When I was a Jehovah’s Witness, I engaged in preaching from door-to-door. On many occasions I encountered Evangelicals who would challenge me with the question, “Are you born again?” Now to be fair, as a witness I really didn’t understand what it meant to be born again. To be equally fair, I don’t think the evangelicals I spoke with understood it either. You see, I got the distinct impression they felt that all one needed to be saved was to accept Jesus Christ as one’s saviour, be born again, and voila, you’re good to go. In a way, they were no different from Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that all one needs to do to be saved is to remain a member of the organization, go to meetings and hand in a monthly service time report. It would be so nice if salvation were that simple, but it’s not.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not minimizing the importance of being born again. It is very important. In fact, it is so important that we need to get it right. Recently, I was criticized for inviting only baptized Christians to the Lord’s evening meal. Some people thought I was being elitist. To them I say, “Sorry but I don’t make the rules, Jesus does”. One of his rules is that you have to be born again. This all came to light when a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to ask Jesus about salvation. Jesus told him something that confounded him. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3 BSB)
Nicodemus was confused by this and asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? … Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born?” (John 3:4 BSB)
It seems poor Nicodemus suffered from that malady we see all too often today in Bible discussions: Hyperliteralism.
Jesus uses the phrase, “born again” twice, once in verse three and again in verse seven which we will read in a moment. In Greek, Jesus says, gennaó (ghen-nah’-o) anóthen (an’-o-then) which virtually every Bible version renders as “born again”, but what those words mean literally is, “born from above”, or “born from heaven”.
What does our Lord mean? He explains to Nicodemus:
“Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8 BSB)
So, being born again or born from above means being “born of the Spirit”. Of course, we are all born of flesh. We have all descended from one man. The Bible tells us, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death was passed on to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12 BSB)
To put this succinctly, we die because we have inherited sin. Essentially, we have inherited death from our forefather Adam. If we had a different father, we would have a different inheritance. When Jesus came, he made it possible for us to be adopted by God, to change our father, so as to inherit life.
“But as many as received Him, He gave to them authority to be children of God—to those believing in His name, children born not of blood, nor of the desire or will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12, 13 BSB)
That speaks of a new birth. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that allows us to be born of God. As children of God, we inherit eternal life from our father. But we are also born of spirit, because it is Holy Spirit that Jehovah pours out upon the children of God to anoint them, to adopt them as his children.
To understand this inheritance as God’s children more clearly, let’s read Ephesians 1:13,14.
And in Him you Gentiles also, after listening to the Message of the truth, the Good News of your salvation—having believed in Him—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit; that Spirit being a pledge and foretaste of our inheritance, in anticipation of its full redemption—the inheritance which He has purchased to be specially His for the extolling of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13, 14 Weymouth New Testament)
But if we think that is all we have to do to be saved, we are deluding ourselves. That would be like saying that all one has to do to be saved is to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Baptism is symbolic of rebirth. You descend into the water and then when you come out of it, you are reborn symbolically. But it doesn’t stop there.
John the Baptist had this to say about it.
“I baptize you with water, but One more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16)
Jesus was baptized in water, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him. When his disciples got baptized, they also received the Holy Spirit. So, to be born again or born from above one has to be baptized so as to receive the Holy Spirit. But what is this about being baptized with fire? John continues, “His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17 BSB)
This will remind us of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Both the wheat and the weeds grow together from the time that they germinate and they are hard to distinguish one from the other until the harvest. Then the weeds will get burned up in fire, while the wheat gets stored in the Lord’s warehouse. This shows that many people who think they are born again will be shocked when they learn otherwise. Jesus warns us that, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’
Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23 BSB)
Another way of putting it is this: Being born from above is an ongoing process. Our birthright is in the heavens, but it can be revoked at any time if we take a course of action that resists the spirit of adoption.
It is the apostle John who records the encounter with Nicodemus, and who introduces the concept of being born of God or as translators tend to render it, “born again”. John gets more specific in his letters.
“Anyone born of God refuses to practice sin, because God’s seed abides in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this the children of God are distinguished from the children of the devil: Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:9, 10 BSB)
When we are born of God, or gennaó (ghen-nah’-o) anóthen (an’-o-then)—”born from above”, or “born from heaven”, “born again”, we do not suddenly become sinless. That is not what John is implying. Being born of God means we refuse to practice sin. Instead, we practice righteousness. Notice how the practice of righteousness is linked to love of our brothers. If we do not love our brothers, we cannot be righteous. If we are not righteous, we are not born of God. John makes this clear when he says, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” (1 John 3:15 NIV).
“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did Cain slay him? Because his own deeds were evil, while those of his brother were righteous.” (1 John 3:12 NIV).
My former colleagues in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses should consider these words carefully. How ready they are to shun someone—hate them—simply because that person decides to stand up for truth and expose the false teachings and gross hypocrisy of the Governing Body and its ecclesiastical authority structure.
If we want to be born from heaven, we must understand the fundamental importance of love as John emphasizes in this next passage:
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7, 8 BSB)
If we love, then we will know God and be born of him. If we do not love, then we do not know God, and cannot be born of him. John goes on to reason:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves those born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome, because everyone born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.” (1 John 5:1-4 BSB)
The problem I see is that often people who talk about being born again use it as a badge of righteousness. We used to do that as Jehovah’s Witnesses though for us it wasn’t being “born again” but being “in the truth”. We would say things like, “I’m in the truth” or we’d ask someone, “How long have you been in the truth?” It is similar to what I hear from “Born Again” Christians. “I’m born again” or “When were you born again?” A related statement involves “finding Jesus’. “When did you find Jesus?” Finding Jesus and being born again are roughly synonymous concepts in the mind of many evangelicals.
The trouble with the phrase, “born again” is that it leads one to think of a one-time event. “On such and such a date I was baptized and born again.”
There is a term in the air force called “Fire and Forget”. It refers to munitions, like missiles, which are self-guided. The pilot locks on to a target, presses the button, and launches the missile. After which, he can fly away knowing the missile will guide itself to its target. Being born again isn’t a fire-and-forget action. Being born of God is an ongoing process. We have to keep God’s commandments continually. We have to continually show love for the children of God, our brothers and sisters in the faith. We have to continually overcome the world by our faith.
Being born of God, or born again, is not a one-time event but a lifelong commitment. We are only born of God and born of the spirit if God’s spirit continues to flow in us and through us producing acts of love and obedience. If that flow ebbs, it will be replaced by the spirit of the flesh, and we might lose our hard-won birthright. What a tragedy that would be, yet if we are not careful, it can slip away from us without us even being aware of it.
Remember, those who run to Jesus on the day of judgment crying “Lord, Lord,…” do so believing they have done great works in his name, yet he denies knowing them.
So how can you check to see if your status as one born of God is still intact? Look to yourself and your acts of love and mercy. In a phrase: If you do not love your brothers or sisters, then you are not born again, you are not born of God.
Thank you for watching and for your support.