What do you want to know about Evangelicalism? Pastor Rob Bryceson, of The Gathering House Church, and Elizabeth Backstrom, a member of The Gathering House, co-author this column. Submit your question here.
By Rob Bryceson
What does it mean to have a born-again experience?
The term “born again” actually comes from passage in the Gospel John in chapter 3 verses 1 -6. In the New American Standard Bible (NASB) it reads;
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.” 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?” 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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
What Jesus literally says here in the original Greek text is “born from above.” Translators have passed this phrase down as “born again” I think partially to make Nicodemas’ follow up question make more sense. But literally, Jesus was indicating that something new must happen to a person from God’s direction.
Everyone is born of the flesh. But the spiritual dimension of a person requires an act of heaven in order to comprehend the kingdom of God. The phrase “born of water” either means born of a woman when the amniotic fluid breaks, so it’s a natural birth, or it might mean water baptism, so it’s a spiritual birth. Christians are not all agreed as to how that statement should be interpreted.
Jesus was teaching that the ability to know and understand God does not come from just human effort, emotion, will, or intellect. God himself, through the power of His Holy Spirit, acts upon the individual to produce a new birth of the spiritual dimension in the heart and mind of a person so that they can hear and understand the things of God.
Here are a few other verses that indicate something happens on God’s end.
John 1 (NASB) 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, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
1 Corinthians 2 (New International Version) Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Ephesians 2 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
The New Testament has always taught that the spiritual change needed for humans to become fully aware of God and worthy of being in his presence is a change that comes from the Holy Spirit. The evidence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is that they should begin to show character changes called “fruits of the Spirit.” These are; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But also the Bible indicates over and over again in many places that there should be a demonstrated change in behavior away from immoral living, sin, greed, selfishness, anger, etc., if a person has, “Got the real thing” so to speak.
Several times in history Christian movements and denominations have undergone reformations when a mass of leaders did not demonstrate the character changes nor lifestyle changes described in the Scriptures. In Europe, in many nations where the state and church were unified, Christian living simply became a small list of laws – be water baptized and registered in the church and state roles. Take communion at least once a year. Be able to recite the Apostles Creed, and attend church services once in a while. It didn’t matter how you lived morally the rest of the time. Pastors and Priests where often state appointed government jobs. Many received their posts not by their Christian lifestyle but by their political and family connections. Protestant pastors and clerics were often a great government income job. The Protestant Reformation was a movement against this problem and Pietism arose in Protestant nations as an equal reformation against lifestyles that did not demonstrate the spiritual change.
How does a person receive this spiritual renewal? The answer is pretty simple really. Believe that what mankind cannot do for themselves, God did for us. He took his very nature and essence and became incarnate in human form as Jesus Christ, the one we call the Son of God. He then willingly died as a sacrifice upon the cross, not just for sins in general but actually for every sin that would ever be committed by everyone who would ever be born, including your own sins. The proof that his sacrifice worked is that he really did rise again from the dead. A typical response to this belief would be to acknowledge it in prayer and invite God to send His Holy Spirit to come and live inside your mind and heart. This is typically the beginning step to being spiritually transformed.
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