Chapter three, verses 1-21 of the Gospel according to John is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These verses summarize much of what the New Testament says in 27 books. It also contains that controversial phrase “born again.” The chapter starts with the story of the nighttime visit of Nicodemus to Jesus. I want to explain this passage because it is the basis of much of what Christians understand about salvation by grace through faith in Christ. I believe it is appropriate for us to contemplate this during Lent.
Jesus starts the conversation with an important statement that sets the stage for the rest of the passage: “I tell you the truth, unless one is born again, he cannot be in God’s kingdom.” This is, of course, the origin of the term “born again” which can also legitimately be translated as “born from above” or “born anew.”
This term “born again” has come to have negative connotations in some circles. Many view “born again” as referring to people that are not considered “mainstream,” sort of out there on the fringe. However, Jesus wasn’t talking about people on the fringes when he said we must be “born again” – he was talking about everybody. Nicodemus was confused by the term, so Jesus explained further (in verse 5b): “I tell you the truth, unless one is born from water and the Spirit, he cannot enter God’s kingdom.”
“Born again” refers to new life in Christ, what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said we become “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17): Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! NIV
When we trust in Christ for our future and when we commit to live for him now, then we are born again, new creations, transformed beings. Moreover, we are guaranteed eternal life (we can enter God’s kingdom).
In verses 5 thru 13, Jesus explained that he is not talking about any kind of physical rebirth, which is, of course, impossible. Instead, he is speaking of something entirely spiritual, which he explained by saying (in verse 6): “Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit.”
Although Jesus explained that this rebirth is spiritual, not physical, Nicodemus wasn’t sure how this works – he still had some doubts. Jesus told him that this is in the spiritual realm, and he should trust him about spiritual things. To emphasize that he is speaking with authority, Jesus said (in verse 13): “The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven — the Son of Man.”
More on this important section of the New Testament in a future post.