April 18, 2021
Being “born again” is the target of much scoffing, even derision. For example, some of you have seen the bumper sticker, “Born right the first time.” A recent Christianity Today article by Matthew Barrett starts, “Being called a ‘born-again Christian’ can mean many things to many people. For some, it means you are a Bible-thumping fundamentalist or a political conservative. For others, it means you were converted at a Billy Graham crusade. Countless stereotypes have created endless confusion.”
What is it to be born again? I have noticed even Christian surveys divide responses by those who claim to be Christian, evangelical or “born again” – as if being born again is a different category than being Christian. As I read those surveys, it seems “born agains” are considered the most conservative of the lot, and sometimes, the most ignorant or backward. And so, many shy away from the term.
But here’s a question for you to consider – is there such a person as a Christian who has not been born again? While the term has fallen into disrepute, can you be a Christian without being born again? If so, what does that look like? I think for some, the idea is, yes, I’m a Christian because I live in a Christian nation, I go to church, I was raised in a Christian family, I’ve always been a Christian, I do good, I follow Christian principles, I do unto others as I would have them do unto me, etc. But being born again is just way too radical, fanatical.
And yet, being born again is one of the Apostle John’s favorite terms or concepts. He actually used the idea more than anyone else. For example, we find in the first chapter of his gospel, 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 (natural descent) nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (supernaturally).
So to be born again is to be born of God. Notice, John says, to become children of God. This implies you were not Christians, children of God, but then became Christians. How? By being born of God – born again. Further, Jesus thought it an important concept. Many are familiar with the Bible’s most famous verse, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” That comes during a discussion Jesus was having with Nicodemus, a significant religious leader of the Jews – Jesus called him the Teacher of Israel. If anyone had the religious thing figured out, it was Nicodemus.
Well, he had heard about Jesus – His teaching and miracles – so he came to see Jesus one night. He 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.” We pick up the conversation:
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?” (taking it literally, physically)
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.’”
So, if you can’t enter the kingdom of God without being born again, it seems rather important, no matter how many view the concept today. So, what does it mean to be born again? The Apostle Paul uses the word regeneration to speak of the idea. Regeneration is defined as the transformation of a person’s spiritual condition from death to life through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is to be made alive. He says in Titus 3:
5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy [that is, not giving us what we deserve], by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 so that being justified by His grace [that is, giving us what we don’t deserve – forgiveness and favor] we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
There is so much there that talks about what happens when a person is saved – not according to our works of righteousness, but by His mercy and grace by which we are justified, declared righteous – notice, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing by the Holy Spirit.
Regeneration is Paul’s way of saying, born again – new birth. Here’s the idea: we are born physically the first time, and spiritually the second time when we are born again. The first time, into a physical or biological family, the second time into a spiritual family. The first time, born dead – that is, dead in trespasses and sin, but born alive spiritually the second time. The concept is clearly seen in Ephesians 2:
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
4 But God, [when we were dead and helpless and hopeless] 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),
So, regardless of how the world views the concept, this being born again is how we become a Christian. Meaning, there is no such thing as a Christian who has not been born again. There had to be a point in your life in which you were dead, but made alive. So, if it’s that important, what is it? How do we do it? Hold onto that question, because it’s a very important one – is being born again something we do? We find the idea of being born again or born of God in our continuing study of I John. He uses the phrase twice in our text – read it with me, I John 5:1-5.
This is familiar, but glorious truth. John clearly says that whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and whoever is born of God overcomes the world. This paragraph is critically important to understand being born again – how it is accomplished, and what it does. In fact, that forms our outline:
- How We are Born Again (1a,5)
- The Effects of Being Born Again (1b-4)
John starts this last chapter by dealing with the person of Jesus – which has been a challenge throughout the book. In some way, the successionists had either denied that Jesus was the Christ, or that He was the Son of God, or that He had come in the flesh. So, throughout the letter, he affirms and reaffirms those indispensable truths of the Christian faith. Christianity has at its center, Jesus – who He is, and what He has done. You must believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh, to take our sins in His flesh and die as the propitiation for His people, the atonement to pay for our sins, and meet the demands of divine justice.
So John says, whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Literally, has been begotten of God. Clearly not in the same sense Jesus is the only begotten Son – Jesus alone is God’s eternally begotten and divine Son. But, whoever of us believes that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah has been born of God – born again into the family of God. Born spiritually alive – becoming sons and daughters of living God.
Now, please notice, you believe now – that’s present tense, because you have been – that’s perfect tense – because some point the past, you have been born again. You were made alive. John seems to say, the reason you believe, the reason you have faith is because you have been born again – born of the will of God, born or regenerated or made alive by the Spirit. You could not believe without being born again – dead people don’t do anything.
This is meant to be an encouragement to us. Do you ever wonder about your salvation? Have I really been saved? Well, do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh to die for your sins? Then you have been born again. Otherwise, you wouldn’t believe that Jesus is the Christ. I’ve often heard that assurance of salvation does not necessarily come from a past profession, but rather a present confession. What does that mean? It means that you know you have been saved, born again, in the past, by your current, present confession of Christ.
