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"Born again" is a term most often attributed to Christians. Yet what exactly does it mean, and what does the the use of the term encompass?

  • What is a "born again" Christian?
  • Are they of a specific denomination?
  • Where does the term "born again" come from?
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7 Answers 7

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The term "born again" comes from a passage in John 3:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“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!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

(Some translations render "born again" as "born from above")

The concept is picked up in other places in the Bible where Christians are referred to as "new creations". (2 Corinthians 5, Galatians 6). The sense is clear that to be a part of the Kingdom of God, you must undergo a radical transformation, akin to being created anew: "starting over again". Like birth, this is something that happens to you, not something you do.

Using this basis, the doctrinal position of almost all Christian denominations is that all Christians are by definition "born again". For many the sacrament of baptism makes you "born again". For others, whatever makes you a Christian also makes you "born again".

The use of the term "born again Christian" really dates from the 1960s, where it originated with the Jesus People and Christian counterculture. Since then it is generally associated with the Evangelical movement, and is often used by them to distinguish themselves from those they see as 'nominal' Christians. It isn't applied to any specific denomination.

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What is a "born again" Christian?

Simply put, a 'born again' Christian is someone who has come to believe in Jesus as their lord and savior in their heart, possibly through baptism. This is not simply believing he exists, but completely giving your heart and soul to God.

While this is the biblical meaning, how it is used and portrayed in different churches and denominations often has an added meaning given to it.

Are they of a specific denomination?

While a 'born again' Christian as according to the bible is anyone who accepts God and is born again in spirit, how the term is used can differ in different denominations and churches.

Being baptized is often considered being 'born again'. While it is common to baptize children in some denominations and churches, other churches baptize those who are older. This is often practiced as unlike a child, an adult will understand the significance of what a baptism means, and will have it performed of their own free will. Yet other denominations feel being baptized later in life is different than as a child when you still are innocent, and as such is different than being 'born again'.

While the general meaning of the term is to describe someone who has given themselves up to the Lord, it also has another meaning attached to it in society. A 'born again' Christian is often a term given to someone who converted from another way of life, often counter to God's teachings (but not always). While like everyone else they accept God in their heart, the transformation of the soul is so apparent, they can quite literally seem 'born again'.

In yet other denominations and churches, it is believed we can not be born again of our own power, but rather only through the direct power of God.

Where does the term "born again" come from?

One instance can be found in John 3:3 KJV.

...Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

And again shortly after in John 3:7 KJV:

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

In this chapter Jesus converses with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who says Jesus must be sent by God, as only then could he perform such miracles. While Nicodemus is confused by Jesus saying one must be born again as a physical birth, He says that while one is of flesh, to enter into the kingdom of God, one must be born again of the spirit.


Another instance of this term is found in 1 Peter 1:23 KJV:

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

This chapter speaks of how Jesus died for us, and consequently was rose again that our ...faith and hope might be in God. ~ 1 Peter 1:21 KJV. This verse then states that through Jesus' death and resurrection, our hearts should be pure, and be be incorruptible by the word of God.

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"A 'born again' Christian is someone who has come to believe in Jesus as their lord and savior in their heart." That's a really simplistic way of summing up a complex issue. –  DJClayworth Jun 30 '12 at 14:59

The rebirthing isn't a physical rebirth. One of Jesus' followers asked him "how can one return from the womb from whence man came and be reborn?" Jesus responded by saying "This rebirthing is not a physical rebirthing, it is a spiritual rebirth" I don't have my bible with me so I'm sure that isn't word for word, but the meaning is parallel. I know it is in John if you are interested. "Born again" is pretty literal, when someone is a born again Christian, that means they have accepted jesus as their savior and they have let him into their heart. This is a spiritual rebirth, thus the name: born again.

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Here is a evangelical view from the Protestant tradition.

The concept of 'birth' means something that happens to you, not as a result of your own work, effort or commitment. The doctrine of new birth pertains to the new life one has the moment they believe the gospel. 

The necessity for new birth shows that the old life from Adam can't be improved. It must be completely killed and destroyed.  

There Jesus was teaching a highly moral religious leader that to obtain eternal life we must die and be reborn.  

This 'new birth' is spiritual as opposed to our natural birth. In our natural birth we are born sinners. By faith in Christ we are adopted, removed form our first family under the kingdom of the devil, and tranlsated into Chrit's kingdom. 

This new birth entirely changes the way we live.

The whole subject can be restated by Romans:

Life Through the Spirit

1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (NIV Romans 8:1-4)

The same ideas is expressed in Ephesians:

Made Alive in Christ

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (NIV Ephesians 2:1-7)


New birth is not a new term.  


