What Exactly Do You Mean By “Born Again”?

by Tad Lindley

Don’t read any farther until you have answered the above question in your own mind.

If we were to poll a cross section of America we would get a wide variety of answers.

Some would say, “It happens when you have had a powerful touch from God and you cried.” Still others, “I was born again when I stepped forward and shook the pastor’s hand in front of the church.” Some perhaps, “When I graduated from Sunday school I was born again.” Others, “When I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” Let’s go all the way back in time and see what the Bible says.

Jesus first to say, “Born again”

In or about the year 27 AD, a new phrase was coined: born again. It was after sunset. A religious leader named Nicodemus had come in the darkness to meet with Jesus. Nicodemus was hungry for the truth. He started the conversation, but Jesus quickly changed it to this strange new topic. …”I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3 NIV) Most Americans are familiar with the term “born again”. After all, it has been around almost two thousand years.

This evening in the late 20’s AD was the first recorded instance of the term ever being used. If Jesus had spoken it to you or me we would have understood roughly what he was getting at. Nicodemus had never heard the term before, however, and he was baffled by it. “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4 NIV)

Jesus’ definition of “born again”

In the next verse, Jesus is going to explain what He means by the term “born again”: Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5 NIV) Jesus defined being born again for Nicodemus. It means being born of the water, and the spirit. Jesus also went on to say that being born of the water and the spirit is absolutely essential to enter the Kingdom of God.

How can we be born of the water? The Bible tells us this: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved… (Mark 16:16 NIV). And in I Peter 3:21, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… (NIV)

How can we be born of the spirit? …He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11 NIV) In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples, You shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you. Acts 2:4 records the fulfillment of this promise: All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (NIV)

The way they were born again in the Bible

The Bible records that the original church taught and preached this new birth experience. The very first sermon ever preached was by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2. He addresses being born again like this: …Repent, and be baptized [born of the water] everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [born of the spirit].

In Samaria, …they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus [born of the water]. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Ghost [born of the spirit]. (Acts 8:16-17)

The Gentiles at Cornelius’ house in Acts 10: While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them [born of the spirit] which heard the word. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord [born of the water]. (vv. 44 & 48)

Followers of John the Baptist at Ephesus: On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus [born of water]. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them [born of the spirit], and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:5-6 NIV)

If you have not been born of the water and born of the spirit as in the Bible, I urge you not to wait. The peace and joy that come from obeying the word of God is unsurpassed by anything in this world. These are the words of Jesus Christ to Nicodemus: You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3:7

Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, AK.

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