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Are you born again? Last update: July 2012

Various interpretations   The Short answer to a long article
Why id this question important?   Looking at the Greek meaning
Jesus said "it is impossible", not "unlikely"   Is it about a new birth after Physical death?
But why is it that there is a need to be born again?   Is it a Literal or a Metaphoric saying?
Aware of the spirit and the Spirit   A new spirit means new life
Born to enter The Kingdom of God   Adam and Eve needed to be born again
Baptism   My experience
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Related articles: Born of the Spirit: Exploring the differences between spirit, soul, heart and mind || Deception: Why does God allow it? || Which comes first: Repent or Believe? || False warnings about False teachers

Various Interpretations

Different persuasions of the Christian faith see this question differently. John MacArthur, a Protestant, sees it this way: “When a man is cleansed by the washing of the Word and the Spirit of God recreates Him, then he can enter the Kingdom of God”. Catholic Education Resource Centre sees it this way: “the Catholic Church links regeneration or being “born again” in the life of the Spirit to the sacrament of baptism”. Anglicans Online sees it in a similar manner to Catholics. Brian McLaren of the Emergent Church movement sees it this way: “... I am convinced that Jesus didn't come to start a new religion; he came to proclaim a new kingdom… By a new kingdom, Jesus meant a new way of life, a new arrangement and set of values”. Joel Osteen sees it this way: Friends if you prayed that simple prayer, we believe you got born again. Get into a Bible based church and keep God first place in your life.” David Pack of the Restored Church of God sees it this way: I have been approached more than once and asked if I have been “born again.” I always answered no!”.

Clearly there is no consensus amongst church leaders about the meaning of the term “born again”. This famous, or infamous (depending on where you are coming from) phrase was used by Jesus in response to a statement from Nicodemus in John, chapter three.  I believe most commentators have addressed the question from a theoretical point of view - that is, from trying to analyze and interpret what the Greek text says or what the Bible as a whole teaches. Few have done it on an experiential basis, which is the perspective that I will try to bring. Nevertheless, having a look at the Greek text may be helpful. Top

The short answer to a long article

Definition of a Born again Christian: A person who authentically believes in the resurrected Jesus Christ and has submitted his/her will to Him in trust, reliance and obedience. Such a person will have been convinced of His life and resurrection, will have repented (irrespective of their 'moral goodness', they will have confessed to the sin of them following their own will up to that point and will have asked for forgiveness), they will have professed their faith openly, and they will continuously and increasingly believe Him in their hearts (trust His will for their life). Such a person will also repent of their misdeeds on a continuous basis and submit themselves to be cleansed by God's word. Such a person will have received a new human spirit as birthed by the Holy Spirit. This is what the Bible calls a "disciple". Such a person may receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit. To know what "born again" is not, read here. To know if a person has been born again, read here. If you're not sure whether or not born again believers receive a new human spirit, read here.

Why is this particular issue so important?

Some dismiss the relevance and the importance of this question in their own lives and the lives of the people around them by saying that we are all already saved through God’s abundant love. Thus, He has already ‘saved’ everybody (whether or not they trust or rely on Him).

Well, whilst God’s love cannot be questioned my understanding and your understanding thereof can and should be questioned. In fact, we can be absolutely sure that we do not fully understand God’s love nor do we fully understand His justice. To stake your salvation on what you think God’s love ought to mean – such as saving everybody saved irrespective of the decisions they make in this life - is a hell-of-a-risk to take! I will not do that. Instead, I will attempt to consider this matter of entering the Kingdom of God with the urgency in which Jesus addressed it.

Why all of this really matters is because: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Imagine that – as a good man or woman, you have believed in God, lived a sacrificial life in humility, loved God and your neighbor, and still you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. How can that be? Top

Looking at the Greek meaning

The key words used in the Greek text are gennao and anothen, meaning: ‘to be born’ and ‘from above’. The Apostle Peter uses a related word anagennao (refer the assemblage of the two Greek words above) to convey a message of being ‘reproduced’ or ‘regenerated’, as in the verse: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Paul uses the same kind of language in Ephesians 2. Note, becoming a member of a church does not regenerate anyone.

Like Jesus, the Apostle Peter thus also conveys a message of ‘regeneration’ or ‘renewal from above’ (by God's Spirit).
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Jesus said "it is impossible", not "unlikely"

Let’s look at John 3:5 once more: “Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”. Jesus is saying, ‘I know you, Nicodemus (or Gale or Suzie or Chuck), being a learned scholar and devoted believer will find this hard to believe but, despite all of who and what you are, you must still be born again before you can enter the Kingdom of God. Unless you are born again you cannot enter – it is not possible. That is how it is.’

