What It Means to Be “Born Again”
A MINISTER of Jehovah’s witnesses knocked on the door of one of the homes in a Kentucky town. He was going to present a short Bible message, but the householder heard only his introduction before asking: “Excuse me, but tell me: ‘Are you “born again”? Do you have the Holy Ghost?’”
If you were in the place of that ordained minister, what would you have said? He calmly responded: “Of course I have God’s spirit. That’s why I’m here to speak with you about the Bible.”
Notice that he did not say simply “Yes” or “No.” Sometimes questions cannot be answered that way if one is going to convey honestly the right meaning. What if you were asked, “Do you believe in the Almighty God named Satan?” You would have to give a qualified answer, showing that ‘yes’ you believe in the Almighty God, but he is not Satan. Now let us analyze what the householder may have been thinking and what the Witness had in mind in his reply.
WHO ARE “BORN AGAIN”?
One night, after Passover 30 C.E., a Jewish ruler named Nicodemus came to Jesus. The account in John 3:3-5 reads: “Jesus said to him: ‘Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ 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.’”
On the basis of this account many churchgoers feel that if one is to obtain salvation he must be “born again,” he must be “born from water and spirit.” They believe that the way one gets everlasting life is by going to heaven. In this they are partly right. It is true that those who will, as spirit creatures, be part of God’s kingdom will live forever. But Jehovah makes it plain in his Word that the majority of humans gaining eternal life and happiness will live right here on earth. (Ps. 37:29) Such persons do not need to be “born again.” Why not?
God’s original purpose for mankind was to live forever in paradise on earth. None of his faithful servants before the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry had hope of going to heaven, nor did they go there upon death. For instance, concerning King David the apostle Peter said: “Actually David did not ascend to the heavens.” (Acts 2:34) That was so even though he had God’s spirit on him. David said: “The spirit of Jehovah it was that spoke by me.”—2 Sam. 23:2.
John the Baptist’s case also illustrates this. The Bible says that he was “filled with holy spirit right from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15) Still, he was not “born again” and called to be in the future heavenly kingdom. Jesus himself proved that by saying: “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.”—Matt. 11:11.
As the citizens of a country might have a few selected men who serve as their representatives, making up their government, so God has determined to select from mankind 144,000 humans to be part of the kingdom of the heavens. These will rule with Jesus over the paradise earth. (Rev. 5:9, 10; 14:1-3; 20:6) God began to select these only after Christ died and opened up the way to heavenly life. (Heb. 10:19, 20) But what was necessary for these imperfect human sons of Adam to become spirit sons of God? Jesus commented on this when speaking to Nicodemus.
“BORN FROM WATER AND SPIRIT”
What Jesus said was what the Kentucky householder quoted in part: “Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) One selected to be part of the heavenly kingdom was once “born from the flesh,” and he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven with his body of flesh and blood. (John 3:6; 1 Cor. 15:50) So, after God forgives his sins on the basis of his faith in Christ’s ransom and views the individual as a perfect human, Jehovah begets him and bestows a spiritual inheritance on him. This latter action even happened in the case of Jesus so that he could go to heaven. After he was baptized in water, Jehovah poured out his spirit on Jesus. He was thus spirit-begotten with the right to be a spirit son of God; he was “born again.”—Matt. 3:16, 17.
In like manner, Christians who are called to be part of the kingdom of the heavens must go through these steps; they must be “born from water and spirit.” Nicodemus, as a Jew, would have known that the holy spirit is literal, the active force of God. And Jesus appreciated that the Jewish ruler would understand the “water” as also being literal. Nicodemus likely knew that John the Baptist had been baptizing in water, for “the Jews sent forth priests and Levites from Jerusalem” to investigate what John was doing. (John 1:19; Matt. 3:5) Furthermore, Jesus’ disciples were baptizing in water. (John 3:22; 4:1, 2) So Jesus’ mention of “water” would have meant something to Nicodemus. But what about being born from holy spirit? That step would have been hard for him to understand since it had not yet begun for Jesus’ disciples.
John the Baptist had promised that Jesus would ‘baptize in holy spirit,’ and on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. Jesus did so. He poured out holy spirit on disciples who had already undergone water baptism. (John 1:33; Acts 2:1-4, 33, 38) Thus, those Christians were “born again,” receiving a birthlike entitling to prospects for spirit life in heaven, which life would come when they had proved faithful to death and were resurrected. They knew they had been “born again,” because they had the testimony of the spirit. The apostle Paul later wrote: “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.”—Rom. 8:16, 17; 2 Cor. 1:22.
Yet, just as John the Baptist and David had a portion of God’s spirit but were not called to be part of the heavenly kingdom, the same is true with many Christians today. They have dedicated their lives to God and been baptized in water. However, they recognize that they have not been given the hope of living in heaven. God does not give them a birthlike realization of the hope of spirit life in heaven because his provision for them, if they prove faithful to him, is to live eternally in an earthly paradise. The minister who called at that home in Kentucky is one who is looking forward to that paradise.
Does this mean that such ones do not have God’s favor now? Absolutely not! They have God’s approval just as John the Baptist did. One evidence of this is the fact that Jehovah gives them holy spirit, enabling them to manifest its fruitage as well as to carry on the Christian ministry. (Gal. 5:22, 23; Luke 12:11, 12) Hence, we can appreciate how accurate and fair was the minister’s reply to the inquiring householder.
If you would like to know more about the Bible message he had concerning God’s heavenly kingdom and the earthly paradise to come, we invite you to take advantage of opportunities you have to discuss the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses in your area.