HAVE YOU BEEN BORN AGAIN?
In his book Waking the Dead, John Eldridge reminds us that we are enchanted with stories of transformation.
• Beauty’s love turns the beast into a handsome prince.
• Pinocchio becomes a boy.
• The Ugly Duckling becomes a swan.
• Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi Warrior.
• Strider becomes King Aragorn.
• Neo becomes the One.
These speak to our heart because we long to be more than we can be. We long to be born again. It has become very popular in certain circles to speak of being “born again.” What exactly does this mean?
The new birth is the bringing forth of a new and divinely created life into the soul of the believer. When we speak of “generating” something, we refer to bringing life to that thing. Therefore “regeneration” speaks of the bringing of life to that which had previously been dead.
THE NEED FOR THE NEW BIRTH
The very fact of regeneration presupposes a spiritual death. I have spent a lot of years in the Fire Rescue profession. And there is one important rule which I learned. You do not bring someone back to life unless they are first dead. Performing CPR on a person who is still breathing and whose heart is still beating is not helpful.
You were born as a son or a daughter of Adam. This was an existence of spiritual death. The only way of escape was to bring new life to that dead existence. You need some supernatural CPR. God does not save you by cleaning up your old life. Instead He declares you to be legally dead. And then He starts over.
Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7).
There is an identification truth here. When Christ died on the cross, you were legally considered to have died with Him. When He was buried and the tomb was sealed with the stone, you were reckoned to be in the grave with Him. And when He arose from the grave, you were declared to have risen with Him into a new life.
This is why Peter says that our new birth is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3).
The new birth brings about a living hope. That is a quality we need. Everyone needs hope. I was talking recently to a man whose son had been in a coma. It was uncertain whether the boy would live or die. One of the nurses came in and told him, “I don’t want to give you any hope.” She meant well but, at this point in the process, he needed to hope. The good news is that his hope was not without foundation, for his son soon awakened and was restored to health.
If you have come to faith in Jesus Christ, then you have been born again to a living hope. It is a hope of life that is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. He rose from the dead and He gives to you a similar resurrection, raising you out of your former manner of living to live your life in a new realm of existence.
THE DYNAMIC OF THE NEW BIRTH
Jesus taught on the subject of the new birth during a midnight conversation He had with a man named Nicodemus. It must have been an interesting conversation. On the one hand was a Galilean carpenter-turned-rabbi. On the other was a recognized religious leader of the Jewish religion.
3 Jesus answered and said
to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?”
answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the
Spirit, he cannot enter into the
Twice in this conversation, Jesus repeats the words, “Truly, truly.” It is not that Jesus had a problem with lying. It is that He wanted to get the attention of Nicodemus and He underscored His words. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t miss this, Nicodemus!”
There is nothing more important in your life than your standing and relationship before God. It is a matter of life or death. Indeed, it is a matter of eternal life versus eternal death.
One of the ways in which you can tell a real Christian is by the importance he places upon his spiritual life. One who has a spiritual life will necessarily begin to see the importance of cultivating that life. You can ask a person, “Are you a Christian?” and if they become annoyed at the question, then it is more than likely that they are not, no matter what they say or think.
Special Birth: “Truly, truly, I say
to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the
The Greek text of this verse can be understood in one of two ways. It is an example of a homonym. There is a word here that has two possible meanings. Usually, you can tell a homonym from the context, but in this case, either meaning makes sense. The phrase “born again” can mean one of two things:
• Born again.
• Born from above.
Which meaning is intended here? Is Jesus speaking of being born again or is He speaking of being born from above. I am not certain. Either one is doctrinally accurate. Either one fits the context of this verse.
Born from Above
The reply of Nicodemus indicates that he assumes Jesus is speaking of a second birth
In verse 31, Jesus speaks of how He who comes from ABOVE is ABOVE all.
Focuses upon the contrast with the physical birth.
Focuses upon the divine origin of our spiritual life.
There is another possibility. It is that this is worded in such a way that we are to understand BOTH being in view. There are times when we speak in such a way as to intentionally give a double meaning to our words.
People today hear the term “new birth” and think it is speaking of a narrow segment within Christianity. You hear people say, “I am a Christian, but I am not one of those born-again Christians.” The truth we see here is that there is no Christianity apart from the new birth.
2. A Natural Misunderstanding: Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?” (3:4).
Nicodemus misses the point entirely. He does not realize that Jesus is speaking of a spiritual birth. He thinks only in physical terms. He interprets the words of Jesus with a rigid literalism.
There are a lot of people who do the same thing today. They look at the prophecies of the Bible and they see tanks and helicopters and nuclear missiles and credit cards. By trying to find physical and overly literal fulfillments, they miss the spiritual truths that are so plainly taught.
