What Is This “Born-Again” Thing, Exactly? :: By Gene Lawley

It was Jesus who abruptly confronted Nicodemus that night, saying, “You must be born again!” (John 3:3-6).  It was a total shock to Nicodemus who was steeped in the tradition of the Pharisees, scribes and religious leaders of Israel. Jesus later warned the disciples, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). Their “leaven” or life-giving doctrine, so to speak, was the law which did not produce life but, actually, death.

So, what is this born-again thing and why a must?

Some have attempted to use that term to explain their change of mind or purpose, but it was not the transformation Jesus had in mind. The Bible speaks often of man’s need to repent of his sins, such as in Acts 17:30: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,” and 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [of Christ’s return], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

New Year’s Resolutions are a familiar type of repentance, and you know how long that exercise lasts for most of us. So we can repent of our practices and habits to some extent, sometimes. Once I was a smoker and was concerned about getting cancer, so I chewed gum for a month instead of smoking. A month of that and I began smoking again as if I had never stopped. Later on, having a bad cold and sore throat, I was smoking menthol-flavored cigarettes and wishing I could quit the habit. Abruptly, that moment one night, I prayed (probably the second time I had ever done that), saying, “God, if You will help me quit smoking, I’ll try to do my part.”

The next morning I awoke with no desire for a cigarette, as was commonly the case, and felt clean and refreshed. I was amazed, and for two weeks I even told others how it had happened. Then, curiosity took hold, and I tested the “repentance” and found out that I could not do my part after all. Something else had to happen, but what was it?

It comes down to this—all people, all of us, are born of Adam. Through the generations, we arrive at our birth from our mom and dad with that spiritual and physical death written in our genes and DNA. How can we quit being a child of Adam, because no child of Adam will ever enter the kingdom of heaven? We must be born-again, a spiritual transaction. However, I was so spiritually dead that I did not grasp what God had done in me that I could not do.

It is a God thing. There is no act of repentance that mankind can undertake that will accomplish the transformation needed to change a person from one of Adam’s offspring to a child of God. Then why preach repentance to people? Man is not aware, really, of the depth of his separation from God. We are taught a concept of God that speaks of the love of God but leaves out the necessary justice of God, that He must confront the sinfulness of mankind. Romans 3:23 speaks to that, saying, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Jesus came first to the Jews, for salvation is of the Jews, and the gospel was first to the Jews according to John 4:22 and Romans 1:16. However, He was not received by them, and John 1:12-13 tells us this: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

It says, “…Who are born, not of blood,” that is, not of family inheritance, like a Christian family or as an American citizen. Then, “…Nor of the will of the flesh,” that is, trying to keep the law as best you can, or doing good works like baptism or joining a church or taking communion. Then, “…Nor of the will of man,” that is, by confirmation by a priest or some other third-party action. It is a God thing.

In Matthew 16:13-17, Jesus is inquiring of the disciples who people are saying He is, and they list several of the prophets. Then, Jesus asked them who they think He is, and Peter bursts out with, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

So, what is so crucial about that, you may ask? Could “flesh and blood” have done that? No, never! That is our problem as sons of Adam; we are born spiritually dead—unable to comprehend or understand spiritual truths. Faith is a gift from God to those willing to accept it, and if you have noticed, the most often repeated word relative to salvation in the Bible is “believe.” The meaning of that word is not like a casual nod of agreement but is a belief that is defined more distinctly as “trust.”

The object of that trust and its trustworthiness is so much greater than finite man that it can only become real and effective by the revelation of God. It is unreachable by man in his own ability as a son of Adam. Two passages reveal this to us. First, in Matthew 16:15-17 above, Peter gives an answer that could only come from God, and Jesus commended him for it by saying, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you,” but it came from God. That is, neither Peter nor anyone can know that truth except that it is revealed by God to him.

Now, look at 1 John 5:1a, which ties this to the “born-again” requirement we are addressing:

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God….”

When Jesus is identified as “the Christ,” He is the Messiah—the promised One from heaven, the One who is God in the flesh. Believing that takes special revelation of God. That belief takes one out of the heritage and lineage of Adam and into the family of God as an adopted child of God. A person dies with Christ and rises with Him in his resurrection, just as Galatians 2:20 describes in the words of the Apostle Paul:

“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me.”

It is also spelled out in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

“Therefore, if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away. Behold, all things have become new.”

With the belief as in 1 John 5:1a above, so crucial to the saving relationship with the Lord, it is no wonder that the fact of God’s appearing in the flesh of mankind is denied in the foundational arguments of the false prophets. John also speaks to this in 1 John 4:1-3:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

It is not surprising that the enemy would target the most important “bullseye” for his deceptive false doctrine. It is evident in Scripture that the devil continually challenged the claim that Jesus made of His deity, that He is the great “I AM before Abraham was” (John 8:58). And also, that belief of that fact is the doorway to eternal life, the “born-again” requirement for becoming a child of God. It is also evident that the necessity is that it be by a revelation of God and not of man’s effort. Paul sums it up in Titus 3:4-5 like this:

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”

You must be born-again!

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