The term born again is repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament and Nicodemus, the Jewish leader, also sought to know from Lord Jesus about this. A believer is baptized into the Lord and thereafter also what other changes take place in him/her? Also, without this no one can even see the kingdom of heaven and this is thus, the most important event in the life of a follower of Lord Jesus.
What does born again mean? After sin entered the world, with Adam and Eve disobeying the command of God, all generations thereafter are born in sin. After Prophet Nathan pointed out King David’s sin with Bathsheba, he confessed his sin to the Lord, identifying the reason and seeking forgiveness, ‘Behold, I was born in inequity, and in sin my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5). The implication was not about an illegal relationship but about inheriting sinful nature that leads us away from God. Therefore, Lord Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus was about coming out of that state of being dead into life. The Jews then and even now consider themselves to be the chosen ones as Abraham’s descendents and direct inheritors of God’s kingdom, with an automatic place in heaven. They believe that Abraham stands at the gate of hell to ensure that none of his descendents enter there and they expect the Messiah to bring in a new world with the Jewish people enjoying places of honor. But the Son of God brings new life in which He is the Redeemer and the ‘only way’ to this life in God and this life is received through rebirth and not through learning.
The Greek word ‘anothen’ is translated as ‘again, from above, from origin (source)’. It means to have a new life by being born into the kingdom of God, which no one can do on his own but is from above, the original source of all creation. Apostle Paul terms this rebirth ‘through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5). Apostle James, brother of our Lord, calls it being ‘brought forth by the word of truth’ (James 1:18). Apostle Peter experienced this after denying the Lord three times by answering His question about loving Him. He teaches about this rebirth from ‘incorruptible seed, through the word of God which lives and abides forever’ (1 Peter 1:23). The three elements working in rebirth as per this are, the Word of God (truth), Holy Spirit and water for cleansing and this process begins from within, the mind and the heart. The first step in this is ‘seeing the kingdom of God’ and then it is to ‘enter the kingdom of God’ and this involves radical transformation by the Holy Spirit and the words ‘Most assuredly, I say to you’ terms this as a necessity and not an option (John 3:3).
One may forsake all that he has in this world and even overcome his evil nature yet he cannot make himself be ‘born of God’. The Holy Spirit leads one to believe about the kingdom of God to see it with his spiritual eyes. Being born of water as a condition is termed by many as natural birth by coming out of the mother’s womb and sack of water but this is the natural birth of the flesh. The process of sanctification and cleansing is ‘washing of water by the Word’ where the Word of God is the water of cleansing (Ephesians 5:26). Nicodemus would have been aware of the Old Testament prophecy that the LORD God would, ‘sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols’ (Ezekiel 36:25).
John the Baptist preached the ‘baptism of repentance’ by taking a complete 180 degree turn from sin towards God, seeking forgiveness and being baptized (Luke 3:3; 16-17). He then told about baptism of the Holy Spirit to be carried out by the Messiah. Being born of water and Spirit would thus be about seeking forgiveness of sins, committing to a holy life under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. The prophetic promise of God included giving of a new heart and of putting a new spirit within the believer with the Holy Spirit to lead in to God’s statutes and to keep and do His judgments (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Lord Jesus identified Himself as the ‘true vine’ and we as the branches with the task of bearing fruit (John 15:1). Apostle Paul accepts the first right of salvation being of the Jews and that ‘some of the branches were broken off for their having rejected the Messiah), and you, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree’ (Romans 11:17-18). A gentile being made part of the Jewish community was baptized and taught all the ways to be followed by him. The spirits of the older faith that were being worshipped by the new believer keep attempting to disrupt his new life and many turn back after sometime, failing to change to new ways or continue in a dilemma about their new faith. The becoming of ‘one flesh’ by a husband and wife also applies to sexual relations before and after marriage, thus opening the door for the demonic spirits to have free access (Genesis 2:24).
The Holy Spirit in a believer helps in changing the ways through the Word of God but seeking forgiveness and deliverance from evil spirits becomes necessary. Except in a few cases, Lord Jesus ministered to the Jews for healing and deliverance from evil spirits, despite their being the chosen people of God. The LORD has warned that ‘Your inequities and the inequities of your fathers together, who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills; I will measure their former work into their bosom’ (Isaiah 65:7 ). The LORD God warned the Israelites of visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children ‘to the third and fourth generation’ (Deuteronomy 5:9). Many believers continue to suffer hindrances to their growth spiritually as well as in the worldly realm for long periods for want of cleansing of the original root of the tree. If a tree be cut down and its roots grow old and its stump die in the ground, ‘yet at the scent of water it will bud forth and bring forth branches’ (Job 14:8-9).
Being born again is destruction of that root and complete grafting into the ‘True Vine’ and draws no sustenance from any other source thereafter. The fig tree that was cursed by the Lord dried from the root for it had a pretense of being fruit bearing but had only leaves (Mark 11:20).The old root must be completely dried to prevent any regeneration of evil ways.
How does one become born again? A seed is sown into the earth and then it grows into a plant yielding more of its kind. It must first die to itself to be able to give a good yield and that depends on the soil in which it is sown. In the parable of the sower, Lord Jesus clarified that ‘The seed is the Word of God’ that is sown in the heart of the one who hears (Luke 8:11). For a good harvest of faith the heart must first ‘bear its own cross’ and die to self interest and surrender to God. In the Gethsemane Park Lord Jesus prayed the same prayer three times, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done’ (Luke 22:42). This prayer was not of fear of death but of the pain of separation from the Father of a Son who had accepted all the suffering willfully. This was the agony of His holy soul being made sin upon the cross and this prayer is the final submission to drink the cup of God’s wrath on the cross. The Son of God died to Himself there by surrendering His will to the will of the Father.
