Who Are Born Again?
DO ALL good people go to heaven? Many think so, but Jesus Christ did not agree. Speaking to the Jewish ruler Nicodemus, who came to him secretly at night, Jesus said: “No man has ascended into heaven.”—John 3:13.
Yet, Jesus indicated to Nicodemus that the time would come when some people would have an opportunity to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Of these Jesus said: “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.” But Nicodemus wondered how anyone could be born again.—John 3:1-9.
Perhaps you also wonder what Jesus meant. Could his words apply to the sudden conversion experiences claimed by many who feel that they have been filled with God’s holy spirit?
Emotions and the Mind
Some say that in determining whether a person has been born again, what counts is feeling the power of the spirit. Yet, our heart and mind can mislead us, especially if influenced by strong emotion.—Jeremiah 17:9.
William Sargant a researcher into the effects of emotion on the mind, cites the need “to be on our guard against beliefs acquired in states of emotional arousal when our brains may be betraying us.” According to Sargant, one example is the effect of revivalist preaching and threats of hellfire punishment. Who would not want to be born again to go to heaven if the only alternative were suffering eternal torment? Sargant says that under such emotional stress, “reason is dethroned, the normal brain computer is temporarily put out of action, and new ideas and beliefs are uncritically accepted.”—The Mind Possessed.
So, then, how can one tell if a belief on the matter of being born again has been “uncritically accepted”? The course of true wisdom is to be guided by everything that God’s holy spirit caused Bible writers to record. Christians are encouraged to worship God ‘with their power of reason’ and need to make sure that what they believe is true.—Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Being born again opens up one of the most momentous privileges ever extended to humans. It is linked with a truly remarkable development in the outworking of God’s purpose. While all of this is true, questions such as these arise: Who are born again? How does this take place? What prospects are set before such individuals? And will they alone be saved?
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Nicodemus wondered how anyone could be born again
Why Some Are Born Again
“UNLESS anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Those words have both thrilled and puzzled many people since Jesus Christ spoke them over 1,900 years ago.
For a proper understanding of Jesus’ statements about being born again, we must first answer these questions: What is God’s purpose for humankind? What happens to the soul at death? What is God’s Kingdom meant to do?
God’s Purpose for Mankind
The first man, Adam, was created a perfect human son of God. (Luke 3:38) Jehovah God never intended that Adam should die. Adam and his wife, Eve, had the prospect of producing a sinless human family that would live forever and fill a paradise earth. (Genesis 1:28) Death was not part of God’s original purpose for man and woman. It invaded the human scene only as a result of rebellion against divine law.—Genesis 2:15-17; 3:17-19.
This rebellion raised huge moral issues, such as the rightfulness of God’s sovereignty and the ability of humans to remain faithful to his laws. Time would be needed to settle these issues. But Jehovah God’s purpose for mankind did not change, and he cannot fail in what he sets out to do. He fully intends to fill the earth with a perfect human family that will enjoy everlasting life in Paradise. (Psalm 37:29; 104:5; Isaiah 45:18; Luke 23:43) We must keep this fundamental truth in mind when we consider Jesus’ words about being born again.
What Happens to the Soul at Death?
Unaware of what God’s holy spirit had revealed to Bible writers, Grecian philosophers struggled to find meaning in life. They could not believe that man was meant to live only a few years, often in miserable conditions, and then just cease to exist. In this they were right. But in their conclusions about man’s prospects after death, they were wrong. They concluded that human existence continued in some other form after death, that inside everyone there was an immortal soul.
Jews and professing Christians were influenced by such views. Says the book Heaven—A History: “Wherever diaspora Jews met Greek intellectuals, the idea of an immortal soul surfaced.” The book adds: “Greek doctrines about the soul made a lasting impression on Jewish and eventually Christian beliefs. . . . By creating a unique synthesis of Platonic philosophy and biblical tradition, Philo [a first-century Jewish philosopher of Alexandria] paved the way for later Christian thinkers.”
What did Philo believe? The same book continues: “For him, death restores the soul to its original, pre-birth state. Since the soul belongs to the spiritual world, life in the body becomes nothing but a brief, often unfortunate, episode.” However, Adam’s “pre-birth state” was nonexistence. According to the Bible account, God never purposed an automatic transfer to some other realm at death, as if the earth were only a staging area for a higher or a lower existence.
