What Is the Bible’s View?
What Does It Mean to be “Born Again”?
A BASIC requirement for gaining entrance into the heavenly kingdom is one’s being “born again.” Said Jesus Christ to the Jewish ruler Nicodemus: “Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) But what does it mean to be “born again”? To answer this question, we must examine what else Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus.
Reporting on the conversation between the Son of God and Nicodemus, the apostle John wrote: “Nicodemus said to him: ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter into the womb of his mother a second time and be born, can he?’ Jesus answered: ‘Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. What has been born from flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel because I told you, You people must be born again. The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone that has been born from the spirit.’”—John 3:4-8.
Jesus’ words indicate that a spiritual rebirth is involved and that both water and spirit play a role in this. But how is a person “born from water and spirit”?
The answer to this question becomes clear when we consider the work of John the Baptist. On one occasion Jesus Christ stated: “The Law and the Prophets were until John. From then on the kingdom of God is being declared as good news, and every sort of person is pressing forward toward it.” (Luke 16:16) So the activity of John the Baptist served as a preparatory arrangement for those of his own people to be in line for entrance into the heavenly kingdom.
Only by acting in harmony with what John proclaimed could a circumcised Jew come in line for this marvelous privilege. As Jesus Christ told unbelieving religious leaders of Judaism: “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and the harlots are going ahead of you into the kingdom of God. For John came to you in a way of righteousness, but you did not believe him. However, the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and you, although you saw this, did not feel regret afterwards so as to believe him.”—Matt. 21:31, 32.
Those harlots and tax collectors therefore submitted to water baptism by John. Of course, the baptism in itself did not put individuals in line for the heavenly kingdom. This is clear from what John the Baptist told certain Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted to be immersed: “You offspring of vipers, who has intimated to you to flee from the coming wrath? So then produce fruit that befits repentance.” (Matt. 3:7, 8) Accordingly, ‘being born of water’ involves water baptism, but such baptism must be preceded by repentance and a turning around from a wrong course. This is one essential for membership in the kingdom of the heavens.
A person’s being “born from the spirit” points to yet another baptism. John the Baptist called attention to this, saying: “I, for my part, baptize you with water because of your repentance; but the one coming after me [the Christ] is stronger than I am . . . That one will baptize you people with holy spirit.”—Matt. 3:11.
On the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E., some 120 baptized disciples of Jesus Christ experienced such a baptism with holy spirit. As a visible proof of that baptism, they were empowered to speak in foreign languages. Explaining that Jesus Christ was the one partly responsible for this, the apostle Peter said to an astonished crowd: “Because he was exalted to the right hand of God and received the promised holy spirit from the Father, he has poured out this which you see and hear.”—Acts 2:33.
By thus being born of spirit, those disciples became spirit-begotten sons of God, with the prospect of heavenly life. They are Kingdom heirs in association with Jesus Christ. Commenting on this in his letter to believers at Rome, the Christian apostle Paul wrote: “You received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ.”—Rom. 8:15-17.
As Jesus told Nicodemus, persons “born from the spirit” are like the wind. In what way? This is because the original Source of their spirit-begettal is Jehovah God. This cannot be discerned by humans generally, any more than they can see the blowing wind. They may hear the sound of the wind and can observe its effects. Similarly, they may note the effects that God’s spirit is having on those who are “born again.” But they cannot fully appreciate the cause of these effects nor do they comprehend the heavenly destination toward which spirit-begotten persons are moving.
The Bible book of Revelation gives a specific number for those associated with Jesus Christ in rulership. We read: “Look! the Lamb [Jesus Christ, who died a sacrificial death like a lamb offered in sacrifice] standing upon the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads. . . . These are the ones that keep following the Lamb no matter where he goes. These were bought from among mankind [not from just one nation of people like the Israelites] as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”—Rev. 14:1-4.
But what of the rest of humankind? Must they, like the 144,000, be “born again”? No, for not all who gain God’s approval are associated with Jesus Christ in rulership. The majority will be earthly subjects of God’s kingdom by Christ. As such, they will witness the fulfillment of Revelation 21:4: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” Since they have earthly prospects, they are not begotten by God’s spirit. Such begettal serves to engender within an individual a heavenly hope—a hope that is not shared by the earthly subjects of the Kingdom. Nevertheless, God’s spirit operates upon all his servants, just as it did upon faithful men and women of pre-Christian times. It enables them to reflect its fruitage in their lives ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness and self-control.’—Gal. 5:22, 23.
So, then, the only ones who are “born again” are persons who will be associated with Jesus Christ in heavenly rulership. They are born of both water and spirit, that is, they have been baptized in water and have the spirit’s witness that they have been adopted as sons of God. Without thus being born of water and spirit they could never hope to inherit the heavenly kingdom.