A Bible-Based Born Again Christian Meaning with Key Scriptures

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Lord’s Library contributor Bill Furioso offers a Bible-based born again Christian meaning with key Scripture verses for further study. Check out his ministry At Christ’s Table for additional Bible studies and resources.

Ministry Leaders Series BadgeJohn 3:1-11: “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto 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? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.”

The topic of this teaching is Jesus’ statement: “You must be born again.” Let’s begin with Nicodemus, who “came to Jesus at night.” Why did Nicodemus come at night? He either didn’t want to be seen or wanted some undisturbed “alone time” with Jesus.

The passage tells us he was “a man of the Pharisees,” “a ruler of the Jews,” and “a teacher of Israel.” This means he was a member of the Jewish Council that sent a committee to investigate John the Baptist. Nicodemus knew that John had denied being the Messiah, and now he was checking out Jesus to determine for himself if He was the one John said would come after him.

The Gospel

Born Again Christian Meaning


Did he come at night because he was afraid to be seen with Jesus? Maybe. It says in John 12:42-43: “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

But I think verse 2 shows that Nicodemus was sincerely looking for the Messiah. And we can’t think too little of him, because in John 7:50-51 we see Nicodemus somewhat defending Jesus before the Pharisees. And in John 19:38-42, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, are asking Pilate for Jesus’ crucified body, in order to prepare it for burial. I think, in the end, Nicodemus was a believer:

  • John 7:50-51: “Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?”
  • John 19:38-42: “And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.”

But we can also see from his encounter with Jesus – specifically in verses 4 and 9 – that, like many of us, he had difficulty with the idea of being “born again.” When Jesus said: “You must be born again” in verse 4, he thought that Jesus was referring to a 2nd natural birth. And in verse 9, after Jesus had explained to him that He was referring to a spiritual birth – a heavenly birth – being born from above – being born of the Spirit, Nicodemus still asks, “How can these things be?”

And today there are many who do not understand this spiritual reality. There are denominations that avoid, and even ridicule, this spiritual reality, because some people have abused it. As Reformed Baptist Bible teacher David Pawson has said: “The answer to abuse is not disuse.” It may be difficult to understand. It may be misunderstood. It may be abused. But we can’t avoid it – it’s a necessity. Why do I say that? Because Jesus did. He said: “You must be born again.”

There is no sense of option or preference in His statement. He said, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see or enter the kingdom of God.” It’s an absolute necessity. We cannot be Biblical Christians without experiencing this spiritual reality. Jesus’ teaching on being born again is like Jesus Himself. Both the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Peter referred to Him (see Isaiah 8:14 and 1 Peter 2:8) as – “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”

  • Isaiah 8:14: “And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
  • 1 Peter 2:8: “And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”

We may stumble over Jesus and His concepts – we may be offended by Jesus and His teaching, but we cannot avoid this stone – we cannot just maneuver around this rock – we have to do business with it – we have to deal with it – we must experience the spiritual reality of being born of the Spirit if we want to be Biblical Christians. The apostle Paul said in Romans 8:9 that “if any one does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” And being born of the Spirit has all to do with having the Spirit of Christ.

Regeneration

Now, when Jesus said we “must” be born again, He did not mean that this is something we must somehow accomplish by our own abilities. The new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus meant is that we “must” believe it, desire it, seek it, and receive this spiritual reality. The new birth is something He desires for us; and something His Spirit accomplishes in us.

But it is an absolute necessity – the fact is, the Christian life is quite impossible without being born again. This is the reason why we see this important concept of “Regeneration” discussed in John’s gospel and his epistle, as well as the epistles of the apostle’s Paul, James, and Peter (see John 1:12-13, 3:6-7, 5:24, Romans 6:3-6, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 1:18, 3:5-14, James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:3, 23, and 1 John 3:14).

  • John 1:12-13: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
  • John 3:6-7: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
  • John 5:24: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
  • Romans 6:3-6: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
  • Ephesians 1:20: “Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,”
  • Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
  • Colossians 3:5-14: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. longsuffering; And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
  • James 1:18: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”
  • 1 Peter 1:23: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”
  • 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”

This doctrine of Regeneration, which simply means “generated again” or “born again,” is a basic and Biblical doctrine of the Christian faith.

So, as “mysterious” as it may seem, we must try to understand it – more importantly, we must experience the reality of being spiritually born again.

