"Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’" --- John 3:7 ---
When I first became a believer (I was around 20-21 years old and in the United States Navy), I was so excited that I couldn't wait to tell my mother and father. My mother was a very faithful Roman Catholic. My father went along for the ride. Shortly after arriving home one Friday evening, I told them that I trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior then was baptized in a Baptist church. Believe it or not, my mother sarcastically asked "Are you now one of those 'born again' Christians?" Of course this was anathema to her and I was immediately ordered to talk to her priest and confess this heinous sin or I will end up in hell! I said that I have no need for a priest since Jesus is my priest. Needless to say, this didn't go over very well. My mother got very angry which, in turn, made my father angry. It was a long night. I ended up heading back to the base the next morning instead of Sunday afternoon.
You Must Be Born Again - John 3:1-10
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;
2 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.”
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?
What does the term 'born again' mean?
The word 'again' in the Greek is anōthen which means "from above; from on high." The Lexham English Bible (LEB) states "unless someone is born from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God." Being born from above literally means we are born of God as mentioned in John 1:12-13:
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Physical birth, ethnic descent, or human effort - good works, church attendance, etc. - does not make people children of God. This is only accomplished through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
What is meant by "born of water and the Spirit?" - John 3:5
The Greek rendering of this phrase is "gennaō ex hydatos kai pneumatos" which directly translates to "born of water and Spirit." The preposition "the" is not between kai (and) and pneumatos (Spirit) yet this preposition does show up later in John 3:5 - "cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
One could make a case that water is in reference to physical birth based on the question that Nicodemus asked in John 3:4: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” I'm not sure I agree with this. I believe there is a more accurate interpretation of this passage based on what Nicodemus should have known from the Old Testament.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Rabbi, was a teacher of Israel. Yet he did not understand what Jesus was saying. "Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9). As a teacher of Israel, he should have understood these things (John 3:10). What is taught in Ezekiel 36:24-27 should have come to mind:
24 “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
This passage teaches that God will cleanse His people, Israel, from their sins ("I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean") and will give them His Spirit. Likewise, being "born of water and the Spirit" is a spiritual birth initiated by God who cleanses people from their sins (born of water...) and brings spiritual transformation and renewal (and the Spirit).
Some denominations teach that water is in reference to baptism - immersion in water. You only receive the Holy Spirit after you are baptized. This is an incorrect rendering of Acts 2:38. Refer to my post titled "When Do You Receive The Holy Spirit" for a complete analysis of Acts 2:38 and other passages related to the false doctrine of "baptismal regeneration." Paul wrote in Titus 3:4-5:
4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared,
5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
Paul, a Pharisee who knew the Old Testament scriptures well, clearly understood that it is God who cleanses us from sin ("washing of regeneration") and renews us by giving us His Holy Spirit. The teaching that "washing of regeneration" means water baptism is ruled out by his previous statement "not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness." The emphasis is not what we do to earn our salvation, but on what God did: "He saved us... according to His mercy." Water baptism is a public testimony of this spiritual reality and not the reality itself. Afterall, it is impossible for someone who is spiritually dead in transgressions to make himself alive, raise himself up and seat himself in the heavenly places with Christ! Only the living God can do this as Paul states in Ephesians 2:4–6:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
What Is The Difference Between Being Born of the Flesh and Born of the Spirit? - John 3:6
This is a clear contrast between the physical body and what is spiritual. John 1:13 tells us that we are "born, not of blood" (physical birth), but born "of God." Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 15:50 that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." We are all born physically with a body made of flesh and blood. But, unless you are born of the Spirit, you will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19–21 explains why.
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Romans 8:12-14 is very clear - we either live according to the flesh which results in death, or we are led by the Spirit of God which results in life.
12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh,
13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Some other passages to consider are:
-> Galatians 6:8 - For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
-> Ephesians 4:22 - that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.
-> 2nd Peter 2:10 - and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties.
Without the Spirit of God dwelling in us (2nd Timothy 1:14, James 4:5), we will continually practice the deeds of the flesh and be condemned by them. Thus, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
God Causes Us To Be Born Again - 1st Peter 1:3,23
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
We are born again according to His great mercy.
Mercy is God's gracious compassion toward sinners.
-> Psalm 86:16 - But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.
-> Psalm 119:156 - Great are Your mercies, O LORD; Revive me according to Your ordinances.
-> Psalm 145:8 - The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
-> James 5:11 - We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
We are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Our hope is not based on some random idea, philosophy, emotion, or feeling. Our hope is in a real person, a living Savior who was crucified, died for our sins, and rose from the dead on the third day.
-> 1st Corinthians 15:17 - and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
-> 1st Timothy 4:10 - For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.
We are born again through the living and enduring Word of God.
No one can come to saving faith in Jesus Christ without hearing the Word of God.
-> Acts 15:7 - After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.
-> Romans 10:17 - So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
-> 1st Corinthians 1:18 - For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
-> Hebrews 4:12 - For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The Son of the Living God stepped out of eternity and took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ for the purpose of saving sinners from their sins. He was completely sinless. Because He claimed to be equal with God, He was arrested, beaten, tried, severely scourged, and had a crown of very sharp thorns pressed on his head. He was found innocent by Pilate yet His people demanded that His crucifixion. His beaten and bloodied body was nailed to a Roman cross - the cruelest form of execution ever invented. While on that cross, the sinless, blameless Son of God took our sins upon Himself. He drank the full cup of the Father’s wrath to make payment for our sins. When it was done He said “It is finished” (John 19:30) - He completed the work of our redemption. Nothing more needed to be done. He died and was buried. He rose from the grave on the third day! He humbly came as a newborn baby "to save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) and was laid in a stone cattle trough (a manger). He will come again in all of His glory (Acts 1:11; Matthew 24:29-31, 25:31; Revelation 19:11-16).
1st Corinthians 1:17
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
1st Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.