Now, to be the Christ means that Jesus is the Anointed One – the one chosen and sent by God to atone for the sins of His people. To be the Savior, the Redeemer, and Lord. Remember, one day in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah, the Spirit of God has anointed Me, to bring good news to the afflicted, bind up the broken hearted – to do the work of the Messiah. He closed the scroll and said, today, this is fulfilled in your eyes. I am the anointed one. I am the Christ. So again, central to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus, son of Mary, was the chosen one, the anointed one, the Christ. Such was the claim of His followers and even His detractors during His ministry:
In Luke 4:41, Jesus was casting out demons, and as they came out, they shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But we read that Jesus rebuked them, not allowing them to speak because they knew He was the Christ. I’m going to come back to that when we close.
In John 4, Jesus met with the woman at the well in Samaria. It’s one of my favorite stories. Allow me to briefly share it. Jesus and His disciples traveled through Samaria, which was unusual – Jews normally skirted Samaria when they traveled from Judea to Galilee or vice versa. You would go out of your way, because Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Talk about racial prejudice.
Well, Jesus had an important appointment, so through Samaria they went. They arrived at Sychar at the base of Mount Gerizim and the disciples went into town to buy some food. Jesus was exhausted from the journey, so He sat down at Jacob’s well. It was about noon, and a Samaritan woman came to draw water. That too was unusual – you usually came to the well early in the morning or in the evening – not in the heat of the day. And women normally did this in groups – not alone.
Jesus, sitting at the well, looked at her and said, “Give me a drink.” That too was highly unusual – you see, this woman had three strikes against her. First, she was a women, and men didn’t talk to women in public. Second, she was a Samaritan, and Jews had no associations with Samaritans. And third, as we’ll see, she was an immoral woman, and religious Jews would certainly not engage with an immoral woman. By the way, let me say this: when we hear that Christianity or Jesus demeans women – understand, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus highly valued women and elevated them in a society that did not.
Well, the woman was surprised by His request, so she said, basically, “You must be confused, Jew. You’re in the wrong part of town, and I’m the wrong kind of person for you to be talking to. Take a hike.” You see, in a limited sense, this woman already realized her own unworthiness. Society had been quick to remind her – even her own people, had nothing to do with her. She was an outcast, a social pariah. Move on, you’re making a big mistake. You don’t know who I am. To which Jesus will say, you don’t know who I am.
She is exactly where Jesus wanted her. So, He said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Jesus begins the work of sweet evangelism. He had intentionally selected this most unworthy person to be a recipient of divine grace.
Of course, she doesn’t know it. She’s confused – she’s thinking only in the physical realm. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water. [Be sure to note the sarcasm in her voice.] You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You?”
And we know He was, so He reels her in some more, “[You’re just like Nicodemus, you only thinking in the physical.] Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst, but the water that I give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” I’m talking about something much greater than H20 – I’m talking about a spiritual, eternal, soul-satisfying drink. Exactly what she needed.
Now don’t forget, this is John 4. Jesus has just finished His conversation with that highly-respected teacher of the Jews, Nicodemus. With him, Jesus communicated the truth that everyone, even you Nicodemus, must be born again. And now, the very next conversation is with this immoral Samaritan woman. We don’t even know her name. Two completely different people. Nicodemus was extremely religious, the woman at the well followed an aberrant form of Judaism. He was educated, she uneducated. He was holy, a Pharisee, she was immoral. He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan. He was rich, she poor. He was highly respected, she despised. He was a teacher, she was a nobody. And Jesus picked her. He was demonstrating the gospel, this being born again, is for everyone. From religious Jewish aristocracy to dirty Samaritan outcast. It’s the same wonderful message for all and every kind of sinner.
Well, she’s still thinking in the physical, but she’s moved from a disinterested, “Don’t talk to me,” to a sarcastic, “You have no way to draw this living water,” to mild interest, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” Probably still a bit sarcastic, still physical. Fine, she says, if you can provide that kind of living water so I never get thirsty and never have to make this long walk in the heat of the day by myself again, I’m game – give it to me.
She has a sense of her physical thirst, but now Jesus exposes her spiritual thirst – her need. He begins the process of exposing her sin with this request, “Go, call your husband and come here.” That seems a bit abrupt and doesn’t seem to fit the flow of the conversation. But here’s the point: now that she’s shown some interest, Jesus is trying to do two things: to expose her need, and His ability to meet her need.
That’s very important. You see, salvation is being delivered from sin and its mastery over us and from the consequent punishment to come. This woman is beginning to be awakened to thirst, and Jesus wants her to understand her real need. So, He says, “Go, call your husband.” We know because we’ve read the rest of the story what Jesus already knew – she’d had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband. But she doesn’t volunteer that information – truth is, most don’t often volunteer sin. It was a miserable, immoral life.
