What does it mean to be born again? There are a variety of opinions on this matter, but to understand what this term truly means, we must go to the Bible. Jesus used this phrase to describe a spiritual change that is required in order to have eternal life. Unless we are born again, we cannot enter heaven.
John 3:1-16 records a conversation between Jesus and a Jewish Pharisee. After observing His miracles and hearing His teaching, Nicodemus came to Jesus one night saying, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (v. 2). Instead of commenting on Nicodemus’ observation, Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3).
Jesus was telling Nicodemus that his impressive education, obedience to the Law, and religious prominence in Judaism would not get him into heaven. What he needed was a brand-new start—to be born from above. Being born again is the act of God by which He imparts eternal life to those who were dead in their trespasses and sins but have now accepted Jesus as Savior.
Nicodemus responded to Jesus with a question, “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?” (v. 4). To help him understand, Jesus explained, “Unless [one] is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 5). In other words, someone is born physically into this world as a baby, but to enter the heavenly realm, he must be born of the Spirit.
For his entire life Nicodemus had been taught that being Jewish and doing good works were what would gain him entrance into heaven, but now his pride was shattered, and he realized that nothing he’d done or built his life upon would benefit him eternally. He was spiritually bankrupt
with no way to enter God’s kingdom.
He is not unlike many people today who have the mistaken idea that they are good enough to go to heaven. They attend church, give their offering, and may have even been baptized yet have never truly been born again. Some defend themselves by reasoning that God will surely accept them because they’ve tried to live a good life and haven’t committed any crimes. But in reality, they aren’t good enough because everyone is born a sinner.
We must be careful not to make the same mistake the Pharisees did. They saw Jesus’ miraculous signs and heard Him teach, but they walked away without considering whether His claims were true. Nicodemus was different; he risked his religious reputation as a Pharisee to come see Jesus, listened to Him, asked questions, sought to understand what He was saying, and learned the truth.
Can you point to a time in your life when you became born again? Some people know they had a radical, life-altering experience on a certain date in their past, while others only know that they gradually turned their life over to the Lord and now truly believe their sins are forgiven. If you sense this may not have happened for you yet, what is keeping you from surrendering to Christ and receiving forgiveness and eternal life? Be sure of your new life in Christ today. For more information, visit intouch.org/god.
This article was originally published on May 22, 2018, and is adapted from the Sermon Notes for Dr. Stanley’s message “What Is the Meaning of Being Born Again?” which aired this weekend on TV.