ARE YOU REALLY BORN AGAIN?
During the 70’s the term “born again” swept across the USA like a wildfire. The catalyst for its popularity was large numbers of baby boomers turning to God in search of the real purpose and meaning of life. Hollywood celebrities, well-known athletes and politicians began distinguishing themselves as “born again Christians.” Soon the spiritual significance and true meaning of being born again, as taught by Jesus, was lost because anyone and everyone began calling themselves “born-again Christians.” Substance yielded to symbolism and little by little the label “born-again Christian” began replacing the genuine experience.
This article is intended to help clear up some of the confusion surrounding the Biblical meaning of being “born again.”
UNDERSTANDING THE NEED FOR REGENERATION OR THE NEW BIRTH.
Jesus clearly taught that only those “born again” could enter His eternal kingdom.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again (John 3:7 KJV).
Jesus replied, Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3:3 NIV).
This “new birth,” or “regeneration” is absolutely essential for entrance into the kingdom of God. Without being “born again” one “cannot enter the kingdom of God,” said Jesus (John 3:5 KJV). The need for “regeneration” was taught by Jesus and proclaimed by the apostles. Being “born again” was not taught as a new belief, but rather as an explanation of the experience that takes place when anyone truly repents and turns to God. To believe otherwise, one must ignore the words of Jesus.
One problem confronting the need for regeneration is those who profess to have been born again but are not. These sincere claims confuse the truth by creating three classes of people: regenerated, unregenerated, and those deceived. This powerful deception can only be the nefarious work of Satan. If he can’t convince people to oppose God, he will delude them into thinking they are in a right relationship with Christ when they are not. This third group, the deceived, comprise that segment of the religious community that openly professes Christ with their lips, but whose lives demonstrate they are still unregenerated. Consider these excerpts from John’s epistle.
He who does what is sinful is of the devil…. and no one born of God continues in sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:8,9 NIV).
WHAT IS REGENERATION?
In John’s Gospel, Jesus states:
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit (Jn. 3:6 NIV).
The word “birth” (Gr. gennaois) “to be born” or to be birthed by the Spirit and of the Spirit, is not a symbolic expression. It is not a new resolution. It is not a new direction one chooses in life or a description of someone who has asked God to forgive his/her sins. Being “born again” is not a tearful crisis or a sudden wave of overwhelming disorder and confusion in one’s life that causes them to cry out to God for help. While the aforementioned experiences and commitments happen to nearly everyone, they are not the new birth “Spirit giving birth to spirit.” Regeneration is the specific work of the Holy Spirit. It is Spirit (God’s Spirit) giving birth to spirit (your spirit). It is a literal supernatural experience that is initiated by the Holy Spirit when one truly “repents.”
The triune composition of man is body, soul, and spirit. The body is that visible mass of flesh, blood, water, and bone that we live in. Identifying the “soul” is a little harder, but not impossible. It is the invisible composition of one’s mind, emotions, intellect, and personality. The “spirit,” (Gr. pneuma) “air or breath,” referred to as the “rational soul,” shares the same invisible faculties of the soul, but was created to communicate with God. God’s word has the ability to help us discern between the three (Hebrews 4:12).
It was Adam’s spirit that died in the Garden of Eden, immediately separating him from God. God said,
for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:17 KJV).
The moment Adam ate the forbidden fruit he suffered death — spiritual death. His body and soul remained alive, but his spirit was cut off from God. Adam’s spirit did not cease to exist but died in the sense of having lost his intimacy with God. Fellowship with God became the fear of God. When God calls out to Adam he runs and hides. Therefore, spiritual death entered the world through Adam. Sin caused both spiritual and physical death. Physical death was to follow in the years to come. So, from Adam to Jesus, sin and death ruled both physical and spiritual death.
Being “born again,” Spirit giving birth to spirit, then, is the rebirth of man’s spirit by a literal supernatural visitation of God’s Spirit into a “repented” person’s life. This “regeneration” (Gr. paliggenesia) meaning “rebirth,” as mentioned in Titus 3:5, is a specific work and ministry of God’s Holy Spirit. Not only does God’s Spirit make us alive (born again) but God’s Spirit remains in a born-again believer’s life to lead and instruct them in their new life. We become Spirit filled and Spirit led by the Holy Spirit.
REPENTANCE THE ACT THAT LEADS TO REGENERATION.
In Acts 3:19, we see Peter encouraging his listeners:
Repent, then, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out (Acts 3:19).
Scripture references calling for true repentance can easily be found: (Luke 5:32; 15:7; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 17:30; 26:20). Repentance is not a deep doctrinal issue; it is relatively simple to understand. Repentance is the very act and only act that causes the Holy Spirit to rebirth our spirit. No one can be born again until they repent, and there can be no salvation apart from repentance. The word “repent” (Gr. metanoeo) and (Gr. metanoia) “repentance” refer basically to a “change of mind.” It is a change of mind accompanied by regret and a true change of heart toward God. The combination of the Greek words “noieo” to know or comprehend, and “meta” after, “to know after the fact,” conveys that one has comprehended that his former behavior, life, ideas, philosophy, religious views, and relationship with God are wrong. Through repentance one is saying, I have been living wrong, separate from the Lordship of Christ. I have not submitted my life wholly and completely to His will, but today I have come to a decision. Henceforth, there can be no other way of life for me, but to give myself in total, absolute, unconditional surrender to God and declare, thy will be done in my life. I hereby yield all my rights, privileges, desires, thoughts, wants, needs, and all that I am to the Lordship of Christ. At this juncture, the Spirit of God touches the spirit of the repented person, and their spirit is miraculously born again. Repentance then is a revolution in one’s thinking that overthrows the old way of thinking against God and submits one’s life to God’s will. Without regeneration, one has no power to live the life he has come to realize is right. This explains why so many that profess to be born again are still bound to their old life. They have never been set free through the power of regeneration. Without regeneration one remains a prisoner of Satan and their unregenerated spirit.
