Do You Need To Be Born Again?
by Dr. O. Palmer Robertson
Everybody talks about being “born again.” But what does it mean? What happens if you are born again? How does this idea apply to you? Do YOU need to be born again? These important questions need answers.
First, Do YOU need to be born again?
If you are like the woman that once met Jesus at the well, then obviously you need to be born again. This woman had five different “husbands,” and yet even the man she was living with at the time was not a legal husband to her (John 4:16-18). She needed a new life. She needed to start over again. She needed all her life of sin in the past to be wiped away. She needed to be “born again.”
You may have a life of obvious sin in your past. Your conscience may accuse you right now of past sins – sins of immorality, sins of corruption in business, sins of brutality, even murder. But have hope! You can be born again! You can start life all over again. All your guilt for sins of the past can be wiped away, even though you may have to live with some of the consequences of your past sins. By the work of God’s Spirit within you as he is sent from heaven by Jesus Christ you can have a totally new life. So if you have a life of obvious sin, you can still live in hope. You need to be born again, and you can be born again.
But interestingly, Jesus did not tell this sinful woman that she needed to be born again, even though she obviously had that need. Instead, Jesus tells a different person that it is absolutely necessary for him to be born again. Without any doubt this other person needed the new birth.
So who was he? What kind of person according to Jesus desperately needed to be born again? Who in the world of today needs to be born again?
It is the morally good person, the deeply religious person that must be born again! The teaching of Jesus often is filled with surprises. But it certainly comes as a great surprise when he tells the morally good person, the deeply religious person, that he must be born again.
The significance of this teaching should be obvious. If this kind of person needs to be born again, then every human being needs to be born again.
Who is this person? What was his life like? Why does Jesus tell him, of all the people, that he must be born again?
His name is Nicodemus, and he was a religious leader in his day. He lived a morally upright life. Yet he must have felt an emptiness in his soul, for he came to Jesus by night seeking to fill a void in his life.
Jesus gets right to the point. Nicodemus was a very good man when compared with other people. Yet he needed to start life all over again. Otherwise he could not even see the kingdom of God. Since he could not see God’s kingdom, it would be totally impossible for him to enter it. For him there was only one hope – he must be born again. He must have a new nature that would be totally different from his current nature.
Actually Jesus says, “You must be born from above” (John 3:3). An action must be taken by God in heaven that is directed to the rebirth of your soul before you can even see God’s kingdom. Even though you are a deeply religious, morally upright person, you must be born again.
Accept this truth. It is for your good. If a person has a sickness, it is much better for him to know that fact than to live without the knowledge. The sooner you find out you have heart disease, aids, malaria, tuberculosis, or cholera, the greater will be your hope of getting cured. So recognize the fact. Every person in this world needs to be born again. No one can even see the kingdom of God unless he is born a second time by the working of God’s Holy Spirit in his soul. You need to be born again. You need a complete transformation in your soul.
Second, What must you do to be born again?
It’s a natural question to ask. If your boat turns over in the middle of the lake, you want to know exactly what to do to save your life. You want to know whether to hold onto a piece of wood until help comes, or whether to swim for shore. You want to know exactly which way you ought to swim.
So if you must be born again to enter the kingdom of God, then what must you do? Do you need to spend all night in prayer? Do you need to fast for several days, eating no food and drinking no water? Do you need to attend church services every Sunday for a year or two so that you can be “born again”?
No, you need not do any of these things to be born from above. As a matter of fact you can do absolutely nothing to be born again. Jesus does not tell Nicodemus what he must do to be born again. He simply states the fact: “You must be born again.” Jesus does not command Nicodemus, “Born yourself again.” He does not give this command, because he would be commanding the impossible.
Think for a moment about your first birth. What did you do to cause yourself to be born the first time? What part did you play in causing yourself to be conceived in your mother’s womb?
You did absolutely nothing! Like every other person who has ever lived, you did absolutely nothing to cause your first birth. No person who has ever lived on this earth has caused himself to be conceived in his mother’s womb, or be born of her. It is a complete impossibility.
The same principle is at work every time someone is “born again.” Most people totally misunderstand this teaching of Jesus. They think Jesus is telling Nicodemus what he must do if he decides that he wants to be born again. They conclude that Jesus teaches that if a person believes in Him, then he will be born again.
But that understanding of Jesus’ words is totally wrong. Jesus does not tell this man what he must do to be born again. For Jesus knew that a person can do nothing to cause himself to be born again. This fact is plainly taught in one of the first verses of John’s gospel, which says that the children of God were “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). The teaching is plain. People are not born again to be children of God by human decision. Instead, it is of God and altogether of God that a person is born from heaven to be a child of God.
