You can’t be the president of the USA if you don’t claim to a ‘born again Christian’. In contrast, you can’t be the prime minister of Australia if you claim to be a ‘born again Christian’.
So what does it mean to be born again? I want to answer nine questions about being born again.
(1) What was wrong with my first birth?
The short answer is ‘original sin’. We are all born bent. We are children of Adam and Eve. We sin by choice and by nature. In the words of a great one, “I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined. Stone cold dead as I stepped outside the womb.” The heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart. There is a monster lurking in every one of us. That is why people may have believed in Jesus, but Jesus would not believe in them. John 2:23-25:
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (NIV)
Jesus knows what we are like. That is very different to one church who many years ago advertised with the line, “I believe in you, signed ‘God’,” But Jesus says, “I don’t trust you: you need to trust me.”
That is why only Christianity has this type of being ‘born again’. Hindus have reincarnation, where you get to improve yourself over many lives. Muslims do not have ‘conversion’, but they have ‘reversion’, because they believe that we are all born as good Muslims. And the rest of humanity is working on their particular self-help program. It’s all about thinking that I am the master of my own destiny. Nicodemus was one such man.
(2) Why is it so necessary to be ‘born again’?
Nicodemus is a man who comes to Jesus by night. He is afraid to be seen with Jesus. Do you know that feeling? He admits that Jesus is a teacher who has come from God, and the miracles have proved that. Jesus then pulls the rug right from under Nicodemus. John 3:3:
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (NIV)
That is a king hit response. You see why must we be born again? You don’t get to see the kingdom let alone enter it unless you are born again or born from above or born of God or born of the Spirit. Entering the kingdom another way is not an option.
Someone once asked the great preacher, George Whitefield, “Why do you always say, ‘You must be born again?’” Whitefield answered, “Because you must be born again!” You cannot be a true Christian and not be born again. Nicodemus was a teacher in Israel, but he doesn’t get it. John 3:4:
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (NIV)
Nicodemus takes Jesus literally. But starting your life all over again is both impossible and useless. It’s impossible because you can’t go back in time to your first birthday. It’s useless because even if you could, you would only end up making another set of mistakes. Nicodemus doesn’t have a clue. Do you know why? Because he was not born again!
How did you learn about where babies come from? I learnt from being a watcher of movies, of course. In the movies, the wife would tell the husband that she was pregnant, and then the husband would always look surprised. My theory at age five was that the husband must have had nothing to do with it—otherwise, he wouldn’t have been surprised. Instead, I thought that when a couple got married, they prayed to God for a baby, and depending on when God decided to, he would give them a baby. That explained the look of the surprise look on the guy’s face. It came as a big shock to find out that the bloke was very much responsible.
Little did I know that my theory fitted the second birth rather than the first birth. The second birth is a decision by God which results in the gift of the Spirit.
(3) What does it mean to be ‘born again’?
Jesus explains this in John 3:5:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (NIV)
When Jesus talks of being ‘born again’, he is giving the back story of how a person puts their faith in Christ. To be ‘born again’ is to be given the Spirit. This allows you to see and believe the truth that Jesus is the saviour of the world.
I once took a friend to an ‘AA’ meeting. One lady spoke of having two lives: the first life was ruled by alcohol, and the other was a life where alcohol was not in control.
Your first birth allows you to join the human race. Your second birth allows you to enter the kingdom of God. We can only enter the kingdom of God because of what God wills through his Spirit. Nicodemus is astonished and he should not have been.
(4) Is this a new teaching?
The new birth is a new experience but not a new teaching. John 3:9-10:
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? (NIV)
Jesus expected Nicodemus to know and understand about being ‘born again’ because as the teacher of Israel, he should have known his Bible. The one place in the Old Testament where water and Spirit are used together is in Ezekiel chapter 36. By this stage in Israel’s history, God’s people were so hard-hearted that they found themselves kicked out of God’s Promised Land. Now listen to God’s promise:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:25-28 NIV)
To be ‘born again’ is to be given a spiritual heart transplant. This requires the removal of a heart of stone—a heart that resists God—and the giving of a new heart that wants to please God. After the heart transplant, it pleases us to please God. We needed more than a saviour who could forgive us—we needed the Spirit to transform us. In fact, faith and repentance are both gifts from God’s Spirit. Something happened on the inside before we could be changed on outside.
