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Born Again

INTRODUCTION: Throughout the United States, the phrase "born again" has been used both by those inside the church and those outside the church, but the difference in meaning is by no means inconsequential. When the world uses the phrase, despite any supposed great personal impact, it has no application beyond the grave. The Lord Jesus used this phrase in response to a man who came to him for answers, and it did not produce immediate understanding for that Jew even though he was a highly respected religious teacher in Israel. A person need not have scholarly knowledge about scripture to be born again by the truth of God. But those who have made serious study of scripture can better apply that knowledge to the Lord's purposes after they experience the second birth. This study will attempt to bring together a variety of scriptures related to the new birth. For those who are not far from the kingdom of God, perhaps this may be used of the Lord in their process of coming to saving faith in Christ Jesus. For those who already have eternal life, this may be additional food for thought in the continuing process of Christian growth after that second birth. This is by no means an exhaustive study, or an exclusive understanding of the concept of the second birth.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the American King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

A - Jesus and Nicodemus

John 3:1-21 "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wants, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell from where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said to him, Are you a master of Israel, and know not these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and you receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God."

COMMENTS: Obviously, there is so much in the above paragraph that multiple studies could be (and have been by others) written from deeper examination of brief passages contained therein, such as with verse 16 alone (For God so loved ...). But just a few comments will suffice here and then we will proceed to the next part of this overview study.

The text tells us that the first birth is "of the flesh" and the second birth is "of the spirit." Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus was authenticated as having come from God, by the miracles he had performed, but Jesus responded by saying that if he could not accept the "earthly things" then how could he accept heavenly things.
John 3:8 "The wind {pneuma} blows where it wants, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell from where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit {pneuma}."

Paul made the following statement about trusting in either miraculous signs or our own wisdom alone.
1 Corinthians 1:21-25 "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; But to them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

So it is not a matter of man's interpretation of miraculous events, or in his intellectual discernment of intricate concepts, that reveals spiritual truth, for again Paul says,
1 Corinthians 2:14 "But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

Therefore, it is necessary to be more than a natural man for Jesus says unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God. The Greek term "gennao" is translated as "born" in each instance in our passage from John, and it also is translated in other scripture as it applies to conception.
Matthew 1:2 "Abraham begat {gennao} Isaac; and Isaac begat {gennao} Jacob; and Jacob begat {gennao} Judas and his brothers;"

The next two quotations apply to the birth of the Lord Jesus.
Matthew 1:20 "But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take to you Mary your wife: for that which is conceived {gennao} in her is of the Holy Ghost."
Luke 1:35 "And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Ghost shall come on you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born {gennao} of you shall be called the Son of God."

Jesus testified of his own uniqueness that no man had ascended to heaven, "but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." Jesus is that unique "son of man" born of a woman, yet not through the will or union of a human father. God from heaven took upon himself flesh to be born of a woman in a miraculous virgin birth, and yet simultaneously existing in heaven because he is the unique God-man.

Our own physical birth presupposes conception, and the full potential of a new life cannot be realized until the child is delivered from the womb. Since we speak of spiritual conception and birth, all the glory goes to the Lord for our new beginning in Him, and we can claim no part in initiating the process. But after that new birth we can have the joy of growing as His children.
Romans 9:11-16 "For the children being not yet born {gennao}, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calls; It was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy."

Paul continues in this passage to warn us not to argue against God when we should instead acknowledge that his ways are past finding out.
Romans 9:17-24 "For the scripture said to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore has he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens. You will say then to me, Why does he yet find fault? For who has resisted his will? No but, O man, who are you that reply against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had before prepared to glory, Even us, whom he has called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"

What an incredible gift from the LORD that we should be called the sons of God! The first birth alone will end in inevitable death, but the second birth is the beginning of new life in Christ that is eternal. We cannot begin to comprehend the things of the Lord that are spiritually discerned, unless we are the called of God, who have experienced the second birth, but even then the full mysteries of God are not ours to be apprehended.

B - John the Baptist knew that Jesus was from heaven, and Jesus verified that truth

John 3:27-36 "John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that has the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that comes from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: he that comes from heaven is above all. And what he has seen and heard, that he testifies; and no man receives his testimony. He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for God gives not the Spirit by measure to him. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God stays on him."

John 5:37-39 "And the Father himself, which has sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And you have not his word abiding in you: for whom he has sent, him you believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."

John 6:37-47 "All that the Father gives me shall come to me; and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which has sent me, that of all which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he said, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said to them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes to me. Not that any man has seen the Father, save he which is of God, he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, He that believes on me has everlasting life."

John 8:21-25 "Then said Jesus again to them, I go my way, and you shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: where I go, you cannot come. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he said, Where I go, you cannot come. And he said to them, You are from beneath; I am from above: you are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins. Then said they to him, Who are you? And Jesus said to them, Even the same that I said to you from the beginning."

John 10:24-30 "Then came the Jews round about him, and said to him, How long do you make us to doubt? If you be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and you believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But you believe not, because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one."

John 14:5-9 "Thomas said to him, Lord, we know not where you go; and how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you should have known my Father also: and from now on you know him, and have seen him. Philip said to him, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffises us. Jesus said to him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have you not known me, Philip? he that has seen me has seen the Father; and how say you then, Show us the Father?"

