How do I become a born again Christian?
This is not Biology 101, Anatomy, or Sex Ed. We’ll not cover where babies come from or attempt an awkward communication like that which parents have with budding teens as puberty approaches. However, it helps to understand “the birds and the bees” to fully appreciate Jesus’ command, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:3–7).
Just as God designed a physical process of fertilization, conception, development, and birth, He designed a spiritual process for entering His eternal family. We are alive physically because our parents in a moment of intimacy began a biological process involving a father’s seed and a mother’s delivery that brought us into our family’s lineage. We are alive spiritually when a similar process occurs involving our souls.
The parallels between the two processes are intriguing. In the physical world, there are three key phases connected with a birth experience:
an implantation of seed by the father,
a delivery by the mother, and
a state (family) entered into by the birth.
In His discussion with Nicodemus, Christ suggests each of these components is also true in the spiritual realm. He mentions the Spirit, water, and kingdom. In the new birth process, the Spirit is the male (Father) who implants the word of God as the seed, the water is the female (mother) who delivers the child, and the kingdom (church) is the family into which one is born.
Let’s examine each phase from a biblical perspective.
The Holy Spirit Fathers1 the Child of God...
The Holy Spirit is the male of the birth. The Spirit is spoken of as “He” in the Scriptures: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13).
In the new birth we are born (begotten) of God, so we can call God our spiritual Father (Matthew 6:9; Romans 1:7; 1 John 3:1–2). An announcement is sometimes run: “Born unto Mr. and Mrs. John Smith is a fine baby boy,” but actually no one is born of his father. He is begotten of his father and born of his mother. Jesus said we are “born of . . . the Spirit” (John 3:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11). It is the “sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Peter 1:2) and “renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). One is said to be begotten of God by faith in Jesus’ deity: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God” (1 John 5:12; cf. John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 4:7).
By Implanting the Seed of the Word of God...
Spiritual life is communicated through the medium of the gospel; the germ is in the living seed. Peter used this figure in saying: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1:23). James added, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). Jesus explained in the figure of growing grain: “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The second birth is superior to the first because a different kind of seed is used. The first was corruptible; we were born to die. The second is incorruptible; we are reborn to live.
People are “born of the Spirit” by “the law of the Spirit” (Romans 8:2). We are led by the Spirit when led by His Word (Romans 8:14). The New Testament is the inspired book which contains that gospel message. One is begotten through the Word in believing that gospel. The Word works “effectually” in those that believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13–14; cf. Ephesians 3:20; Colossians 1:29). The Bible is the only book that is alive (Hebrews 4:12). Life resides within the gospel because it originated with God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21; cf. 1 Peter 1:12; John 16:13; Acts 2:4).
Through the Act of Preaching...
Peter continues, “And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:25; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). The Holy Spirit uses preaching to start the birth process, and works through the sacred message to produce belief in sincere hearts (Romans 10:17; cf. Matthew 4:4). The Spirit’s sword (instrument) is God’s Word (Ephesians 6:17). The change is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power and influence of the blessed Spirit of grace.
The Spirit employs human agents in the birth process, much as a doctor or scientist aids an infertile couple in an artificial insemination procedure. Paul wrote, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). In literal terms, Paul was saying, “I have made you believers by preaching the gospel to you.” Onesimus was Paul’s “son” whom he had begotten while Paul was in bonds (Philemon 1:10).
The Holy Spirit does not work directly on the heart of a sinner, but He does work on a sinner’s heart. He uses the tools of preaching and the Word. We might illustrate and contrast this by seeing how Satan makes “converts” to sin. He uses the same kind of process, but instead of leading to new life, it leads to spiritual death. James explains, “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14–15). There is no miracle performed in either case, and in both cases the individual is in control of the outcome (cf. Joshua 24:15). We can choose whether to sin and die, or whether to obey and live.
Into the Womb of the Human Heart (Mind)...
The seed is planted into “an honest and good heart, having heard the word” (Luke 8:15). The phrase “honest and good” occurs only here in the New Testament. It is similar to our phrases “good and true” and “right and good.” The English word honest is like the Latin honestus, which means “fair and noble.” In the context, it refers to a fertile mind that provides a conducive atmosphere in which the seed can grow.