By implication, Jesus was saying to Nicodemus (and Gale and Suzie and Chuck), ‘despite your good intentions and despite all your knowledge and despite how learned ones like you have traditionally interpreted the Scriptures over many years, you are not only mistaken, you, Nicodemus, are yet to be born again and you are yet to enter the Kingdom of God’.
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Is it about a new birth after physical death?

Consider that Nicodemus did not overtly ask Jesus a question about the Kingdom of God but made a statement about God being with Jesus instead: "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2). Nevertheless, Jesus perceived the true intentions behind the statement and responded with an answer: "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God". Jesus is saying, 'you are really asking about God's power in my life - know this, you must be born again in order to have God's power in your life', or, 'you must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God'.

Having and displaying God's power through His Spirit and entering the Kingdom of God are likened to each other. Thus, Jesus equates God's presence in your life with entering the Kingdom of God. To truly have God's presence in your life you must be born of the Holy Spirit - your spirit must be regenerated (anagennao), or "born again", by the Holy Spirit. Not by a church or its representatives, but by the Holy Spirit - God Himself. Top

But why is it that there is a need to be born again?

In Genesis 2:17, God says to Adam, for in the day that you eat of it (that is, eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you shall surely die. Yet, the Bible tells us that despite Adam and Eve both eating of the very fruit of which God said in the day, ... you will surely die they lived on for many years and even produced children after having eaten of that fruit. In fact, the only physical thing that happened to them after they ate of the forbidden fruit was that the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked (Genesis 3:7).

Does Genesis 3:7 ('their eyes were opened') then contradict Genesis 2:17 ('you will surely die if you eat of the forbidden fruit')? I mean, God did say “you will surely die”. Yet, they ate of the fruit and seemingly did not die in the day”, as God said. To explain this apparent contradiction many understand this passage to reflect a metaphorical death of mankind due to sin. ‘Death’ being mankind’s lack of fellowship with God due to transgressing His commandment.

Others say that the Hebrew word yowm”, which is used for “day” in this passage can mean ‘a very long time’ in addition to meaning twenty-four hours or ‘this very instant’.  As such, both Adam and Eve did die “in the day” even though they died many years later.
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Is it a Literal or a Metaphoric saying?

There is another way of understanding Adam and Eve’s death on the day they ate of the forbidden fruit, which reality I believe explains much of the conflict between those who propose a literal interpretation of the Bible and those who propose a metaphorical interpretation thereof.

In reading the Bible we come to realize that there are more than one domain in which mankind lives at any one point in time – the domain of the body (Greek soma), the domain of the soul (Greek psuche - our thoughts and feelings) and the domain of the spirit (Greek pneuma - that part of us that perceives the spiritual world and where angels and demons operate). See how Stephen calls out to God to receive his spirit - Acts 7:59.

The Apostle Paul confirms the three domains in which mankind lives: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit (pneuma), soul (psuche), and body (soma) be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

From the above, Paul expresses the hope that believers may be regenerated not only in their bodies and in their souls but also in their spirits. If we want to be technical about it we may want to observe that, of the tree domains mentioned above, Paul notes spiritual regeneration first. Personally, I believe that the spiritual person within us is the real or primary person who represents us. And, it is that part of us that is either spiritually alive (1 Peter 1:3) or it is spiritually dead (Genesis 2:17).

It is through this understanding that I believe we should view John 3:3-7. There is a spiritual realm in which things can be literally true. This is different to a natural realm in which things are either literally true or metaphorically described.

In John 3:3-7, I believe Jesus is speaking a literal truth that is relevant to the spiritual realm. Thus, this passage should be read as a literal meaning in a spiritual sense and not a literal meaning in a natural sense or even a metaphoric meaning in a natural sense. Top

Aware of the spirit and the Spirit

The spiritual realm is the realm in which our spirits perceive truth or where truth is being obscured or blocked by what Paul calls “strongholds”. Clearly, there is a world around us in which we are intimately involved in but which we cannot see.

It is within this realm that the spirit of Man is involved in every single moment of every single day and it is in this realm in which God wants the spirit of Man to, again, be connected to Him, as Adam and Eve were when they were first created. It is in this realm where God wants us to be regenerated.