Well, at this point Jesus and the woman have a conversation about worship – the place and heart of worship. I won’t go into that. But, the light is becoming brighter. She seems to understand, salvation comes to people, even people like me, who have a need. The need to be forgiven, and reconciled to God. I understand salvation and worship, will no longer be tied to a place. Rather, it will be found in the heart. It’s all a bit confusing, a bit different than what she has heard all her life. So, she says, “I know that Messiah, that is Christ, is coming; that when One comes, He will declare all things to us.”
The Christ will make all things clear. Notice how the disinterest and sarcasm are now gone. Jesus has reeled her in. She knows her need, she understands salvation leading to true worship comes from the heart. Still a bit confused, so she appeals to the coming Christ. And Jesus says these startling words to her, “I who speak to you am He.” I am the Messiah. I’m here to offer you salvation – it comes through believing that I am the Christ.
I’ll let you read the rest of the story in John 4. In I John 5, John says, whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, like Nicodemus, like this Samaritan outcast, is born of God. That’s what it is to be a Christian. It isn’t going to church. It isn’t being good. It is throwing yourself at the mercy of God. Do you believe that?
Peter believed it. Remember in Caesarea Philippi one day, when Jesus asked His disciples, who do you say that I am? Peter responded, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Later, when Jesus is being interrogated by the Jewish leadership, tell us plainly whether You are the Christ, the Son of God? How did He answer? You have said it yourself; nevertheless, the next time you see Me, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, coming on the clouds of heaven. That was a quote of Daniel 7, a Messianic prophecy. The high priest tore his robe and said, blasphemy. What more do we need to condemn Him to death?
My point is, those who believed knew Jesus was the Christ. Those who didn’t believe had to actively deny it. Even Jesus Himself confessed it – I am the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Here’s the question – do you believe that? If you do, you have been born again. And if you have never confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, you can do that right now. You can be saved by grace through faith in Jesus.
Well, that brings us quickly to the Effects of being Born Again. I say quickly, because John has covered most of this already through the letter. What are the effects of being born again? There are five.
First, having been born again, you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Second, being born again results in brotherly love. John says it this way at the end of verse 1, “whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.” In other words, having been born again, believing in Jesus, you love the Father, and love all those who have also been born of God. You love the Christian family.
Very interestingly, John says it in the reverse in verse 2. Some call it circular reasoning, but the point is, you cannot separate believing in Jesus, loving God, loving Christians, and obeying His commands. If you have been born again, truly born again, then these others will be true as well. Look at verse 2, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commands.”
But you say, wait just a minute. He’s been saying that already, but he flips it. Usually he says, by this you know that you love God, if you love His children and obey His commands. Now he says, by this you know you love His children, if you love Him and obey His commands. That’s confusing, what’s going on? Simply, this is all so interconnected that all of it is true, and can be said in any way.
Do you love God? Then you prove it by loving His children. Do you love His children? Then you love Him – otherwise, you wouldn’t love His children. Do you see what he’s saying?
So first effect of being born again is believing in Jesus. Second effect is loving God and loving one another. I hope you’re seeing a pattern here. Third effect is found in verse 3, For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. All three effects of being born again are simply passing the three tests we’ve looked at over and over. If you have truly been born again, you believe in Jesus as the Christ, you love God and your brothers and sisters, and you seek to obey His commands. John is simply saying what he has been saying in a fresh way.
The next effect is at the end of verse 3. It’s a bit intriguing and deeply encouraging. If you have been born again, you will keep His commandments, those commandments, by the way, which are not burdensome. You see, God is a good God, and His commandments for us are for our good. Before we were born again, dead in trespasses and sin, breaking His commandments was all we wanted. Oh to be sure, that brought pain and misery. But we didn’t have the ability to do anything else – we didn’t have the desire to do anything else.
But now, having been made alive in Christ, having received His Holy Spirit, we have the ability to obey, and find that by obeying, we find greatest joy. In other words, the third effect is we seek to obey His commands, and the fourth effect is we find we can with great joy – His commands are for our good. We are reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Are you tired of trying and failing? Are you tired of the misery of your sin? Come to Jesus, believe in Him, and find His way easy and light. For your good and His glory.
The final effect of being born again, of being born into the family of God, is we overcome the world. Verse 4, For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Notice he uses the word whatever, not whoever. His point is to place focus and power to overcome not on me, but on God and being born of Him.
Those born again gain victory – present and future – to overcome the world and all its enticements and temptations. Back in chapter 2, he said don’t love the world, for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not from the Father. You can resist the temptations of the world. Victory is already yours, because Jesus won the victory at the cross.
Verse 5, who is the one who overcomes? The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. His point is simply this – you can overcome evil, you can overcome the world, you can overcome false teachers, because you have been born again.
Let me close with this idea of believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Remember, in Luke 4, the devils believed that. In James, they believe in God and tremble. Faith is not simply knowing the right things. It is trusting them for yourself. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, it is flying to Christ and embracing Him. Christ must be your greatest treasure.