“Born again” is a popular term among many Christians sometimes used almost as a status symbol of their spiritual attainment. But when and how is such a person really reborn?
Traditional Legal Model – being born again applies to people who have accepted Jesus as Savior with the understanding that they are sinners subject to the death penalty and willing to have Jesus die in their place to pay the death penalty they owe. It is a new lease on life.
Biblical Healing Model – being born again refers to the beginning of a completely new life with a new heart and new desires, motives and purposes. All this is produced by beholding Christ, appreciating His true character and wanting to emulate it. There is no price to be paid to God.
Here is an example of the common understanding of the meaning of “born again”:
“The phrase “born again” applies to people who have accepted Jesus as their Savior or Redeemer. The born again soul realizes that they are a sinner (Romans 3:23) and that the penalty for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). To rectify the circumstances, God sent His only Son to die in their place, to take the punishment for sin (Romans 5:8).” (https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/what-is-a-born-again-christian.html)
Born Again Means a New Life
The term “born again” appears three times in the KJV, most notably in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus:
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:3-7)
Nicodemus did not understand the spiritual meaning of being born again. Most people today see it as mainly or only a mental assent to acknowledge Jesus as their Savior. They may start attending church and even read their Bible but often there is little change beyond that.
The new-birth metaphor suggests that the born-again believer is starting over with a fresh slate, a clean record. Being “born again” also carries the idea of “becoming children of God”:
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons 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.” (John 1:12-13)
The “but of God” denotes a birth distinct from the first birth which is of blood (physical) and of the will of man/flesh.
Those not Born Again Cannot See the Kingdom of God
Does “… he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) mean a person cannot be saved? It may have less to do with gaining heaven or not and more to do with the perception, in this life, of the principles of God’s kingdom. If a person does not have the new desires, motives and purposes which come from beholding Christ and the principles of His kingdom they cannot see – in the sense of understanding – that the kingdom of heaven is a complete inner change, a total paradigm shift.
That helps to explain this verse:
“Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt 11:11)
Jesus was not saying that John the Baptist was not to be saved. Rather, it was a statement about John’s understanding of the principles of God’s kingdom. John, at that point, lacked a complete understanding of the nature of the kingdom of heaven especially in terms of its non-violent aspect. John’s thoughts of the Messiah were more along this line:
“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt 3:12)
More on John’s understanding here https://characterofgod.org/john-the-baptist-misunderstood-god/
Can a “Christian” be Partly (or not even) Born Again?
Physically, a person in either born or not. The transition is very brief.
Metaphors often cannot be applied exactly. The moment that might be most closely associated with the time of new birth might be when one realizes and accepts that God truly loves them, that they are completely safe with Him and that He will never harm them.
Many Christians claim to be born again simply because they have stated an acceptance of Christ. But, in probably most cases, they have not thought through all the implications of this new relationship. They probably believe that God will, in the end, punish the lost with fire. Subconsciously, they likely have the fear that they could meet the same fate.
It is surprising that even the apostle Peter was said by Jesus to be in need of being converted (a term equivalent to being born again):
“But I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32)
A person could even deceive themselves into thinking they are born again because they have met the common concept of what that entails or have experienced the feelings that are often associated with it.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9)
The New Birth is Only the Start
Both “born again” and “converted” implies more of a change than a mere mental assent. Aside from having a new heart (which scripture says many times), there will or should be new desires, new motives and new purposes – a completely new life.
One could perceive the loving-kindness of God, see His benevolence, discern the wisdom and justice of His law founded upon the eternal principle of love and yet not be experiencing the full new life. Paul the apostle understood this, saying:
“… I consent unto the law that it is good.” (Rom 7:16)
Knowing what he did, he recognized his condition:
“… I am carnal, sold under sin.” (Rom 7:14)
Recognizing his lack, he cried out:
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24)
The answer to Paul’s frustration was given in Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:14-18)
This is stated more succinctly by:
“… Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Jesus also stated how this works when He said:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)
It is by beholding Jesus, how He lived and treated others, and recognizing that His mission was to show us the character of the Father that we are changed.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)
Recognizing this better way, as we emulate His example in our own lives day by day, the change just happens.
By What Means are We Born Again?
The third of three verses using “born again” says:
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (1 Peter 1:23)
Being born again, in that reference, happens under the influence of the word of God whether that was in reaction to Jesus’ personal influence or through His Word, the Bible, which gives the record of His life.
So that is the key for us; to prayerfully study the Word of God with a desire to understand what God is really like that we might reflect that character in our own lives.
Born Again Equivalent Terms
John 3:37, already quoted, shows that “born of the Spirit” is an equivalent term. Another is “born of God” which is used five times, all in the book of first John. An example is:
“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)
That verse points to the importance of being “born again” or “born of God” to achieving victory in the spiritual life.
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