What is a "Born-Again" Christian?

A "born-again" Christian is one who has received a new life through faith in Jesus Christ. The term comes from John 3, which we’ll look at in a minute. The first thing to address, though, is the term "new life". "What do you mean, a new life?" you might ask. "I am alive!", you say. You’re alive in the flesh, yes, but Romans 3:23 says "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God". The result of this sin is described in Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.", and Ephesians 2:1 says "And you has he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins". So, the Bible makes it pretty clear that as a result of your sin, as a result of your disobedience to God, you are spiritually dead. You were born in the flesh- this is your first birth- but when you are born spiritually, this is the second birth, the "born again" birth. Let’s look at the source of this term, from the gospel of John, chapter 3:

1There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2The same came to Jesus by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him. 3Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Here we have the statement from Jesus that one must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Keep in mind here that, as a "ruler of the Jews", Nicodemus knew his Law backwards and forwards. You didn’t get much more "religious" than Nicodemus. But, he’s confused and asks the logical question:

4Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

And Jesus answers:

5Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again. 8The wind blows where it wants, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell from where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

This is a very important passage, pointing to some often overlooked truths about salvation. I’ll leave you to study them….Nicodemus asks for clarification:

9Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can these things be? 10Jesus answered and said to him, Are you a master of Israel, and know not these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and you receive not our witness. 12If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

I discussed one possible meaning of this reference to Moses in another essay. Here we go, with possibly the "hinge" of the entire salvation message and certainly one of the most well known passages of the Bible:

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Read this next section very carefully, especially if you believe that you are not a sinner:

17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God.

So there we have the source of the "born-again" phrase, and Jesus has made it clear that one must be born-again to enter the Kingdom of God. How then is one be born again? Jesus answered that question above in verses 14-16. One must believe in the Son of Man, that is, Christ Jesus. This might bring up the question "How does one believe?" Let’s take a look at that extremely important question.

Romans 5:1 says "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" and the first part of Ephesians 2:8 says "For by grace are you saved through faith;". These two verses (and others, but these are the main ones) make it clear that you are saved through faith. Where does this faith come from? Do you decide "I think I’ll believe!"? Or does it happen in another way? Let’s see what the Bible says, starting with the entire verse of Ephesians 2:8 which says: 8For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. Let’s look closely at verse 8. It says : 8For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. It says that you are saved through faith, and it says that this faith is by grace, that is, faith is a result of God’s grace. Now look at the second part of the statement: it is the gift of God. There are two things in the statement: grace and faith. Which one is "not of yourselves" and which one is the gift of God, grace or faith? English majors will say that "faith" is the one being modified here. Thus, "faith" is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. You receive faith by the grace of God as a gift from Him, and this faith, as we saw in Romans and Ephesians, is what saves you. Thus, we see that, truly, salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9)

Let’s look more closely at Ephesians 2:

1And you has he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience: 3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

The above is a good description of the behavior of a person dead in their sins. Here comes the hope:

4But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, 5Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;) 6And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

According to this passage, who saved us? Do you see you, the sinner, doing anything in the above passage? And here is the reason for this grace and mercy:

7That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

To sum up, we see from John that one must be born again to see the Kingdom of God. We see that a "born-again" Christian is one who has been born anew into a spiritual life. We see that belief in Jesus is the source of this new life, and that belief comes from faith, and that faith is of grace. We see that faith is a gift of God, and thus, salvation is truly a gift from God, one that is not earned or deserved. As with our fleshy birth, we really have no control over our spiritual birth, it is all according to God’s mercy and grace. This is a humbling and yet extremely comforting statement.

What about those who call themselves Christians, maybe even "born-again" Christians, but show no evidence of such? I’ll discuss that in more detail in another essay, but basically, just because a person calls themselves something doesn’t mean much if the evidence isn’t there. For instance, I can call myself an "elephant" all I want, but I don’t think I’d be fooling too many people. Likewise, if a person calls themselves a "born-again" Christian, there should be evidence of their regeneration, evidence of their new spiritual life. Jesus said in Matthew 7:

15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Why by their fruits you shall know them.

And what sort of fruits should a Christian show? From Galatians, chapter 5:

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

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