The terms “born again” or “regenerated,” are fairly familiar to many people and are associated with a person’s experience of becoming a Christian.
But what do these terms really mean? Why does the Bible speak of being born again?
In this post, we’ll look at the significance and importance of being “born again.” Does it simply mean to have a new beginning? A fresh start? Is it a promise to do better? To live morally from now on? To do right instead of wrong? And what if someone is a good, upright, ethical person? Does such a person even need to be born again?
Nicodemus and the Lord Jesus
The Gospel of John tells us of Nicodemus, a moral man who held a high position in religion and society. He came to Jesus privately and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher.” Nicodemus’ words showed that he sought teachings from the Lord.
Perhaps Nicodemus expected the Lord Jesus to teach him how to improve his conduct, or to be a better Pharisee. But the Lord didn’t give him teachings. Before Nicodemus could even ask Him anything, Jesus told him,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Baffled, Nicodemus asked,
“How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4)
The Lord explained,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless one is born of water and 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.” (John 3:5-6)
Nicodemus didn’t need better teachings. He needed to be born of the Spirit. He needed another life in addition to his human life. This is why the Lord told him to be “born anew.”
Our need for another life—the divine life of God
The Lord told Nicodemus that to see and enter into the kingdom of God, he needed to be born anew. What did the Lord mean?
In the natural world, a particular kingdom consists of a certain kind of life. For instance, the plant kingdom consists of organisms with the plant life. Just as the plant kingdom consists of the plant life and the animal kingdom consists of the animal life, so also the human kingdom consists of the human life.
The only way to participate in a particular kingdom is to possess the life of that kingdom. A rose can’t participate in the animal kingdom because it doesn’t have the animal life. And a monkey can’t participate in the human kingdom because it doesn’t have the human life. Even if the monkey is an excellent monkey, can walk on two legs, and dress and behave like a human, it still isn’t part of the human kingdom. It simply doesn’t have the human life.
Similarly, trying to look or behave like God cannot make us part of the kingdom of God. Our excellent behavior at most makes us prime examples of the human kingdom.
We can enter God’s kingdom only if we have the divine life of God. And we can have the divine life of God only by believing in Christ and being born again.
Birth is our entry
By our physical birth, we received our parents’ human life and genes and entered the human kingdom. In the same way, by our spiritual birth, we receive God’s “genes,” that is, we receive His life and nature, and we enter the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus had no moral or sinful problems outwardly. Yet the Lord indicated he lacked something crucial. Like Nicodemus, regardless of how noble, good, or upright we are in our human life, we don’t possess the divine life. We need to be born again with the divine life of God.
What happens when we’re born again?
To be born again, or regenerated, simply means to be born of God with God’s life. First Peter 1:3 says,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has regenerated us unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
The first part of the note on “regenerated” in the New Testament Recovery Version can help us understand the meaning of regeneration:
“Regeneration, like redemption and justification, is an aspect of God’s full salvation. Redemption and justification solve our problem with God and reconcile us to God; regeneration enlivens us with God’s life, bringing us into a relationship of life, an organic union, with God.”
When we are saved, or regenerated, by believing into Christ, we receive God Himself into our human spirit as life. Our human spirit is born of the divine Spirit. In this way, being born again is to receive a life other than the human life we received by our natural birth. And this other life is the divine life of God.
How can someone be born again?
Being born again is very simple; it does not require us to turn over a new leaf, but rather to repent, that is, to turn our heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to believe in all He’s done for us. We can do this by praying a genuine, honest, and simple prayer like this:
“Lord Jesus, I need You. I believe into You. I receive You right now as my life.”
If you’ve ever prayed such a prayer to the Lord, you were born again with Christ in you as your new life. You have been born into God’s kingdom!
The incorruptible seed—the living and abiding word of God
First Peter 1:23 says this about being born again:
“Having been regenerated not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, through the living and abiding word of God.”
Note two on this verse in the Recovery Version explains the word “seed”:
“A seed is a container of life. The word of God, as the incorruptible seed, contains God’s life. Hence, it is living and abiding. Through this word we were regenerated. It is God’s living and abiding word of life that conveys God’s life into our spirit for our regeneration.”
When we heard someone speak God’s Word to us, and we believed, we were born of the life that was conveyed to us. Praise the Lord! This should encourage us to speak the living word of God to others because when we do, His word can convey life to them for their regeneration.
What should we do after we’re born again?
Just as with our physical birth, once we’ve been born again by the divine life, we can’t be unborn. We needn’t worry or be afraid that we’ll lose the divine life we received at our regeneration. We simply need to move forward by growing in that life day by day.
At birth, a baby’s primary needs are to breathe and eat. A newborn doesn’t need teachings or textbooks; it needs air and nourishment. These aspects of life cause the child to grow spontaneously, without any striving or effort. The baby simply breathes, eats, and grows.
It’s the same with our spiritual birth. After being born again, we need to nourish this new life in our spirit for it to grow. We can breathe by praying, drink by calling on the Lord’s name, and be nourished by spending time in the Word and starting our day with the Lord. When we take care of our spiritual breathing, drinking, and eating, the divine life within us will grow, and we will more and more express God in the everyday details of our lives.