What is a born-again Christian?

The term “born again” is just as unique to us as it was to Nicodemus when Jesus spoke to him. Until you are born again, it is a foreign concept. However, it is a wonderful thing to discover! Here’s what Jesus said in John 3:3-5, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” In these verses, Jesus begins to explain that being born again has nothing to do with physical birth and everything to do with spiritual birth. So, anyone of any age can be born again at any moment.

In verse 5, Jesus speaks of being born of both water and the Spirit. This has been explained in two ways:

  1. Born of water is physical birth and born of the Spirit is spiritual birth. This thought process likely comes from Jesus’ words in John 3:6 when He says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh (physical birth-born of water), and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Jesus makes a distinction between the two to remind us that our flesh is not eternal (Genesis 3:19), but our spirit is eternal, thus we need a Savior.
  2. The other explanation of Jesus’ words in John 3 comes from what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:23 and 25, “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…. But the word of the LORD endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” So, how does the word of God relate to being born of water? Three verses tie this together:

“That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26)

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

These verses demonstrate that it is the power of the Holy Spirit using the incorruptible Word of God to cleanse (wash) and renew us as we, by faith, receive the Gospel message (the Word of God) as it is proclaimed (preached) to us.

Then Jesus speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer as evidence that salvation has happened. John3:7-8 declares, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who was born of the Spirit.”

We may not be able to tell where the Holy Spirit came from or where He is going, but we can see the effects of His actions in a changed life. We can hear these effects in the voice of one now proclaiming the Gospel instead of cursing it. We can feel the effects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry as we faithfully pursue Christlikeness or as we experience love and care from another believer when we’re going through a difficult time. The wonder and awe of being born again, of being a Christian, is something that is freely available to all those who put their faith in Jesus alone for salvation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).