Before you Die you must be Born Again
Understanding John Chapter 3
Just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many [ Hebrews chapter 9 ]
What does “Born Again” Mean?
When a Pharisee called Nicodemus questioned Jesus, He said to him,
I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless a person is born again [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, sanctified], he cannot [ever] see and experience the kingdom of God. [ John 3:3, amplified version ]
Jesus then elaborated on this fundamental statement:
I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot [ever] enter the kingdom of God. [ John 3:5, amplified version]
What does “Born of Water” mean?
It is tempting to think this is referring to physical birth – to the amniotic fluid surrounding a baby at birth. But surely that is a taken? Everyone is physically born. We have no option; there is no decision to make! So a reference to physical birth seems improbable.
Note that John 3:5 is simply an expansion of John 3:3. So being “born of water” and being “born of the Spirit” must be two components of being “born again”. Jesus makes the point that both are needed for a person to be truly born again.
The Old Testament refers to a similar twin-aspect event. God told the rebellious House of Israel that at some point in the future:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness . . . Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you . . . I will put My Spirit within you . . . [ Ezekiel 36:25-27 ]
This can be seen as an Old Testament version of John 3:5; it speaks of a symbolic cleansing through water, followed by an infilling of God’s Spirit.
In Ezekiel 36 a symbolic cleansing of individuals through water precedes a renewed spirit through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Now fast forward to John the Baptist in the New Testament. John’s role was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. And he did this by telling them to repent, followed by the Jewish ritual of being immersed in water to symbolise cleansing. John’s baptism was a symbol of repentance.
So using a reference to the Jewish custom of the day, Jesus’ reference to being “born of water” must refer to the need for repentance. In order to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus said an individual must first repent of living a life non-pleasing to God. Like entering waters of baptism, an individual must want to change their heart. They must want salvation and forgiveness of past sin through the living Christ. They must want a real relationship with their Father in heaven.
What does “Born of the Spirit” mean?
Mankind must acknowledge that we are not just flesh and blood. Like his Creator, man is a triune being. The apostle Paul put it like this:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” [ 1 Thessalonians 5:23, emphasis added ]
These three distinct elements of man are also described in Genesis 2:7:
The Lord God formed man’s body of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ Hebrew: “neshamah” ] of life; and man became a living soul [ Hebrew: “nephesh”, Strong’s 5315 ]
Here the Hebrew word “neshamah” is translated “breath” (as in “wind”) but the same Hebrew word is translated “spirit” in Proverbs 20:27. So we can say:
man’s body of dust + the spirit of life = a living being or soul
Note that the Hebrew word “nephesh” is frequently translated as “a living being”. It is the part of a person that possesses life. That said, what has life can also lose it, and die. As the prophet Ezekiel says:
The soul [ Hebrew: “nephesh” ] who sins will die [ Ezekiel 18:4 ]
As discussed below, this underscores the need to be “born again”.
The Fall: the Physical and Spiritual Death of Mankind
There is a strong biblical case for treating the Adam of Genesis 2:20 as a real person. So this is assumed here. God warned Adam not to eat from a certain tree in the Garden of Eden:
. . . but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die [ Genesis 2:17 ]
Adam was created immortal (perfect). For example, his intellect must have been perfect because he could name all the animals and birds [Genesis 2:19-20]! But when Adam disobeyed God his body became mortal and subject to physical death. Physical death was not immediate, but it came eventually. Adam lived 930 years.
So what died immediately i.e. “in the day” he ate? It must have been Adam’s spirit. On the day that Adam disobeyed God both he and his wife knew that they were naked and they tried to hide themselves from God [ Genesis 3:7 ]. Adam no longer had that intimate friendship with God that he first enjoyed. In fact, Adam was driven out of the Garden of Eden and away from the presence of God [Genesis 3:24].
Paul says this lack of intimacy and friendship with God spread to all mankind:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [ Romans 3:23 ]
How to be re-born
It is now clear what Jesus meant when He said an individual must be “born of the Spirit” in order to enter the kingdom of God. Because of the Fall [ Genesis 3 ] unregenerate man is spiritually dead, and is also subject to physical death. He has no fellowship with his Creator. His spirit needs to be re-born through the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
Put simply, the kingdom of God is entered through the twin actions of both man and God:
1. We should seek reconciliation to God through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross
2. God then sends us His Spirit to give us spiritual re-birth and a new life
At Pentecost Peter said to the listening crowd, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [ Acts 2:38 ]
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God . . . This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” [ 1 Corinthians 2:12, 2 Corinthians 5:17 ].
A Promise and a Warning
Coming back to the gospel of John 3, it’s important to take careful note of what Jesus said to Nicodemus:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. The one who believes in Him is not judged; the one who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. [ John 3:16-18 ]
Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. [ John 5:24 ]
Here, Jesus promises the believer an enlivened spirit (through the indwelling Holy Spirit), and an immortal (resurrected) body. The individual’s soul does not die, but lives on eternally!
Conversely, the unbelieving soul is judged and perishes (dies), being eternally separated from their Creator [ Revelation 20:15 ].Clearly, as Jesus said, “you MUST be born again to enter the kingdom of God”