Christians talk about being “born again”. But what does it mean to be “born again” and why do we need to be?
First you need to know where the term came from. It was actually Jesus who used the phrase. You’ll find it in John 3:3 and John 3:7. In that passage Jesus was talking to a gentleman named Nicodemus, a very important political figure. While Nicodemus was still making a long intro (like politicians do), Jesus interjected with these words: “I tell you the truth, unless you’re born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” To which Nicodemus riposted: “How can anyone be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying about this ‘born-from-above’ talk?” Jesus was actually distinguishing two types of birth – spiritual and natural birth. Humans reproduce naturally he said, but the Holy Spirit reproduces spiritually. Being born again is spiritual rebirth. Which is why Paul wrote, “Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons.” (2 Corinthians. 5:17) so we also know being born again is unification with Christ. Then he goes on: “God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.” At the heart of the born again thing is therefore forgiveness of sins, a fresh start, a new life and a new life form. In fact one translation says a born again person is a new creature.
You can stop here and skip to the end if you’ll like to give your life to Christ. But if you want deeper understanding, then read on.
The whole thing actually dates back 6,000 years, may be more. If we don’t go back that far we won’t understand the historical progression, and we won’t fully grasp what happened about 2,000 years ago when Jesus was assassinated.
I’m sure you know the story of Adam and Eve, how God gave instruction to both not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That tree was essentially a program, with capability to rewire and restructure the brain and alter human nature. It was a death pill. But why would God plant such a tree in the garden knowing Adam might be tempted? Because his idea of “man” was not a robot. His concept of “human” had a freewill component. Freewill cannot exist without options. And so there was the tree of life, and then the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Life will be pretty boring without freewill. it will take power from man. You couldn’t even choose to read this blog without freewill, or decide to go to the movies, or choose friends to hang out with. You couldn’t choose which career to pursue, or who to marry. Without freewill life will be an Orwellian big brother society. It won’t be like anything we see today. And nobody can be held accountable for any crime. After all the criminal has no freewill. And you can’t blame your friend for anything. Not even for buying you Fanta instead of Coke. Without freewill life will be pretty uninteresting, dull. We’ll all be machines, soul-less machines.
But didn’t God know Adam would eat the fruit? Doesn’t that make God liable? Yes, he did know. He’s omniscient. But that you know your friend will betray you doesn’t make you liable for his actions, does it? Causation is not the same as foreknowledge. What God did with his foreknowledge though, was to make a contingency plan. We’re told Jesus had been slain from the foundations of the world. (Revelation 13:8) so God had made a provision for salvation.
In the indictment of Adam however, Genesis introduced the principle of moral responsibility. Everyone is accountable for the natural consequences of his actions and inactions. Without the principle of personal responsibility society will disintegrate. But there were many laws operating in Genesis – physical, moral, biological and spiritual laws. Creation is regulated by laws. For example the genetic law laid down in Genesis is that everything must bear after its kind. (Genesis 1:11, 24) It’s why humans give birth to humans, animals give birth to animals and mangoes give birth to mangoes. Inherent in that law is the principle of genetic transference and inheritance. It’s why you look like your mum and dad. You inherited features from them. They transferred features to you. Therefore nature can be transferred, and these are general principles.
But certain laws were Adam specific. They pertained to him as primary source code for humanity. He’s a chromosomal Adam. These special laws were governmental in nature. And therefore his mandates and liabilities were assignable. He stood in a representative capacity for humankind. For example, the mandate to subdue the earth crossed over to his descendants. It’s how we got to create civilization. We subdued our environment and conquered disease. As primary human and source code any modification to his nature reverberated down his line of descent. His legal liabilities became binding on his generations because he stood in a representative capacity. And so when something died in Adam the defect passed down genealogically. And since nature is transferable, Adam’s sin nature was transmitted down his genetic line. Because Adam got modified eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, humanity became bipolar, capable of the noblest of deeds and the most heinous of crimes. And that was how we all became sinners. Adam sinned and passed the sin nature to us. Romans 5:12 says sin entered the world through Adam. And so through him death spread to all men since the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) He was the gateway, the genetic channel. We sin therefore because we have a sin nature. It’s why all humanity sins. Adam was source code. There is not one righteous individual. Sin is universal. Essentially therefore, the Adamic line is pretty contaminated and pretty messed up psychologically. That wasn’t God’s vision.