So what should you do? You should humble yourself before Almighty God. Acknowledge that you need to be remade into a totally new person because of the sin of your soul. Recognize that only God by his Holy Spirit sent from heaven can cause you to be born again. Stop trying to make yourself into a new creature. For only God can do this wondrous work in you.
Thirdly, What if you are “born again” by God’s Spirit?
Some people will tell you unusual things. They will say that if you are “born again” you will “speak in tongues.” They will say that the only proof that you have been born again of God’s Spirit is that you utter strange sounds that even you yourself cannot understand.
But God’s word says something entirely different. God’s word says that all believers in Jesus Christ have been “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” whether or not they have “spoken in tongues.” The Apostle Paul plainly states: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (I Con 12:13). Every believer in Christ has been born again by the baptism of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. But then Paul proceeds to indicate that not all believers have received the special gift of the Holy Spirit that once enabled some people to speak in foreign languages they had never learned. He asks a series of questions to the Corinthians. Each of these questions expects a “No” for an answer. He asks, “Not all are apostles, are they?” (The expected answer is obviously “No!”) He asks, “Not all are prophets, are they?” (The expected answer is obviously “No!”). He asks, “Not everyone works miracles, do they?” (The expected answer is obviously “No!”). Then he asks, “Not everyone speaks in tongues, do they?” (The expected answer once more is obviously “No!”) (I Cor. 12:29,30).
Not every believer in Christ is expected to “speak in tongues. “Yet every believer, according to the Apostle, has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Otherwise they could not have been “born again.”
So do not think that you cannot be born again unless you “speak in tongues.” Do not think you must “speak in tongues” if you have been born again. You can be made into a new creature in Christ without ever displaying the special gift of “speaking in tongues.”
But something else will always happen when a person is born again by the work of God’s Holy Spirit. If you are born from above by the Spirit of God, you will begin your new life by acting just like a newborn baby. Just like a newborn, the first thing you will do is “cry out.” That’s when faith and repentance come into the picture. The first thing a newborn baby does is to cry out. The baby comes out of the darkness of its mother’s womb and sees the light for the first time. The newborn infant blinks, closes its eyes and lets out a loud cry. So in the same way, the first thing a person does when he is born a second time is to cry out. He comes out of the darkness of a life of sin into the glorious light of Christ. He blinks at the brilliance of that light, and he cries out to God, “Save me!” He recognizes his total dependence on God for the forgiveness of sins, and so he cries out in repentance for the wrong he has done. He hears the message about Jesus the Savior of sinners, and entrusts himself totally to the Savior. From that point on he lives a different life – not a perfect life, not a life totally free from sin. But he is a new creation in Christ, and so he lives a different life.
What about you? Have you confessed that you are a sinner that deserves the judgment of God for your sins? Have you trusted Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour who died in the place of sinners? If you repent of your sins and believe in him, it is a sure sign that you already have been born again! For no one can repent of their sins and believe in Jesus unless they already have been born again by God’s Spirit sent from heaven.
Be encouraged. Can you see the kingdom of God? Do you understand Jesus to be God’s son sent to open the way to heaven for sinners like yourself? If you can find it in yourself to believe in Jesus, then you can know for certain that you already have been born again. Once that new birth has happened, you will be a son of God forevermore.
So come today. Don’t delay. Demonstrate the fact that you have been born again. Cry out to Jesus in repentance and faith. From that point on, your whole way of life will be different. Instead of living under the shadow of God’s wrath, you will live in the sunshine of God’s smile. For he will look on you as his favored son or daughter.
So consider the first question once more. Do you need to be born again?
The answer to that question is clean. It is an absolute fact. Whoever you am, you need to be born again. If you are an obvious sinner like the adulterous woman, you need to be born again. If you are a morally good person, even a deeply religious person like Nicodemus, you still need to be born again. Every person who has been born into this world of sin needs to be born again. You entered into this world with a sinful nature. But you need to leave this world with a holy nature. By the work of God’s Holy Spirit, you can be born again. You can be a new creature in Christ. The old things will pass away, and all things will become new.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t delay. The most familiar saying in the Bible comes from the same chapter where Jesus insists that a person must be born again:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him might not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3: 16).
Put your total trust in him for salvation both in this life and in that which is to come. Once you believe in him, you can rejoice forever in the fact that you have indeed been born again.
Dr. 0. Palmer Robertson is Professor of Theology at: African Bible College, Box 1028, Lilongwe, Malawi; and Professor of Old Testament at: Knox Theological Seminary, 5554 N.Federal Highway, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33308, USA
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