So, let’s see what we can understand from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus:

Jesus spoke in Aramaic and what He said was written in Greek. The concept He is discussing with Nicodemus simply means to be born a 2nd time – just what Nicodemus was referring to in verse 4. Where Nicodemus missed it is that Jesus wasn’t referring to a 2nd physical birth, but a 2nd birth that was spiritual. The Greek word translated “again” can mean either “anew” or “from above.”

This spiritual “new birth,” “by the Spirit,” “from above” is described by the apostle Paul in this way in Titus 3:4-7: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Notice Paul’s phrase: “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” I believe this is a direct reference to Jesus’ words explaining to Nicodemus what he meant by the term “born again” – namely, “born of water and the Spirit.” “Water” and “Spirit” together indicate a spiritual cleansing and renewal. Putting Paul’s and Jesus’ terms side-by-side, the “washing of regeneration” or “born of water” and “the renewal of the Holy Spirit” or being “born of the Spirit” all mean one and the same thing.

Here are some keys to understanding what Jesus said to Nicodemus, using Hard Sayings of the Bible as a reference:

Jesus Made Clear the 2nd Birth He was referring to Was Not Physical, but Spiritual

A “new birth”, “by the Spirit”, “from above” a new birth “from above.” He was speaking of being “born of the Spirit.” He emphasized this by saying, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” in John 3:6.

Another Key to Understanding

Jesus said that being “born again” or “born from above” leads to the kingdom of God, and being “born of water and the Spirit” leads to the kingdom of God. These are therefore two ways of saying the same thing.

Another Key

The phrase, “born of water and the Spirit” refers to one birth – not two, because there is only one article in the Greek referring to the two words “water” and “Spirit” (i.e., It is not “the water” and “the Spirit”. It is “the water and Spirit”). So, there is not a birth of water and another birth of the Spirit. There is only one rebirth “of water and the Spirit.” Nicodemus, being a Pharisee and versed in the Scriptures, knew very well the Old Testament scriptures depicting the Spirit as water (see Ezekiel 36:25-27 and Isaiah 44:3-5).

  • Ezekiel 36:25-27: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
  • Isaiah 44:3-5: “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, I am the LORD’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”

So, to interpret “born of water” as a physical birth and “born of the Spirit” as a spiritual birth would be incorrect because there is only one article and only one birth to which Jesus is referring – not two. The one birth is a spiritual one: “of the Spirit.” The association of “Spirit” (or “wind” or “breath”) with birth is strong in the Old Testament. For example, when the Spirit was breathed into Adam, he became a living being, according to Genesis 2:7:

  • Genesis 2:7: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

To interpret “born of water” as baptism would also be incorrect. There are denominations that hold to the idea of “baptismal regeneration” – that is being born again through water baptism. These groups usually also hold that baptism is necessary for salvation and practice infant baptism. While there are some verses, like those in John 3, which seem to be implying this, the Bible, taken as a whole, does not teach such a concept (see Falce Doctrines by John R. Rice).

The Bible teaches we are saved by grace through faith – not by baptism. The Bible teaches that we are born again – regenerated by the Holy Spirit – not by baptism. The Bible presents baptism as an act that pictures and testifies of salvation and regeneration, but not the agent or means of salvation and regeneration.

Biblical Descriptions

But how are we to understand the Spirit’s work of regeneration in the life of the believer? Here are some descriptions of regeneration: To be “regenerated” would simply mean to be generated again.

The apostle John spoke of it in terms of being “born again”, “born from above”, “born of God”, and  “born of the Spirit.” See John 1:12-13, 3:6-7:

  • John 1:12-13: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
  • John 3:6-7: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”

The apostle James spoke of it in James 1:18: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

In 1 Peter 1:3 and 23, the apostle Peter described regeneration as “begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” and “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”

So, regeneration is a theological term referring to the Biblical concept of being “born again.”


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William Furioso
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William Furioso

William Furioso

Bill and his wife, Frances, served as missionaries in South Africa for 13 years helping establish churches and train church leaders. As an itinerant Bible teacher and conference speaker, Bill has ministered to churches and groups on the continents of North America, South America, and Southern Africa. Bill helped plant and shepherd several US churches, and currently writes, teaches, and mentors church leaders in various nations.

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