What does ‘born again’ mean? When people describe Christians sometimes, they use the phrase ‘born again’. For example, recently describing actress Jane Fonda’s faith, one of the daily Melbourne newspapers described her as a ‘born again Christian’.
In this sense, ‘born again’ is used to describe a subset of Christians who have, as Freedictionary.com puts it, ‘experienced a dramatic conversion to faith in Jesus’ and who are perceived to zealously pursue their faith.
The term ‘born again’ is not always used in a flattering or positive manner. US immigrant information web site Life in the USA, for instance, describes born-again Christians as a ‘major phenomenon’ where ‘evangelical leaders preach to millions of people’ via television or in stadiums.
It then derisively links these events to a couple of disgraced televangelists who were ‘the subject of sex and money scandals and even criminal actions based on their misuse of contributor funds’.
As a result of this and other such usage of the term,born-again Christians have often been viewed as religious extremists. But this mindset is more a cultural understanding than a biblical reality.
Origins of the term
The concept of being ‘born again’ originated from a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, one of the religious leaders of the time.
Nicodemus was a prominent member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, who one night approached Jesus in the hope of talking about spiritual issues. As Jesus talked with Nicodemus, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’. ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ a slightly confused Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus replied, ‘No-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saving, “You must be born again”‘ (John 3:3-7).
A new life
Another biblical concept closely linked to the idea of being born again is that of becoming a ‘new creation’ or gaining a ‘new life’ through believing in Jesus Christ.
Peter,one of Jesus’ first disciples and one of the New Testament writers,puts it like this: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3).
Being born again is one of the Bible’s simple yet profound concepts. It’s a phrase used to indicate a spiritual transformation that comes from a relationship with God.
‘To all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in His name,’ writes John in his gospel, ‘He gave the right to become children of God ─ children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’ In this respect, once we dig beneath cultural stereotyping, it would be fair to say that all Christians are, in the spiritual sense, ‘born again’.