What does it mean to be “born again”?

In John 3 Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” This statement confused Nicodemus and lead him to ask how it was possible for an adult to experience another birth. Jesus’ words continue to cause confusion today. At times people are offended when told of the need to be born again. Yet, Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Jesus cleared up Nicodemus’ confusion by explaining that being born again is having a spiritual birth. Just like each person must have a physical birth to have physical life, so every person must have a spiritual birth to live spiritually. Jesus says the spiritual birth is the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8) in which He imparts spiritual life to thsoe who are “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) The giving of spiritual life is entirely the work of God the Spirit. No person gives themselves spiritual life. No minister, church, family or organization gives spiritual life to a person. Only the Spirit gives spiritual life. (John 3:6)

Spiritual life is only received through faith. The most famous verse of the Bible, John 3:16, is Jesus’ instruction Nicodemus about how to be born again. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The verses before John 3:16 say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish.” (John 3:14-15) A couple verses later Jesus said, “He who believe in Him is not condemned.” (John 3:18) The only way for a person to be born again is to believe Jesus is God the Son who died on the cross to take away sin and give life. A person is born again when she places her faith in Jesus to give her spiritual life.

Being born again is necessary because all are spiritually dead. No one naturally has a relationship with God and the life of fellowship with Him. Instead, all people are “alienated from the life of God.” (Ephesians 4:17) When Adam and Eve sinned they were immediately separated from God. They died spiritually. Just as one who is physically dead cannot give physical life to himself or another, so one who is dead spiritually cannot produce life. Adam and Eve had no means to make themselves alive spiritually. All their offspring were spiritually dead. “In Adam all die.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Being born again is the reception of spiritual life from the Holy Spirit through belief in Jesus as God and Savior. None are born again by their religious works, charitable deeds or moral goodness. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5) When a person believes Jesus and trusts Him to give him eternal life, then God the Spirit resuscitates the one who was spiritually dead and gives him spiritual life. The one who by faith receives Jesus is born again.