Born Again. What Does This Mean and Where Did The Concept Originate?
Question: What does it mean to be born again and where did this concept originate?
Prologue: Again, a tremendous and genuine heartfelt question has been asked by the knowledge seeker. A question which a seeking mind would readily ask itself, as well as ask it of others. The definition of “born again” in the Christian construct is linked in an inextricable way to our Articles of Religion, “17. Of Baptism”. And therein shows the very need for such an Article, for it is a hotly contested doctrine for Protestants and Catholics as well as within both groups across two millennia. This is evident by an entire (and very large) Christian sect identifying as “Baptist”. Though, the doctrine of Baptism often appears to some as controversial, it remains (as it should) an imperative and a living reality in our Christian walk. The dispute is not fueled so much from the actual Rite of Baptism (the undergoing of it), as much as its meaning, what it represents and its effectual power for the “born again” believer.
The 10th Chapter of “the Acts of the Apostles” provides a series of scriptures which recounts the first mass conversions of gentiles in the bible. In these scriptures, after being shown a vision by the Holy Spirit, where animals (which were considered unclean foods in the Old Testament) were lowered three times from heaven in a sheet and offered to Peter, with the command each time from Acts 13 …“Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” In verse 14 Peter replies “14 …“By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the responses in verse 15 “And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Continuing verses 19 and 20 state, “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” These scriptures precede the conversion of Cornelius and his household, as the first mass conversions of gentiles to Christianity.
Later, Peter’s words to Cornelius and his household are provided in Acts 10 34 “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
Interestingly, Phillip in Acts Chapter 8 received a similar command as did Peter from God, with respect to the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch who by description, was a Jewish Proselyte (a full convert to Judaism). And was the first individual gentile conversion recounted in scripture. 26 “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. 27 And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, 28 was returning, and sitting in his chariot reading Esaias the prophet.” (AKJV)
After Phillip found the object of his call (the Ethiopian) the following is provided, 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (AKJV)
Being born again is called regeneration, and regeneration is initiated by faith brought about through first hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, understanding it, and then by faith a confession of Christ as your Lord and Savior is made unto salvation. In Romans chapter 10 we are reminded that “8…The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So, the seeker may ask, where is baptism in this process?
17. OF BAPTISM
“Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference; but it is also a sign of regeneration, or the new birth. The baptism of young children is to be retained in the church.”
In the Old Testament God speaks of a “new future circumcision of the heart”, which would remove the old heart of stone and input a heart which will seek him, will honor Him, will desire Him and is able to love Him and enjoy Him forever. Christian Baptism is the symbol of this new circumcision of the heart, mind, emotion and spirit; and it has been given as a symbol of washing by regeneration, of the rebirth of a being from a carnal (stone hearted), fallen creature, to become children of God and co-inheritors in the Kingdom of His Dear Son Jesus the Christ.
In Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 3 “…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And again in Verse 5, “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
The water can be seen as a symbol of washing; for water mixed with blood flowed from Christ’s wounded side, when he was pierced while hanging on the cross to die for you and me. The flowing blood is a symbol of Christ’s innocent life poured out to pay for all our sins; and the Spirit represents the Holy Spirit (the guarantor), Who will guide us in our newborn, regenerated lives. The same Holy Spirit whom Christ himself said God would send after his own (Christ’s) ascension, where he was seated on the right hand of the Father in Heaven. The Holy Spirit represents a guarantee of the promises Christ made during his earthly ministry. The Spirit did light on believers on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, but which is more; He went on to live within them, perpetually.
For such a regeneration to take place, death must first occur. Peter was told in Acts 13 …“Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” This is a normal statement, with respect to speaking of foods to eat and what one might consume for a meal, but what is one to think when it is applied to the true mission that Peter’s vision imparting; which was to preach Christ to the Gentiles (Which had not been done up to that moment in time).
Remember what Peter was told when men from Cornelius household appear seeking him after his vision of the sheets? Peter was told by the Spirit in that latter passage from Acts 10, the same thing he was told in the previous passage with respect to food, “20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” A preacher of the Word, the Apostle Peter’s true mission was to “1) Rise, 2) go and preach the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ (which has the power to destroy and kill the old nature of humanity), 3) while washing and preparing the heart to be consumed with the things of God and the will of the Father, and finally, 4) God regenerates the life of the believer (which is the “new birth”, also spoken of by the term “born again”. 1 Peter 2:24 states, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (ESV)
The Apostle Paul also validates Peter when he says, in Romans 6:3 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (ESV)
As all seekers of knowledge may clearly see, the scriptures are replete with an inexhaustible body of evidence that we (who are believers in Christ to the Glory of God) who have made our humble confessions, accepting God and His Commandments, have heard and responded to the saving Gospel of Grace of Jesus our Lord and Savior, having died to soul and self, and having been born anew, regenerated by God and are indwelt continually by his Holy and Bless Spirit, are the so called “Born Again” of God. And many more other blessed utterances besides, shall we be called, some we know not of yet. For Revelations 2:17 states, “To the one who conquers…I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. (ESV)
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!