John 3: 1-3 is the most common proof text used to converse about being born again. This text says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The rest of this chapter contains Jesus’ description of some of the qualities of being born again and Nicodemus clearly demonstrated the truth of Jesus’ opening statement. He simply could not “see” or understand what Jesus was talking about.
After Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, the promised Holy Spirit came to dwell within each believer. Jesus called Him the Spirit of truth and said that He would guide believers into all truth. It was then that many of Jesus’ seemingly cryptic statements became clear to the apostles as well as those who believed their testimony. To answer the question of why new birth is necessary, let us look into the writings of those original apostles.
The book of Romans was written by the apostle Paul. Paul’s previous life had been lived under the name of Saul of Tarsus and he was full of zealous activity in the Jewish religion. He was mentored by one of the finest religious scholars and was an “up and comer” in every sense of the word. When this new “sect” came along preaching about a Messiah called Jesus, it offended Saul’s sense of orthodoxy and he reacted violently. While he was zealously engaged in persecuting the new church, he had a vision of the risen Jesus. His old life came to a sudden end and a new life of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and building the church began. You could say he was born again. He described it in this way in a letter he wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) The crux of Paul’s writings is the concept of an old life that is put to death and a new life that has begun.
A careful examination of Paul’s letter to the Roman church reveals the primary reason of why we must be born again. Romans 5 shows that we all have been born into a race called “Adam”, no matter what our ethnic origin may be. The first man that God created fell into rebellion and therefore plunged the entire human race into a state of rebellion, disobedience and death. In the previous chapters, Paul proves that we can either be moral, religious sinners, or dirty rotten sinners, it really doesn’t matter. As members of Adam’s race all are under condemnation and the wrath of God. Through Jesus, God has made it possible for us to exit Adam’s race and be “born again” into a new race. Jesus is the federal head of this new race (or new creation). The members of His race are characterized by peace with God, His indwelling Spirit and eternal life. This is why Jesus said we must be born again. As long as we remain in Adam’s race, we bear the racial characteristics that cause God to condemn us. Once we have been born again into Jesus’ race, Romans 8:1 assures us that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
How can one be born again? This question puzzled Nicodemus as well. Jesus’ response, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and 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”, really didn’t clear up his confusion. The difficulty with the conversations in the Gospels lies with the condition of Jesus’ audience. Even His own closest disciples could not understand much of what He said at the time because they had not yet received the illumination of the Spirit. Again, we must look into what was written after Pentecost to discern the answer.
The sixth chapter of Romans gives us a good understanding of how God achieves this marvelous work of salvation. I hope that as we examine this, it will lead you into a profound worship of God. Verses 1-9 state, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” Dear brothers and sisters, this is what salvation really is. We know that Jesus died for us but do we also know and believe that we died with Him? How is that possible? After all, none of us were alive two thousand years ago when Jesus was crucified. How can Paul say that we died with Him?
The answer is found in the concept of the “representative man.” The story of David and Goliath is a perfect example of this. David represented the entire Israel nation; Goliath represented the entire nation of Philistia. Do you remember the agreement they made? If David was killed, every single Israelite would become the slave of the Philistines. If Goliath was killed, every single Philistine would become the slave of Israel. Even though the combat was between these two individuals, each represented his entire nation. So it is with Adam and Christ. When Adam sinned against God, he represented each member of his future race. Therefore, all of us are born into a state of sin even though we have never even seen the Garden of Eden. When Christ was crucified, He represented all who would believe in Him. That means that each one of us who have believed in Him is born again into a state of peace with God even though the crucifixion happened long before we were born.
When we respond in faith to the Gospel, repent and are baptized, that act symbolizes the salvation that God gives us. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” II Corinthians 5:17. It is so much more than simply “making a decision.” It is a miraculous work of God! He puts to death all that we were before Christ and raises us up to walk in newness of life. Yes, it truly is as if we have been born all over again!