What It Means to be Born Again

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:3 (ESV)

In John chapter 3 Jesus has a conversation with a very important religious figure named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a spiritual Jewish leader of His day. People knew about his wisdom and they knew about his religion. He was well respected. And yet there was something inside of Nicodemus that knew something was missing. Like a constant ringing in the ears, he was aware deep in his heart of hearts that despite the fact that everyone else assumed he had his life in order and was a light to the blind, the reality was he longed for an intimacy with God that he simply didn’t have. And so he did was considered very brave in that day. He went to Jesus by night. This was a brave act because his peers certainly were not fond of Jesus. They saw Jesus as a misfit and even as a heretic. But something about Jesus stirred Nicodemus to go against the siren calls of his peers and to venture out beyond what he knew and what he was comfortable with, and to find Jesus.

Jesus, as only Jesus can do, wastes no time in getting right down to the center of Nicodemus’ heart. Nicodemus barely got a sentence out of his mouth before Jesus interrupted and aimed a spiritual arrow right at the core of Nicodemus’ broken heart. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.

This language of being born again is one that both today in our culture, as well as to Nicodemus the first time it was spoken, is offensive. Jesus’ message to Nicodemus was the Nicodemus, in all of His learning and accrued wisdom, had failed to do the one thing that could truly give him life. And the solution was not to continue down the same path he had been going but to add some new learning, or some new spiritual discipline, or some new understanding. No, if Nicodemus desired to truly glorify God, he would have to be born again.

What does it mean to be born again? It means to experience Spiritual Birth. To be born again is to have God remove our heart of flesh, the term Jesus uses to describe the hearts of every person who has not yet genuinely accepted Jesus as their Lord, and to replace it with spiritual heart, a heart that fully surrendered to the one true God, the tri-une God of the Bible.

Today in our day it is believed that there are so many paths to God. People confuse the term ‘Born Again‘ to mean ‘Discovering my own personal sense of spiritual fulfillment.‘ I once heard a Muslim woman tell me about her own story of feeling born again after making her trip to Mecca. I’ve heard others tell me of going on Spiritual retreats and even exotic travels to faraway mountaintops that have given them a sense new birth. But these are deceptions. Outside of authentic faith in Jesus Christ alone there can be no new birth. Jesus Himself clarifies that for us in the remainder of his conversation with Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:16-18

According to Jesus every person who fails to look to Jesus and trust in His death and resurrection on the cross is already condemned. Why? Because he has “not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” To not accept and believe in God’s Son is to reject God and therefore is stand condemned before God. God has not made many paths to salvation. He has made one. It is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone that a person is saved.

This New Birth cannot be inherited from your parents. It cannot borrowed from your spouse. New birth cannot be earned by good works, religious disciplines, hours in prayer, or visits to Church. And it certainly cannot be faked by simply assuming the title Christian. It’s possible to fool the world, but you cannot fool God.

At the start of a new year, this post is a bit of a plea to all who read it. I believe there are many Nicodemus’s out there. Men and women who are not yet truly born again, but are willing to at least come to Jesus by night and hear what he has to say. If that’s you, I share with you this morning, what Jesus shared with Nicodemus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Written by Raef Chenery

I'm a pastor in Chicago at Park Community Church - South Loop. I'm a husband to my beautiful wife Sara and a dad to three sweet girls, Ruth, Joy, and Mira. I'm blessed to be surrounded by a number of men and women who love to think about the ways that our faith interacts with our culture. This blog is as much for me to get my thoughts in order, as it is for those who might benefit from it and engage in the conversations as well. I would love to get your feedback through the comments on each post.

2 comments

  1. Very interesting post. Yes, this term, ‘Born Again Christian’ is confusing.
    I believe , however, that we need to respect others’ views of being ‘born again’.
    For Catholics like me, being born again occurs at baptism, usually as an infant.
    However, another process occurs, that of ‘metanoia’, or a repentance experience, whereby the individual comes to know Jesus personally.
    So, to me, the term “Born Again Christian” is a redundant term, and yes, it can cause some offense. Being a “Christian” means being a person who is saved, who knows Christ personally.
    What grieves me, and what grieves the Lord, is when some Christians assume that Catholics are not Christians. Thanks for the post. 😄

    Like

    1. Hey Sally,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry that you have felt ‘rejection’ from the larger Christian community. That is lamentable. At the same time I do see a few clear areas where the protestant Church and the Catholic Church are in direct odds with each other. I would hope that what “saves a person” would not be one of those topics, but unfortunately it often is.

      The moment of being “born again” is not at Baptism, it is at belief. Romans 10:9 says, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Justification and being saved (terms that are equated with being “Born again”) is a matter of personal commitment to the Lord Jesus. This is further why Paul says in Ephesians 2:9-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” If being saved was a result of going through Baptism, then we could boast and say that it was because of some kind of work that we did. This is why it is so important to maintain that being justified is a work of grace by faith apart from works.

      I hope that makes sense. Thanks for your comments 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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