When the engine of your car has seized up, you don’t tell the mechanic to change the spark plugs and give it a good wash. Nothing less than a new engine is required. We need a new heart. The shift is not from black and white to colour. The shift is from dead to God to alive to God. The shift is from I once was blind to now I see.
It is not something that you can do to yourself. You don’t make yourself born again.
Nicodemus does not want to believe that all his efforts as a religious man won’t help him one bit to enter the kingdom of God. Religious people, good people, and churchy people do not like this teaching. Nicodemus was a classic example of how you could have a heart of stone and live a good life, and not have eternal life.
So it comes down to who is to be believed. Should we believe this great teacher of Israel, or Jesus, the man from heaven?
Who are you going to believe? Yourself or Jesus? Are you going to believe a person who has never been to heaven, or the person who has come from heaven?
(5) How do I know I am ‘born again’?
The questions, “Do I believe in Jesus as my saviour?” and “Am I born again?” are two sides of the same coin. Saying yes to one is saying yes to another. Jesus begins by talking about the Spirit, but he ends up by talking about his death on the cross.
How do you know if it’s windy outside? You can see the trees moving around. How do you know if you’re born of God? You believe in Jesus. John 3:14-15:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (NIV)
In Numbers 21, 1300 years before Jesus came to earth, God’s people in the desert had rebelled against God yet again. So God let loose a plague of snakes. Have you seen the movie ‘Snakes on Planes’? Well, Numbers 21 was ‘Snakes in Church’. People were being bitten and dying. The people cried out for mercy, so God got Moses to make a bronze snake and lifted it up on a pole. All the Israelites had to do was to look at the bronze snake and they would live. So Jesus would be lifted up on the cross, and all we need to do is look to him and believe on him, and we will be saved from the judgement to come. This is why we preach the gospel of Jesus and not the Spirit. It is also why we baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
(6) Can I be a true Christian and not be ‘born again’?
No! Beware of a false conversion. You can go from being an atheist to a believer in God, or from being non-religious to religious, or from not going to church to going to church, or from being a bad person to a good person, or from being Catholic to Protestant—and you still might not be born again.
Do you look to Jesus and trust Jesus alone? If not, you are a Christian in name only.
(7) What if I don’t know the day I was ‘born again’?
No two stories are the same. I talked to an Indonesian woman at ESL who gave me permission to tell her story. Linda said she was going to commit suicide. She said, “the Spirit of God asked her, where will you end up if you die?” She then went to a pastor who said, “You need to trust Jesus as her saviour.” She could tell you the day she was born again.
The famous preacher Spurgeon once said, “You don’t need to know the day you were born to know that you’re alive.” And you don’t need to know the day you were born again to know you are alive in Christ. For some of us, we can tell you the day, minute, and location they were born again in Christ. For others, it was a gradual work of the Spirit over months and years. What matters is this: do you trust Jesus, and look to him now?
(8) Is anyone beyond the hope of ‘being born’ again?
If it is a work of God, then no one is beyond hope of being born again. So stay optimistic. Don’t get frustrated. Get praying. Get asking. One woman at church asked a person she knows, “Would you like to read the Bible with me?” Her friend said, “yes”. Her friend is a neo-Nazi.
(9) Is being ‘born again’ only relevant for conversion?
‘Born again’ is not just about coming to Christ. Born again means a deep transformation. Peter says, “love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again” (1 Peter 1:22-23 NIV).
What would it look like if Harvey Weinstein was born again? You would know if he was because he would confess Christ as Lord, he would publicly confess his sins, he would accept jail time for his atrocious behaviour, and he would reimburse every women he has sinned against.
So my last question is, “Are you born again?” For you cannot see or enter kingdom of God without it. The good news is that Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive”. Be assured that if you are sincere, he will give you his Spirit. And his Spirit will turn your eyes upon Jesus.
It’s been rightly said, “Born once, die twice; born twice, die once.” If we are only born once, we will die twice. The first is physical death, and the second is the death of eternal judgment. But if you are born twice—born and born again—you will only die once. Beyond is eternal life. It’s what born again people do.
We are about to pray and I want to give you the opportunity to come to Christ—either for the first time, or so that you might recommit to Christ. I would ask you all to bow your heads and close your eyes. But for those wanting to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, please put your hand up now. All heads are down and eyes are closed except mine.
Please fill me with your Spirit, renew my heart, and lead me to Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I can only come to you Lord now because of your Spirit. I can only live a renewed life because you have given me new birth.
Thank you that all my sins are washed away by the blood of Christ.
In Jesus’ powerful name.