Sin is a criminal liability carrying maximum penalty. Sin is a capital offence. You can’t pay for sin by doing good. Imagine a man convicted of murder insisting he cannot be hanged because he helped his neighbor when she was in a fix! Good for you, we’d probably say, but what about the murder. So we can’t be saved by doing good. And that is why Jesus died as a criminal and why he paid the ultimate price. (Being crucified was how criminals were executed in those days. The Romans were pretty brutal). If sin was not a capital offence Jesus wouldn’t have gone to the cross. He would probably just have done another miracle to atone for our sins, do good – may be this time give the people meat pie instead of sandwiches. He had served sandwiches with the miracle of five loaves and two fishes. But instead he died, had to die.
But how could Jesus claim to die for everyone? Well, it turns out he is also an Adam. The Bible calls him the last Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45). He’s the source code of a quality of life we technically refer to as “eternal life.” It’s not about longevity, it’s the quality of life. The first Adam received life. The last Adam is a life-giving Spirit, restoring the dead to life. Just like the first Adam bound the entire human race to death, so did the last Adam give life to the entire human race. When we get born again, we get recreated in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:10) And Jesus was the only one qualified for our atonement because he was sinless. (1 John 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:21) A sinner cannot save sinners. He’s technically disqualified.
But why do I need to be born again?
Clue: it’s not about going to heaven.
Well it’s about heaven in a way but not about heaven. Yes, we get to go to heaven but heaven is just transit camp for us. We’re going to live on earth. There’s going to be a new earth. (Revelation 21:1-3) Heaven belongs to God, earth belongs to men. (Psalm 115:16) A new Jerusalem will descend to earth. That’s God’s camp/tent. And that’s how God will move into our neighbourhood, making his home with us. So it’s not really about heaven, though everybody says so.
What the Bible says is that there is a vision God had for us – how our lives are supposed to be, in both glory and quality. The essence of being born again is restoration to that level of vision. We find that fact in Paul’s letter to the Romans (God revealed so much to that man!): “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) Here’s how Peterson puts it: “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we’re utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us.” That’s what being born again is about. It’s not about heaven or hell. It’s about restoration of God’s vision for our lives.
Now, what Paul was saying in that passage is that we can’t sort out our mess by ourselves. Yes, it’s good to do good, but that only makes you a good sinner. The fundamental issue of sin is still there, unresolved. Sin needs to be taken care of in order for us to access the vision of God for our lives. Sin is prohibitory. And because God knew we couldn’t take care of the sin problem, he took care of it himself. He did it by sending Jesus to die in our place. That’s the doctrine of vicarious liability. Simply put, it means Jesus was the fall guy. He paid the price and handed us the prize. It was an act of generosity by God on God’s part. Paul wrote about this magnanimity: “Out of sheer generosity he (God) put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24) Then he went further, elaborating: “God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear.” (Romans 3:26) In other words, our criminal record gets wiped out when we exercise faith in Jesus Christ. Once that record is wiped clean, God’s vision can be restored. And you get to bond with God himself. Closeness to God of course has many privileges: “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own?” (Romans 8:32) We can therefore deduce 3 reasons why we need to be born again:
- Our sin rap sheet gets taken care of. Our criminal record is wiped clean. And no one can lay new criminal charge against us. You can’t charge a man for the same offence twice. That’s double jeopardy. Jesus already paid the price.
- The original vision of God for our lives gets restored.
- You get privileged access to God.
Okay, you get to go on space exploration to Heaven as well, but that’s just a perk.
Would you like to give your life to Christ, get to know God instead of knowing about God? If so, please pray this prayer: “Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I know that I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me and that you raised him from the dead. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Christ is Lord and I receive him as my Lord and my Saviour. I am now born again. Amen.
Well, get a Bible and begin to read so you know your privileges in Christ. There are many privileges – provision, protection, access, wisdom, information, love… Quite a lot! You can download YouVersion here. Start from Paul’s letters. New Testament. Right after the Gospels. Then make sure you talk to God regularly. That’s what buddies do, right? We generally call that prayer but it’s really just having a discussion with God. Sometimes though you need to take care of the devil. That’s prayer too. And then find a good church to go. The church will train you spiritually and help you grow in faith. Congratulations!
If you have any questions you can write me. Just mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to answer your questions.