What does it mean to be “Born Again?”

There is an account in the Bible where the Lord Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, and the Lord Jesus makes this statement – “unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Strangely, the Lord Jesus doesn’t provide much of an explanation to his statement. Nicodemus does ask him how a man can be born when he is old, but the Lord Jesus simply says to him that a man cannot enter the kingdom unless he is born of water and of the Spirit.

Have you ever really pondered what the Lord Jesus meant when he used the term “born again?” So many times, we read a passage assuming that we understand what the speaker meant when he used those words. But let’s examine this phrase in the context of the kingdom. First, we must recognize that Jesus was Jewish, speaking to a Jewish teacher. Would Nicodemus have understood the concept of the kingdom of God? Yes, because he himself was a teacher in Judaism. Now, to appreciate this concept of the kingdom of God for a moment, I want to digress to a foundational passage in Torah. The passage occurs in Deuteronomy chapter 6, and it reads as follows:

Deut. 6: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This passage is referred to as the Shema, and it is recited like we recite our Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, it is the way the Jews pledge their allegiance to God; and when they say it, the are said to be taking upon themselves the yoke of the kingdom. The concept of the kingdom of God, then, is very well known in Judaism. Nicodemus would have clearly understood this concept. What was strange to Nicodemus’ ears, then, wasn’t the concept of the kingdom of God, but this idea of being born again. In fact, it appeared to be so strange that Nicodemus seemed to conclude that a man had to be physically born twice. But that was a preposterous notion! However, perhaps there are some important principles that we can learn from our natural birth that can apply to this concept of being born again.

Think back to the day you were conceived. Perhaps after reading that previous statement, you may have thought “Ron, that is a ridiculous idea. No one can do that!” I would have to agree with you, and that is precisely my point. No person who was ever brought into this world came as a result of his or her own volition. No human being alive ever intended to be born into this world. You had no control over your natural birth. Your being here wasn’t even the choice of your parents. Your existence is the work of the Sovereign God. Now, you may be thinking to yourself “yes, Ron, that is true.” So if we have no control over our natural birth, why do we think we would have control over our spiritual birth? Do we really think that we can decide whether we want to be born again? Remember the statement the Lord Jesus made to Nicodemus – unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. So what we can surmise from that statement is that being born again is a prerequisite to seeing the kingdom of God. So, is it up to us if we can see the kingdom of God? Indeed, it is not! It is up to the Sovereign God, the One to whom the kingdom belongs. No person enters a kingdom on that person’s terms. A kingdom is entered on the king’s terms. 

So how, then, are we born again? We are born again when our minds are renewed. Being born again is an influence that changes the way we think and perceive. For example, if you have ever recited what we commonly refer to as the Lord’s Prayer, have you ever given thought that you recite the word “kingdom” twice in that prayer? I had recited that prayer hundreds of times, and it never occurred to me that I used the word “kingdom” twice in that prayer until I was awakened to the gospel of the kingdom.  In other words, it was an “aha!” moment as a result of being aware of the kingdom of God. To be clear, I did not have one “aha!” moment where everything about the kingdom was revealed to me. Since I began seeking the kingdom, I have had several “aha!” moments that have changed the way I understand the kingdom of God and what is written in the Bible. You could rightly say that I have not been born again just once, but many times. Each time, however, affords me a clearer vision of God’s kingdom. In all this, however, I realize that these moments are not by my choosing. This is all the handiwork of the Sovereign God. He decides when I am ready to apprehend another kingdom principle or truth.

So what was the Lord Jesus actually saying to Nicodemus when he said that unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God? The Lord Jesus was saying to Nicodemus that the kingdom of God was standing right in front of him, and he couldn’t recognize it. This is why we must be born again. In truth, no one can even perceive the kingdom of God unless our minds are renewed and awakened. We can read about the kingdom in the Bible, yet never really understand what the kingdom is. Have you ever noticed, for example, that at the beginning of the book of Acts, we see the Lord Jesus speaking to his disciples for 40 days about the kingdom of God, and at the end of the book of Acts we see Paul teaching about the kingdom for two years? If you answered no, don’t worry. I didn’t see it either, which is precisely my point. We don’t choose to see the kingdom; it is revealed to us in God’s sovereign timing. Likewise, being born again isn’t something we choose to do; God awakens our spirit with the Holy Spirit.

BY: Elder Ron Mosby

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