What does it mean to be born again?

Jesus talks about being born again in John 3, right before the best know verse of the Bible, John 3:16.  Being born again is actually the context of that verse.

John 3:1-8 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

 Jesus answered, “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. 7You 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.”

Even though the concept of being born again is a biblical one, it is a phrase that I don’t use often because of the confusion surrounding it.  When Jesus first used it, it was actually to cause a bit of confusion and to get people to think about the meaning.  Today the term is used so often that it has lost meaning.  Many people outside of the church are familiar with the term but do not stop to question the meaning because they’ve heard it often and know that it’s a Christian thing.

But the same is true within the church.  We know that a Christian is born again but we don’t stop to ponder the reality of this.  Although the concept was completely new to Nicodemus, I don’t believe that it should be difficult for Christians to grasp.

We are born sinful people.  David writes in Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  As sinful people we are deserving of the punishment for sin.  But Jesus died to take away our sins and bore the punishment for our sins. 

But it doesn’t just stop there.  Picture that you’ve been working outside all day.  You’re sweaty and smelly and covered in dirt.  Odds are that when you come in for the day, you don’t just throw on some new clothes in exchange for your dirty ones.  Instead you jump in the shower and get yourself good and cleaned off.  When you get out, you don’t put your dirty clothes back on and you don’t go back out to your dirty labors.  You’re clean and you intend to stay that way.

This is where the concept of being born again comes into play.  If we were just forgiven, it would be like putting on a new set of clothes without showering.  But instead a transformation takes place.  After that shower you don’t want to do anything dirty because you just got clean.

Being born again means that a transformation has taken place.  We are all born physical beings.  Being born again means to be reborn as a spiritual being.  It means that we should no longer have the desire to do wrong but to do right.  Unfortunately we are still human beings as well and for the time being our fleshly side and our spiritual side are going to be in conflict and are going to battle it out.  But being born again means that we have a new spiritual side that did not exist at one time.