What Does It Mean To Be Born Again?
When I speak with people about their relationship with the Lord, I will usually ask them at some point in the conversation, Have you been born again? I have often found that many are unsure about what it actually means to be born again. Others may be assured of their relationship with God but wonder, How can I encourage a friend that is questioning his or her salvation?
Jesus Himself defined for us what it means to be born again. The term born again literally means to be born from above. Jesus explained this term when He said that each of us must be born of the Spirit, and then in the next verse He used the term “born from above” (John 3:6-7). In other words, Jesus was explaining that just as you had a physical birth when you first entered this life, you must also have a spiritual birth to enter into a relationship with Him. Therefore, to be born from above means that you have begun a new relationship with God through the Holy Spirit who fills every person who believes in Christ. The Spirit comes into your life, renewing and transforming you into a new person.
In addition, Jesus taught in the same context that this new relationship with God would occur as a person makes a decision to believe in Him (John 3:15-18). Believing results in a man or woman no longer being condemned to perish, which means to experience spiritual death now and separation from God after a person physically dies. Believing changes all that and allows a person to begin experiencing real life now and when they die to experience everlasting life.
Therefore, to be born again means that you possess eternal life. You are saved from the wrath to come, and your sins have been forgiven because you believe in Jesus. Becoming born again is also what it means to become converted. Study these other passages that further describe this born again experience. See: Mark 1:15; Matt. 18:3, 4; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 10:9-13; Acts 3:19.
How important is this issue?
Jesus used this expression of becoming born again when He spoke to Nicodemus in John 3:1-20. In this passage Jesus made it absolutely clear just how important this issue was for all mankind. He said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Notice that Jesus didn't consider being born again as an optional issue. He didn't say, “If you feel the need” or “If you want to.” He said you must be born again or you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Therefore, this is not a peripheral issue in your life. The issue of whether or not you are born again is fundamental to the question of your eternal destiny. Are you absolutely sure you are born again?
How can you be sure you have been born again?
How can a person conclusively determine that he or she is truly born again? The certainty of this fact cannot be established by how a person feels or by what some church organization might teach. There are three questions to ask yourself in order to determine conclusively that you are born again: Do you believe what the Bible teaches concerning Jesus? Are you acting upon these truths? Do you have the fruit of a changed life that proves your belief? The Bible is very clear that you must believe certain things about Jesus if you are to have a relationship with Him. The Scripture is equally clear that you must take certain acts if you have true faith in the Word of God because, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). When you believe and act upon your faith then you will see very specific fruit that will prove that your faith is real. Let’s now take these three criteria and determine what the Word of God teaches on these subjects so that you may better understand this issue.
Questions to ask yourself
1. Do you believe what the Bible declares concerning Jesus Christ?
In John 3:16, Jesus declared that whoever believes on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life. Therefore, you must believe a very specific set of facts that Scripture declares concerning Jesus in order to inherit everlasting life.
a. Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God?
In 1 John 5:1, John declared that “Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” What does this term the Christ mean? When Jesus stood with the disciples in Matthew 16:13-19, He asked Peter, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Notice that Peter couples the Christ with Son of the Living God. The Christ is the Son of God. Jesus acknowledged Peter to be correct and that the Father had revealed this truth to him.
In addition, when Jesus revealed himself to the woman at the well in John 4:25-26, she acknowledged that the Christ was to be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus said, “I who speak to you am He.” Therefore, the Christ refers to the Messiah who is the Son of God. Do you believe this?
b. Do you believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world?
In 1 John 4:14, notice that John taught something very specific concerning his faith: “We have seen and testified that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world.” In addition, when the angel appeared to Joseph he declared the essential ministry of Jesus: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus was to be the Savior of the world. Not just a savior, but The Savior. There can only be one Savior of the world. You must believe that Jesus is a very unique individual.
Many times when we share with people about Christ, they say, “I believe in Jesus, but I also believe in the saving power of Buddha or Confucius or Muhammad,” or some other religious leader of the past. However, this statement, in essence, negates faith in Christ. To believe in Christ you must believe that He is the only Savior. Believing that there are other saviors, contradicts the term, Savior of the world, and nullifies the claims of Christ.
c. Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to God?
Peter made the fact that Jesus was the only way to God an imperative in Acts 4:12, where he declared, we will not find “salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Peter is making it clear that he believed that Jesus was the “only” begotten Son of God and that He was the “only” Savior of the world. This means that you could not call upon the name of Buddha, Confucius, or Muhammad to find access into the presence of God. There is only one Name, the Name of Jesus, that allows mankind to come before the Father.