COMMENTS: Christians must remember that even though we are to be faithful in sharing the gospel, the Holy Spirit must do the work of causing the new birth. And we should be cautious about any feeling of impatience toward other people, as we consider what has been revealed to our hearts through the grace of God because scripture says,
1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV) "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"
John the baptist had made a similar statement about our understanding when he said,
John 3:27 "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven."

Could any one of us receive and accept the fact that Jesus, though born of a woman, came down from heaven for the miraculous conception within a virgin, if God had not made us different by giving us the faith required to receive that truth? The picture of birth implies that the one being born does not initiate the process of conception, though BEING carried along as a LIVING participant to the point of delivery. It seems that our full comprehension of this process of being born again to life in the spirit is not essential to assure that our Lord receives all the glory for what He has accomplished. If the chosen apostles who were physically with the Lord Jesus still lacked comprehension that Jesus is God, after more than three years, as with Thomas and Philip in the passage from John 17, how difficult will it be for us to even partially grasp these things, except through grace given by the Lord? And as we seek to be the Lord's witnesses, we must allow the Spirit of God to work through us, with confidence that any who come to Him will be to His glory alone, as we humbly submit to how the Lord wants to use us in that process.

C - Our new birth should result in evidence of new patterns of healthy growth through the Word

Matthew 26:41 "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
John 6:63 "It is the spirit that vivifies; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life."

Romans 8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Romans 8:13 "For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live."

1 Peter 1:22-23 "Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit to unfeigned love of the brothers, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and stays for ever."
1 Peter 2:1-3 "Why laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby: If so be you have tasted that the Lord is gracious."

Galatians 6:7-10 "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith."
Ephesians 4:21-24 "If so be that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That you put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."

COMMENTS: When we are born in the flesh as an infant, it is anticipated that there will be growth physically, emotionally, and intellectually to adulthood, unless negative factors retard that process. But even some who seem physically deficient by "normal" standards can excel in very specific areas of human accomplishment, and the days of life for every person are numbered by the Lord whether they are brief or long. When we are born of the Spirit, growth should take place in that new life toward maturity in the things of God, but THERE ARE ALSO NEGATIVE FACTORS THAT CAN BE hindrances to healthy development. The flesh "wars against the spirit" and we must make conscious efforts to bear the fruit of our salvation in Christ.

Jesus warned us to watch and pray because we need the Spirit to over come the weakness of the flesh, and it is the Spirit that makes us truly alive, not the flesh. It is important that we first examine ourselves for evidence of new life, before we have concern for what others see in us. God knows our heart, but we can give false impressions to others. Paul wrote to believers in Galatia to remind them that God does not fail to observe our actions, and there is no way for us to hide our true motives from the Lord. We must continually determine to bear the fruits of the Spirit. Just as there are things we can do to have a healthier and more productive physical life, so too we must make conscious effort to advance our spiritual growth and productivity in the Lord.

D - The promise of resurrection to eternal life for those who are born again

John 6:39-40 "And this is the Father's will which has sent me, that of all which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day."
John 6:44-45 "No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes to me."

1 John 5:10-12 "He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself: he that believes not God has made him a liar; because he believes not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life."

1 Corinthians 15:35-38 "But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? You fool, that which you sow is not quickened, except it die: And that which you sow, you sow not that body that shall be, but bore grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God gives it a body as it has pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
1 Corinthians 42-45 "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."

Titus 3:5-8 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that you affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men."

COMMENTS: Once we are born into the family of God, we have the certain and unchangeable promise of resurrection with a new body that is not perishable as is the physical body of the first birth. The natural body figuratively becomes the seed which carries the living spirit until the mature spiritual body is ready to be our habitation in eternity in the fullness of time as determined by the Lord. Just as we believe that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we must demonstrate our full faith that because of his resurrection, we have every confidence of our own resurrection. And again, our faithful demonstration of our confidence in that promised resurrection is manifested in the good works that the Spirit of God works in and through us. These thoughts are generally summarized in the verses from Titus chapter 3 above. the Lord saves us by His mercy not our own righteousness; we are washed of our sins and regenerated into that new life; and we then give further glory to the Lord as we are careful to maintain good works as the Holy Spirit works in us.

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, as I read through your conversation with Nicodemus, I am reminded of the day you brought me to new birth as the previous scant knowledge of your Word was made real in my life. From that point I began to develop more of a hunger to eat of the bread of life from heaven that I might continue to grow in your grace. Thank you Lord for the scripture, and other Christians around me, that have made more sure my growth in this new birth. The pure milk of the Word is the necessary element for early growth and development, so that as other "food" becomes part of intake in the diet, there can be a discerning "taste" toward a healthy growth in the Spirit, even as the old nature and the earthy body becomes more frail until your perfect time for my completed redemption and resurrection. I can joyfully say with Paul, "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?"

And I want to paraphrase the words of the apostle John as I close my prayer of thanksgiving to you, my precious Savior. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on me, that I should be called a son of God: therefore the world knows me not, because it knew Jesus not. Now as I am a son of God, and it does not yet appear what I shall be: but I know that, when He shall appear, I shall be like Him; for I shall see Him as He is. And since I have this hope in Him, I want to continually purify myself, even as He is pure. Help me Lord to honor you. Amen.

Published 23 May 2009 format revisions 1 Feb 2017