In Need of a Savior
Who is Jesus?3 Digging Deeper
Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?3 Digging Deeper
What is the Covenant Jesus Offers?3 Digging Deeper
Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?3 Digging Deeper
What does Jesus' Resurrection Mean to Me?3 Digging Deeper
Why Should I Be Like Jesus?3 Digging Deeper
How Can I Find Life Through Death?3 Digging Deeper
What Change Does God Expect of Me?3 Digging Deeper
What Does it Mean to Repent?3 Digging Deeper
How Can I Be Born Again?4 Digging Deeper
What it Means to be Born Again
During their nighttime visit, Jesus said to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5)
Jesus explained that this new birth does not come from the flesh but from the Spirit (3:6). It is a spiritual reality that compares to the wind: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:8). Jesus says that this is a “heavenly thing” (3:12). It is centered in faith in the “Son of Man” who is “lifted up” and “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (3:14-15). The “the new birth” by believing in Jesus is first mentioned in John 1:12-13: ”But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
One of the greatest summaries of the gospel is recorded in the context of Jesus’ talk with Nicodemus: ”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). This eternal life is the same as “being saved” (3:17) or “born again.” What does it mean to “believe in Jesus”? It is not just mental assent that affirms, “Yes, there is a Jesus. He is a good man. I like him. He is the Son of God. He died and rose again.” “Believing in Jesus” goes beyond these intellectual acknowledgements to trust and submission to Jesus as Lord. It is “putting total trust and reliance in Jesus and committing your life to Jesus.” This trust, reliance and submission is expressed and realized in repentance of sins and baptism in the name of Jesus.
Jesus told sinners that they must repent or they would perish (Luke 13:3-5). He told his apostles to preach “repentance and remission of sins in his name” to all nations (Luke 24:47). The Apostle Paul preached that God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31).
“Believing in Jesus” is concretely and visibly expressed when a person is “baptized in the name of Jesus.” On Pentecost, the apostles told the crowd that “they should know for certain [which means, ‘believe it most confidently’] that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ.” The people were “cut to the heart” which means that they accepted the message that Jesus was now Lord and Christ. They recognized that they were sinners needing forgiveness. The apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, gave two commands to these penitent sinners. They told them, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Then God would give two blessings: “the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:36-38). Because of their conviction of sin and belief in Jesus, thousands responded and were baptized. Their faith was active and obedient. They were known as “those who believed” or “the believers” (as in 2:44; 4:32; 5:14).
Receiving the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit as a gift means that these believers were born again. They had new spiritual life in Jesus. This is the same as the believers at Corinth being a “new creation” in Christ. “The old is gone; the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When did this occur? It was when Paul preached the good news of Jesus to them and they “believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).
The same obedience and new life is true of the Romans. Although Paul used a different metaphor than “new birth,” the meaning is the same. He says that we are baptized into Jesus Christ and into his death and raised up from baptism to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4). He explains that since “our old self was crucified,” and “the body of sin brought to nothing,” that we are “no longer enslaved to sin” and are “set free from sin” (6:3-4, 6-7, 11).
The description of the believers at Colossae and their salvation means that they were “born again,” though Paul did not use that specific term to describe them. They were “saints and faithful brothers in Christ” (Colossians 1:2). They had “hope laid up for them in heaven.” They had heard and understood the word of truth, the gospel, and it was bearing fruit in their lives (1:5-6). They were delivered from the dominion of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear son, and had redemption and forgiveness of sins (1:13-14). Once they were alienated and hostile to God. They were reconciled to God by Jesus and are now “holy and blameless and above reproach.” “Christ was in them” (1:21-22, 27). What caused this transformation? Paul explains that it was when they were baptized that they “put off the body of the flesh,” were “buried with him in baptism” and “raised with him in the powerful working of God.” It was then that “God made them alive with him” and “forgave all their trespasses” (2:11-14).
In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul described our past life in sin and the new birth that we enjoy because of the grace of God. He speaks of being saved, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the Holy Spirit, being justified by grace and the hope of eternal life (3:3-7).
A comparison of these biblical texts shows that the various descriptions of salvation are equivalent to the “new birth.” They all refer to the working of God’s Spirit and what God does when sinners hear the word of truth, trust in Jesus, repent of sins and are baptized into Christ.
Being born again is one “birth of water and Spirit” (the definite article “the” is not in the Greek text with “water” or “Spirit”). It is not two births but one birth consisting of “water and Spirit.” The “Spirit” in this term refers to the Holy Spirit that regenerates and renews us (as in Titus 3:3-5) when we believe and obey the good news of Jesus given by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter, the main spokesman on Pentecost who commanded the convicted sinners to “repent and be baptized,” wrote that we “purify our souls by obedience to the truth” and are “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” that was being preached (1 Peter 1:21-25). The gospel, the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe (I Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 1:16-17).
The “water” in the “birth of water and Spirit” is water baptism that is mentioned in verses immediately before and after Jesus’ talk with Nicodemus (1:26, 28, 31, 33; 3:22-23, 26; 4:1-2). Water baptism is the baptism that Jesus commanded the apostles to use in “making disciples” (Matthew 28:19). The apostles and other disciples of Jesus baptized sinners in water (Acts 8:36-39; 10:47-48). The “birth of water and Spirit” is not “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Only Jesus could “baptize in the Holy Spirit” and it was never given for the purpose of saving sinners (John 1:33; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4; 11:15-16). The only way that water is associated with the Christian faith is in water baptism.
We have learned that the new birth is a regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit that God affects in us when we “believe in Jesus.” This means that we obey the gospel message in the same way that the convicted sinners did in Acts 2. The “new birth” is salvation by grace through faith. The Holy Spirit renews and regenerates penitent believers when they are baptized in water. That is the time that God forgives our sins, gives us the Holy Spirit and transfers us into the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5; Acts 5:32; 8:12).