verse 5), the kingdom of God. In verse three, Jesus states that being "born again" allows one to "see" God's kingdom. That thought is explained, in verse five, when Jesus says that it is through the birth of water and the Spirit that one enters God's kingdom.
It seems obvious that the phrases "born again" and "born of water and the Spirit" refer to each other. When one is born of water and Spirit, he is born again.
Likewise, "seeing" and "entering" the kingdom are related. When one "sees" the kingdom, as Jesus intends it in verse 3, he enters the kingdom.
Consequently, understanding what it means to enter God's kingdom is crucial. That understanding is made clearer when we realize that the Bible equates the kingdom with the churchthat Jesus died to build. (see Matthew 16:18-19). It is a kingdom that the prophets of God foretold in the Old Testament (Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-2; Daniel 2:44; Joel 2:28-32).
In the second chapter of Acts we learn that the establishment of that kingdom (and thus the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy) was realized when the church began on the Pentecost following Christ's resurrection. Peter's preaching that day was a message of repentance and baptism and was obeyed by some 3000 souls who were "added" to something (verse 41). The last verse of the chapter teaches us that God added these souls to the church as they were being saved. That is to say that their addition to the church by the Lord occurred at the same time that they were being saved. Entrance into the church, then, is both simultaneous and synonymous with entrance into Christ's kingdom.
As a result, whatever adds one to the kingdom also adds one to the church, and vice versa. When one enters the kingdom of God, by means of the new birth, he enters the church. When one, by means of the birth of water and the Spirit, enters the church, he also enters the kingdom.
(2) The new birth includes baptism (immersion) in water. John the Baptist, the fore-runner of Jesus, was involved in heralding the kingdom of God. His message was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2) As part of his work in preparing the way for Christ, John baptized those who came confessing and repenting of their sins, for the remission of those sins (Matthew 3:2-6; Mark 1:1-5; Luke 3:1-8; John 1:19-34; 4:1). Though Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15), he, too, was baptized of John to "fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3:13-17)
Though many Jews relied upon their ancestry through Abraham, that is their physical birth, to save them, John corrected them: "do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones." (Matthew 3:9)
The new birth, then, is quite different than a physical birth. It is primarily a spiritual birth, occurring simultaneously with the act of baptism, or immersion, in water. Concerning this, note the following remark: "Water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John which was then awakening such profound and general interest; and, with this, the symbolical purifications of the Jews, and the Old Testament use of washing as the figure of purifying from sin (Ps. 51:2,7; Ezek. 36:25; Zech. 13:1). Jesus' words opened to Nicodemus a new and more spiritual significance in both the ceremonial purifications and the baptism of John which the Pharisees had rejected (Luke 7:30). John's rite had a real and legitimate relation to the kingdom of God which Nicodemus must accept."
This simply means that baptism (immersion in water) was necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God. The physical act of baptism fulfills that part of the new birth which states that we are to be "born of water."
(3) The new birth includes our obedience to the word of God.While Jesus affirmed the necessity of baptism as an essential element of the new birth, he also affirmed the necessity of the spiritual element in that birth by instructing that such be "of the Spirit." The physical act without the spiritual element would have been meaningless. But what is this spiritual element? How are we born "of the Spirit?"
As we examine the Bible, we note at least these significant points concerning the Spirit: (1) the Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead, which is also composed of God (the Father) and Christ (the Son), (2) every attribute and characteristic of God the Father and God the Son applies with equal force to the Holy Spirit, (3) each person of the Godhead has unique roles which often overlap those of the other two, and (4) one of the unique roles of the Spirit centers around the message of God.
It is this last element of the Spirit's work that is of importance to us as we examine the meaning of the birth "of the Spirit." The Holy Spirit, in both Old and New Testaments, played a unique role in the revelation and the inspiration of the message of God. We will continue our next article in this series by focusing on that important function.
TheBible.net: Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 1)
TheBible.net: Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 2)
TheBible.net: Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 3)
TheBible.net: Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 4)
TheBible.net: Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 5)
TheBible.net: Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 6)
TheBible.net: Born Again: What Does It Mean? (Part 7)