"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" John 3:5
As I have since reflected on this, it is my judgment that others might be as uncertain as my friend in knowing how to respond to such a question, and this is the reason for writing about it.
This subject, as with most others, when reduced to its lowest common denominator, boils down to a proper definition and understanding of terms. In other words, what is the meaning in the New Testament of the expression “born again” and how is it related to the term “Christian”? As we enter this study let us begin with the following question.
What Does “Born Again” Not Mean?
The phrase “born-again Christian” has become a watchword or slogan among so-called religious fundamentalists, including charismatics. It is used to describe those who claim to have had some sort of special “experience,” in their professed “conversion,” such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a vision, a voice such as the Lord speaking to them, a sensation “better felt than told,” etc. This view or concept of the new birth in recent years has been proliferated by tele-evangelists such as Pat Robertson with his 700 Club, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert (before their falls), Oral Roberts and others.
This view or concept of conversion is nothing new. In fact it is just a revival or modern manifestation of old-time Calvinism with its “mourners’ bench,” the practice of “praying through” and the “direct operation of the Holy Spirit.” And though those who hold such views and claim such experiences usually appear to be exceptionally humble, this concept actually contributes to a sense of spiritual superiority, which causes many to look down upon so-called “nominal Christians” who have not shared their mystical experiences.
My friends, this perception of the new birth or conversion is not even akin to what the Lord means when he speaks of one being “born again.” Such a concept is not to be found anywhere in the gospel of Christ! It more nearly if not altogether consists of the kind of thing that Paul was referring to in Colossians 2:22-23 when he mentioned the “commandments and doctrines of men” and said “these things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility—.” You simply cannot read of this kind of “conversion” in the book of conversions–the book of Acts. Go to Acts 2, 8, 16, 18 etc. and I challenge you to find in the conversions recorded by inspiration anything like what is being preached and claimed now by so many.
So having observed what the new birth of the New Testament does not consist of, we now turn to a consideration of another question.
What Does “Born Again” Mean?
Since this expression relates to salvation, let’s consider for a moment man’s condition before his conversion and then his condition after his conversion. Notice the changes depicted by the following metaphors that occur.
|Before Conversion||Passage||After Conversion|
|Darkness||l Pet. 2:9||Light|
|Family of Devil||Jno. 8:38-44||Family of God|
It is the last of the above figures that we wish to focus upon. Here we lean that the one outside of Christ is, spiritually speaking, in the family of the Devil, whereas the Christian is in the family of God. Jesus clearly teaches this in John 8:38-44. Other passages which bear this out are I Timothy 3:15, Galatians 3:26, 27 and Romans 8:14-17. It is in this context that the idea of the new birth is mentioned or contemplated. But how is such a transformation accomplished?
The type is our physical birth into our earthly family. The antitype is our spiritual birth into the heavenly family. This is why Jesus says we must be “born again,” that is, “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:3, 5). But what is the birth process? Of what does it consist? Again we find a parallel with the physical birth process. It consists of two parts, first a begetting and then a birth. Remember it is but one birth consisting of these two parts or aspects.
The birth “of the Spirit” is a reference to the begetting aspect of the birth process. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come to the apostles to “guide you into all truth” (Jno. 16:13). Paul, in explaining his knowledge of the truth and his qualifications for declaring it, said “God has revealed (it) to us through his Spirit.” He then adds, “now we have received–the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak–” (I Cor. 2:10, 12, 13). The revealed gospel therefore is the product of the Spirit, but it is also the seed of the kingdom (Lk. 8:11), that spiritual life force which is able to regenerate the sinner. Hence Peter writes that we have been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (I Pet. 1:23). For this reason Paul declares that the gospel of Christ is “the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16). When that gospel is preached and faith is thereby produced in the hearer, he has been begotten by the Spirit just as when an earthly father begets a child by implanting his physical seed in the womb of the mother-to-be. A spiritual conception has occurred.
However, the birth process is not complete until an actual birth has occurred. The begetting is not the birth. It is rather the cause or prime mover of the birth. The birth itself is “of water” (Jno. 3:5). The Hebrew writer speaks of our bodies having been “washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). These verses are clearly referring to the baptism or immersion in water or penitent believer, one who has been begotten by the Spirit of God. In Romans 6:3, 4 we read: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Notice that it is at baptism that we enter into Christ and into a new life. That sounds just like when what occurs when one is born again, doesn’t it? Can you imagine one either entering Chris or beginning a new life before and without being born again? In that connection the same apostle also observed, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (II Cor. 5:17).
Let us now turn to another passage. In Galatians 3:26, 27 we find: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Here we are informed again that it is at baptism that we enter into Christ. But further we learn that this is how and when we enter God’s family, that we become “sons of God.” And lastly, we are clearly told that only “as many of you as were baptized have put on Christ.” Again I inquire; do you think any of these results are possible apart from the new birth? And yet here they are inseparably connected with the ordinance of baptism, an act in which the body is buried in water, and then comes forth being born of water, raised to “walk in newness of life.”
No wonder then that when Peter was asked by the Pentecostals as to what they should do, that he responded by saying: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). In effect Peter was saying “be born again, be born of water and the Spirit.”
As you continue reading through the book of Acts you will find this spiritual birth process consisting of a begetting by the Spirit and a birth of water exemplified over and over again. When the gospel was preached and it was believed by the hearers, a begetting occurred. When this was followed by their being baptized for the remission of sins the process was completed and such were then saved, redeemed by the blood of Christ and members of the body of the Lord, the church. It is only when the begotten one (a penitent believer) is baptized into Christ that it can be scripturally said that he has been “born again—of water an the Spirit.”
The expression “born-again Christian” is at the least redundant, and at the most grossly misleading, implying that there are Christians who have not been born again! Jesus said, “You must be born again.” So if one has been born again, he thereby became a Christian. If one has not been born again, he has never entered God’s family and is not a Christian at all according to the word by which all of us will be judged. My friends, it’s just the simple.
Have you been born again?
By Foy Vinson