The term “born again” only occurs three times in the Bible: twice in John 3:3-7 and once in 1 Peter 1:23. When Jesus introduced the term, Nicodemus didn’t understand what he meant. So Jesus explained ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

So there are two aspects of being born again:

  1. There must be a rebirth by water — this means baptism by immersion
  2. There must be a spiritual renewal — birth of the Spirit — the transformation of a person with God’s help.

The first without the second is little different from taking a bath. The second without the first is incomplete.

The two aspects of being born again are also mentioned in Paul’s letter to Titus:

[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

The need for baptism (by immersion) is emphasised throughout the New Testament. In fact, it was the last thing Jesus said to his disciples before he went to heaven.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

It was also what Peter said was necessary for salvation:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

The need for spiritual renewal is also discussed frequently in the New Testament. For example,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

[I pray] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:16)

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One Response to What does “born again” mean?

  1. Dan says:

    Not here to argue baptism (immersion or sprinkling), but to offer an alternative answer. When Jesus said you must be born of water and the spirit, He was singling man out as the only beings who can see and operate in the kingdom of God. Man is in water at the time of his natural birth, whereas angels are not. Animals are born in water, but have no connection to the Spirit.
    Only man is created in God’s image and likeness and given the authority to rule this planet. Having lost that through sin, it is the Spirit that infuses our spirit with the life of God when we are born again.
    In summation, of all God’s created beings, only man is born in water and has the right to be born of the Spirit, and thereby see and enter into the kingdom of God.

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