“You People Must Be Born Again”
When Jesus first said those words Nicodemus wondered what they meant, even as many persons since then have.
YOU can go to church every Sunday, morning and night, and attend every revival service, but unless you have spiritual rebirth you will go straight to hell!” That is one of the things that Jack Shuler, popular American evangelist and one-time motion-picture actor, keeps telling his audiences. And says an evangelistic tract: “If you have never been ‘born again’ you are still in your sins and a stranger to the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Why did Jesus say, “You people must be born again”? (John 3:7) Is being born again imperative to gaining everlasting life, as so many insist? What does it take to be born again?
We cannot understand the subject of being born again unless we have clearly in mind what the Scriptures teach regarding two distinctly different destinies for those of humankind gaining salvation. Two different destinies? Yes, God’s Word explicitly teaches that only a very limited number of mankind will ever get life in the heavens as Christ’s Kingdom heirs or associates. All others gaining salvation will receive everlasting life on earth as children of Christ the King and as subjects of his heavenly kingdom.
That the number of those gaining salvation in the heavens will be few is apparent from Jesus’ words: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” It is therefore only to the “little flock” that the promise is held out: “To the one that conquers I will grant to sit down with me in my throne, even as I conquered and sat down with my Father in his throne.” These will share in the “first resurrection” and be “priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” Their number is shown to be just 144,000, the ones with “the Lamb standing upon the mount Zion.” Also termed “firstfruits,” they are destined for a place in heaven especially prepared for them by Jesus. Together with him they comprise the spiritual seed of Abraham.—Luke 12:32; Rev. 3:21; 20:6; 14:1; Jas. 1:18; John 14:2; Gal. 3:16, 29.
If some are to rule as kings, there must also be others over whom these rule. Likewise, references to a first resurrection and to firstfruits indicate at least another resurrection and afterfruits. Further, if the whole earth is to “be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea,” then there will have to be not only heavenly Kingdom associates but also earthly Kingdom subjects. The same is shown by the prophecy: “Look! the tent of God is with humankind, . . . And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more.”—Isa. 11:9, AS; Rev. 21:3, 4.
Then again, Jesus spoke not only of a “little flock” but also of certain “other sheep” that are not of that Kingdom fold. That is why we read not only of 144,000 Kingdom associates who will sit with Jesus Christ in his throne but also of “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb” and who ascribe salvation to God and to the Lamb.—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9, 10.
JESUS, THE FIRST TO BE BORN AGAIN
All those gaining the heavenly kingdom must first be born again, even as Jesus told Nicodemus: “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. What has been born from the 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.”—John 3:3-7.
Jesus himself was born from the flesh when his mother Mary gave birth to him. However, it was not God’s purpose for him to remain a fleshly human creature forever. To completely vindicate his Father’s name, establish God’s kingdom and destroy Satan, Jesus would have to be a glorious powerful spirit creature. To this end Jesus had to be born again from the spirit. This took place at the Jordan after Jesus dedicated himself to do his Father’s will and his Father poured out his spirit upon him. He thereby became a spiritual son of God with a conditional right to life in the heavens as a spirit creature. In recognition of that fact God at that time was heard to say: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.”—Matt. 3:17.
Before Jesus could be rewarded with spirit life in the heavens, however, he had first to prove himself faithful under test, which he did: “He humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position.” Thereby Jesus also made possible the gaining of everlasting life by all other obedient ones: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered, and after he had been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him.” In particular did he thereby open up the way for his 144,000 Kingdom associates to be born again: “Christ Jesus, who has abolished death but has shed light upon life and incorruption through the good news.”—Phil. 2:8, 9; Heb. 5:8, 9; 2 Tim. 1:10.
Since Jesus by his death opened up the way to be born again and gain incorruption, it must follow that all who died before Jesus did could not become his Kingdom associates. That is why Jesus said: “Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” John the Baptist as well as all those who died before him will be earthly subjects of the Kingdom, not heavenly Kingdom heirs with Christ.—Matt. 11:11.
HOW OTHERS ARE BORN AGAIN
Because of inherited sin and wicked works all are “alienated and enemies” of God. Before He deals with any of them they must take the following steps, as outlined in the Scriptures: gain knowledge of Jehovah God and his purposes and exercise faith in them. That means repenting from one’s selfish course, converting to a course of righteousness, dedicating oneself to do God’s will and being baptized. Stressing the importance of faith in this regard, the apostle John wrote: “As many as did receive [Christ], to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name.”—Col. 1:21; John 1:12.
By these preliminary steps an imperfect human creature puts himself in line to be born again. Then, if God chooses to bring forth such one as a spiritual son, He first declares him righteous by virtue of his faith in Christ’s blood. (Rom. 5:1, 9) Those whom God declares righteous he also brings forth as his sons—that being its purpose—by means of his holy spirit. To such Paul’s words apply: “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.”—Rom. 8:15, 16.
Thus we understand why “you people must be born again”: because it is God’s will for Christ to have Kingdom associates with him in the heavens and being born of the spirit is a condition precedent thereto. And we have seen what it takes to be born again: knowledge and faith in God’s Word and God’s bestowing his spirit or active force upon one to bring him forth as a spirit son. This is what Jesus meant when he spoke of being born “from water and spirit.” Not the literal water of baptism, for Cornelius and his family were born again by God’s spirit before being baptized with water. Rather, the water refers to the truth of God’s Word, which has a cleansing effect, even as we read that Christ sanctified the Christian congregation, “cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word.” Yes, such are brought “forth by the word of truth.”—John 3:5; Acts 10:44-48; Eph. 5:26; Jas. 1:18.
To see the kingdom of God these must, as did Jesus, prove “faithful even with the danger of death.” Of the many, many truly dedicated Christians on earth today only a comparative few profess to have been born again; only a few have God’s spirit bearing witness with their spirit, or mental disposition, that they are “heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ.” This is to be expected, however, since their number is limited to 144,000, as we have seen, and Jehovah God began to choose them at Pentecost.—Rev. 2:10; Rom. 8:16, 17.
Particularly since 1931 have large numbers demonstrated their faith in God and Christ by dedicating themselves to do God’s will, yet do not claim to have been born again. Still these are able to say: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb,” for they hope to enjoy everlasting life on earth in God’s new world as children of the King and subjects of his kingdom.—Rev. 7:9, 10; 2 Pet. 3:13.