Gethsemane was the place of crushing (the winepress) and the battle of the cross was won here. The disciples failed to ‘keep watch’ and ran away while Apostle Peter denied His Lord.
Moses was chosen by the LORD God to go and lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt, but on the way ‘the LORD met him and sought to kill him’ (Exodus 4:24-25). Zipporah, Moses’ wife was the daughter of Jethro, the Midianite priest and had resisted Moses’ efforts to circumcise his sons for as per their custom in Midian, the wife after marriage circumcised her husband. She finally ‘took a sharp stone’ and circumcised her son to save his life. Until one gives up the old ways and fully adopts the new, God’s blessings are unlikely to fully come.
Apostle Paul was confronted by the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus and was blinded by his worldly knowledge and ways by the exceeding brightness of the glory of the Lord (Acts 9:1-6). He asked, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do?’ surrendered and finally received the light by opening of his spiritual eyes to become the greatest Apostle who ever lived. To reach that state he had to fully submit to the Lord to say, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God’ (Galatians 2:20). Apostle Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, and a well known Pharisee, but he counted ‘all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3:8).
Elisha was chosen by Prophet Elijah as his successor, as per God’s command, when he was plowing his field with twelve yoke of oxen before him, describing the size of his heritage. But he left all, slaughtered a yoke of oxen and used the wood of the equipment to cook and followed the prophet. Elisha burned his bridges and then followed his mentor to ‘become his servant’.
Lord Jesus identified one of the things as most important to remain connected to Him and that He also included in the prayer that He taught us. Forgiveness of all those who have wronged us in the past in any way is the condition which when fulfilled makes us deserving of the same from God (Matthew 6:12). This is the most neglected area of our lives for we find this as the most difficult command to follow. The Sermon on the Mount puts this absolutely clearly that even bringing offerings and prayers before God must be suspended for this (Matthew 5:24). His command is ‘If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way’. Reconciliation with the offended brother is necessary before coming before God.
The counsel of the wise man is, ‘Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on’ (Proverbs 4:14-15). Everyone is aware of his/her weakness and what triggers that urge. At every moment whenever the opportunity arises to turn towards that side in thoughts or physically, avoid and shift focus on the Word of God. The devil is fully aware of our weaknesses and his agents, the evil spirits are experts in bringing that in our face repeatedly to make us stumble. Avoid and seek help from God to overcome such situations and do not join others who are likely to indulge in such activities.
The Lord has a wonderful plan full of peace, great future and hope for everyone but it depends on our calling upon Him and seeking Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Many times, when in deep distress due to any event, we do not feel like praying or reading/meditating upon the Scripture. This is what exactly the devil wants us to do. Apostle Peter sought and received permission from the Lord to step out of the boat and walk towards Him on water (Matthew 14:30-31). Amazed at his walk, he shifted focus on the storm and started sinking, to cry out, ‘Lord, save me’ and was immediately rescued by Lord Jesus. In all our situations we must remember and thank the Lord for His merciful deeds towards us in the past and then pray in faith to receive answers in the present crisis also. Retain your look on Lord Jesus, ‘the author and finisher of our faith’ and He is faithful to step forward to help (Hebrews 12:2).
What is the final step and proof of New birth? Apostle Paul found some disciples of John the Baptist who had never even heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2;6). He laid hands on them, ‘the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues and prophesied’. Lord Jesus washed the disciples’ feet but Apostle Peter in his love for the Lord, objected to see the Master doing this, to be told by the Lord, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me’ and he then sought complete washing (John 13:8). Since they had washed already and experienced the full cleansing of salvation, they only needed the spiritual cleansing of washing feet. Salvation is a one-time act of faith but sanctification is a daily process of removal of stains of sin. What Lord Jesus did to the disciples, the Holy Spirit does in a believer today and the presence of the Holy Spirit is the final step of new birth.
The Holy Spirit convicts a believer of his sin, for though we are aware of our sins in our hearts, we find it difficult to admit (John 16:8). At the urging of the Holy Spirit we ‘confess our sins, (and the Lord) He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins’ (1 John 1:9). Many take the gift of speaking in tongues as the only proof of the baptism of the Holy Spirit while forgetting that faith itself is a gift of God (1 Corinthians 12:9) and though He has chosen us, yet we move forward in faith to surrender to His Lordship.
The real proof of completion of a new birth in a person is the change that starts in his life through the manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The overall attitude of a believer changes slowly and gradually and though he may stumble, yet he gets up and continues in faith. A believer is ‘dead to sin’ and no longer enjoys that and the Holy Spirit warns at every step from thought, to desire, to planning, to commitment of act and thereafter till repentance and seeking forgiveness. Thus new birth is the process of change initiated by the Lord and completed by His Spirit, though we willfully submit to that in faith.
Nicodemus was a Jewish leader and well versed in the Scripture. He learnt from Lord Jesus about being born again and meditated on that till he finally started undergoing the change in his life. He could then overcome his fear of being expelled from the Sanhedrin and come out by day to serve his Lord. He could then join Joseph of Arimethea, another member of the Jewish Council, with a 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes to help in the burial of the crucified Lord. Being born again is to overcome fear and control of others to step forward boldly to serve the kingdom of heaven as a member and an heir!