“Born again!” It’s a familiar term that’s been done to death in recent times. If you google it you come up with all sorts of things from movies to songs, albums to books, and of course the Abba tribute band Bjorn Again. “Born again” is a hair product, a beauty mask, a motorbike restoration business and a fashion show. It’s an American activist group and a comic book. Right here in Melbourne, you can even cover your concrete slab with “Born again floors.” Born again is an Elvis impersonator in Sydney, and rapper Snoop Dog said he was born again after visiting a Rastafarian Temple in Jamaica earlier this year where a High Priest told him, ‘You are the light; you are the lion.’ He now refers to himself as “Snoop Lion”. I kid you not.
But when you mention “born again”, most people think of the Christian term – and it’s not always positive. In research that Bayside Church conducted last year, those that don’t attend church saw the term as fanatical, cultish, brainwashed, the vocal minority, a crutch or as referring to the American Bible belt.
Those that were in the church saw it as somewhat more positive: renewed in Jesus,
Jesus as Saviour, saved, life-changing, forgiven/redeemed, freedom/new start and restored. Some in the church viewed “born again” less positively as meaning: I’ve arrived, powerfully divisive, misunderstood, polarising, confusing, confronting, severing ties, isolating, segmenting, or a 70s and 80s term.
So, what is being born again really all about? It’s first found in the third chapter of the book of John in the Bible where Jesus is having a discussion with a senior Jewish leader, Nicodemus, who recognises Jesus as “a teacher who has come from God.” Jesus ignores the flattery and tells Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Nicodemus understands the term because it was well known in the Hebrew culture of his day, but he was confused by Jesus’ use of it because Nicodemus had already been born again four times.
There were six ways a person was considered born again in Jesus’ day:
1. When a gentile converted to Judaism
2. Being crowned king
3. At the Bar Mitzvah (coming of age ceremony) at age 13
4. Being married
5. Being ordained as a Rabbi (at age 30)
6. Becoming the head of a Rabbinic academy (at age 50)
“Born again” referred to all of these major life stages after which one would never be the same again. The first two of these didn’t apply to Nicodemus but the last four did. There was no other way, in his thinking, that he could be born again and so he asks Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time when his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)(NIV). In other words, the only way I could be born again was if I entered my mother’s womb and started the process all over.
It’s at this point that Jesus starts to help Nicodemus with his confusion: “Jesus answered, ” I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again” (John 3:5-7) (NIV).
Jesus refers here to the two births – natural birth and spiritual birth. “Born of water” (referring to when a woman’s waters break) is the same as being “born of the flesh,” that is, natural birth that makes us a part of a natural family. When your parents conceived you, you became part of their family. You became their son or daughter. But Jesus goes one step further and says there’s a second birth, a spiritual birth where “Spirit gives birth to spirit.” At that time you are adopted into the family of God and become His son or daughter (see Ephesians 1:5). God becomes your Father and Jesus is your older brother. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven” – He included us in the family of God. What an honour. What a privilege.
The apostle Paul reflected on this amazing truth in his letter to the Galatian church, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son … that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Gal 4:6-7) (NIV).
When you accept God’s Son, Jesus, as your Saviour, you are born (again) into God’s family, you receive the full rights of a son or daughter, you call him father (“Abba” is an Aramaic word which denotes warmth and relaxed familiarity), and you also become an heir inheriting all that God has for you in this life as well as the life to come.
I hope by reading this you realise that Jesus’ use of the term “born again” was intensely positive. If you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, then delight afresh in who you are as a son or daughter of your Father God. If you aren’t born again, what’s stopping you?
ABOUT ROB BUCKINGHAM
Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, a thriving faith community located in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne. Welcoming people from all walks of life, Bayside Church invites all people to experience the Christian faith and God. For more information about Bayside Church: