Like many of the other topics we’ve discussed, the “new birth” is often misunderstood. It is popularly believed that “born-again” Christians are those who have had a spiritual experience, an inner transformation, which their more formalistic brethren have not had.
In the New Testament, however, we find that being born again is an experience common to all who are in the kingdom of God. The new birth is one of the illustrations used to describe what happens when when anyone obeys the gospel of Christ. To be sure, some Christians are not very far down the road to maturity. In fact, the thinking of some is so immature, it scarcely differs from how they thought before they obeyed the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). But all true Christians, the less as well as the more mature, have been born again.
- John 3:3,6-8. When Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee, came by night to talk to Jesus, Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v.3). And when Nicodemus indicated that he didn’t see how anyone could be born a second time, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (vv.5-8). According to Jesus, then, a person “cannot enter the kingdom of God” without being “born of water and the Spirit.” All of those in the kingdom have been reborn in this way.
- 1 Peter 1:3,22,23. As he began to describe the wonderful hope enjoyed by those who are in Christ, Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (v.3). A few verses later, he wrote, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (vv.22,23). These Christians had all been born again “through the living and abiding word of God.”
- 1 John 4:21-5:1. In this text, John was exhorting his fellow Christians to love one another, and he used the analogy of a family in which the siblings love one another. “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” In the spiritual family of God, all of the siblings have the same Father. They have all been “born of God.” And if they love the Father who begot them, they must love all whom He has begotten: “everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” John was speaking of all Christians when he depicted them as having been born of God.
These three texts, then, describe not just some but all who have obeyed the gospel of Christ. (1) They are in the kingdom of God, a relationship to God they could not enjoy without being “born again,” as Jesus taught in John 3:3. (2) God has caused them “to be born again to a living hope,” as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3. (3) And Christians must love all their brothers and sisters in the family of God, a family comprised of people “born of God,” as John wrote in 1 John 5:1. These texts do not refer to a special group of Christians; they describe all who are in Christ.
When we consider the radical difference between life outside of Christ and life in Him, it is no surprise that turning from the former to the latter is described in terms of being “reborn.” To obey the gospel of Christ, receive the eternal hope that comes from the forgiveness of our sins, and begin living under the benevolent rule of our true King is to die and come back to life as a new person. Paul described his own conversion to Christ this way: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Having become Christians, do we always live consistently with our new birth? No, we do not, and if it weren’t for the grace that is ours in Christ, we would have no hope of eternal life (1 John 1:7-9). But the rebirth is real — and one good way of talking about the challenge before us when we become Christians is to say that we must now learn to live like the new people we have become. It’s a gradual (and sometimes painful) process — but empowered by the hope which is at the heart of the gospel, we gladly submit to the process.
So I urge you, open the Scriptures and read 1 Peter 1:3-12 several times, slowly and honestly. And ask yourself, am I among those who have this hope because I have been “born again” (v.3)? If you have not been baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12), don’t your opportunity go to waste. You can’t go back and be born again physically, but you can, as Jesus said, be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) and enter the kingdom of God.