Christianity begins in the mind. It requires intelligence, thought, reason, meditation, and mental effort. Take Paul’s work in Thessalonica, for instance. He reasoned with its citizens out of the Scriptures (although he was largely unsuccessful) (Acts 17:2). He moved on to Berea where he found those who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). In Corinth, he again “reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
Jesus said we are to love God with our minds (Matthew 22:37). We are transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). Isaiah said, famously, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Where it grows to maturity . . .
For a spiritual birth, two things are necessary: (1) a begetting and (2) a bringing forth. For a healthy baby to be brought forth, it must develop over time. A maturation process is required as it acquires a brain, a heart, bones, organs, systems, limbs, and digits. If it is delivered before it grows, it will suffer and may be unable to survive.
A believer’s faith must develop before the new birth can occur. When the word of God is preached to people and they believe it, they are begotten of God (1 John 5:1) but they are not yet “born again” any more than they were physically born at the point of conception.
A conception is required for a birth, but it does not guarantee a birth. Many more children are conceived than are ever born. In fact, only about 62 percent of conceptions result in live births. This is because 18 percent are aborted in the womb1 (cf. Proverbs 6:16-19), 20 percent of babies miscarry2, and approximately one in 150 babies is stillborn.3
Spiritually, a person may also be begotten yet never experience the new birth. Believing in Christ does not make one God’s child, but it prepares him for becoming a child. Jesus said, “As many as received him, to them gave he power4 to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). Obviously, those who merely have the right to become sons of God are not already sons of God. We do not become what we already are. When a couple is given a marriage license, they are given the right (authority) to become husband and wife but they are not married already.
When we believe in Christ, we have the authority to become sons of God but we are not yet born again. Spiritual conception has taken place but delivery has not. Thus we cannot be saved by “faith only” (James 2:24). The chief rulers John later mentions are good examples of this. They believed on Christ, but 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” (John 12:42-43).
Faith must go through its second and third trimesters of penitence and confession. It is possible to come to Christ in a short time, such as the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40), but most come to believe in Jesus by degrees. They respect His teaching and example; they are impressed by His works; they are touched by His sacrifice. Gradually they become convinced that He is more than a mere man—He is the Son of God (John 20:30-31). For most, still more time is required to learn of sin (2 Peter 3:9, 15; Revelation 2:21), and to become sorry for the ones personally committed (2 Corinthians 7:10). Later one’s convictions become strong enough to produce sufficient courage to tell others of one’s new faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32-33; Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10). The new birth includes the entire process of becoming a child of God. For many, that length of time may be similar to the nine months it takes for a physical baby to fully develop.
And is delivered into the world through water baptism . . .
Water is the female of the birth. The Bible even refers to water as feminine (“the sea ceased from her raging,” Jonah 1:15). The phrase “out of the water” produces some interesting parallels as well. When did Moses become a son of Pharaoh’s daughter? When he came up out of the water (Exodus 2:10). When was Jesus declared to be the Son of God? When He came up out of water: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:10).
At this point, we have the second part to the new birth—the “born of water” part of John 3:5. There is one birth; there are two elements, which are “water,” and “the Spirit.” Jesus did not say that a man must be born of the water; that is, some special kind of water. Any kind of water will do—hot water, cold water, clear water, muddy water, lake water, river water, ocean water, or water in a baptistery. To say that one must be born of a certain kind of water is making a law where the Lord has not made one. However, Jesus did say that one must be born of the Spirit; that is, a given or special spirit—the Holy Spirit.
One is born of water and of the Spirit when he receives the Spirit’s message as expressed in the gospel, and is baptized for the remission of sins (1 Corinthians 4:15; James 1:18; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-4). Every change in this entire process is directed by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent in both actions of the spiritual birth—the begetting and the delivery; the written word of God is the instrument the Spirit uses to accomplish his work. Compare these scriptures to clearly see this:
John 3:5 and Romans 6:4
2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 3:27
1 Corinthians 3:1 and Romans 6:4
1 John 5:11 and Galatians 3:27
1 In the U.S., there were 4,140,419 babies born in the U.S. in 2006 (latest available info) and 1,206,200 abortions that year in the U.S.
2 The majority occurring during the first 12 weeks. There is a 75% chance of miscarriage in weeks 1-2 when you do not know you are pregnant. There is a 10% chance of miscarriage in weeks 3-6 and this number drops to 5% during weeks 6-12. During the second trimester the chance of miscarriage drops again to 3%. After you’ve reached 20 weeks gestation, it is no longer considered a miscarriage. http://www.amazingpregnancy.com/pregnancy-articles/337.html
4 exousian, “privilege or right.”
