Who Are Born Again?
CHRIST himself introduced the subject of being “born again.” It is a subject that, down through the centuries, has been little understood. Many religious teachers today hold to the view that if one is not “born again” there is no salvation. In other words, being “born again,” they say, is the only way to salvation. Supporters of this teaching readily point to Jesus’ words, those words he spoke one night to Nicodemus: “Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, NW) Did Jesus here mean that it is necessary for anyone who hopes for life to be “born again”? What really does it mean to be “born again”?
To understand what it means to be “born again” one must know who are “born again.” Note carefully that, in discussing this matter, Jesus did not say that all who would gain everlasting life must be “born again.” Rather, what he said was that unless one was “born again” he could not see the “kingdom of God.” Now the kingdom of God is heavenly. Jehovah has purposed that the Kingdom be the capital or ruling part of his universal organization. Jehovah also purposed that a limited number, taken from among mankind, would reign with Christ Jesus as associate kings. For this sublime privilege they must be resurrected and given spirit bodies, since, as the apostle said, “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.” That the Father has set a limitation on the number of those who will reign with his Son in the heavenly kingdom is manifest from Jesus’ words: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” The exact number of the “little flock” approved by the Father to be Kingdom heirs was not known until Christ, through an angel, revealed it to be 144,000 “who have been purchased from the earth.” This “little flock” of 144,000 Kingdom heirs, then, are those ones from among mankind who are “born again.”—1 Cor. 15:50; Luke 12:32; Rev. 14:1-3, NW.
Hence it is a gross twisting of the Scriptures to throw open Jesus’ words at John 3:3 to make them embrace all mankind. This is because the vast majority of mankind who receive salvation will not be part of the “kingdom of God” but will live on the earth under the rule of God’s kingdom. For in addition to his “little flock” of Kingdom heirs Jesus has his “other sheep, which are not of this fold”; that is, they are not of the little fold. The number of these “other sheep” is not limited. Today a “great crowd” of these “other sheep” has been gathered into Jehovah’s New World society: “A great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” This “great crowd” of people are not “born again,” nor do they need to be “born again,” because they gain everlasting life on the earth.—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9, NW.
THE NEED FOR A NEW BIRTH
Why, now, must those of the 144,000 Kingdom heirs be “born again”? Because as human creatures they were begotten by Adam. Adam could not beget anyone to a heavenly inheritance. He had only earthly hopes held out to him. Moreover, when Adam did beget children they were born sinners. So Adam’s children inherited sin and death. Thus the 144,000 need to be begotten by a father different from Adam, a heavenly father who can bestow spirit life and a spiritual inheritance. Only Jehovah can do that. Being born from God, the 144,000 Kingdom heirs become spiritual sons of God: “However, as many as did receive him, to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name; and they were born not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God.”—John 1:12, 13, NW.
Jesus was the first one to be “born again.” This was in harmony with God’s rule concerning his Son: “That he might become the one who is first in all things.” When was Jesus “born again”? At the time of his human birth? No, but rather thirty years later, at the time of his baptism A.D. 29. After Jesus’ immersion, an act that symbolized Jesus’ dedication to Jehovah, God’s spirit came upon him, and a voice from the heavens said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” Jesus was now a spirit-begotten son of God; he was “born again.” This, of course, was not a begettal in the womb of any human virgin. That was already past and had served its purpose. But now Jehovah begot Jesus by the spirit to become a spiritual son of God with a heavenly glory in view. This was the first time such a thing had ever occurred on earth.—Col. 1:18; Matt. 3:17, NW.
So what does it mean to be “born again”? It means receiving from God a birthlike entitling to prospects and hopes for spirit life by resurrection to heaven. How is this brought about? Jesus enlightens us: “Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—John 3:5, NW.
“BORN FROM WATER AND SPIRIT”
That phrase is how Jesus described the manner in which one is “born again.” It would not be logical to think that the “water” is literal. Then is it referring to water baptism? No. Rather it refers to the truth of God’s Word. This water of truth has cleansing power. So Paul at Ephesians 5:26 (NW) speaks of Christ’s cleansing the congregation “with the bath of water by means of the word.” Further showing that it is the water of truth in God’s Word that aids toward the new birth, James writes: “He brought us forth by the word of truth, for us to be a certain firstfruits of his creatures.” Also the apostle Peter shows the part played by the Word of God: “For you have been given a new birth, not by corruptible, but by incorruptible reproductive seed, through the word of the living and enduring God.” By having the good news preached to them those who become members of the 144,000 Kingdom heirs get in intelligent touch with God. It is God’s Word that sets out the heavenly hope; and only by getting to know his Word could they have such a hope formed in their hearts.—Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23, NW.
The apostle Peter brought the “water” or word of truth to the first Gentile convert, Cornelius. Cornelius, together with those of his household, accepted it. The Bible record says: “While Peter was yet speaking about these matters the holy spirit fell upon all those hearing the word.” It was after this that Peter responded: “Can anyone forbid water so that these might not be baptized who have received the holy spirit even as we have?” So in Cornelius’ case, unlike that of Jesus’, his water baptism came after his being “born again.” Hence water baptism, though essential, does not bring about the new birth nor does it necessarily precede a faithful creature’s being “born again.”—Acts 10:44, 47, NW.
Clearly, then, there are two requisites for being “born again.” They are the water of truth and God’s spirit. Just the knowledge of God’s Word in itself is not enough. Why, during all the time that the disciples were with Jesus, including the forty days after his resurrection, Jesus taught them about God’s kingdom. They had the water of truth. But the other requisite was lacking. For they had yet to be ‘born from the spirit.’ Until their spirit-begettal they were only prospective sons of God. Their spirit-begettal did not take place until Pentecost. But how are we to understand John 20:22 (NW) when Jesus, on his resurrection day, said to his disciples, “Receive holy spirit”? That was only a symbolic action, an advance notice of what was to come. The promised baptism of God’s spirit, their begettal as spiritual sons of God, did not come until the fiftieth day counting from Jesus’ resurrection.
But was not Jehovah’s spirit poured out upon faithful men long before the day of Pentecost? True, it was Jehovah’s spirit that, for example, moved the prophets to write the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. Yet none of those men were engendered thereby to become sons of God or had imparted to them a birthlike entitling to heavenly hope. David had God’s spirit upon him. Yet he did not go to heaven. For eleven centuries later Peter said: “David did not ascend to the heavens.” Both Elijah and Elisha had Jehovah’s spirit, Elisha having a “double portion”; still they did not go to heaven. For 900 years later the One who came down from heaven said: “No man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man.”—Acts 2:34; John 3:13, NW.
Then what was the hope of those pre-Christian servants of Jehovah? It was a hope to live on the earth under the rule of the heavenly kingdom. So the term “born again” does not apply to any of the early men of faith, nor does it apply today to the “great crowd” of other sheep, whose hope is to be preserved alive through the coming war of Armageddon to enjoy life on this earth forever. The only ones who are “born again” are the 144,000, together with their Head, Christ Jesus, who make up the Kingdom. Now only a remnant of the spirit-begotten “little flock” of 144,000 are yet on earth. But they, together with their good-will companions, are unitedly proclaiming the good news of God’s new world, telling all who hear that “anyone that calls upon the name of Jehovah will be saved.”—Acts 2:21, NW.
“Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God.”—2 Tim. 2:15, NW.