Is there any concept in scripture that has been more misused, incorrectly interpreted or held up to ridicule as much as these two simple words? Let me know if you think so, but you would be hard pressed to convince me. Over the years, I have heard numerous interpretations of what that phrase means, from all kinds of sources. Even people who don't believe in the bible will use the term, with their own meaning attached to it. In the 1970's, the popular singer John Denver used it in one of his songs to imply that it meant leaving life behind and moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado or at least something to that effect.
This subject has been written about by dozens of Christian authors, who I am sure know much more than I do, but I thought that I would attempt to shed some light on what Jesus really meant, when He told Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, a person must be born again. Two little words, recorded in only three places, yet possibly the most significant and profound concept in the New Testament.
Why is it so important? Well, have you ever heard this statement before? "I'm a Christian but I am not one of those "born again" people. News flash, if you are not born again, you are not a Christian! Uh oh, some people are turning red right now. Give me a chance and I will explain. You see, I am not the one saying this. Jesus Christ said it. To be a Christian, you must be a believer (meaning one who puts their trust and faith in Christ). Therefore you must agree with what He says, so let's look at exactly what He says about this subject.
Nicodemus was one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin (the official ruling council of the Jews). He came to Jesus at night, most likely because he was afraid to talk to Jesus during the day, where someone might see him. Nicodemus was admitting to Jesus, that he believed He was sent from God. Jesus knew that Nicodemus did not fully understand who He was and replied, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3 NIV) Well, this really puzzled Nicodemus. He responded by asking, how a man could enter his mother's womb a second time to be born? Now surely Nicodemus did not think before he asked that question. After all, if that is what Jesus meant, what would become of anyone whose mother had died? Would they automatically be excluded from the kingdom? (Bet, you never thought of that one!) It seems a silly question.
Jesus, being very patient explains in John 3:5-8 "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is 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." Nicodemus, like many people today, is confounded by the words of Jesus and can only respond by asking, "How can this be?"
How sad that a teacher of Israel could not understand the meaning of Jesus' words. Nicodemus was strictly thinking in worldly, temporal terms. In fact, he was so wrapped up in the "physical impossibility," that he didn't seem to care about, or understand the "consequence" of, not being born again.
Jesus says that there are two results of not being born again. One, you cannot see the kingdom of God. Two, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Let's start by defining what the kingdom of God is. Most people would think that this means heaven, which can be true, but it is more than that. The word here in Greek, refers to the realm of a king. You could think of it as being wherever your king rules. It is true that God rules in heaven, but it is also true that Christ will reign on the earth during the millennium. If you closely study the many references to the term "kingdom of God," I think you would find that it essentially refers to participation in that millennial kingdom. However, it would be safe to say that it means anywhere that Jesus is after His return in glory.
Now, let's take the second result, first. Jesus said that without being born again, you cannot enter this kingdom. That means that you will not be participating in the millennial kingdom, nor can you be where Christ is, whether in heaven or on earth. Jesus is very straightforward on this point. He gives no leeway on this matter.
Even more than that, He says that you cannot even see the kingdom. What does He mean by that? The point He is making here is the same point that the apostle Paul makes in 1 Co 2:14, where he states that the natural man (a person who has not received the Spirit of God) does not receive the things of the Spirit, nor
can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Until you are born of the Spirit, you will not understand the spiritual nature of God. You cannot even see who God really is. You cannot know Him without the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. You must be born "of The Spirit."
The reason Nicodemus had so much trouble accepting this was because he related to God strictly in a worldly and temporal mind set. He was convinced that his ticket to the kingdom was already punched by the fact that He was a Jew; one of God's chosen people. His knowledge of the scripture was limited by his lack of personal relationship with the God that he thought he was serving. This same handicap is carried by people today. They think that they are Christians because they were born in America and after all they do believe in God. Usually though, it is a god of their own making. They want a god that they can live with comfortably, and not have to change their behavior or lifestyle, a god that won't judge them for their sin. That is not the God of the Bible. That will not suffice; Jesus said you must be born again.
As I said earlier, there is no such thing as a Christian, who is not born again. When you trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, He gives you a new nature, a spiritual nature that was previously dead because of sin. (Eph 2:1-3). This is what Jesus meant when he said that you must be born of the Spirit. The technical term is regeneration. When we are born of the Spirit, the eyes of our understanding become opened and we can see the "things of the Spirit." Paul says in Rom 8:16, (NKJV) "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." We now have a connection to God that was not there before we trusted in Christ. It is an essential part of our salvation by grace through faith.
This is what it means to be born again. It is not some silly phrase to be used flippantly. It has no real meaning apart from the Word of God. If you have trusted your life to Jesus Christ, you are a "born again" believer. We should be proud to bear the title, but not boast in ourselves because we didn't earn it. It was a gift from God. Let us be like Paul who said in 1 Cor 1:31 "Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." Amen!
Game Plan: Study the scriptures given this week about the idea of being born again. Ask at least one person what they think it means to be born again. See if God opens the door for you to share your testimony of receiving Christ and becoming born again.
May God bless you as you continue your walk with Him,