What Is the Bible’s View?
Must You Be Born Again?
OUTSTANDING among God’s gifts to sinful mankind is the opportunity of coming into friendly relations with Him through Jesus Christ, with the hope of gaining everlasting life.—John 3:16.
What must one do to attain that reward? Many claim that all who would gain eternal life must be “born again.” They quote Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3, 5.
Such persons also refer to 1 John 5:1, which says: “Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God,” and from this they draw the conclusion that all true believers in Jesus must be “regenerated” or “born again” as children of God.
Is that really the meaning of these texts? If you are to enjoy a fine relationship with God and eternal life, must you be “born again”? Let us examine what the Bible means by this term.
The apostle Peter, at 1 Peter 1:3, 4, explains the purpose of the new birth in this way: “According to [God’s] great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you.”
Persons whom God calls to heaven will be immortal, incorruptible spirit persons, “sharers in divine nature.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 53; 2 Pet. 1:4) Since “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom,” these individuals must undergo a change. (1 Cor. 15:50) To have this hope they must be “born from water,” experiencing Christian baptism in water. Also, they must be born or begotten by God’s holy “spirit,” thus gaining the prospect of enjoying spirit life in the heavens. (John 3:5) Ones reborn in this way become spiritual “sons” of God.—Rom. 8:14, 15.
Why does God adopt people for spirit life in the heavens? Revelation 20:6 states: “They will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” The apostle Paul declared: “If we go on enduring, we shall also rule together as kings.” (2 Tim. 2:12) God’s purpose in calling humans to heaven, therefore, is to form a heavenly government under Christ Jesus.—Rev. 5:9, 10.
Any government consists of only a small part of the total population. Does the Bible indicate that only a limited number make up God’s heavenly government? Note how many are mentioned at Revelation 14:1: “And I saw, and, look! the Lamb standing upon the [heavenly] Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand.” Re 14 Verses 3 and 4 speak of “the hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been bought from the earth” as being, not all who gain salvation, but, rather, only “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”—Compare James 1:18.
The Scriptures show that others besides these will gain eternal life. Jesus spoke of having “other sheep, which are not of this fold.” (John 10:16) Revelation chapter 7 contrasts the 144,000 Christian, spiritual Israelites with a “great crowd, which no man was able to number” and which the Lamb, Jesus Christ, guides “to fountains of waters of life.” (Re 7 Verses 4, 9, 17; Gal. 6:16) In the parable about separating the nations “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,” Jesus distinguished those whom he called his “brothers” from the “sheep” who, nevertheless, “inherit [God’s] kingdom” and enter “into everlasting life.”—Matt. 25:32, 34, 40, 46; Rom. 8:29.
Must these “sheep” be born again? Remember that the main purpose of such rebirth is to call people to heaven. But is heaven the only destiny for believers in Jesus Christ? Interestingly, Jesus encouraged his followers to pray that God’s will “take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10) In this same vein Revelation 21:3, 4 describes the time when “the tent of God is with mankind . . . And God himself . . . will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”
Mankind lives only on earth, since creatures of flesh and blood cannot enter heaven. (1 Cor. 15:50) It is here on earth, then, that the “sheep” of Jesus’ parable, including the “great crowd,” will gain everlasting life. They “inherit the kingdom” by taking possession of territory subject to the king, Christ Jesus.a As spiritual rebirth is an experience only for those who go to heaven, Christians not of that class are not born again.
This does not mean that persons with earthly hopes do not have holy spirit. Faithful servants of God in pre-Christian times, though not begotten as spiritual sons of God with heavenly hopes, had God’s spirit. (Judg. 6:34; 11:29; 14:6; 2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Tim. 3:16) John the Baptist, for example, was “filled with holy spirit”; yet he did not go to heaven, for Jesus said of him: “A lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.”—Matt. 11:11.
Likewise today all who wish to please God seek the direction of his holy spirit in their lives. They endeavor to “put on the new personality,” displaying “the fruitage of the spirit,” including love, kindness, mildness and self-control. (Eph. 4:24; Gal. 5:22) But they do not have to be “born again” to do this.
It is interesting, too, that the “sheep” that would be separated from the “goats” were not to appear until “the Son of man arrives in his glory,” during the invisible “presence” of Christ at the “conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 25:31-33; 24:3) Similarly, the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9-17 “come out of the great tribulation,” at the end of the present system of things.—Rev. 7:14; Matt. 24:21, 22.
These things help us to understand the apostle John’s statement about “everyone” believing in Jesus as being born from God. (1 John 5:1) John was writing to fellow believers of the first century C.E., all of whom were of the heavenly “firstfruits” class. And an examination of the context indicates that John did not mean that every individual throughout history that would believe in Jesus would be born again and go to heaven. His point was that no one could be born again unless he believed in Jesus Christ. Some in John’s day were denying Jesus; these John associated with “the antichrist.”—1 John 2:22, 23.
Must you be born again? Not if you are one of mankind whose hope is to live on earth under the rulership of God’s heavenly kingdom. Nevertheless, you must study the Word of God diligently, seek the direction of God’s holy spirit, and display its fruitage in your life.—John 17:3.
a Thayer’s A Greek-English Lexicon gives as one definition of the Greek word for kingdom (ba·si·leiʹa): “The territory subject to the rule of a king.” (Page 97) Compare Mark 6:23.