The process of becoming a Christian has been severely westernized, now only to include being confirmed in a church, or saying a prayer, or paying the alms, or doing deeds of righteousness or being water baptized. Of course these things are important, but they are often misrepresented as the entire process by which somebody becomes a Christian. People will do one of these things, then some church leader will tell them that they are saved and that their sins are forgiven, and then they will just leave the church, never to come back, thinking that they are saved when in fact they are not. They have not been born again. So what does it mean to be born again?
Some people may get the impression that to be born again is merely to adhere to a religious idea, to come to discover some sort of head knowledge that about the nature of reality. Some may think that it is a decision that a human being makes, it is essentially turning over a new leaf with a Christian emphasis. Some may think that to be born again means to adopt a few rules that you do not like and apply them to your life.
The problem with all of these conceptions of being born again is that they highlight being born again from a human angle. But far from it, “…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, [Christ] gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” When somebody is born again, they are born out of the supernatural work of God. They are reborn by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It is not merely a change of ones’ mind, but it is to be made a new creature with new desires by God himself.
If this is something unknown to you, I would not feel too bad. After all, Nicodemus, one of the leading teachers of Israel did not know anything about being born again (John 3:5-10).
Why Be Born Again?
The need for being born again can be clarified by dissecting the nature of God, so revealed by the most terrifying truth in all of Scripture. Every verse and theme in the Bible comes back to this central and terrifying truth. It is not my goal to give anybody comfort, but rather it is my goal to, as Paul Washer said, shock people into life. The most terrifying truth in all of Scripture is that God is good.
Suppose there were a judge that had a guilty criminal standing before them, and they just let them off the hook for their crimes. They decided that despite that they were guilty, no justice would be rendered. That judge would obviously be a corrupt and evil judge. God is not a corrupt or evil judge. We are all standing God’s courtroom, and we are all guilty (Romans 3:23) and tremble as we wait for God to pass down the death penalty for our crimes (Romans 6:23). In and of ourselves, there is no way around it. We deserve death, and since God is a good and just judge, he will give it to us.
There is no hope, apart from Christ. The wage of sin is death, “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.” When Jesus was murdered, all of the wrath of God was poured upon him. He drank the cup of God’s wrath and not a single drop was left for us. Now we walk out of the courtroom, because Jesus Christ paid the penalty that we owed to God. We can be conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29).
Why be born again? When God looks at you, he will not see your sin, but the spotless record of Christ.
How Do I Know I Have Been Born Again?
So I say again, when we are born again, we are made into a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are conformed to the image of the Son. As such, we shall not go on sinning (Romans 6:1). We are dead to sin (Romans 6:2). When we were baptized by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we were baptized into his death (Romans 6:3), and all of our unrighteousness was nailed to the Cross with Christ, so that our former selves died, and we were raised anew, with Christ (Romans 6:4).
We can know that we have been born again because we are being sanctified. We are made new creatures with a desire to serve God, striving against all unrighteousness. “If we claim to have fellowship with [God] and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.”
As being reborn, we are literally indwelled by the Holiest of Holies, and when we feel ourselves straying off the path to eternal life, the Spirit will zealously discipline us and guard our lives (Hebrews 12:8-10). Thus we know that we have been born again because we are compelled in every way to love God (Matthew 22:36-37) bring forth the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and do righteousness.
How Long Does It Take To Be Born Again?
For a Christian to be born again is immediate. God immediately makes them into a new creature, indwelled by the Spirit. However the process of sanctification takes longer. There is an immediate sanctification, wherein we have the desire to do the will of God and have a desire to understand what the will of God is. But we are not immediately able to overcome all sin, and in fact, there is nobody in this life who will be without sin (1 John 1:8). The next step is an ongoing sanctification. After being reborn, we strive to live the Christian life and God will help us overcome our unrighteousness and do his will.
So we should not be overwhelmed because we have a lot of sin and we should not be discouraged because of failure. Jesus told the story of a tax collector and a Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee came into the Temple and told God that he was thankful that he was not a sinner. But the sinner came into the Temple, beating his chest as he said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The tax collector left justified, while the Pharisee did not.
That is why Jesus said, “Is it the healthy who need a doctor, or the sick? For go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know that they are sinners into repentance.” We are all still sinners, but as Christians we repent, striving against sin and toward God’s righteousness.
If you would like to discuss further, come join our Theology Discussion Group