What Does it Mean to Be Born Again?

This Sunday, we wrapped up our "Ask Anything" series with a question at least as old as Nicodemus: what does it mean to be born again? Michael Edgar talked us through the meaning of the phrase as well as its implications for our lives.

Born of water and spirit

To understand what it means to be "born again," we looked at the famous discussion on the topic between Jesus and Nicodemus, recorded in John 3. There, Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” First of all, being born again is a requirement for one seeking God's kingdom. Since that's the case, it's pretty important for us to know whether or not we are born again. Secondly, the word "again" in the phrase "born again" also translates "above." So a more complete rendering of the phrase would be "born again from above." This should be our first clue that Jesus is not speaking of physical birth, but of spiritual birth. This is a rebirth that comes from God, in heaven -- a rebirth that is made possible through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus goes on to say, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." Well, if we weren't confused before, we are now. What does it mean to be born of water and Spirit? The earlier observation about the dual meaning of above/again helps us here. Our new birth comes to us from "above" -- so, too, does water come to us from above, in literal rainfall. We also find another double meaning in the word "spirit," which means "wind" or "breath." Both water and wind come from the sky -- from above. So is Jesus saying that we need to stand out in a windy rainstorm to be reborn? Of course not! Rather, this double-sided language clues us in to the metaphorical nature of Jesus' speech. Our new birth comes to us from God, from heaven.

Jesus draws out this metaphor when he says,

"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.”

In this passage, Jesus brings out the connection between physical wind and spirit that is already inherent in the double-sided word often translated "spirit." The ways and movements of the wind and the spirit are invisible and unpredictable. We can't see the wind, but we can see the effects of the wind. So it is with the movement of the Holy Spirit as it brings us into rebirth: we can't see the Spirit, but we can witness its effects in the lives of the reborn.

We love because Christ loved us

So, how does this new birth happen? We've already established that it's the Holy Spirit that accomplishes this mysterious work, and that we can recognize it by the changed lives of the born-again. But how do we gain access to such new life? The answer may seem almost too simple: we must believe. We must put our faith and trust in Christ, who was cursed, raised up on the cross, murdered, buried, resurrected from the dead, and raised up in glory. Christ, who conquered death, is the prototype for those who are born again, and when we confess with our mouths that He is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we too can experience His resurrection power. And how do we believe? By grace. We love God because He first loved us. When the Holy Spirit speaks to us, God enables us to believe in Him and step into our new life in Christ. 

Questions to Consider:

  • What is your "salvation story?" Do you remember how God opened your eyes to faith in Him?
  • What are some areas of your life that reveal the effects of the spirit at work in you?
  • Are you living in the past, as though you are still dead in your sins? Or our you living as one born again from above by Christ's resurrection power?

Listen to the full sermon here.