What Does “Born Again” Mean?
by James R. Aist
Many in the Christian church today have, at best, a rudimentary understanding of what Jesus was talking about when he said “You must be born again (from above).” False teachers are often quick to invent their own concept of “born again” apart from sound biblical information, so be careful to compare what they teach to the Word of God. A good grasp of the biblical teaching on this subject is important to the understanding of how God saves people and transforms their lives – the very essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — so let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about “born again.”
Our Original Condition
When God first created Adam, his human spirit was in harmony with God and they were in close, intimate fellowship. Sin had not yet entered the world, and Adam was living in obedience to God’s commands. But when Adam sinned, there was a profound effect on the nature of the spirit of man: the human spirit was changed from one of harmony and obedience to a spirit of rebellion and enmity toward God, and this “sin nature” of the human spirit was inherited by all generations following Adam (that’s us). As a result, everyone is born into this world with a heart of stone (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26) and deaf ears (Deuteronomy 29:3-4). The only ones who can listen to the word of God and believe it are those to whom God has given a “heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26) and “ears to hear” (Isaiah 32:1-4). Only God can remedy this problem. (For a more complete treatment of “Ears to Hear”, Click HERE.)
God’s Remedy: A New Human Spirit
Those to whom God gives a “heart of flesh” and “ears to hear” will, at some point in their conversion process, become “born again.” To be “born again” is not an option for salvation; it is an absolute requirement (John 3:1-8). When one is “born again”, God the Father draws them to Jesus (John 6:44), reveals to them that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16-17), replaces their sinful heart of stone with an obedient heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26); that is, He removes the old, rebellious human spirit they were born with, which is at enmity with God, and replaces it with a new, obedient human spirit (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26), which is from God (John 3:1-8) and in harmony with God. Here is how the Apostle Paul described this harmony with God, in 1 Corinthians 6:17, “But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” Jesus, the Second Adam, has undone the spiritual damage caused by the “original sin” of the First Adam; our “sin nature” has been undone! Moreover, God puts the Holy Spirit into the born-again person (Ezekiel 36:27) to sanctify him, help him to understand spiritual truths and to be an internal witness to the veracity of biblical truth. A “born again” person loves the word of God and eagerly receives and believes it (1 John 4:6). But to those who are not “born again”, it is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18 and 2:13). And we should not expect them to believe it, because in their fallen, dead, spiritual condition, they cannot (1 Corinthians 2:13 and 1 John 4:6).
Becoming “born again” is not something we can do for ourselves; rather, it is something that God does for us. Perhaps a simple analogy can help you understand this point. When we are conceived and born into this earthly life, it is not something that we have done for ourselves; rather, it is something that our parents have done for us. Likewise, when we become “born again”, it is not something that we have done for ourselves; rather, it is something that our Heavenly Father has done for us. For our part, what we can do is ask God to give us the gift of “saving faith.” When He has done that, then we will be “born again.”
Are There Other Bible References to “Born Again”?
Where else in the Bible can we find teachings about being “born again?” As it turns out, Peter used the same phrase that Jesus had coined in referring to Christian believers: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23). What does Peter mean by “perishable” and “imperishable” seed, and what is the significance, if any, for us? Well, we can understand this reference to the two kinds of seed if we consider what happens to unbelievers vs. believers in the judgment: “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the…unbelieving—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14-15). The believers will not experience the second death because they are “born again” of imperishable seed (a new human spirit), whereas the unbelievers are still of their original, perishable seed (old human spirit) and will die a second death (i.e., “perish”).
One can also recognize a reference to being “born again” in Paul’s description of what happens when an unbeliever is converted into a believer: “Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, the Amplified Bible). Now, we know, of course, that the salvation experience does not immediately change everything about the “old” person (e.g., his body is still the same age and his ability to resist temptation is not yet perfect), so how, then, can Paul say that this experience makes one “a new creature altogether?” It’s because Paul is referring here to just the “spirit man” (the man’s human spirit) which is changed from the original, fallen spiritual condition in which he was born into this world, to a new, regenerated and undefiled spiritual condition when he is born again. In other words, his original human spirit (“previous moral and spiritual condition”) has been replaced with a new human spirit (thus, “a new creature altogether”).
And, finally, the Apostle John also refers to this experience as being “born of God”: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the Devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the Devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10). Note that here, John is giving us a litmus test that separates the true believers (those who are “born of God” or “born again”) from the unbelievers (the “children of the Devil”): the “born-again Christians” will not continue to sin.
Am I born again?
Since one must be born again in order to spend their eternity in heaven, it is natural to wonder, “Am I born again?!” Of course, I cannot answer that question for you, but I can show you some very important things that the Bible has to say about it, and that may help you answer it for yourself. First, the Bible says that we can know, here and now, that we possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Therefore, it is possible for you to find the answer to this question as it pertains to your own spiritual condition. Second, a born-again person will testify that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Timothy 6:12). Third, the genuineness of their verbal testimony will be confirmed by a changed life: they will repent and turn away from their sins (Galatians 5:24; 2 Timothy 2:19) and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22) — in ways and with a consistency that was not evident before. And fourth, a born-again person will begin to live their life more for Jesus and less for themselves (1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 2:19-20). This new outlook on life will create a whole new purpose and meaning for the life of the believer and will have a profound effect on their approach to life in general. Finally, here are some key Scripture verses that may help you answer this very important question for yourself (John 1:12; John 3:18-21; Romans 8:16-17; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 4:12-15; and 1 John 5:6-12). If, after pondering the points and verses presented here, you are still unsure that you are born again, you may want to take a moment to pray and ask God to give you saving faith in Jesus Christ and an unshakable assurance that He has saved you. Then go back through this section of the study again and meditate intently on each point and verse, because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Finally, one can understand and follow these steps to become “born again”, if you are being genuine and sincere:
- Confess your sins to God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Repent (turn away from, forsake, your sins): “The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
- Ask God to give you the gift of “saving faith.”
- Believe and Trust in Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- Accept His Forgiveness: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
- Receive the Peace of Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)