What it means to be born again
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:3-6)
Notice: born of water and Spirit. Nicodemus assumes a physical interpretation and Jesus clarifies that being born again is of water and Spirit. This doubtless is a reference to the great promise to Israel:
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Eze 36:25-27)
The traditional reformed position is that being born again is the work of God in cleansing us from sin (through justification by faith) and the regeneration of the Holy Ghost. It is absolutely a spiritual regeneration that produces a complete transformation, and here is why:
- Man is dead in sins and trespasses
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Eph 2:
Notice this is a real spiritual death and awakening, not figurative and not physical
- The death is not the physical death but a spiritual death through our own sin.
- The quickening has already happened for the believer. (hath quickened)
- Believers are said to be in heavenly places in Christ (a spiritual location).
- Man was born a slave to sin.
Adam, though given authority over creation subjected himself to the authority of Satan and became a slave of sin:
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
The children of a servant belongs to the Master of that servant:
If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. (Exo 21:4)
I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: (Ecc 2:7)
But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. (Gal 4:23)
And so as descendants of Adam mankind are all slaves to sin (Here I differ from many traditional interpretations saying we are born sinful):
This means that sin rules over man because it rules in his flesh.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. (Rom 7:14-15)
The analogy of a servant is again not just an analogy but the actual spiritual condition of every human descendant of Adam.
Summary of the Problem
Therefor man has primarily two very big problems:
- His guilt before an infinitely holy and just God produced by Sin
- His slavery to that Sin that caused the guilt, and inability to free or redeem himself
God’s solution: Death and Resurrection
The death and resurrection of Christ as the substitution for our sin, vindicated by his resurrection as being Himself without sin and therefor a perfect sacrifice for sin, deals with our guilt. This is called justification: being declared innocent by the Judge of all the earth for our past sins.
To receive this imputation of righteousness as a free gift, one simply has to believe:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom 3:23-26)
And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Rom 4:22-25)
The solution is easy – believe, the problem is: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Yes, how can someone dead in sins, believe? How can a slave of sin, do this good thing to believe on the Son of God? Unless his nature is changed… unless he is born from a new, free Spirit rather than the spirit of his father Adam.
And also that is not the end of the story because our guilt before God is a fruit of Sin in our flesh, and a declaration and imputation of righteousness does not deal with the sinful nature. Shall we continue to sin and remain guiltless before God after this imputed righteousness?
God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Rom 6:2-3)
Again the solution is death and resurrection, this time our death and resurrection.
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom 6:4-6)
Dying with Christ deals with our sinful nature – it is put to death. A dead servant is not under obligation to his old master. But a dead person is still just dead and so it’s not just dying with Christ, but rather being made alive in Him that brings about new life.
This is called regeneration, where the believer is renewed into the Image of the Son, the image of God. The work is done by the indwelling of the Spirit of God.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4)
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Rom 8:8-11)
Notice here the fulfilment of both rpomises in Ezekiel 36:
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you (Justification). A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (regeneration) And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Eze 36:25-27)
So how does this relate to being born again?
Use as Analogy, the conception of Jesus:
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.(Luk 1:35)
Jesus is born by the Will of the Father, conceived by the Holy Ghost, and himself born as the Son of God, free from the bondage of the decendents of Adam.
Similarly God, the Father, predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Eph 1:5). And therefor everyone that receive Christ (that believe on his name – present tense) were born of the will of God (past tense)…
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Joh 1:12-13)
Whosoever believeth (present tense: Greek is present active) that Jesus is the Christ is born (perfect - Greek is perfect passive) of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. (1Jn 5:1)
Being born of the will of God, preceeds faith. It is the work of the Holy Ghost in us: The Holy Ghost, “conceives” in us a new heart and a new Spirit. That Spirit is the Spirit of the Son of God:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:4-7)
As a result, I have a new Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, abiding in me – enabling me to see and enter into the Kingdom of God. The ability to see andunderstand enables me to believe (See Mat 13:11-16) which grants me repentance and faith for justification. But if I am justified by the death of the Son while yet a sinner, how much more shall I not be saved by his Life (Rom 5:6-9) – and so the New Life of the Spirit of Christ dwelling in me, enables me to walk in the Spirit, fulfilling the righteousness of the Law.
Therefor being born again is not the consequence of something that I have done, but what God the Father willed before the foundation of the World, the Holy Ghost conceives and the Son enabled through his death and life.
This is evident from the answer that Jesus gives Nicodemus about how to be born again:
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (Joh 3:7-8)
It is absolutely the Work of God not induced by any person and whose origin and destination is as mysterious as the origin and destination of wind.
And so in the final answer:
No, it is not the body or soul that is reborn - it is the spirit:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:6)
The Spirit is the life of the body and soul, enabling the flesh to walk in the Spirit and the Soul to have the will, mind and heart of the Spirit:
for “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-25)