What Does It Really Mean to be Born Again? (Part 1)
By David Miller
May 1, 2020
People who are born again are radically different than they were before they were born again. From the moment of their spiritual rebirth, they immediately see themselves and others differently. They know that every person is either born again or not born again, a new creation or not a new creation. The first thing that enters their minds when they see or meet a new person is, “Are they born again or not?” They want everyone to experience the same rebirth that they’ve experienced.
When religious people experience a spiritual rebirth, they no longer look at the world as consisting of everyone who is in their religious group and everyone who is not. Again, they realize that there are only two categories of people in God’s eyes—those who have been born again and those who have not been born again. When religious people are born again, they are immediately concerned about everyone who is not born again, especially those within their religious group. They can’t keep quiet about it any more than they could keep quiet if they saw their neighbor’s house on fire —because people who are not born again are on the road to hell—unless Jesus was lying when He said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Spiritual rebirth is just one of numerous immediate blessings God pours out upon those who believe in His Son. God forgives their sins, makes them His children, gives them the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and promises them eternal life. These blessings are like birthday gifts, but gifts that are given at birth!
How Can I Be Born Again?
Babies in the womb can’t birth themselves. They are birthed by the action of their mothers. Similarly, no person can cause himself to be born again. Spiritual rebirth is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. This is why the New Testament refers to those who have been born again as people who are “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6, 8) and “born of God” (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1). Being born again is a divine miracle that no one can fully understand or explain.
The Holy Spirit, however, doesn’t regenerate people’s spirits arbitrarily. He regenerates the spirits of those who believe in Jesus. John wrote, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah] is born of God” (1 John 5:1, emphasis added).
John also wrote, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4, emphasis added). Faith is the key that opens the door to being “born of God” and “overcoming the world” (that is, not living like the people of the world who are not born again).
Similarly, and just a few seconds after telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, Jesus told him:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).
It is simply by believing in Jesus that eternal life and spiritual rebirth is gained. If we had lived sinless lives of perfection, perhaps we would not need to be born again, and perhaps we might have earned eternal life; but sinners, like all of us, need forgiveness and transformation. The New Testament repeatedly reveals that these things are graciously granted to those who believe in Jesus.
How Can I Be Sure I’ve
Been Born Again?
Of course, claiming to believe that Jesus is the Christ is not proof that one actually does believe. I know that, because I publicly claimed that I believed in Jesus when I was confirmed as a church member at age 12. Looking back, I realize that I really didn’t believe what I claimed to believe. If I had truly believed in Jesus, I would have been spiritually reborn and would have become a new creature—just as Jesus promised—and I would have started acting like it. The New Testament teaches that there are two primary marks that identify those who are genuinely born again:
(1) “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him…. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 2:29; 3:9, emphasis added).
(2) “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7, emphasis added).
The first identifying mark of those who are born of God is that they practice righteousness and do not practice sin (1 John 2:29; 3:9). That is, they consistently do what is right. They are not perfect, and they may sometimes stumble (see James 3:2), but their lives are characterized by righteousness and holiness. Those whose lives are characterized by sin and unrighteousness are not born again. As Paul warned in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Take note that Paul credited the transformed lives of the Corinthian Christians, not to human efforts to reform, not to fence laws, nor to church membership. Rather, he credited God’s Spirit. The Corinthian believers had been “washed,” “sanctified” (set apart for holy use) and “justified” (declared righteous) by the work of God, not by the work of man. They had been born again!
The second identifying mark of those who are born of God is that they love others who are born again (1 John 4:7)—those who are fellow members of their spiritual family and who have the same Heavenly Father. If they mock, resist or don’t want to associate with those who are born again, it proves they are not born again. As John also wrote:
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death...If a man say, ‘I love God,’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his b rother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 3:14; 4:20, emphasis added)
How tragic it is when people who profess to be Christians shun or disassociate themselves from family members who are born again. By their actions, they demonstrate that they are not Christians, but just religious.
The love that born-again people have for their spiritual family also motivates them to make sacrifices for members facing hardships. Jesus’ foretelling of the future judgment of the sheep and goats makes that ever so clear (see Matt. 25:31-46). To not care for the “least of these” among Christ’s brethren is to not care for Jesus. As John echoed:
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in Him?” (1 John 3:16-17).
The Assurance of Salvation
Notice that so many of the passages I’ve quoted from the Bible are from the apostle John’s first letter. John wrote that letter to help his readers ascertain, by self examination, if they were truly born again and genuinely possessed eternal life. Near the end of that letter he wrote:
“These things I have written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).
It is not only possible to know that you have eternal life and are born again, it is the normal experience of every true Christian. To say that we can’t know if we have eternal life or if we are born again is to take sides against the Bible.
To claim that people are born again simply because they are water baptized, even though they continue to live sinful lives or don’t love born-again people, is also to contradict the Bible. Baptism is a symbolic picture of being born again, not a means to be born again. New believers should be baptized, yes, and they should be told that their baptism represents their death, burial and cleansing resurrection to a new life—as spiritually reborn children of God. But those who are baptized without genuine faith in Jesus are like dry pigs who temporarily become wet pigs! They are still pigs!
A Gradual Rebirth?
Occasionally, I’ve encountered religious people who tell me their church teaches that Christians are gradually born again over their lifetimes. This, too, is an idea that you will never find in the Bible. Consider the many Scripture passages I’ve already cited that make some reference to being “born again,” “born of God,” “born of the Spirit,” “passing from death to life,” and so on. Most of them make it abundantly clear that the new birth, like the physical birth of a child, is an event that takes place in a relatively short amount of time.
The apostles wrote to the early Christians as if they had already been born again at some point in the past, not as if they were gradually being born again throughout their span of their lives.
For example, Peter wrote:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3, emphasis added).
“Being born again [past tense], not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:23, emphasis added).
If you encountered an adult who said, “I can’t say that I’ve been born yet, but I believe I’m gradually being born over the course of my life,” you’d have to conclude that person doesn’t understand the plain meaning of the word “born.”
Similarly, the person who claims he is gradually being born again over the course of his life does violence to the simple word “born.” Moreover, he clearly has not investigated what the Bible says on the topic of the new birth and has no idea what it actually means to be born again.
What About You?
Have you experienced a life-changing spiritual rebirth so significant that you view the span of your life so far as “pre-born-again” and “post-born-again”? Has your inward nature changed so that, more than anything else, you want to please God? Do you look at God as your Heavenly Father rather than as “the Man Upstairs” or the distant God whom you sing about on Sunday mornings? Have your eyes been opened to see God’s kingdom, and do you consider all of those who have been born again to be your spiritual brothers and sisters? Are you sure that when you die, you will enter God’s kingdom?
If you cannot answer “yes” to all of those questions, then there is one thing you must do: You must believe in Jesus:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
If you believe in Him as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—as the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, the Future Judge before whom everyone will stand and give an account—He will become your Lord. Your life and eternity will dramatically change.
Don’t wait until you are in hell to finally take Jesus’ solemn words—"You must be born again”—as serious as He intended for you to take them. Don’t wait another second! Fall on your knees and pray to the God who created you, loves you, and who will re-create you!
The author of this article, David Miller, resides in Smicksburg, Pennsylvania. If you would like to respectfully and peacefully discuss this article with him, either through written correspondence, a phone conversation, or in person, please feel free to contact him:
P.O. Box 33
Smicksburg, PA 16256
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