“Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said unto Him, ‘How can a man be born while He is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (KJV, John 3:2-6)
As previously covered, in order to gain truth and begin our Christian journey, we must 1) accept Christ, and 2) sincerely desire truth. This is the foundation from which all things begin in our spiritual travels. And though it may seem painfully obvious to some, I wish to point out here that the absolute key to these initial steps is faith. And for that matter, the absolute key to every step that follows after, is also faith.
There is a slight discrepancy among some scholars as to how to translate the term “born again”. I believe however, that the context will show the translations to be interchangeable. I do not believe the translation to necessarily be a specific “one or the other” kind of thing, but rather a “both” dependent on the subject. The word for “again” primarily means, according to James Strong (Grk. #509), “From above; from the first; anew; above, again...”
If we properly break down what our Lord has told Nicodemus, and pair it with other teachings on similar subjects, we will surely find that, Jesus has not declared an either/or, but rather to mean both, in conjunction and harmony with each other - at least in the context of Nicodemus’ question. I think in order to get a good grasp on this, we have to establish some basics. These are things we all already know, but at times gloss over, because we believe we already have a good grasp on them. On occasion they are worth of revisiting, however - especially when Christ has given us such a clear parallel in His teachings.
Christ speaks of baptism and a receiving of the Spirit in the context of birth. In a flesh sense, we’ve all already been through this process - and been through it in great detail. However, if you’re like me, you weren’t so consciously aware of the process while you were in the throws of it. In the early stages, self-awareness really wasn’t an issue.
Child psychologists theorize that true self-awareness doesn’t manifest in people until the age of four or five. Prior to that, barring the occasional emotional temper tantrum or a Mozart, we pretty much go about the world marveling at the newness of our ability to move, and smell, and see, and touch. We are new creatures empowered by space and, within the bounds of reality - whatever that means - we are free and limitless. In these early years we have no concept of the impossible; the improbable, or even the temporal. In essence, without even realizing it, we are immersed in complete faith and hope. We truly, in every sense of the word, live by these principles - not because we’ve made the conscious choice to do so - but because we know not any other way...yet.
At this stage of development we have no concept of lying, or stealing. We know only desire, experience, and curiosity. We crawl, and walk, and eat and talk all according to the instructions of our parents. We are miniature mimics of their guidance because, well, mom and dad are never wrong. We don’t even consider that our parents might teach us the wrong way to do something, or tell us something that isn’t true. And we don’t consider it, because we aren’t even aware of the existence of the possibility. We follow after their lead with complete and unwavering trust. And in a very real sense, we would rather follow them into a furnace, then be left alone in the world. It is this stage, I think to be so fundamentally important as a perfect example of our faith walk. And I believe Christ told us this expressly.
“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them and said, ‘Verily I say unto you, except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receives Me’ (KJV, Matt. 18:1-5).
“Then were there brought to Him little children that He should put His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven‘ (KJV, Matt. 19:13-14).
The primary definition of the Greek word employed for both “child” and “children” in these verses is “a childling (of either sex), i.e. (properly) an infant”. These are very little children. I believe Christ tells us we must “become as one of these” in order to enter heaven as a statement of the condition of our faith. This child-like trust of our parents that has no concept of doubt is how we must follow our Lord. In this sense - that is, in the sense of a child-like faith - I believe, we must be “born again”.
At some point in our childhood a new development takes place. The mind begins to question and consider things. It’s bombarded with information and choices. It starts to entertain different options and, different methods and finally at some point, determines to go its own way - contrary to parental guidance and admonition. Here at this moment, whenever it takes place in each child, blind faith is replaced with self-awareness, and where self-awareness lives, selfishness and ego are sure to follow. The scales of flesh descend over our eyes, dominating our opinions, perceptions and motivations. We become worshippers of self.
At this stage we aren’t innocently, as the “terrible twos” display, unabashedly chasing our desires regardless of who’s watching. No, at this stage we begin to premeditate and calculate. We plan our assaults. We start to strategize, through manipulation and deception, ways to still get what we want in light of our parent’s rules, and endeavor to do it without anyone knowing, so that not only do we get what we want, but we get it without fear of suffering reprisal for disobedience.
