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Born Again - What Does This Mean?

John 3:3 (ESV) ... Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

We have all heard or maybe even used the phrase “born again.” Perhaps you can remember the first time you heard that phrase and how confused you were by it also. For me, it was when former President Jimmy Carter was elected to be the President of the United States. I remember hearing the news media talk about him being a “born again” Christian. As a kid, I wondered what kind of Christian was that? Growing up in a home that went to church, I knew about the church-going Christian, the Jesus loving Christian and the good doing type of Christian. But what was this “born again” stuff?

The good news for me personally was that as I grew up in a Christian home and went to church each Sunday for Sunday School and preaching, I would come to understand the basics of what that phrase means. The even better news is that I would also experience that phrase personally as I gave my life to Christ in faith.

So, what does it mean? Maybe like me at one time, you find that phrase a bit confusing. The phrase “born again” literally means “born from above.” Nicodemus found himself having a misunderstanding in verse 4 over the ambiguity of this phrase. A bit of language study can serve us well here. What we find is that the Greek adverb used here for the word “again” is the word “anōthen,” it can mean “from above” (i.e., heaven), “from the beginning,” “for a long time,” or “again.” What is critical about this little word is that the term can indicate either timing or location.

In other words, Jesus is using the word to point to a location (heaven, the source of the rebirth), but Nicodemus understands it in reference to time or a repeated activity (that the birth must happen multiple times). Nicodemus also appears to take Jesus’ answer to be much more literal (or physical) than He intends; Jesus is talking about a spiritual transformation.

The actual words also can describe a garment torn from top to bottom. Unless God changes our hearts his way, from the inside out, any discussion of the eternal life in heaven is useless. Jesus goes on to explain that a person cannot respond to spiritual truth in natural ways. It is an act of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we place our faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and speaks to us about our spiritual need of Christ, this is the spiritual transformation in it’s beginning state. Then we, having heard the good news of Jesus place our faith or trust in His saving promise. This is the spiritual transformation from our end of things. Finally, a spiritual marriage occurs when the two come together. When we receive the promise of Christ with the belief in our heart and confession from our mouth, at that moment we are “born from above” or “born anew” in a forever life with Christ.

The good news for you today, is if you haven’t yet come to Christ, you too can heed the call of the Holy Spirit and give your heart to Jesus by faith. And yes, you too today can be “born again” today!

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