Genuine repentance has an archenemy — “worldly sorrow”. The apostle Paul warned,
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV).
Sorrow and regret for past wrongs often leads people to ask God for forgiveness and seek His help for their distressed filled lives. Sincere promises to pray, read the Bible or join the church often accompany these request for forgiveness. In some instances, good efforts are made to get in step with God’s program, but these good intentions are little more than worldly sorrow which leads to death.” Why? Because worldly sorrow keeps one from Godly sorrow, which brings repentance, which leads to salvation and the “new birth” –something not to be regretted.
“Worldly sorrow” is similar to the little boy having his hand elbow deep in the cookie jar, and in walks mom. Before she utters a word, remorse, sorrow, and regret fills his little heart.
“Haven’t I told you, no snacks without my permission,” she thunders?
“I’m sorry! Please forgive me!” he says. But is he really sorry for betraying his mother’s trust? Did a new revelation click in his mind that he should always obey what his parents tell him because they are only acting in his best interest? Did he actually repent? Of course not! What brought sorrow was being caught. Shortly thereafter, he learned to exercise greater caution when sneaking snacks. “Worldly sorrow” may cause us to make adjustments in our future behavior, but it is not true repentance.
Life is filled with many seasons. The passing of troubled seasons and the advent of new ones is often confused with the born-again experience, e.g., deaths, divorce, infidelity, immorality, unemployment, financial failures, troubled relationships, rebellious teens, growing up, growing older, sickness, confusion, loneliness, pregnancies, abortions, chemical addictions, abusive relationships, etc can make us feel we have drawn close to God and all is well. During these times it is quite natural for people to look to the Bible, church, or some spiritual power for help. In distress filled times people draw close to God and spiritual institutions, but too often stop short of experiencing regeneration. They may get involved for a while, even follow the creed, but to their loss remain unregenerated believers. Regeneration is not a random act that happens to some people, and not others. It is God’s promised response to all who repent.
REGENERATION & TRANSFORMATION.
The process of growth always follows birth. Spiritual growth produces transformed lives. Paul refers to growth in Christ as a process of transformation:
be transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:2 NIV).
The regenerated believer’s spirit is alive and ready to submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading. However, the believer’s mind (Gr. nous) thoughts, feelings, will, and intellect have been trained and developed for years under the influence of an unregenerated spirit. The mind has been controlled by the lower nature, “sinful nature” (Gr. Sarx) translated “carnal” in Romans 8. The decision to renovate one’s mind must be followed by the act of renovation. With the spirit man alive and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the renovation of the mind begins and transformation is set in motion. The mind must be renovated and transformed into a Christ-like mind. Paul said:
we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV).
Transformation (Gr. metamorphoo) is a result of the mind being renewed in its thought process and decisions making faculties. With the new birth comes a spiritual hunger to know God. Reading the Bible, hearing the word preached, discussing it with other believers, and submitting to the spiritual leadership of the church is all necessary for a believer to experience transformation. In no other way can a born again believe grow into a mature believer. The mind must be fed a steady diet of God’s word.
THE UNREGENERATED MASSES AND THEIR PLIGHT.
There is a veil of deception keeping people from Christ and the new birth. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he says:
The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).
It is clear from the scripture that Satan is waging a spiritual battle for the souls of men. Satan has employed any and every device to keep God’s word from reaching the minds of the unregenerated masses and liberating them from sin. For the most part, people remain bound by Satan’s mind games and alienated from salvation. Satan doesn’t mind if a person professes to be born again, as long as it’s not true. We live in a world where truth is labeled a lie, and lies are labeled as truth. The only way to determine the truth from a lie is to go to the source of all truth. Jesus said, “I am the truth”! Is Jesus a liar? Consider the record:
God is not a man that he should lie (Number 23:19).
It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).
Jesus told the truth about salvation. Unless one truly repents and is born again he will never be part of the body of Christ or enter God’s eternal kingdom. This is why it makes sense for every person to research the scriptures and learn firsthand what God has really said.
What’s at stake here is of far greater importance than a person’s right to believe whatever they choose. What’s at stake is the possible loss of eternal life! It would be irresponsible for me or any born-again believer to stand idly by and watch people march into hell declaring there is no such place, or worst, singing Amazing Grace. It is only right that we interrupt the passing parade of prisoners and proclaim the truth.
Take a moment and think about what you have just read. If you are not sure that you have been born again, perhaps right now is the time to ask for God’s forgiveness and receive a new life.