It is in the spiritual realm that God, again, wants us to be born - as with the first creation of mankind mankind can indeed be born again by His Spirit.  Top

A new spirit means new life

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Speaking to the Body of Believers (the church) of Ephesus, Paul acknowledges that they who had been dead previously were already made alive by Him. Firstly, this passage is an acknowledgment by him that some or other part of these believers must have been dead before so as to have been “made alive” thereafter. Secondly, Paul is speaking to everyday people roaming around like any other, so they must have been made alive whilst still ‘in this life’. Thirdly, Paul acknowledged that before these believers were made alive they were “dead in trespasses and sins and that an evil spirit was still at work in those who were not made alive.

In essence, Paul was saying that there are two types of people on this earth: 1) those who are dead in trespasses and sins, and 2) those have received a new spirit that brings new life through Christ Jesus.

In a natural sense, one would not be able to see the difference between a ‘dead person’, as Paul describes it, and a person who has been ‘made alive’. That is because what he is talking about has little to do with what we perceive naturally and everything to do with that which we perceive spiritually. Paul was saying that those who are the Body of Christ, although they will die natural deaths, are already alive through their spirits unto eternity.  Top

Born to enter The Kingdom of God

Look at what follows the above passage: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Now compare that passage with what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3. Note the references to being "made alive" or born afresh by the Spirit so as to enter into the "Kingdom of God", or to sit in the heavenly places with Him: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).

What Paul calls “made alive”, Jesus calls “born of the Spirit”. What Paul calls “sit in the heavenly places in Christ”, Jesus calls “enter the Kingdom of God”. Top

Here and now

Note that both Paul and Jesus are speaking in the here and now – the present time. Being born again happens in the ‘now’. So too does entering the Kingdom of God.

Then, Jesus delivers this very important point: that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. You see, if it was the ‘soul of God’ who gave birth, as some suggest, then our souls would have been renewed – we would have felt better. Our emotions would have been affected. The sad reality is that, as it was for me some years ago, for many an emotional experience constitutes the limit to having been “born again”. On the other hand, if it was the physical, institutional church that gave birth to us through becoming a member, then, oh, I don’t know, we would have had some new physical birth too like new legs to stand on, or something! But, it is neither. Why? Because it is the Person of God’s Spirit that gives birth to man’s spirit. He gives birth to that thing about man that has been dead since the fall of Man – his spirit.

This is exactly what Jesus said: that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”. It is the Person of God’s Spirit – not His representative(s) on earth, like church people – that is directly and intimately involved in the birthing of the new spirit of a man or a woman or a child. God’s Spirit births mankind’s new spirit. That is what it means to be “born of the Spirit”. Neither institutional church nor physical death can bring it about. On the contrary, better we get born again despite our membership to any given institution and better we get born again before we die! For without being born of the Spirit of God we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Top

Adam and Eve needed to be born again

I believe that both Adam and Eve died right there and then the very moment they first sinned. The reason is that anything intimately connected to God’s Spirit – like the spirits of Adam and Eve as they were when they were first created (God breathed into them, remember – refer Genesis 2:7) cannot rebel against Him. And if that which is connected to His Spirit does rebel against Him it can no longer be intimately connected to Him. That is why a new spiritual birth is required – because man’s spirit died when he first became detached from God's Spirit.

Adam and Eve lost the sustenance that the Spirit of God brought. Their spirits were ‘cut off’ from the Spirit of God at which point they no longer perceived ‘reality’ through the spirit but through the flesh (their 'eyes natural were opened'). And that state of being – spiritual deadness - is what they passed on to Cain and Abel and every other human being – the human spirit cut off from the eternal life sustenance, the Spirit of God.

Now that is the reason why Jesus came and that is the reason why He said “you must be born again” - so that mankind can again be reunited in spirit with the Spirit of God. Without a newly generated spirit there is no entrance into the Kingdom of God – without spiritual rebirth there is no sitting in heavenly places with Christ. You must be born again. Top

Baptism

Spiritual rebirth, precedes water baptism. “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). My reading of John 3 sees being born of water and spirit as being born naturally (not baptism in water) and spiritually - water birth is the birth that everyone who enter this world goes through. Spiritual rebirth is that which everybody who accept Jesus as the propitiation for our sins and who extends their faith (inclusive of obedience through works - refer James 2:18) in Him (refer 1 John 2:2).

