The Beginning of Spiritual Life
By Dr. Tom Walker
One of the most familiar verses in all of the Bible is found in John 3:3. Here is what it says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ in that verse clearly affirms at what point spiritual life begins for one who puts his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some people wonder why Jesus said, “Verily, verily” as He opens with a strong statement in John 3:3. It is a double emphasis. “Verily” is actually the Greek word transliterated into our English as “amen” or so be it. Christ is putting a double emphasis upon the fact a person must be born again if he or she plans to enter into the Kingdom of God. One verily would not have been enough for some people, so the Lord makes it a double authentication of a very bold and true statement.
We want to examine the misunderstandings, the miracle, the meaning, and the manifestations of the new birth.
Misunderstandings Concerning the New Birth
Before we see what the new birth is, I believe it would benefit us to see what it isn’t. The could-nots could be quite a long list, but I am going to narrow it down to three misunderstandings to contemplate.
It isn’t turning over a new leaf. Some people think if they will stop doing something and start doing something else, that God will smile upon them with favor and make them His child. Man’s need is not so much turning over a new leaf, but it is receiving a new life from God Almighty through His Only Begotten Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Just reforming your ways does not go into the depths of your heart and drastically and radically change your life. It is a good thing to see a person who is not living right want to change behavior, but that does not produce a born-again experience.
It isn’t quitting bad habits and cleaning up your life. All of us have bad habits; none of us excluded. This is a bit of an unusual illustration but cleaning up a jar does not make it something else. If you wash it and scrub it, it is still a jar. You can take a can of paint, paint the object inside and out, but it is still a jar. All it will ever be is a glass jar, no matter how much external cleaning is done to the object. The only thing that can change what you are is the forgiveness of your sins and the work of the cleansing agent of the blood of Christ through your faith.
It isn’t merely becoming religious, doing good deeds, or going to church. Joining the church does not make you a born-again child of God. You can go aboard on a boat but that does not make you a sea captain. You can fly in an airplane but that does not make you a bird. You can put on a diver’s suit and strap an oxygen tank on your back, go deep into the watery depths, but that does not make you a fish. Joining a church and getting religious will not guarantee you a trip to Heaven when it comes your time to die. I have met a lot of clean living, religious, church-going people, some of which I will never see in the glory world.
When I was in Navy boot camp, there was a man in my company who had the foulest mouth I had ever heard in my life; however, before he went to sleep every night, I notice his eyes would be closed, his lips would move, and he did something with his rosary beads before he went to sleep. He was religious before he retired for the evening, but that would not make up for his sinful living and his foul mouth all day long. He was religious but was more than likely lost without God and without hope. Many other Christians will fall into the same trap. If you are really saved, it will affect your life toward righteousness during the day.
Anyone would be wise to make sure he or she views salvation as it is really presented in the Bible. What we think about salvation is one thing, but what God says about it in His Word is what really matters when it comes to the well being of our eternal soul.
Meaning of the New Birth
What does it mean to be “born again”? It comes from the Greek word transliterated into our English as “anothen.” It definitely means to be born from above. The new birth is not something that man originates, it comes down from above, it descends from the world above, from Heaven and the heart of God. The Lord wants people to be born again so much that He sent his Son Jesus to make that wonderful act possible.
Some have suggested the term carries possibly three meanings with it. First, it can carry the idea of completely or radically. That well describes the change that comes when one is born from above. A radical change is much different than an attempt at reformation. Secondly, it can mean again or for the second time. We were born once physically, from our mother’s womb, but there has to be a second birth, a spiritual one, for us to go to Heaven. Thirdly, it specifically means from above. The new birth is something that God, through His Son does to us, not what we can do ourselves. The verb “born” in John 3:3 is a Greek passive word. That means we do not actively perform the saving; it is something where we are acted upon from the outside. Clearly, it is something God does for us.
The Miracle of the New Birth
It is a miraculous and marvelous matter when God changes a person’s life by giving them a new birth. The Lord, through his power, can change the most wicked, vile, person that ever lived upon the earth, if that one will come to him in a repentant spirit with faith in Christ in his heart.
If you were to read many of the biographies of great men who have influenced this world for God, you would discover than many of them at one time were extremely wicked men. But something wonderful happened to them. They became a new creature or a new creation through Christ.
The Apostle Paul, by his own testimony, was a religious but wicked person. Though he was religious, he felt the church presented a threat to all he held dear. As a result, he sought to wipe out the followers of the Lord Jesus. He held fast to ancestral traditions and Jewish law. Still, trying to wipe out the church was a wicked thing for him to do. Jesus met him on the Damascus Road and Paul turned from being a wicked, religious man, to be one who loved what he hated and despised what he once loved.
Manifestations of the New Birth
The keyword when we think of how being born again is represented is the word “change.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
There is a change in affection. Let’s use the Apostle Paul again as an example. His affection was once linked to Jewish tradition and law. But, after his conversion, he was concerned and occupied with the Gospel of Christ and spreading it around the world. What a wonderful change faith in Christ brought!
There is a change in aspiration. It can be defined as a desire or ambition for which someone is motivated to work very hard. Here was the main aspiration of the Apostle Paul found in Phil 3:10: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”
There is also a change in destination. All it takes to qualify for a trip to Heaven one day, according to John 3:3, is being born again. There are two destinations at the end of life, Heaven and Hell. What a person does concerning their sin and with the Lord Jesus Christ, will determine his eternal destiny. The new birth is effective in preparing one for a blissful eternity in the presence of Holy God.
Have you been “born again”? If not, it can happen right now if you will take and embrace Christ as your Savior. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”.