The phrase “born again,” a term synonymous with most Christians, is one of the most important tenets of the Christian faith. Many, however, have historically scratched their heads and struggled to comprehend its true meaning and significance.
This was certainly the case when Jesus first told Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3, emphasis mine).
In response, Nicodemus, who was an educated, inquisitive, and sensible man, asked a seemingly rational question, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4).
Jesus, however, was not referring to any kind of literal or physical rebirth. He used the term “reborn” to affirm our need as individuals to be completely transformed, refashioned, and spiritually remade through God’s saving grace, offered through Jesus Christ, God’s “one and only” son (John 3:16).
Why Is This Essential?
Because at our core, we are all inherently sinful. As the Apostle Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, emphasis mine). Our earthly, human nature is fallen, selfish, and corrupt.
Furthermore, the cost of sin and the prognosis of a sick and infected soul is spiritual death and separation from God. As Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).
It is a bleak outlook for humanity, and no matter how hard we try to overcome sin, reach heaven, or save ourselves through any kind of personal work, the outcome is always the same. We are in desperate need of a savior.
Thankfully, God had the perfect rescue plan in place and provided such a savior through His son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said,
“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:16-18, emphasis mine).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul also writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
He even goes on to say that “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, emphasis mine).
Many have tried to earn their salvation, overcome their shortcomings, and heal their spiritual sickness and blindness without success.
This is why Paul writes, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis mine).
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).
Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no answer or cure for the sickness of our soul. Outside of Him, there is no salvation or even reconciliation with God. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Jesus made it clear: to enter the kingdom of God and experience true transformation and healing, complete regeneration is required.
The old, sinful life must be discarded, not covered or patched up. We must start over and start fresh, born again into a completely new life “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).
John the Baptist even said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, emphasis mine).
Those who believe in Jesus Christ, confess and turn from their sins, and accept the free gift of forgiveness and salvation offered through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection are wholly made new (1 John 1:9).
A New Creation
As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, emphasis mine).
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” the Apostle Peter argued, “in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3, emphasis mine).
Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we might become “children of God” and heirs to His kingdom, welcomed, “into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4).
This inheritance, Jesus argued is our eternal treasure (Matthew 6:19-21).
Nicodemus would ask a very logical question to try and clarify a very spiritual truth. From his perspective, it didn’t make sense how a person could be born a second time or how one would return to their mother’s womb to do so.
In purely physical terms, he was right. It isn’t possible. But the mysteries of God and the wonders of His kingdom are not always apparent or understood in purely literal or physical terms.
In fact, to the earthly mind, the wonders of God often seem like foolishness.
Matthew Henry writes in his commentary, that “such is the nature of the kingdom of God (in which Nicodemus desired to be instructed) that the soul must be re-modeled and molded, the natural man must become a spiritual man, before he is capable of receiving and understanding them.”
Nicodemus’s inability to understand what Jesus meant by being “reborn” proved Jesus’ point.
Born of flesh, the human mind cannot grasp the mysteries of the kingdom of God or understand the fullness of God.
This level of understanding can only come from a spiritual transformation and re-forging of a mind that is made new or “born again” through Christ.
Those who are “born again” will not only inherit eternal life, but they also inherit the “mind of Christ” and an entirely new perspective and way of life (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Whether young or old, those who are reborn in Christ are given fresh eyes, a fresh heart, and a fresh start. For in Christ, all things are made new (Revelation 21:4-5).
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Joel Ryan is a children’s book author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Crosswalk, Christianity.com, Stand Firm Men’s Magazine, and others. He is passionate about telling great stories, defending biblical truth, and helping writers of all ages develop their craft. Joel discusses, analyzes, and appreciates the great writings of the past and present on his website, Perspectives off the Page.