1After dark one evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, 2came to speak with Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you.”
3Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.”
4“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. 7So don’t be surprised at my statement that you must be born again. 8Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
One year, back in the 1970’s, my parents gave me a necklace for Christmas. It was a stainless steel chain with a large metal, rectangular tag hanging from it with the words “Born Again” stenciled in black. It looked something like the dog tags one might find a soldier wearing to identify themselves in the case of some tragic accident.
I never really wore the necklace too much for reasons I will allow Kevin McCallister to explain in the following short video clip:
The phrase “born again Christian” was quite popular back then as it served as a way to identify a certain segment of the Christian crowd.
If you’ve ever wondered where the term “born again Christian” came from or what it means, this is the passage.
The text says that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and if you know anything about the Pharisees, they didn’t exactly get along with Jesus. But unlike most of his religious brethren, who were hard-hearted and saw Jesus as a threat, Nicodemus was open and spiritually curious. So he found a way to meet with Jesus in private where he acknowledged what most Pharisees were unwilling to even consider – that Jesus was indeed sent from God.
I’m sure Jesus’s reply was not what Nicodemus was expecting as he gives this rather strange response about the need for one to be “born again” to see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus, like many people today, was confused by the phrase “born again”. He gives a bewildered response, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” as well as the equally puzzling, “will being born again give me TWO belly buttons?” Ok, I added that last phrase but both statements show a fundamental lack of understanding in what Jesus was communicating.
Jesus explains to Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be born of water and of spirit. He continues by adding that “humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven.”
So what’s he saying?
Everyone experiences a physical birth. In theological terms, we call that generation. There isn’t a person who’s ever lived who did not experience a physical birth. So, the first condition to making it into the kingdom of heaven is one must have experienced a physical birth.
But there is a second condition that’s required to make it into the kingdom of heaven. In addition to being born physically one must also experience a spiritual birth. This second birth is what Jesus is referring to when he says “you must be born again.”
The Bible tells us that even though people are alive physically, because of sin, we are dead spiritually (separated from God). Therefore, in order to be reconciled to God, we must become alive spiritually by experiencing a spiritual birth. We call this regeneration.
Regeneration is the role of the Holy Spirit and it occurs when a person receives the free gift of forgiveness that Jesus offers through His death on the cross.
Receiving this free gift is simply a matter of:
- Recognizing that I am a sinner
- Acknowledging that Jesus died on the cross for my sins
- Trusting Jesus to come into my life and provide forgiveness
When someone responds in faith to Jesus’s offer of forgiveness, an amazing thing happens. God’s Holy Spirit comes into that person’s life and gives them new spiritual life. This is the spiritual birth that Jesus is referring to and it’s what is meant by the term “born again.”
The thing is, it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven unless you’re born again. In other words, you cannot be a Christian unless you are born again because being a Christian means you’ve accepted Jesus’s free gift and the Holy Spirit has come into your life to make you alive spiritually.
So the phrase “born again Christian” is a redundancy, akin to saying “I’m a Christian Christian.”
So why use the term “born again Christian” if it’s a redundancy?
The term became popular as a way for those who have accepted Jesus into their life to distinguish themselves from those who call themselves Christians but have never responded to Jesus’s offer. Many people identify as Christians simply because they go to church or they believe in the God of the Bible. But none of this means a person is a Christian. A person becomes a Christian the moment they experience this second birth, just as Jesus described to Nicodemus.
Do you consider yourself a Christian? What is it that makes you a Christian?
Jesus said that a person must be “born again” to experience the kingdom of heaven. Have you experienced a “second birth”? What were the circumstances that led you to make that decision?
The term “born again Christian” is not as popular today as it was in the 1970’s, partly because many who are not Christians began to associate the term with religious fundamentalism and other caricatures of Christianity that most true Christians would reject. What terms do you currently use to identify your Christian faith and tradition to others?
The danger for many Christians is that we can become religious over time. What steps can you take to ensure your heart remains open and curious, like Nicodemus, instead of hard and callous like the other Pharisees?
Photo by Dave Lowe