Martin Luther said:

You have been born anew. In the third place, this should be done because you are no longer what you formerly were, he says, but are new persons. Works have not brought this about, but for it a birth has been required. For you cannot make the new man. No, he must grow or be born. Just as a carpenter cannot make a tree, but the tree itself must grow out of the earth, and just as we all were not made children of Adam but were born as such and have inherited sin from our father and mother, so we cannot become children of God by means of works but must be born again. This is what the apostle wants to say: Since you are now new creatures, you must also conduct yourselves differently now and lead a new life. Just as you formerly lived in hatred, so you must now walk in love, contradictory in every respect.  (Luther's Works Volume 30, Page 43)

John Calvin said:

By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature. Hence it follows, that there is nothing in us that is not sinful; for if reformation is necessary in the whole and in each part, corruption must have been spread throughout. 

This expression shows briefly what is the beginning of Christianity, and at the same time teaches us, that we are born exiles and utterly alienated from the kingdom of God, and that there is a perpetual state of variance between God and us, until he makes us altogether different by our being born again; for the statement is general, and comprehends the whole human race. (Calvin's Commentary on  John 3:3)

Those who espouse this term usually mean that committed people in churches (similar to Nicodemus) are still damned, even if they are a minister, priest, have been baptized, go to church, do good works, read the bible, share the gospel, pray, give to the poor, etc. ------> until they have a new birth through genuine faith in the gospel. 

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Born again is not simply believing that Christ is our savior. Scripturally, one must be baptized as in John 3... Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“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!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

When we ignore verses such as these we deceive ourselves and the world about a God given command to be baptized (submerged completely in water). Christians or those who desire to be so must search the scriptures ourselves so as not to be deceived by those who are deceived. Our salvation comes from first our love of Christ as it preached and taught, but also our obediance to a just and holy God who cannot lie. "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38) We are not raised to a newness of life (born again) until we are baptized (or buried with Christ in death, which occurs as we are lowered into the water and completely submerged) and then come out of the water. This is the point we are "born again" christians... when we have obeyed God how He requires.

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Welcome to C.SE! Could you please identify the perspective of this answer? (I would guess this is a Baptist or other Evangelical perspective, and while I happen to agree, there are all sorts of Christians on here...) –  Affable Geek Dec 13 '12 at 16:41
    
@AffableGeek Baptist do not believe this but Church of Christ believe something similar. –  caseyr547 Jun 7 '13 at 1:23

It is all about learning from the heart and not the mind. The heart is like a brain. It memorizes. It holds onto the rythms of emotions that become cycles of pain (or at least the defence against pain). Since it is difficult for us to face the initial pain again our defence begins to guard us against everything. By doing so the cycles become like a whole new person. A callous person that no longer see's or hears love as they once did. To become born again is to understand the root of pain and forgive yourself for holding it and forgive those that caused it. Truly fully forgive. When that is done your heart ceases to beat in defence and love enters. The old rythm is the death and the rythm of love (that was always there since birth) re-enters and you are flooded with spiritual wisdom and understanding and feel like you have (for real) died and been reborn. Then new understandings are seen in everything. The blind see and the def hear.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE. Please understand that this site is very specifically set up for issues regarding Christian doctrine, often specific to individual traditions. This is a fairly general question, but that doesn't make mine or yours or any body elses personal beliefs fair game as an answer. We want to hear what beliefs Christianity holds in regard to this issue. Last I checked, Christianity wasn't about "us forgiving ourselves" at all. The terminology "born again" in Christianity usually refers to a change in our relationship to God. –  Caleb May 31 '13 at 8:41

Just thought I'd muddy the waters by bringing to light something referencing being born again that is at least as old as the reformation.

Grant, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, that the splendor of Thy brightness may shine forth upon us, and the light of Thy light may, by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, confirm the hearts of those who have been born again by Thy grace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, God, world without end.

Collect from the Vigil of Pentecost

Being born again is certainly receiving the Sanctifying Grace of Jesus. Some Evangelical Protestant Christians consider this to be some sort of spiritual awakening. I don't pretend do understand what they're talking about. But being born again is definitely a good thing, but it can only be understood in the light of what the Holy Spirit moves in us.


One thing I'd like to add is a tidbit I heard on Relevant Radio a few weeks ago, about a Pentecostal minister who said that everyone's got what "born again" means wrong. Because if you think about it, you've got new life at the moment of your conception.

Has it occurred to you that you were alive for nine months before you were born and that those were some of the most important months of your life? Still, the time came when you had to leave your mother’s womb and be born and enter the fulness of life.

So it is with our soul. When we come to know the Lord, in whatever way we come to know Him, we are alive spiritually, but if we don’t continue to the point of birth and growth, we die and are stillborn.

So yes, you must be born again. You must allow God to take you out of your religious “comfort zone” and conform you to His own divine image.

-Rev. Know it All "must I be born again"

But being born is a violent scary thing (seeing to three live births and eagerly anticipating a fourth, I can readily attest to this)

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protected by Caleb Jun 7 '13 at 23:33

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