Eventually, as our minds continue to develop, we realize something else: we realize our parents sometimes employ these same tactics on us and on others to get what they want. We become aware that our parents (not all, but many) are also willing to lie, and manipulate and coerce, in the pursuit of selfish desire. And this, in turn, justifies our cause. Because, “if they can do it, why should I feel bad about doing it to them? This must be the way of the world. Everybody else is doing it. I’m normal and normal is good.”
This is not to say that our parents willfully or maliciously do this or that. I’m not claiming “wickedness or evil”, I am simply saying our parents, like ourselves, and our children, are not perfect - regardless of how hard we try. We are all sinners. And if we do not receive Christ; if we do not receive God’s wisdom and instruction, we are destined to follow in the footsteps of our parents, or the footsteps of the parent generation. And with this, the stage is set. Through justification and mimicry we establish a natural breach of the conditions of the second Commandment:
“You shall not bow down yourself to idols, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.” (KJV, Exodus 20:5-6)
This is one of those Biblical verses that has been misquoted more times than we can count. If we begin the statement and don’t carry through with the applicable condition we can miss the whole of the message. And as previously established, partial truth is no truth at all. The condition applied to the statement, as far as the transfer of sin from one generation to the next, is ONLY FOR “those that hate Me”.
Why? Because those that are “born again”; those that are newly “born from above” after the spirit, are no longer of the flesh. And because they love the Lord, and are newborns of the Spirit, they begin to be a child of the only true Father. And in doing that, they no longer suffer the sins of the fathers because they “love Me, and keep My commandments”.
This is why Christ tells us we must once again “become as little children”. This is why baptism by water simulates the emergence from a spiritual womb. Just as the water breaks before a flesh infant is born, so does the water break in kind before the birth of the spiritual infant. But if this birth/rebirth doesn’t take place, then we will continue after flesh. For “that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit”. However, the first birth - that of flesh - is no choice of ours, while the second is solely left to our own free will acceptance of Christ as our Lord and Savior.
When we accept Christ as our Savior and repent on His Name we are immediately cleansed of the residue of the flesh life we lived before - at least in the spiritual sense. We are, at that moment, born from above (i.e. born in Spirit), or born again (first in flesh, then in Spirit), and must shed the flesh and learn everything again from scratch. We must learn to talk again; and learn to walk again. We must endeavor with every thought and action, not to return to the pursuit of flesh, but to follow the Father Who has born us anew. We must shed every inch of that which we learned while following flesh, and we must once again become as little children - following the instruction of our Father in complete faith. Once that is accomplished, though we will need to repent again often, our spiritual birth remains, and we become a child of the Living God.
Our commitment must be unwavering and absolute if we are to enter that kingdom. We must no longer concern ourselves with how the world operates, or what is “best” for us. We have to commit, with every fiber of our being, to whatever it is He desires of us. And in this vein, we begin to grow anew; we begin to grow correctly; we begin to grow for eternity. And unlike our fleshly parents, God is never wrong; He is never selfish; He is never absent, and He is never cruel. He is perfect, and therefore when we learn from Him, we learn the method of perfection, though we fall short regularly. Little by little, day by day, we must put into practice the habits of a new being. And whenever our will, or our old ways, or our opinions butt heads with the Father’s instructions, it is we that must submit, if we are to learn to walk the righteous path.
Once someone is baptized (not christened, as is done with children), and through free will accepts Christ as their Savior, there is no going back. Just as someone born in flesh cannot be born again in flesh, so someone that is born of The Spirit, whether it be at the age of five, or 25, or 50, cannot be born again in The Spirit. This is not to say that your salvation is necessarily secured - that requires much more than a dunk in the water - but you are in the family, and there are certain responsibilities that come along with being in such a family. You become a laborer of God, and you are to be “wise as serpents, yet gentle as doves”, with a child’s faith, a grown-up’s head, and a warrior’s heart.