The phrase “born again” was first used by Jesus in his conversation with the Pharisee (strict religious leader) named Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John’s gospel. 1 It was confusing then, also. Nicodemus said “Huh, what?” (my paraphrase). Jesus answered in verse 5 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.“. Nicodemus again said “Huh, what?!” (my paraphrase again!).
We get the phrase “new creature” from chapter 5 of Paul’s second letter to the church of Corinth. In verse 17, he tells us that “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.“.
What are these phrases saying to us? They tell us that becoming a Christian is as dramatic a life change as being born. They tell us that this new life is one of ongoing growth, as if starting out as a baby. They tell us that this is not simply a change in “religion” or philosophy; it’s a transformation of the entire person.
When a baby is born, he or she embarks on a brand-new adventure of life. The child starts out knowing nothing of this world that they have just entered. They learn and grow until (hopefully) they become mature. The successes and failures that they experience along the way become a part of who they are as an adult.
When a person recognizes that they are a sinner separated from God, and accepts Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and reconciliation, they embark on a brand-new spiritual life. They start out knowing nothing except that their world has changed. They now have God’s Spirit as part of them, and will begin to learn and grow more in tune with that Spirit until (hopefully) they become mature Christians. They will have successes and failures along the way that become a part of who they are as Christians.
What does that mean, to have God’s Spirit as part of me? Jesus promised His followers that He would send to them a Helper, the Spirit of Truth, who would literally be in them.
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.John 14:16-20
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
At the beginning of the church as described in the book of Acts, God’s Spirit was tangible as wind and fire associated with the believers who were gathered together after Jesus had returned to Heaven (Acts 2:1-4). Especially in Acts, but also throughout the New Testament, believers are referred to as “filled with the Spirit” or “led by the Spirit” or acting “in the Spirit”. Paul, in a different letter to Corinth, said “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
This Spirit is God, just as Jesus is God, just as the Father is God. That is the concept called “Trinity”, one God in three distinct Persons, which is the subject of a separate article on this site (and also the subject of many books throughout history!).
But then, that is saying that God Himself moved into my life when I chose to accept Christ! That gives me a dual nature: the original “me” who is a sinner at odds with God and wants to do my own thing, and the new “me” who is voluntarily joined with God and looks forward to eternal life with Him. As I grow and mature, the proportions should shift until my God-nature is more prominent than my sin-nature. Paul tells us that this growth can be seen as what he calls the “fruit” of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
This process of growing in the Spirit – producing better fruit, becoming more like Jesus and more like the best version of myself as God designed for me to be – is not going to finish any time soon. I’ve been at it for most of my life, and often feel like I’m barely at the crawling stage. (That explains the bumper stickers: “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.”) But I have at least started on this new life; I’ve been “born again”.
Just like the first time around, the being-born part is easy. (Although, the baby didn’t get a vote in its birth; the new birth is a conscious choice.) And, like the first time around, the new life has ups and down, successes and failures, learning and growth. But the new life is so very much bigger in scope and depth. Those who choose it will never regret that choice.