Millions upon millions of U.S. Evangelicals have always professed to have been "born again." But the "great awakening" in terms of the media's awareness of their numbers didn't take place until the election of a "born-again" President in 1976. That one event alone brought the whole movement out of the woodwork of religiosity and onto front-page prominence in the various vehicles of the modern news media.
Then came Charles Colson's bestseller entitled Born Again. The former Nixon aide convincingly recounted that the whole Watergate experience finally resulted in his personal repentance and conversion to Christ. And now on the book market is another best-seller by a famous American evangelist telling everybody How to be Born Again.
Not taking anything away from the sincerity of anybody's claim to a "born-again" experience, do those two words really describe what actually happens to a person who is converted by Jesus Christ of Nazareth? According to the Bible, are you born again in an instant of time when you, in deep repentance, surrender yourself unconditionally to Jesus Christ? Strictly speaking, is the term "born again" synonymous with becoming a real Christian?
We all understand the literal meaning of the word, "born." It's the process by which we came to be on this earth — the moment of parturition from our mother's womb. Now suppose you had never previously heard the expression "born again." Just pretend you weren't familiar with the common American, evangelical, emotional, religious experience. What would your reaction be if Jesus Christ of Nazareth told you that you had to be born again or you could never enter the Kingdom of God? What would you think He meant?
Fortunately, we have a biblical case history that tells us exactly how a man named Nicodemus responded to that very declaration. Christ said to him: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
Nicodemus reacted like a man who had never heard the present day, de facto meaning of "born again." He simply asked Jesus Christ: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" (Verse 4)
Nicodemus was completely confused. So Christ went on to explain what He meant in a fair amount of detail. "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (verses 5-6).
You can take the old hatpin test and quickly discover you are flesh and blood and not spirit.
Jesus continued to explain to the befuddled Nicodemus: "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it Iisteth [wills], and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (verses 7-8).
The meaning of these last two verses is made even plainer by another rather succinct biblical statement. "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God..." (I Cor. 15:50). Being "born of the spirit" — being "raised a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:44) — is something which occurs at the time of the resurrection, after an individual's death. So strictly speaking, to be literally born again does not mean to be converted while still in the human flesh. Remember Jesus said that every one that is born of the spirit has a body that can't be discerned by human sight and touch.
Flesh and blood composition simply cannot enter the spiritual realm of the family of God. But does that mean we cannot now be converted in the human flesh and eventually, at a specified time in the future, enter the Kingdom of God? Of course not. Paul clarified this matter to the Corinthian Church: "As we have borne the image of the earthy [human flesh], we shall also [at a future time] bear the image of the heavenly [a spirit-composed body]" (I Cor. 15:49). The rest of the chapter then goes on to explain exactly at what time and event this change from flesh to spirit is going to take place.
It's a vast subject and far more than can be explained in just one column. So read our free article that thoroughly covers the ins and outs of this whole topic. It's entitled Just What Do You Mean... Born Again? And while you're at it you might write for the companion article, Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom of God?