Why We Must Be ‘Born Again’

born again

We need more than self-improvement. We need transformation.

The disciples were relaxing together one evening. They hadn’t been together long, but they had been together long enough to get into a rhythm of their life with Jesus. Throughout the day, he would teach, he would heal, and in so doing, he would make some people very happy and some people very angry. The disciples would watch and do their best to control the increasingly sizable crowds that seemed to flock out of nowhere to hear this new kind of rabbi.

The day had been like any other in this new routine, and yet the evening was interrupted by a knock at the door. The hour wasn’t that late, but it was late enough to make those in the room glance sideways at each other, wondering who would be calling.

Who went to the door? Maybe it was Peter—he was the first one out of the boat, and the first one to the door after all. He opened it up and then took a step back in surprise. A hooded figure stood there, obviously not wanting to be seen. As he stepped across the threshold, he removed the hood from his head and exposed the face of perhaps the last person the disciples expected to see that night. It was Nicodemus, a Pharisee, one of the ones earlier in the day who had been hurling insults and challenging Jesus in his teaching. But gone was the look of confidence from his face; instead, he had the look of a frightened animal who has found himself in unfamiliar territory.

While the disciples were surprised, even shocked, at this appearance, it did not seem to rattle Jesus. It was almost as if he knew Nicodemus was coming.

Nicodemus knew a lot of things about Jesus; he had done his homework. And yet throughout his study not only of Jesus but also his lifelong pursuit of the law, something had come up lacking. He knew about Israel’s history. He knew about the law. And yet he had burning questions that only Jesus could answer: 

“Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.” —John 3:2

Jesus again was unrattled. His response was short and simple: 

“I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” —John 3:3

 Nicodemus was a bit confused, and so he responded with a further inquiry: 

“But how can anyone be born when he is old? Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” —John 3:4

Fair question. Nothing less dramatic would have to happen for life in Christ to begin. Jesus explained it like this:

“I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” —John 3:5–8

According to Jesus, entering the kingdom of God is being made new.

That newness pervades everything about a person who has stopped knowing about Jesus, and truly started knowing Jesus. It is a complete transformation at the deepest levels of the heart.

Why must we be born again? It’s because we are hopelessly lost and dead in our sin. 

Those who come to Jesus, then, don’t find a causal association or a nominal friendship; they find that they are in great need of a heart-level change that only Jesus can offer.

Because we live in a culture obsessed with self-esteem, the concept of sin is disagreeable. The popular message of the day is that happiness and contentment comes not in change, but in simply accepting who you are. The perceived fallacies and character flaws are really not flaws at all; they’re simply preferences and everyone’s preferences are okay. The world will finally be the great place it can be when we all accept that we are different, and that one person’s differences don’t mean they’re more right than any other.

That’s not what the Bible teaches.

Instead, we find a much more pessimistic view of humanity in the pages of the book that tells us our true stories. We all, regardless of our economic situation, nation of origin, or situational upbringing are dead in our sin and transgression. This is not just a result of our choices; it’s a reflection of our nature. We are, at the heart level, rebels to the cause of God. Our sinfulness is not just a function of our actions; it’s who we are (Eph. 2:1–4).

If we believe what the Bible says about us, we are not dying; we are dead. We are not in trouble; we are helpless. And we don’t need to have our lives realigned; we need to be born again.

That’s what it means to be saved.

The gospel doesn’t claim to help the weak; it claims to make the dead live again. It is only when we begin to see the true nature of the utter despair of humanity that we begin to see Jesus not as the key to a better life. Not as a sage only teaching about love. Not as a miracle worker only concerned with the alleviation of human suffering.

Jesus is our Rescuer. And, according to the Bible, he rescues from sin and death. Jesus jumps into the sea of sin and death and hauls our lifeless bodies to the shore. Then, he leans low and breathes new life into us. What was dead lives. We are dead in sin, and that’s why we must be born again. Glory to God.

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This article originally appeared on Thinke.org and is reposted here by permission.