Apart from Him we can do nothing

What Does it Mean to be Born Again?

Image of a Dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit who helps us to be born again

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Jesus spoke a mystery to Nicodemus: “you must be born again”. To be born again is the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)

Jesus says that we “must be born again”. At the time Nicodemus heard this, it appears to have confused him. Perhaps later, he came to understand what it meant for himself.

We see in John 7 that Nicodemus defends Jesus before the Sanhedrin. While not proof of conversion, at least Nicodemus was protective of Christ here. And then we see later in John 19 that he brought spices for anointing Jesus after His crucifixion and was also at His burial.

While we never see Nicodemus publicly profess Christ in scripture, it’s possible – perhaps likely – that he became a public convert at some point, and we just don’t see it recorded.

It seems that when Jesus told Nicodemus he needed to be born again, this appears to have sent Nicodemus on a path to faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah, the Son of God.

What Does it Mean to be Born Again of Water and Spirit?

When Jesus tells Nicodemus that we need to be born again of water and the Spirit, He is saying that just as we have been born physically, we must be born spiritually into God’s kingdom.

Some have interpreted “born again of water” to be referring to baptism, but it seems more likely, given the larger passage, that Jesus is talking about physical birth here.

To be “born of the Spirit” refers to the spiritual regeneration that comes from repenting from our sins and believing Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. As such, we surrender everything to Him. When we do this, our spirits are regenerated through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who we are given as God’s guarantee of inheritance of His salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Martin Luther coined the phrase “born twice, die once, born once, die twice”, which would seem to refer back to this idea of what it means to be born again. Another way to look at this is that we “die” to ourselves and follow Jesus Christ, paving the way for us to be born again.

We are first physically created, and once born again, our spirits are made alive. God is Creator until we are born again; then He also becomes our Heavenly Father.

Signs of Being Born Again

Since we know from the Bible that there are some who believe they are authentic followers of Christ when they aren’t (Matthew 7:21-23), it’s important that we understand some of the signs that we are born again. These aren’t exhaustive, but are key evidences in the life of a born-again follower of Christ.

Born Again People Obey Christ

Jesus tells us that those who love Him will do what He says (John 14:23-24). Obedience to Christ is a true mark that we are His disciples.

This obedience will flow naturally from someone who is born again. We will quit living for ourselves and abandon our lives to Christ. But to obey Him, we must learn what He tells us. Fortunately, Jesus gives us two great commands, under which all His other commands can be sorted while we are learning more about what He says.

This is just one reason why it is important that we abide with Christ. If we aren’t spending time reading His word, submitting to Him in prayer, and being encouraged by fellow believers, we won’t grow in knowledge and understanding of what He tells us to do.

Yes, the Holy Spirit does write God’s law on the hearts of His people (Hebrew 8:8-10). But we are also to study God’s Word so that we may grow in obedience and faith (Psalm 119:99).

Born Again People Have the Fruit of the Spirit

As we follow Christ, abiding with Him and growing in faith and maturity, we will begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-Control will be exhibited in our lives.

The Fruit of the Spirit cannot be faked – at least, not in any sustained way. And since it is of supernatural origin, it is sometimes inexplicable in the face of heartache and persecution. Inexplicable, but not unexplainable, for someone who is born again.

Born Again People Experience Freedom From Sin

Christ’s purpose for coming to die was to provide a once-for-all sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10:8-10). By this, we are redeemed, and a path is made for us to have fellowship with God.

What’s more, Christ sacrifice made a way to put sin to death in us (1 Peter 2:24). We experience freedom from sin as we walk in new life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And again, this points back to the need to abide with Christ. Following the abiding disciplines allows us to continue to nourish us spiritually, developing a hunger for holiness and a disdain for sin. But unless we are born again, we cannot get past the power of sin in our lives.

Importance of Being Born Again

So we understand more now about what it means to be born again. But why is it important to be born again?

To put it plainly, in Jesus’ own words, unless we are born again, we “cannot see the kingdom of God”. Unless we are willing to put on new life in the spirit by turning from our sin and towards Christ, we will die in our sins. And if we do that, all we have left before us is judgement, and eternal separation from God.

Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that He is the only way to Heaven. Unless we are willing to repent of our sins and turn to Him, and only Him, we have no hope for eternity. For without holiness, nobody will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

Does any of this sound new to you? You may have spent your whole life in church, trying to be a good person, acknowledging Jesus as God. But have you truly repented of your sin, believed in Jesus Christ and surrendered your heart to Him? Does your life exhibit the traits of one who is born again? If not, examine your faith carefully and ensure that you are indeed born again.

More Bible verses about what it means to be born again:

Ezekiel 36:26-27; Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:5-6; Titus 3:5-6; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:1-4

All Biblical reference links courtesy of Bible Gateway, a searchable online Bible tool hosting more than 200 versions of the Bible in over 70 languages.

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