A father decided it was time to have “the talk” with his ten-year-old son. Sitting the boy down, he thought it best to first find out what his son already knew. So he asked his son if he knew about “the birds and the bees.”
“I don’t want to know,” his son replied, bursting into tears. “Promise you won’t tell me. Please!” Confused by this reaction, the father asked his son what was wrong.
“Oh, Dad,” the boy replied, in between sobs, “when I was six, I got the ‘there’s no Santa’ speech. At seven I got the ‘there’s no Easter Bunny’ speech. When I was eight, you hit me with ‘there’s no Tooth Fairy’ speech. If you are going to tell me now there’s no such things as birds and bees, I don’t know what I will do!”
Yes, there are birds and bees, and there are the “birds and bees of the gospel,” too.
“Water” in John 3:5 refers to baptism.1 Water is connected with baptism in many passages (Matthew 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:36–40; 10:47–48; 1 Peter 3:20–21). In fact, in the Christian system water is never used in any ordinance except baptism. Baptism is the only religious ceremony pertaining to salvation that makes use of water. Jesus placed water between man and salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26–27; 1 Peter 3:20–21). Spiritual birth takes place when one is born “of water and of the Spirit.” To be “born of water” means to be baptized.
In baptism, one is submerged completely and comes forth from the water. Thus Jesus refers to baptism as a birth of water. The Lord was buried in the grave and came forth “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18; cf. Revelation 1:5). To arise from the grave means to be born from the dead; to arise from the water means to be born of water (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).
Someone asks, “Was not Paul born again, according to 1 Corinthians 15:8, on the road to Damascus before being baptized in water?” Paul did not say in this text, “I was born again,” or “I was born of God,” or “I was born.” He said, “As of one born out of due time.” If we say a car backfired and sounded as the blast of a gun, we are not saying that the backfire was the blast of the gun. Paul is not saying in this passage that he was born again on the road to Damascus. He was affirming that he saw the Lord at an unusual time—that it was at a time other than during the Lord’s earthly ministry (Acts 1:21–22). Paul was not born again (saved) until he was baptized, which can clearly be seen by studying Acts 22:16.
The metaphor of the new birth is ruined by either of the following processes:
When baptism is put before faith, as in infant baptism—this puts the birth before the begetting.
When immersion is changed to sprinkling or pouring, since in neither act is there a coming out of the water. It is not possible for a person to be born of water when only a few drops are used. The individual who has had water sprinkled or poured upon his head cannot truthfully say that he has been buried with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3–4). In all the New Testament, water alone is never sprinkled on any person, for any purpose by the Lord’s authority. The person who has not been immersed in water has not been born anew.
When one becomes a part of the kingdom (family) of God
One birth, of one element and one agent—the water and the Spirit—translates a man into the kingdom. Both water and the Spirit are essential to the new birth; and the new birth is essential to entering the kingdom. All who yield to this divine plan become citizens of the kingdom of Christ—members of His church (Matthew 16:18–19).
To “see the kingdom of God” meant to experience the blessings of it. The Pharisees believed that descent from Abraham and dedication to the traditions of the fathers assured them of divine acceptance into Messiah’s kingdom. Nicodemus had to learn that he was as yet not suited for the kingdom of God. He had to be born anew.
According to the Lord’s declaration in John 3, the goal of the new birth is entrance into the kingdom. The kingdom of God is the family (house) of God, the place where all the saved reside. Paul establishes this point later: He has “delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). We are buried with Christ in baptism to rise to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4–6, Galatians 3:26–27).
He cannot enter into . . . Jesus uses the word “enter” in verse 5 in place of the word “see” of verse 3. The word, see means to “know, enjoy, or experience” (Luke 2:26; Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:26–27). People say, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you will be lost.” Nonsense! If we don’t believe in Jesus, we are already lost. And we stay lost until we put our faith in Christ and obey His will.
There is similarity in some respects between a spiritual birth and a physical birth, but the two are not identical. When one becomes a Christian, he undergoes a spiritual birth; he moves from a sinful state into a spiritual state; he enters into a new environment, the kingdom of God. Because of its parallels to a physical birth it is called a new birth.
1 It is interesting that although most denominations deny that baptism is essential to salvation, nearly all scholars from the denominational world (Alford, Barnes, Clarke, Lightfoot, Macknight, Meyer, Schaff, Wescott, Wesley) say that “water” in John 3:5 refers to baptism.
--Allen Webster, http://www.housetohouse.com