The subject of being “born again” has been coming up frequently in our conversations. Since our mission is the Great Commission, this makes sense! One concern we have been discussing is how many people believe they are “saved” who have never been born again. They may have prayed a prayer asking Jesus to “come into their hearts and save them,” but they do not understand what this means and all that it requires.
When people say they are “saved,” they most likely mean they believe they will go to heaven when they die. They have been “saved” from an eternity in hell. They may even say that Jesus is their Savior. He is the One who will guarantee their entrance into heaven. They may also hope (little h) that Jesus will make their lives here a bit better than their unsaved friends. For some, the here and now benefits are what they are really after. Sadly, fewer and fewer people today recognize or understand what being “born again” involves and what it results in.
Having spent over 10 years in the field of molecular biology, I learned a little bit about genetics. Sometimes a trait is controlled by a single gene. If you remove or alter that gene, the trait is changed or lost. However, traits are more commonly controlled by multiple genes. Each gene is necessary to enable the trait, but each on its own is not sufficient.
So, what does the genetic concept of “necessary but not sufficient” have to do with our conversation about being born again? Everything! Contrary to popular belief, God’s Forgiveness is conditional, and He clearly states what the conditions are. While He has done everything necessary to make the offer of salvation available to every single person, we must be sure to meet ALL the conditions if we want to be certain that we will inherit Eternal Life when we die. Since salvation is only made possible by and through Jesus (see Acts 4:12), let’s go to Him to find out what is necessary and sufficient to know we are saved and will inherit Eternal Life.
In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v3) He then clarifies this statement by saying, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (v5)
First, please notice that Jesus does not mention “heaven” here. Although heaven is most certainly included as a place within God’s Kingdom (Isaiah 66:1), the Kingdom of God includes the entire domain in which God reigns as Sovereign. His purpose is for that place to be the hearts of the people He created in His image – us!
So, now, let’s break these verses down a little. The first part of each statement is exactly the same except for one word:
“Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless…” (v3)
“Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless…” (v5)
As is usually the case, it is helpful to look beyond the English word used and into the language of the writer.
“See” comes from the Greek word “eidō” (i’-do), which does mean “see,” but see how? With our eyes? Strong’s says, “Perceive, Understand, and to know.” So, not with our eyes.
“Enter,” from “eiserchomai” (ice-er’khom-ahee), means just that, “Enter.”
So, there are two steps specified. First, we must be able to perceive God’s Kingdom, then we must choose to enter into His dominion. In what follows, Jesus is going to tell us clearly what is required, the conditions, to “see” and “enter” the Kingdom of God.
“…he is born again.” (v3)
“…he is born of water and the Spirit.” (v5)
In John 3:3, Jesus tells us that to “see” the Kingdom of God, to perceive it is there and to understand what it is, we must be born again. John 3:5 is an explanation of what being “born again” entails. We must be born of both “water” and “the Spirit.” Do you see the connection now? There are two components here that are each necessary, and only together are they sufficient to enable us to enter the Kingdom of God!
First, we must be “born of water.” What does this mean? In the Bible, water is a symbol for God’s Word, the Truth. In Ephesians 5, Paul states that Christ gave Himself up for the church “…to sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…” (v26) Before we can see the Kingdom of God, we must have our eyes opened by the Word of Truth that tells us we are sinners. (Romans 3:23, Romans 10:17) We are not innocent victims of sin, but, rather, willful rebels against our rightful Sovereign who suppress the truth by our wickedness. (Romans 1:18-25) As such, we are condemned, without God and without hope in the world. (John 3:18, Ephesians 2:12) We are children of the devil, who is the father of lies (John 8:44), and we must be reborn as children of God, who is the author and Father of Truth.
To be born again, we must hear the Truth regarding our sin AND repent of it, which means to turn away from it. This is why John the Baptist came first to prepare the way for Jesus. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance…” (Matthew 3:11) But it is not enough to turn away from the lies. We must also turn to, walk in, live a life of Truth. This is what Jesus means when He says that “…everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (v16) Let’s see what He says following this statement:
“And this is the verdict: The Light (Truth) has come into the world, but men loved the darkness (lies) rather than the Light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been accomplished in God.” John 3:19-21 (see also 2 Corinthians 4:2-4; for “practices lies,” see Psalm 101:7)
This is what it means to “believe” in Jesus. The word “believe” comes from “pisteuó,” which is derived from “pistis,” the word translated as “faith.” In the “Faith Is” post (click here) we said, “Faith Is: a verb! Faith Is: action! Faith Is: unyielding confidence! Faith Is: walking in Truth! Faith Is: to patiently endure, living life in God’s Truth, confident that we ‘will receive what He has promised.’” So, to “believe” means to practice or walk in obedience to the Truth.
This walk in obedience to the Truth is made possible by the second part of the condition! We must be “born of water and the Spirit.” We must have a new nature born of the Spirit of Truth. Jesus goes on to say, “The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (v8) This makes it clear that the outcome of our rebirth is that our allegiance has changed. We are no longer our own masters or slaves to sin. We are born of the Spirit, who dwells in us, teaches us the Truth, and provides us with the Wisdom to walk in it. (Romans 8:1-17) Remember, v21 says, “But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been accomplished in God.” Right after Paul tells the Philippians to “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling” he says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13) God, by His Holy Spirit, puts a new heart in us that wants what He wants, and then He gives us the grace, the ability, to live our lives practicing the Truth.
Jesus repeats these conditions throughout the Gospels. He also says that only His sheep will hear His voice, will be able to recognize the Truth, and will come follow Him. (John 10:27)
It is necessary to hear the Truth, but hearing is insufficient.
It is necessary to come to Jesus, but coming is insufficient.
It is necessary to follow Jesus, but following part way or in our own strength is insufficient.
To be truly born again, we must hear the Truth, come to Jesus in true and full repentance, AND follow the Spirit as He leads us in the Way of Truth all the way to the end. Only then can we be sure to inherit Eternal Life.
“Because of the multiplication of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13
“But because of your hard and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will repay each one according to his deeds.’ To those who by perseverance in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow wickedness, there will be wrath and anger.” Romans 2:5-8
“…and with every wicked deception directed against those who are perishing, because they refused the love of the truth that would have saved them. For this reason God will send them a powerful delusion so that they believe the lie, in order that judgment may come upon all who have disbelieved the truth and delighted in wickedness. But we should always thank God for you, brothers who are loved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning to be saved by the sanctification of the Spirit and by faith in the truth.” 2 Thessalonians 2:10-13