Studies in John's Gospel -- Part 4
Being "Born Again"
By: A.J. Higgins, M.D.
Passage: John 3
Like a revolving door, phrases and ideas pass in and out of favor with each generation. In the natural reaction that follows a popular idea, the truth the idea contains frequently becomes lost to sight. Those who wish to be "in" take up the phrase and apply it every chance they have. Those who prefer to avoid trends shun its use, despite whatever its merits.
Such a situation has occurrred with the Biblical expression "Born Again." The expression which at one time was known and used only in evangelical circles has become a household word today. It is used by comedians and cartoonists, by politicians and pollsters. It is used to describe every imaginable situation, from political comeback to recovery from illness. The result is that having become so "trendy" the truth the expression contains has been obscured.
To what does the expression really refer? Does it have any relevancy for us in the 1990's? Or is it just an expression in vogue today?
Original sources are always useful in deciding on the value of a phrase or saying. And that source, the third chapter of John, is where we find this expression coming from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ to an old man, Nicodemus. As we examine the chapter we learn:
The Meaning of "Born Again"
Various versions translate the expresssion born again, born anew, born from above. Gathering together the thoughts that these uses of the word denote, we gain valuable insight into its meaning. To be born again implies the truth that something must have been lacking in our first birth. The united testimony of the New Testament writers is that our first birth was as a son of Adam into a fallen family. It fit us neither for life in heaven nor for pleasing God upon earth (Rom. 3:23; 8:8; 5:12-20). Another birth is needed.
To be born anew suggests a different kind of birth and a different kind of life than our first birth gave us. To be born from above places the final piece in the puzzle. It tells us of a spiritual birth effected by the power of God that fits us for heaven.
As Nicodemus the wise teacher of his religion listened, his astonishment expressed itself "How can these things be" (v. 9) Many who have tried self help efforts to reform their natural life have reached a similar crisis. But we further learn:
The Mandate for Being Born Again
In an age when the national symbol is the hedge, we seek to avoid commitment to absolutes and nonexcluding phrases, the words of the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus sound almost bigoted "Ye must be born again" (v. 7) No excuses, no exclusions, no exemptions are listed. It is His heaven and He has sovereign right to dictate its entrance requirements. No effort, religion, rite, or human arrangement can cancel His mandate.
The Means for Being Born Again
To answer Nicodemus' astonishment and confessed ignorance, Christ used an object lesson with which the aged teacher was familiar. Just as an uplifted serpent in the days of Moses became the means for dying Israelites to have new life, so an uplifted Christ becomes the means whereby men in need of life can look. It is not baptism, communion, or church membership that imparts life, but dependence upon the sin atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. Allow the words of Scripture to speak for themselves:
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life:
and he that believeth not the Son; shall not see life
but the wrath of God abideth on him." John 3:36.