The belief that the human soul is immortal is not taught in God’s spirit-inspired Word, the Bible. Not once does it use the term “immortal soul.” It states that Adam was created as a soul, not with a soul. Genesis 2:7 says: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” Mankind was never faced with the prospect of either everlasting life in heaven or eternal torment in hellfire. The Bible shows that the soul, or person, who dies has no conscious existence. (Psalm 146:3, 4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4) Consequently, philosophers have held unscriptural views about the soul. We need to guard against misleading ideas that could cloud our understanding of Jesus’ words about being born again.
Born Again to Rule as Kings
Jesus told Nicodemus that those who are “born again . . . enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5) What is that Kingdom? In symbolic language, early in human history, Jehovah God gave notice of his purpose to use a special “seed”—a coming ruler—to crush the head of the original Serpent, Satan the Devil. (Genesis 3:15; Revelation 12:9) As revealed progressively in the Scriptures, this “seed” is identified as Jesus Christ, who reigns with corulers in a unique expression of God’s sovereignty, the Messianic Kingdom. (Psalm 2:8, 9; Isaiah 9:6, 7; Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14) This is the Kingdom of heaven, a government in the heavens that will vindicate Jehovah’s sovereignty and rescue mankind from bondage to sin and death.—Matthew 6:9, 10.
Associated with Jesus as corulers are 144,000 who are bought from humankind. (Revelation 5:9, 10; 14:1-4) God has chosen some from Adam’s imperfect human family to become these “holy ones of the Supreme One,” who rule with Christ in the Messianic Kingdom. (Daniel 7:27; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 3:21; 20:6) These men and women put faith in Jesus Christ, who said that they would be “born again.” (John 3:5-7) How and why does this birth happen?
These individuals have been baptized in water as Christ’s followers. God has forgiven their sins on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, has declared them righteous, and has adopted them as spiritual sons. (Romans 3:23-26; 5:12-21; Colossians 1:13, 14) To such ones the apostle Paul says: “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, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.”—Romans 8:15-17.
As followers of Christ, these have had a new birth, or new start, in life. It has resulted in a conviction that they would share Jesus’ heavenly inheritance. (Luke 12:32; 22:28-30; 1 Peter 1:23) The apostle Peter described the rebirth 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.” (1 Peter 1:3, 4) This new life in heaven becomes possible for such individuals because God resurrects them as he resurrected Jesus.—1 Corinthians 15:42-49.
What About the Earth?
This does not mean that all obedient mankind will ultimately be born again to go from the earth to heaven. Such a mistaken idea was similar to that held by philosophers like Philo, who thought that “life in the body [is] nothing but a brief, often unfortunate, episode.” But there was nothing wrong with Jehovah God’s original earthly creation.—Genesis 1:31; Deuteronomy 32:4.
Human life was never meant to be brief and painful. Jesus Christ and those born again to serve as kings and priests with him in heaven will remove all the harmful consequences of Satan’s rebellion. (Ephesians 1:8-10) By means of them as the promised ‘seed of Abraham,’ “all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Galatians 3:29; Genesis 22:18) For obedient mankind this will mean life on a paradise earth, far different from the brief, pain-filled existence of today.—Psalm 37:11, 29; Revelation 21:1-4.
Who Will Benefit?
Among those benefiting from God’s provision for blessing mankind will be the resurrected dead who exercise faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) The majority of them have never learned about God and Christ and therefore could not show faith in Jesus. Those resurrected will also include faithful people like John the Baptizer, who died before Jesus’ death opened the way to heavenly life. (Matthew 11:11) Besides these, ‘a great crowd out of all nations have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,’ Jesus Christ. They respond favorably to the Kingdom-preaching work now spearheaded by Jesus’ born-again “brothers” and will survive God’s war of Armageddon to live on a cleansed earth. (Revelation 7:9-14; 16:14-16; Matthew 24:14; 25:31-46) In God’s arrangement, therefore, millions will be saved, though they are not born again to rule with Christ in the heavens.—1 John 2:1, 2.
Will you be among those who inherit life on a paradise earth? You can be if you exercise faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and become actively associated with the true Christian congregation. It has not been corrupted by philosophies but has remained “a pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15; compare John 4:24; 8:31, 32.) Then you can look forward to a marvelous future when born-again sons of God are ruling in heaven and all of God’s earthly children are restored to perfection on a wonderful paradise earth. So seize your opportunity for life in that new world of eternal blessings.—Romans 8:19-21; 2 Peter 3:13.
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Adam was never given the alternative of either life in heaven or eternal torment in hellfire