Peter learned this truth from Jesus himself. Jesus made it quite plain when He taught, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6). We can’t believe that there are many ways to God or we are contradicting Jesus. To believe in Jesus, you must believe His testimony that He is the only way to the Father. Your only alternative is to believe that Jesus was a liar. You can’t believe whatever you want about Jesus, you must believe what He taught concerning himself and His relationship with the Father.
d. Do you believe that Jesus was God come in human flesh?
Jesus was more than just a good man or an angel. The Bible declares that Jesus was the God-man. Note these proofs found in Scripture to this fact.
In Micah 5:2, God’s Word taught that the Messiah was to be “from everlasting.” He was an individual who came from eternity past, from time everlasting. This passage reveals that this coming ruler of Israel must possess an attribute that only God has, eternal existence. Only God Himself “inhabits eternity” (Is 57:15). He is “the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Is. 40:28). In addition, this little known prophecy also tells us that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The prophet said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).
In Romans 10:9, Paul revealed that it was essential to believe and confess that Jesus was Lord. “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus”, literally that Jesus is Lord, “and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” To confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord is to acknowledge that He is God. How can you be sure of this? In Philippians 2:10-11, it also teaches “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” It is interesting to note that this passage is quoted by Paul from the Old Testament Scriptures in Isaiah 45:23. If you read the entire context in Isaiah you will find that bowing the knee and confessing this oath was to be done to God, the Savior of the world. For Paul to use this passage in reference to Jesus would be blaspheming if Jesus were not God. Is this what you believe and confess to others? Do you believe that He is the Christ, the Savior of the world, that He is Lord, and that He is the very God of heaven come in human flesh?
Another proof is Thomas. He had no doubts after he met the risen Christ that He was God. Thomas only doubted until he saw Jesus face to face. When Jesus appeared to him, He fell at His feet and cried out, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). There was no question in his mind that Jesus was God come in human flesh. If you believe as Thomas did, you must also bow and fall at His feet and confess the same thing. Surrendering like this is what it means to believe in Jesus.
Jesus also made a very specific claim to be God. In John 8:24 He said, “If you do not believe that I AM he, you will die in your sins.” The word he is in italics denoting that it is not in the original text. Therefore, Jesus was declaring that it was essential to believe that He was the great I AM or you would die in your sins. In Exodus 3:13-15, when Moses is confronted by God in the burning bush, he asked God, “What is your name?” God declared, “I AM WHO I AM… This is My name forever… to all generations.” In addition, Jesus claimed to be the great I AM several times. When He did, the Pharisees understood exactly what He was claiming. In several instances they took up stones to stone Him because they understood that He was claiming to be God. See John 8:57-59; John 5:17-18; John 10:29-33. Do you believe that Jesus is God?
2. Have you acted on your faith?
Once you determine what you believe concerning Jesus, now you must ask yourself if you have acted on your faith. Faith is worthless unless you take action upon what you believe. Therefore, apply the following questions to yourself.
a. Have you confessed and repented of your sin?
Jesus coupled the action of repentance and believing together when preaching the gospel. He declared that it was necessary to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repentance involves confessing your sins to God and others that you have offended (I John 1:9) (James 5:16). Repentance also requires that you turn around and stop the ungodly actions that you have been involved in and begin behaving in a godly way (Acts 26:20). If a person fails to stop ungodly behavior it is a denial of his or her profession of faith. Paul explained that some “profess to know God, but in works they deny Him” (Titus 1:16).
b. Have you called upon the name of Jesus and received Him by faith?
Romans 10:13 makes it clear that, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” If you have faith this is what you will do. As you call upon His name you must also receive Him personally into your heart. Notice again Scripture couples a person’s believing on His name with receiving Christ personally: “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Therefore, you must act upon your faith to be saved. Have you acted upon your faith by repenting of your sins? Have you called upon Him, confessing your sins and asking His forgiveness? Have you received Him personally into your life? If you have, you can be sure that you are truly born again.
c. Have you confessed Him openly before men?
Jesus made it absolutely clear that if an individual believed in Him there would be action to follow: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). If you believe in Jesus then you must take your stand with Him before men. Without taking this step of faith and confessing Him before men, Jesus will not confess you as His own.
3. Do you have the fruit of a changed life that proves your faith?
Paul explained that a changed life was the essential proof that a person is truly residing in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). The word become in this verse is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense describes a past completed action with continuous results. Therefore, we have become this new creation in the past when we believed upon Jesus, but God is bringing about a continuous change in us that we might one day be fully conformed into the image of Christ. What are some of the changes that prove you are a new creation in Christ Jesus?
a. You will have a new consciousness of sin.
