(Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog)
The terms born again and regenerated are fairly familiar to many people and are usually associated with becoming a Christian.
But what does it mean to be born again? Does it mean to have a fresh start to live a moral life? If that’s the case, does a person who is already good, upright, and ethical even need to be born again?
In this post, we’ll look at what the Bible says about being born again.
Nicodemus and the Lord Jesus
Let’s look at the story of Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus was a moral man who was held in high regard in his community. He came to Jesus one night privately and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher.”
Nicodemus may have wanted Jesus to teach him how to improve himself even more so he could be perfect. But before Nicodemus could say anything else, Jesus told him in John 3:3:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus didn’t seem to have any moral or sinful problems. So this word may have surprised him. It might surprise us also, especially if we think only people who are obviously immoral or unethical need to be born again.
But it’s not only the sinful or immoral people that need to be regenerated. Every human being needs to be born again in order to receive the divine, eternal life of God.
No matter how noble, good, or upright we are, without being born again, we only have our human life; we don’t have the life of God. But God wants us to have His life. That’s why He created us.
So how can we have the eternal life of God? The Lord Jesus said we must be born anew, that is, born spiritually with the life of God.
Born of the Spirit in our spirit
When a baby is born, it’s born of its parents with the human life of its parents. To be born again, or regenerated, simply means we’re born of God with God’s life.
In John 3:6, Jesus explained to Nicodemus how this can be:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Note 2 on this verse in the New Testament Recovery Version helps us see what born of the Spirit is spirit means:
“The first Spirit mentioned here is the divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, and the second spirit is the human spirit, the regenerated spirit of man. Regeneration is accomplished in the human spirit by the Holy Spirit of God with God’s life, the uncreated eternal life. Thus, to be regenerated is to have the divine, eternal life (in addition to the human, natural life) as the new source and new element of a new person.”
Our human spirit is the deepest part of our being. It was created in a particular way by God with the ability to contact and receive Him. When we believed in Jesus, our human spirit was born of the divine Spirit. Now we have the life of God!
God doesn’t want ethical people who don’t have His life. He wants human beings to become His children, begotten with His life.
Being born again has nothing to do with resolving to be a better person or turning over a new leaf. It has everything to do with being born of the Spirit in our spirit with the life of God.
Regeneration in 1 Peter
We can see more about regeneration in 1 Peter 1:3:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has regenerated us unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
The notes in the New Testament Recovery Version on this verse help shed further light on this wonderful matter. We’ll read just the first part of note 4 that explains what we gain through regeneration:
“Regeneration, like redemption and justification, is an aspect of God’s full salvation. Redemption and justification solve our problem with God and reconcile us to God; regeneration enlivens us with God’s life, bringing us into a relationship of life, an organic union, with God.”
When we believe in Jesus Christ and all He did for us, our sins are forgiven, and we’re brought back to God. This was accomplished by Christ’s redemption. We’re so thankful for this aspect of God’s complete salvation.
But that’s not all. By being regenerated, we’re enlivened with God’s life. Now the relationship we have with God isn’t an objective one, like that of a creature and its Creator. Being born again brought God’s life into us, and because of that, our relationship with Him is a relationship of life, or an organic union.
This is not like two inanimate objects merely joined together by glue. Instead, our relationship with God is like the union of a branch in a vine. The branch is joined to the vine organically and shares the life of that vine.
How should we live after we’re born again?
The birth of a baby is a wonderful event. But it’s only the beginning of the baby’s growth and development.
In the same way, being born again is just the beginning of our Christian life. So what should we do after we’re born again?
After being born, a baby’s primary need is to breathe and eat. A newborn doesn’t need teachings or textbooks on how to behave. It needs air and nourishment. As long as it receives the proper nourishment, it grows spontaneously, without any striving or effort. The baby simply breathes and eats, and thus grows through all the stages of life into adulthood.
It’s the same with our Christian life. Once we’re born again, our most important need is to spiritually breathe and be nourished so this new life in our spirit can grow. We can do this by praying, calling on the Lord’s name, and spending time in God’s Word. As we grow, we’ll express the life of God more and more in our daily living.
We could only touch on this wonderful matter of being born again with God’s life briefly here. The New Testament Recovery Version contains a number of rich notes on this topic, including more on 1 Peter 1:3 and the following verses. If you live in Australia, we encourage you to order a free copy so you can read them and gain a fuller appreciation of regeneration.
We also strongly encourage you to read chapter 3, “The First Experience of Life—Regeneration” in The Knowledge of Life. This excellent book on a believer’s experience of the life of God provides invaluable help. You can download this free e-book from anywhere in the world here.