Jesus Did Not Say That We Must Be Born Again


Here’s another misunderstanding that has been turned into a doctrine. In fact it has become more than a doctrine. It has become a category – as though it were one of three categories of Christians. You get Christians; then you get “born-again” Christians; and then you get “born-again, Spirit-filled” Christians. Have you ever heard people using these distinctions? Of course it all depends on the stream of the faith to which you belong.

I wonder what Jesus would think about this!

From where does the expression “born again” come? “From Jesus, of course!” you retort. Yes, He did use it once, on a specific occasion to a specific person, but I wonder whether He meant it to be used as a category for believers or did He have something else in mind?

Let’s examine the circumstances of His use of the words, “born again”.

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one can perform the signs you are doing if God were not with Him.’

Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ (John 3: 1-3)

“There you have it. Jesus did say that we must be born again,” you declare. Ah, but once again we must examine the context.

First of all, who was Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee, a strictly religious Jew who was a stickler for obeying, not so much the letter of Torah, as the letter of the myriad interpretations added to Torah by the ancient rabbis who had sh’mikah. They were acknowledged to have authority to make pronouncements about the meaning and application of the Law, which were not necessarily an expression of God’s original intention.

Like all the religious leaders of the Jews, Nicodemus believed that his adherence to the Law, which included all the additions, qualified him to be “righteous” before God. However, when he was confronted by Jesus, he realised that there was something missing both in his belief system and in his life. He was honest enough to admit, unlike his fellow Pharisees, that Jesus was more than a man because of His works. No one could do the miracles Jesus did unless His power came from God. He was not foolish enough to attribute Jesus’ power to the devil.

Jesus cut him short. No explanations. Just a bald statement of fact. As a member of the human race, not just the privileged class of Pharisees, Nicodemus was under divine judgment for his sin like everyone else. No amount of rule-keeping qualified him for exemption. If he wanted to experience life in the kingdom of God – the life Jesus exemplified by His words and works, he would have to have a brand new start.

This was not about being “born again” as a new status. This was about “seeing” the kingdom of God. The Jews of Jesus’ day, including Nicodemus, misunderstood what Jesus meant by “the kingdom of God”. They were obsessed with the passion to get rid of the Romans and to re-establish the glorious kingdom of David. Many thought that Jesus would do this – overthrow the Roman occupation and set up their own kingdom once again.

But Nicodemus had to understand that God’s kingdom was not about the restoration of David’s kingdom, but the restoration of God’s rule in his heart. That would take much more than a new ruler in Israel. It demanded a brand new start through the power of the Holy Spirit. To “see” the kingdom of God was to have insight into what it was and how it worked. This was not possible while he, Nicodemus was still in the “flesh”.

Being “born again” was not a title or a status – it was a qualification for new life under the rule of God in the heart. It demanded a divine intervention through the Holy Spirit. It required a change of heart and nature to have the ”eyes” of the Spirit and to understand and walk in God’s ways. No amount of religious status or rigmarole could awaken him out of the death of sin.

But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 3: 4-6)

To describe people as “born again” is meaningless unless they are born again into an understanding and experience of life in the kingdom of God. Far too many who claim the title know nothing about living under God’s rule or even being true disciples of Jesus. A disciple is one who follows Jesus so closely that he becomes a replica of his Master, not just a casual adherent to a church or denomination. He is one who submits to Jesus as Lord and lives in obedience to His word.

To the Jews who believed in Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. . . (John 8: 31)

No, being born again is neither a title not a category of religious persuasion, but a drastic and dramatic work of the Holy Spirit. In response to faith in Jesus, He raises the dead spirit to life, transfers the believer in Jesus from Satan’s dominion of darkness to the kingdom of God, changes the heart and nature from selfishness and greed to unselfishness and generosity, and patiently refines the character until the believer begins to resemble his Master by becoming the true son of God which he is.

The expression, “born again” is used only twice in Scripture, by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3, and by Peter in his first letter. Look at the context.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduing word of God. (1 Peter 1: 22-23)

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Luella Campbell

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