When we look at Nicodemus, we see a religious leader, a man of wealth and intellect and power and influence. He comprises all of the morality of the Pharisees and combines it with an openness and a compassion. Yet with all of his accomplishments, he has not even come to the starting point of real spiritual life. He is not even a baby. He has not yet been born. There is a lesson here. If you want to have a relationship with God, you have to start over. You must be completely new.
3. A Spiritual Contrast: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (3:6).
Nicodemus has made the mistake of confusing that which is flesh with that which is spiritual by nature. These two are not to be confused. Accordingly, Jesus continues to explain the contrast between the physical birth of which Nicodemus has spoken and the new birth that is of the Spirit. In effect, He says that each gives birth after its own kind. This is not a new concept to Nicodemus. The first chapter of Genesis repeats again and again how things are created to produce after their own kind.
And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed AFTER THEIR KIND, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, AFTER THEIR KIND; and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:12).
And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed AFTER THEIR KIND, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:21).
And God made the beasts of the earth AFTER THEIR KIND, and the cattle AFTER THEIR KIND, and everything that creeps on the ground AFTER ITS KIND; and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:25).
Even when it came time for Adam and Eve to bear children, we read that this same principle continued to be in effect.
When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (Genesis 5:3).
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. They were designed to be like God. That does not mean God has two arms and two legs or that He is merely a glorified man. It does mean that man has been created to be God’s representative on planet earth and that he has been invested with a stewardship over the planet. Man has been given to assume the role of rulership over the world. There is a sense in which he stands in the role of being God to the world.
Furthermore, God is described in the Bible as having personality, emotions, intellect and will. The fact that we share in those might reflect other ways and means in which we are also in the image of God. That pattern was distorted when Adam sinned. Sin affected every part of his life. His personality became self-centered. His emotions became subject to sin. His intellect became clouded. His will fell under the bondage of the flesh.
This same distortion of God’s image has been passed on to Adam’s descendants. Adam’s children were not make in the image and likeness of God. They were born in Adam’s own image and likeness. They were polluted by the effects of sin in the same way that Adam reflected this polluted image. His descendants gave rise to a fallen race.
God is the Perfect Image
Adam made in God’s Image
Adam’s children born in his sinful image
It took the work of a second Adam to restore us to the image and likeness of God. Just as the condemnation had come upon all the world through the sin of a single man, so also through the obedience of a single man has come salvation to all.
45 So also it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living soul." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.
47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
The first Adam was given life and became a living soul. The last Adam gave life to the world by laying down His own life. The first Adam sinned by eating of the fruit of the tree. The last Adam obeyed by dying upon the tree. The first Adam brought condemnation and death to all who bore his image and likeness. The last Adam brings justification and life to all who enter into union with Him.
It is through Jesus Christ that man is able to return to the place of a true and even better pattern of the image of God.
4. A Mysterious Example: The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:8).
Jesus brings out an illustration of the new birth. The reason for this illustration is because Nicodemus is having problems understanding that which he has never seen or experienced.
Jesus uses the example of the wind. It is not only a fitting example, but it is also a play on words as the term for “wind” and the term for “spirit” are identical in both Greek and Hebrew. Why does Jesus use this play on words? I think it is because He wants to make a comparison. He wants to paint a picture of the work of the Spirit and He does this by picturing the work of the wind.
Try to look at the wind. You cannot see it. You do not know from where it comes. You do not know where it is going. But you believe it is there. Why? Because you see how it affects the physical world around you. You see the leaves swirl. You see sailboats move across a churning sea. You see these evidences of the wind and they convince you that the wind is at work.
That is what the new birth is like. You cannot see it. You do not know from where it comes. But you can believe it is there when you see how it affects those who have partaken of it.
I have had the opportunity to pilot both a motorboat as well as a sailboat. Piloting a motorboat is easy. You just start the motor and point the boat in the direction you wish to go and you go there. A sailboat is different. It does not carry its own power. It relies on the wind. When the wind blows, the sailboat goes. If the wind does not blow, the sailboat does not move. The pilot’s task is not to generate more wind; it is only to do what is necessary to catch the wind and to be moved by the wind.
The spiritual life is like that. We cannot turn it on and off. But we can allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit when it does blow.
Moses could not produce a burning bush, but when he was confronted by that manifested presence of God, he was able to allow it to change him. How about you? Has the Spirit of God been at work in your life? Are you different today because of the blowing of God’s Spirit in your life? If it is not, then don’t try to fake it. You will be like the little boy who spreads his sails and then blows to make the sound of wind. Don’t settle for cheap sound effects. Spread the sails of your faith and then look for the Lord to move you with His Spirit.