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:24-25)

As a sign of 'death to self-interest' and resurrection (life) in Christ, spiritual rebirth is then followed by water baptism (Greek baptisma), which relates to an (complete) immersion in water or something that is being 'dunked'. Top

My experience

I don't believe that everybody's experience is exactly the same. But I do believe that you will know in your heart - without a shadow of a doubt - if indeed you have been born again.

For me, being born again had little to do with belonging to a certain brand of Christianity - whether it is a really old brand of Christianity or a new one. It had nothing to do with being baptized apart from the fact that I was indeed baptized some weeks after I became born again. For me it also had little to do with studying the Bible, but it had everything to do with the Bible being preached in its fullness and me hearing it.

This has been my experience - it was the best thing that has ever happened to me. Extracts are made from the page My Story.

By the grace of God and amidst extraordinary circumstances I came to truly believe in and follow Christ only in 1999 whilst attending a charismatic church on invitation from Vicky. Pastor Sam preached a message that day especially for me. For the first time in my life someone preached the Word and did not compromise one little bit. And that was what I needed.

Sam preached both repentance and faith towards God in Christ and that is what made the difference. Because, as I had experienced earlier in life, without repentance it is not possible to truly believe for your salvation and then confess it openly. That is why I believe John the Baptist was sent - to preach repentance so that people may believe in true faith.

Before I was born again I lived an ungodly life, thinking I was ‘okay with God’, because I was going to church every now and then and I was also reading my Bible from time-to-time, and because God answered some of my prayers. During my 'up times’ I looked into different denominations / belief systems - and even considered either converting to Judaism or Catholicism. I knew there was something more out there, I just didn’t know what it was and where to find it? I looked for 'substance' but found very little - mostly soothing words for empty feelings and a sense of belonging. But, apart from that there was no spiritual substance, and I knew it.

At times I came across churches, whether established or informally meeting in school halls, where I would come to a realization that I needed to "give my life to the Lord". And then, as the pastor called sinners to the front to pray the "sinner's prayer" I would go. But, it never seemed to 'stick'. I probably prayed the sinner's prayer three times on different occasions believing what the Bible said was true - that if I gave my life to Jesus I would become a different person. Yet, that never happened.

Before long I would live a life of sin, again. I can only imagine that the many people who heard of my 'salvation' - that I was now a "reborn Christian" - would see my sinfulness and determine for themselves that 'being reborn' is really only a farce. In a way they would have been right because what I experienced during these occasions was not being reborn at all. I simply went on an emotional trip that soothed my conscience for a while.

Only later, when I truly became reborn did I understand the reason why it never 'stuck'; I had never truly repented before I tried to believe for my salvation. Yes, I had said "I repent of my sins", but I never truly had sorrow for the life I lived. And, although I tried really hard to believe that Christ was my Lord, because I had not "died to sin" I could not "rise with Christ". The temporary change in my life following these church meetings was simply due to my determination to change, and not on the basis of a renewed spirit.

Today, when I see people going through the same routine I wonder how long, if ever, they would take to come to see the difference between their 'salvation' and being truly reborn. And I wonder what damage it brings to the world's view of Christianity when people become 'reborn' but never actually receive a renewed spirit. This was the person I was - something I regret. I also know that I was fortunate to have come to see the difference for myself.
What this has taught me is that having your prayers answered is no guarantee for having been saved by God through His grace. He still wants us to repent, believe and live a life in obedience to Him.

Following my true repentance, faith and confession of that faith I was baptized in water, as the book of Acts tells us new believers were baptized, and I received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of other believers' hands in prayer. From that experience I started praying 'in tongues', which is something I cannot quite explain in writing. Nevertheless, that was my experience and I am glad for it. In fact, I am very, very grateful for it because it has made all the difference in the word for me.

This is what happened to me. He still wants us to get it right:

Being reborn is not about a formula but it is about accepting God's way in your life. To start off God's way in your life there are things that must happen first. As noted above, you must repent of your desire to follow your own will above the will of God, and you must make a decision to believe. It is not a feeling - it is a decision, a commitment by which you are willing to stick all your life. The Bible says to confess this decision openly. Being filled by the Holy Spirit is as much part of rebirth as rebirth itself is. It means that you will receive power from above to hear God more clearly, to be taught by Him and to do the works which Jesus sends you, now a member of the Body of Christ, to do.

The way to know whether or not you are "in Him" is this: "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments." (1 John 2:3).

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Remember: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (Jesus)

Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptural. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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