The best example of this awareness of sin is in the life of a man called Zacchaeus. Jesus met Zacchaeus and asked if He could come to his house. This man was the chief tax collector in the city of Jericho and was known as a notorious sinner. However, after Jesus had ministered to this man he had a wonderful change of heart. Zacchaeus said, “Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold,” Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:8, 9). Jesus acknowledged the proof that this man was truly saved. He immediately had a clear sense of what he had done wrong and what needed to be rectified. Zacchaeus wanted to return anything that he had taken falsely as quickly as he could. Jesus saw this as the proof of true repentance and salvation. Likewise, the same will happen in your life. You will have a new sense of what is right and what is wrong and a new desire to right past wrongs.
b. You will hate evil and love righteousness.
David said, “You who love the Lord, hate evil” (Ps. 97:10). Hating evil is also a natural result of being in Christ. If you are in love with the Lord, you must also hate evil. If you love Him you will hate what He hates and love what He loves. You cannot love evil and love the Lord. In fact, the more you love the Lord the more you will hate evil. You must see this change in your life.
c. You won’t practice outward acts of immorality, but you will practice righteousness. Your change of heart will produce spiritual fruit. John declared, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29). This is a very clear statement. If you are born of God you must practice righteousness. John declared the balance to this truth in 1 John 3:9: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for his seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”
You may be thinking, Wait a minute. I Sin. Am I not born of God? The word sin is in the present tense, which describes a continuous practice of sin. It is the willful choice to continually practice sin without any repentance that John is referring to in this passage. John is teaching here, that if a person has been born of God they cannot willfully and continually practice sin and immorality.
Now you may be wondering, What is immorality? What is sin? Paul explains what immoral acts a believer must not practice if he or she wants to be considered a Christian: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Notice here that Paul taught that the Corinthians used to behave in such a manner. But once justfied they had changed their behavior. If anyone continues in the practice of these sins, they are deceiving themselves about their position and relationship with Christ.
d. You will have an inward witness of the Holy Spirit.
This inward witness of the Holy Spirit is described in many places in the Bible. John explained that this is the proof that you abide in Him. “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24). Paul also added, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). Be sure that no person can give you this assurance. Only the Holy Spirit can give you this subjective witness based upon the objective declarations of God’s Word and the obvious fruit of your behavior.
However, sometimes a Christian will struggle with this point simply they don’t fully understand what the Scripture teaches (Col. 2:2). At other times, a person doesn't possess a full assurance of faith because he doesn't have a full understanding of the Bible (Heb. 10:22). This inner witness is based upon a full understanding, which gives a full assurance of faith.
e. You will sense a personal struggle with your sinful nature.
Paul the apostle described this struggle with sin in his own heart. He said that the things he hated, he found himself doing. At other times, the things that he wanted to do, he found he couldn't do. He was willing to do what was right according to the Word of God, but was not performing it. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:18). This is not the statement or the experience of a non-Christian. With the exception of a little tingle of conscience in the non-Christian there is no struggle at all with sin. Unbelievers have those little prompts of conscience, but very quickly rationalize them out of their minds. However, as a Christian there is a battle going on inside you over the issue of sin. At times the struggle rages inside and you lose the battle. The only reason we lose this struggle inside is because we aren’t yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we lose. Yet, if you sense a real struggle inside at times it is because you have two natures battling inside for control. This is normal. As Paul said, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17). If this is your experience it is a good proof that you have been born again.
f. You will desire to serve God and others.
Jesus said that “no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). If Jesus has become your master, then you will desire to serve and be loyal to Him. The first thing that came out of Paul’s mouth when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus was, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Is this your desire?
In addition, when you become the servant of Christ you will naturally seek to love and serve others. Paul taught us to “through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:6). If we love one another, it proves that we are His disciples (John 13:34, 35). John commanded, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7, 8). If you’ve been born again by the Spirit of God you will love others.
Therefore, do you believe what the Scripture declares concerning Jesus Christ? Have you acted upon your faith by receiving Him personally into your life? Have you seen the fruit come forth from your life that proves that you believe? If these things are true then you should be confident that you have been born again.
If you are still unsure regarding the certainty of your spiritual condition, I would encourage you to go back and prayerfully examine each of these issues and let God speak to your heart. It also never hurts to go back to the beginning and pray that sinner’s prayer all over again. If you believe, act right now by praying to your heavenly Father. If you desire to pray, let me lead you in this prayer. “Father, I believe the testimony of your Word. I can now see that I’m a sinner because I have broken you law and I see that I am in need of forgiveness. Lord, please forgive me. I believe that You sent Your Son for me. I believe that He came and died in my place. Jesus, come into my heart. Take over my life. Cleanse me from my sin and fill me right now with your Holy Spirit. Transform me. I want to follow You as Your disciple. In Jesus’ name!”