Are you born again? You might think that question is just as strange as the first guy who heard it. He was a Jewish religious leader in the first century named Nicodemus. He visited Jesus of Nazareth at night because he wanted to know who Jesus was and what he had to say about God.
But Nicodemus had a problem. Like most of the Jewish religious leaders of his day, he assumed that he was already able to enter God’s kingdom because he was born into the right family and he did his best to live a good life. To Nicodemus’ surprise, Jesus told him that those things weren’t enough. In fact, Jesus told him that unless he was born again, Nicodemus couldn’t see the kingdom of God.
You Must Be Born Again
Nicodemus was confused. He marveled over Jesus’ statement and wondered what Jesus meant by it. By saying, “you must be born again,” Jesus explained to Nicodemus the “how” of Christian faith. In other words, how does the God of the Bible tell us that we can enter a personal relationship with him, and become part of his kingdom?
Like Nicodemus, we’re prone to think that as long as we try to be good people and follow some religious laws that God will be pleased with us and heaven awaits us. But Jesus says that in order to be right with God, we need to be made brand new—born again.
What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?
Think about what this statement implies. It takes no effort on a baby’s part to be born. Someone else desired, acted, and worked for birth to take place. The same is true in God’s family. God wants to welcome us into his kingdom, he acted through Jesus Christ to make it possible, and his Holy Spirit brings about the “new birth” in our lives (John 3:6). In fact, in fancy terms and in theology textbooks the idea of being “born again” is called the doctrine of regeneration—because we are re-created, given new spiritual life, and brought into a new generation: God’s family (1 Peter 1:3).
Here’s where we discover why the message at the heart of the Bible is different from any other religious notions in the world. Every other religion says that we must work to be right with god, whoever he is. We must appease the gods. Or we conform ourselves to whatever the gods wish us to be. Not so with the God of the Bible. Jesus goes on to explain to Nicodemus that God sent his only Son (Jesus) in order to rescue us from sin and death and restore our relationship with God.
In other words, God took the initiative to rescue us and reconcile us to himself. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t owe us that. But he chose to do so even though we don’t deserve it. And the Bible calls that God’s grace. God’s grace is all about what God has done for us (1 John 4:10).
Why Do I Need to Be Born Again?
So we have to be born again. And only God can do that for us. But why do we need to be re-born?
Because we were born into sin, and therefore into death (Psalm 51:5). Apart from God’s work in our lives, the Bible describes us as “dead,” in rebellion towards God, and unable to see his goodness (Ephesians 2:1-3). It takes a miracle—God giving us new life and a new heart—to actually be the people he wants us to be and know him as he wants us to know him (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
How Do I Become Born Again?
How should we respond to this news of what God has done for us? What if you want to be born again? Well, as we’ve already seen, this new birth is a gift given by God, through Jesus Christ, and worked out by his Holy Spirit (James 1:17-18). But God tells us that we can ask him for the gift of new birth (Luke 11:13).
The Bible also says that if you’ve heard the message of the good news about Jesus and you recognize your need to be born again then you must turn from sins and put your trust in Jesus (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38). In fact, your willingness to turn from your sins and put your trust in Jesus is one of the key ways that you can know that God has given you new life in him! Even our desire for the new birth proves that he has already begun to change our desires.
Are there other ways to know if you’ve been born again? Since we can’t make this miracle of new birth happen (but we believe God’s Word that it needs to happen), God has given us in the Bible a number of tests to know whether we are really a child of God, or someone born in his family. Just like families on earth, God’s people bear a family resemblance. These family resemblances are most clearly outlined in the first letter of the Apostle John.
Are You Born Again?
This all is a little whack! You might be thinking. But remember that when Jesus taught about the new birth, he used an analogy—intentionally.
He used something super familiar to us—childbirth—to help us understand a spiritual reality—salvation, or being reconciled to God.
Think of the wonder of this—the God of the Bible created all things. The invention of the family happens in the first chapter of his Book. And so God wove into the fabric of our common human experience insight into his own goodness, kindness, and plan. Family is a visible, dim reflection of the relationship God wants with us. And he made it possible for us to be born into his family through the painful labor of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf (John 16:20-22). It was new spiritual life of now belonging to our heavenly Father that the cry of a newborn was always meant to point to.
Essentially, the question, “are you born again” is the Bible’s way of asking the question “are you a Christian?”
To be a Christian, according to Jesus does not first begin with what you did or chose to do. To be a Christian begins with a miraculous work that God did in you. So, have you experienced the miracle?