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Born Again?



Many times we hear someone say he or she has been “born again” or that he or she is a “born again” believer.  But what does this mean?   How does a person become "born again?" 

Unfortunately, there is no single bible verse which instructs us in exactly how to be born again.  The phrase “born again” has become an evangelical catch-phrase for a series of biblical imperatives which are recognized by most conservative Christians as being essential for entering into new life with Christ.  Only after considering a number of bible verses together does the concept of being born again start to come together.  This brief explanation will only deal with some of the major passages, but these citations should be enough to answer this question for most people.

This phrase “born again” appears nowhere in the Old Testament and only 3 times in the New Testament (Twice in John 3 and once in 1Peter 1:23).  While the words “born again” do not appear in Titus 3:3-8 this is exactly the kind of life Paul is referring to when writing to Titus.

The first two instances of this phrase are found in John 3:1-21. (Please read the following biblical passages and after each section I will comment in regard to the key words of that section, which I have outlined in bolded green. My comments will then follow, written in italicized green)

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 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." 3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. "

In this section the need to be born again is first set forth in Scripture by Jesus himself.  The clear reason?  “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  But in this statement we are not told how to be born again.  Nicodemus, not nearly understanding the words of Jesus, then asks a question… 

John 3:4 "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!"  5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.' 8 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." 

Here we see from the words of Jesus that being born again means being born of the (Holy) Spirit.  Now we are getting a little closer to an answer, but we still are not informed how to be born again.

Nicodemus responded to Jesus with a second question.  Jesus responds in verses 10-15, and the Gospel writer [John] adds his own inspired commentary in verses 16-21.  In all this we can begin to formulate an answer to our question... 

John 3:9 "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked.  10 "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [crucified], 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

In the preceding verses Jesus clearly linked belief in Himself (the Son of God) with being born again.  Being born again begins when we acknowledge (by the Holy Spirit) that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

The protestant church’s understanding of being born again (or born by the Spirit) has always been linked to a heartfelt knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ as God’s own Son (John 3:16-21).  There are differing schools of thought as to how this belief comes about, but the bottom line, according to Scripture is the same— whoever believes in him (Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life.”   Subsequent to this understanding, a number of other biblical verses have come to be regarded as essential elements or "steps" to being born again.  I have listed below several biblical ideas which, taken together, consist of the steps taken to be born again.  It should be noted that one is not always conscious of every step, nor of a certain order.  In fact, many people come to these several realizations in what they describe as a single moment of truth or a single step of faith.

The "Steps" to becoming Born Again...

1) Realize that Heaven…

Is not earned or deserved:  (Eph 2:8-9)

Is the gracious gift of a sovereign God:  (Rom 6:23)

We can know we have eternal life: (1John 5:11-13)

2) Realize that God…

Is Holy: (Psalm 18:30; 145:17; Isaiah 6:1-3; 1Peter 1:15)

Is compassionate; gracious; loving and merciful:  (Exodus 34:6-7)

But; His absolute love and holiness demands justice! (Exodus 34:5-7

3) Realize that Mankind (you, me -  all of us)

Are sinners:  (Isaiah 53:6; Rom 3:23)

            Are separated from God: (Isaiah 59:1-2)

Note: Up until this point even many non-believers would have little trouble agreeing with points 1-3.  Point four begins to rile many people, but even those who mentally agree with point 4 are still not born again.  Only when points 1-4 are acted upon in the heart ( points 5 and 6) can one have any assurance of being born again.  This may sound narrow and restrictive but it is the plain truth of Scripture.

4) Understand Who Jesus Christ is…

Who He is:  (John 1:1;14; Colossians 1:15-23)

What He did: (Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 5:1-2; 8;  1Tim 2:5-6)

It is finished/our debt of sin is paid in full: (John 19:28-30

5) Understand that Faith…

Is not mere intellectual assent:  (James 2:19)

Is a transfer of your trust resulting action: (Acts 16:30-31

6) Make a Heart-level Commitment…

Admit you are sinner and in need of forgiveness (1John 1:9)

Be willing to turn away [repent] from your sin (Luke 13:5)

            Transfer your faith [trust] to Christ’s finished work on the cross for
            the forgiveness of all your sins  (
John 3:14-15)


If you have made a genuine heart-level acceptance of the work of Jesus Christ on your behalf you are now "born again."   You may rest in the certainty that by accepting the work of Christ on your behalf  (His sinless life, substitutionary death, and physical resurrection) you will spend your eternity with Him in heaven (1John 2:25; 5:11 & 13)

May God bless you as begin this most important spiritual journey!

Related links: Knowing God


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